‘I was raped and kept the baby’ Four months after she was sexually assaulted, Keisha Fisher, 34, a midwife from Ohio, USA, realised the unimaginable – she was pregnant
‘When I look at my five-month-old baby son Hans-David, I feel a wave of love, a surge of pride and immense gratitude for the happiness he’s brought me. Normal emotions for any mum – even though he was conceived in the worst possible circumstances. A child of rape, he came out of the darkest experience of my entire life.
Growing up in the American Midwest, I’d always dreamed of going to Africa. I knew there was so much HIV there and I just wanted to help those in need. So, when I was 26, I packed my rucksack and went to work with different charities across Zambia, Sierra Leone, Malawi and Zimbabwe, before settling in South Africa to train as a midwife. When I’d finished my placements at the end of 2013, I decided to go home to visit my parents Dwight, 62, and Nancy, 61, before looking for a job in Tanzania.
I had to travel through Zambia to catch my flight in December, so I went to visit some friends I’d made while working there a few years earlier. I stayed with several families who lived together in a small cinder block house with electricity, but no running water. I was overcome with exhaustion from my bus ride, so they gave me my own room – a big mark of respect and kindness in such basic conditions – and I crashed out.
A few hours later, I was startled awake by a dark figure on top of me. Mute with terror, I tried to fight him off, but he was too strong for me. In the moonlight, I thought I recognised him as a man from the village but it was so surreal, like a nightmare.
His hand clamped over my mouth, he started raping me, mumbling words I couldn’t understand as I wasn’t fluent in the language. I squeezed my eyes shut in absolute horror, praying someone would hear what was happening over the noise of the radio playing in the living room and come to rescue me. But no one did. I kept telling myself not to do anything that would make him hurt me more.
A few minutes later, it was over. As he fled, I curled into the foetal position and cried until the sun came up. The next day, I told my friends nothing of the attack – in total shock, I just wanted to forget it had ever happened. I knew if I went to the police, I’d have to stay there while they investigated, and I was desperate to get away.
So I plastered on a fake smile, waved goodbye and jumped on a bus. As I travelled to the airport, I felt sick with mixed feelings of guilt and disgust. Why hadn’t I fought harder? Was all of this my fault somehow? Even though I had worked with AIDS sufferers, it didn’t occur to me that I might be infected – or pregnant. I just shut down and refused to think for a moment longer about what had happened.
Back home in the US, I pretended everything was normal. My mum was having surgery on her foot and my dad has multiple sclerosis, so for the next few months I focused all of my energy on helping them.
I didn’t let myself dwell on that terrible night – not even when I missed my period. With all the travelling I did, my cycle was often erratic, so I put it down to that. However, by March 2014, my period still hadn’t arrived.
To put my mind at rest, I did a pregnancy test. It was positive. Shell-shocked, I convinced myself that I must have conceived and miscarried, as I had no other symptoms – and I couldn’t face the alternative. Tearfully, I told my parents the bare minimum of what happened in Zambia. They were devastated, and urged me to go to a pregnancy crisis centre.
It was then, on March 18 2014, that my fear became a reality when a scan revealed I was 17 weeks pregnant with a healthy baby. Watching the foetus wriggling on the screen was one of the hardest moments of my life.
I’d always dreamed of having kids some day, but not like this. The love I instinctively felt was tinged with a sense of terror. I considered two options: adoption or abortion. Deep down, I felt this baby had a right to life, no matter what his father had done, but could I keep it? Could I live with a constant reminder of the rape? How would I even support us both?
The staff at the crisis centre were amazing, counselling me and gently explaining that I needed to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Thankfully, the tests were all clear for both me and the baby, but I still didn’t know what I was going to do.
Back at my parents’ house, I thought about the baby growing in my womb. It was a part of me, as well as my attacker, and I realised that no matter how hard it was, this baby’s place was with me. So I broke the news to my friends, although I didn’t go into details. I couldn’t bear saying the word ‘rape’, so I said I was ‘taken advantage of sexually’ and left it at that. Some cried with me, others were speechless with shock. It was horrible reliving it each time.
When I went into labour, with my mum at my side, I struggled when I had to push at the end. My body was in so much pain and I wasn’t able to control it.
The last time I felt that way was during the rape, and the connection was too much to bear. The midwife, who I’d explained everything to, had warned me that might happen, but there was no way I could have prepared myself for it. I battled through the mental and physical agony until Hans-David Munana Joy was born, weighing 8lb 7oz.
Before the birth I’d prepared myself that he could look like his father, with dark skin and African features, but gazing at his beautiful face didn’t trigger flashbacks – I just felt grateful he was mine. Since then, the bond I feel with him has grown stronger. He’s a constant source of joy to me, healing the scars left by the horror of rape.
In a few months, I’m planning to return to Tanzania to work as a midwife with Hans-David in tow. I want to build a life for us on the continent I still love, even though I know it’ll be hard to manage on my own.
While I understand that other women might find it too hard to keep a child conceived in such traumatic circumstances, it was the right decision for me. I try not to think about the man who raped me, and I don’t want to report him to the Zambian authorities. If found guilty, he might be stoned or beaten to death by his community, and I don’t want his death on my conscience.
When Hans-David is old enough to understand, I’ll tell him the truth about his conception. I know it may hurt him and, of course, that worries me. As his mum, all I want to do is protect him from pain. I can only wish by then I’ll have taught him that it’s possible to find hope and happiness in the darkest of things, like I have done.”