Last month I sat down with a new mothers’ group in Korogocho, a large slum in Nairobi, Kenya. We were talking about family planning, and I asked them, “Why do you want to plan the number and spacing of your children?” Their answers amazed me.
It had rained pretty hard the day before, so the streets were muddy and rutted, but we talked on a pleasant shady porch outside a community center, which the community comes together to create and to run. Most of the mothers held their infants in their laps. Their toddlers were milling around, including an adorable little boy dressed in bright red from his hat to his socks.
One woman said she wanted to be able to feed all her children.
The woman sitting next to her added, “Where am I going to keep them? Under the bed?” It was funny, but then she elaborated about what it’s like to raise a family in a single room. “Our houses are toilets,” she said. “Why bring so many kids into a toilet?” She said it was impossible to raise her children in a safe and healthy environment.
Another woman said she wanted to limit the number of her children because if she had too many, her husband would leave her. That was tragic, because all the women said their husbands didn’t want them to practice family planning. So they were stuck. If they obeyed their husbands, they would have six, eight, and even more children, and then their husbands would abandon them.
Finally, as we were turning to a new topic, a woman summed the whole conversation up in one sentence. “I want to bring every good thing to one before I have another,” she said.
As I met with world leaders in Davos later on that week, I kept those conversations with mothers in poor countries in mind. As different as many of their experiences are from mine—fighting their husbands for the right to plan, struggling to put food on the table—there is something universal in motherhood that unites us. We all want to bring every good thing to our children.