Rethinking Motherhood

Rethinking Motherhood

I

She volunteered at an orphanage in Lagos, driven by her need for a baby. It was symbiotic; the babies also needed a mother. She changed diapers, fed, and held them. She sang quietly to them, tears welling up in her eyes as it receded from theirs. The way they hungered for her touch and cocked their heads to make eye contact with her legitimized her hunger for a child. Her time with them pacified but did not satisfy her hunger. She wanted her own child.

As a single woman in her thirties, legal adoption isn’t an option for her. According to the Family Law code in Lagos State, women below forty-five years don’t meet the criteria for adoption. The law is not her only constraint: culture frowns on single motherhood and her religion is negatively silent about it.

She gave up volunteering after a few visits because a couple adopted the child of her heart.  Although she knew they would do well by the girl, she was heartbroken and reported ill at work the next Monday. She spent the day wetting her pillows, stung by the loneliness that comes with being single and the childlessness that compounds it.

She is not alone. There is a growing demography of single women in their forties and fifties who may never marry or may be past their reproductive years before they get a chance at motherhood.  Should marriage or a steady male presence always be the precursor to motherhood without exception?

The absence of marriage does not take away the longing for motherhood. Ask the forty-five-year-old woman who never married and woke up to the onset of menopause or the thirty-eight year old who found out she has endometriosis.  Ask your friend who was married for fifteen years and lost her husband three weeks to their IVF procedure. Ask your grand-aunt who is divorced from a childless marriage and never remarried.

While adoption laws tend to restrict eligibility for single women, assisted reproductive options are more open towards them. For instance, a woman in her thirties can elect to have a child through ICSI or IVF. But often she won’t. Culture and religion make this taboo for her. Should they?

If we dare think beyond what we have always known, even within the confines of religion and culture, we may find space in our hearts for the unconventional mother.

Ideally, children need a mother and father figure to strengthen their socialization, but our world is far from ideal. We wouldn’t think of taking away a widow’s children because they would grow up without a father figure. We applaud the man who raises his child alone because his wife left him. We recognize that their children brighten their worlds.

Why then do we think less of a mature single woman who chooses to be a mother on her terms? Will motherhood through assisted reproductive options make single women lesser mothers or does it challenge our thinking about motherhood and families?

Step back and look a little closer.

Perhaps if these women were to choose between marriage and motherhood, motherhood would trump.

Abiodun Baiyewu is a lawyer and a human rights activist with a strong interest in medical jurisprudence and reproductive health. She is married and the mother of rambunctious toddler.

 

II

From childhood, many girls are programmed for nurture and they role-play motherhood with their dolls and toys. Their maternal instinct heightens as they grow older and wish to have families. Having children is a dream realized which brings them happiness. Anguished longing therefore afflicts the woman whose dream hasn’t come true as the end of her best reproductive years come into view.

But, is the purpose of having children to quiet the legitimate cry of a woman’s womb? Is it to assuage the loneliness that accompanies being a single woman? Then married or single women who have children would have ceased to grapple with loneliness and be living in contentment utopia by now.

In ‘rethinking motherhood’, two words raise concerns: longing and choice. Longing as a precursor to choice can be a shaky foundation. Longing is usually sustained by focus. If focus changes, what then? If we exercise our choice to satiate every longing, where would that leave us? Which yardstick do we validate or invalidate longing by?

Longing ebbs and flows. Longing that gathers momentum and threatens to overflow its banks one day, is the calm river that grants many boats safe passage the next. Like you, I have longed for something or someone until I thought my heart would burst. And like you, I have learnt to live and thrive with longing unmet.

Some have called ours, the ME generation. My life; my choice, are four words, which can be reduced to one: selfie, because the underlying assumption is that I am the only one in the picture. But choice reverberates like ripples. Our decisions have consequences we may not perceive because the time differential between choice and outcome prevents us from connecting the dots.

For example, can we rethink motherhood without rethinking fatherhood? What about the forty-year-old man who wants to adopt a twelve-year-old girl because he could not find a woman to marry and build a family with? Or the older man who wants a surrogate womb to carry his own child? Does maternal instinct trump paternal instinct? Society is evolving and choice experiments, driven by longing are giving birth to what was once considered unconventional families around the world.

Law, culture, and religion have been put forward as impediments to being a single mother by choice in the Nigerian context. Nigerian culture, steeped in patriarchy and communal living, seems to be antithetical to what at first glance appears like an independent and individualistic lifestyle for a woman.

Religion may pose the question: what is the optimal order for family regardless of the conditions that exist in an imperfect world like sickness, spousal death, or abandoned children? It may argue that it is one thing to accommodate a less than ideal situation; it is another to create one deliberately through choice.

In democratic societies, the law of the land is the will of the majority. In a sense, democratic institutions are custodians of choice. Democracy necessitates an educated citizenry for informed choice. This means asking even more questions and researching answers.

Should we rethink motherhood?

Timi@ Livelytwist
© Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

Photo Credit: gilprata/ http://pixabay.com/en/baby-shoe-maternity-girl-child-666355/

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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22 thoughts on “Rethinking Motherhood

  1. Hello Abi & Timi,

    It’s refreshing to see an analysis of parenthood from another angle.

    Life leads us on all sorts of surprising paths, it’s sad how people who are simply on the natural pursuit of happiness (like everyone else) have been sentenced to supposed wrongdoing by the ‘Supreme Court of Society’.

    You need to hear the views of some people regarding IVF as an alternative solution to fertility issues, it would leave you amused and wondering if you’d mistakenly boarded a time travel machine to 1910 😀

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    1. Hi Nedoux, there’s so much to motherhood isn’t there? And I suspect much more to come in the days and years ahead. Thanks for reading.

      Some are more resistant to change than others. I’ve found that there’s some level of ignorance on both, or should I say every side of any issue, including IVF. Dialogue can facilitate knowledge transfer, if we’re open.

      Hmmm … the natural pursuit of happiness …. hmmm 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Abi & Timi,

    That was a very eye opening piece. You both have my mind churning as I examine all the ramifications of ‘motherhood’ in relation to ‘fatherhood.’

    Truth be told I never before now stopped to consider the possibility of a ‘forty year old man wanting to adopt a twelve year old girl or the older man who wants a surrogate womb to carry his own child.’ I don’t believe maternal instinct trumps paternal, I just never even gave it a thought. I guess now I am.

    On the issue of culture in the Nigerian context, I got an education on the 45 year old cap on adoption policy. However, I can’t help but wonder where the Nigerian culture will land in the face of the fast changing definition of family in our world today.

    Thanks again for the post guys!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Elaine for joining the conversation. There’s plenty to make our minds churn. That a woman’s ‘reproductive window’ (if I may call it that), is shorter than a man’s adds another dynamic …

      In a society with competing worldviews, stirring emotional and logical arguments are put forward, and it can be difficult to know where to pitch your tent. It is my hope that the questions and scenarios in this post would give people a framework, if you will, to use to think about these and other issues. Abi and I wanted readers to think! 🙂

      @culture in the Nigerian context, true, worth pondering. Nigeria is a federation with 36 states. Abi mentioned the Family Law code as it pertains to Lagos State. I mention Nigerian culture, but that’s a broad generalization. In reality culture in eastern, western, and southern Nigeria have differences. What about the mainly muslim north? So, yeah, it’d be interesting to see how the definition of family evolves… nothing like an educated and engaged citizenry for informed choice ….

      Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Timi and Elaine,

        You know, I also did not give much thought to fatherhood and the single man till recently. I guess in my experience, most men were happy to delegate primary care of children to other persons (women) and so (in my unenlightened opinion) tended to be content to be ‘úncles’ or ‘surrogate dads’ to their single female friends’ children till they were ready for a family. Again, their reproductive window is way more lenient. They could ‘wait’.

        The 45 years age requirement for single adopters is a Lagos state adoption law. Some other states are more liberal – especially in the Eastern states. Its unlikely a single person would easily uproot their lives and their jobs to move to more liberal states for the sole purpose of an adoption. The lack of roots in the neighbourhood, new job e.t.c, are then likely disqualify them.

        Interestingly, the Islamic culture in Northern Nigeria tends not to promote adoptions. They can foster – yes, but adoptions are not encouraged. Single motherhood is also a no no. The dynamics of marriage and divorce in the region is also quite different from other parts of the country. Divorce and remarriage are more acceptable there than in any other culture I know… I imagined women could get married to men they have noting in common with for the sole purpose of getting pregnant and there after paying back their bride price and divorcing their ‘husbands’ once they had children. But then I learned Islamic child custody laws places the primary custody of male children over seven with their fathers and so they could lose custody of their children in the future…

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Much food for thought here. My first thought upon reading was how it was interesting that youth seemed to be discriminated against in terms of being able to adopt- when often it’s the older mothers who seem to get that in Western societies. But then that a man must be necessary in order to be eligible. I love how you point out how men who want to father can also face discrimination because of their gender and how that, along with motherhood, needs to be redefined. Lots of food for thought here. Thanks to you both.

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    1. Indeed Diahann, I’m still chewing. Cultures differ across the globe.
      My choice for my life creates a ripple effect. What an awesome sense of responsibility I should feel as I consider the options before me ….
      Thank you for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s hard to believe laws like those in Lagos exist today, but I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. My single friend decided to have a child on her own at the age of 42…she’s never been more happy.

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    1. Thanks Jill for sharing.
      I think it’d be interesting to know why the law existed in the first place and to examine the various ‘contexts’ that have kept it in place. Often, perhaps because I have lived abroad for a long time, I will propose an idea or solution to an issue in Nigeria, only to have the loopholes pointed out to me. The ‘setting’ may mean that home-grown solutions work best … at least for the time being.

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  5. I was fascinated by the over 45 rule in Nigeria. I spent much of my working life in the field of adoption in England where women over 45 are less likely to be accepted as adopters than those under 40. Motherhood is how you care for a child. Some children cannot be with their birth mothers, and other motherly women who wish to care for them are a godsend.

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    1. Hi Derrick. Its one of the subtle discriminations single women face on this side of the pond. I wish everyone would see even single adopters as godsend…, but that’s not the reality.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes indeed. The rule applies to single male adopters as well. Male adopters are also more likely to be discriminated against than female adopters. Again, single adopters are not permitted to adopt children of the opposite sex.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Abiodun, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about an issue that’s dear to your heart. It isn’t one that I’d given much thought to until we had our looong discussions. I think it’s a good thing to look at the world beyond our noses. I admire your human rights work and advocacy on behalf of women.

    The longing for children is a noble one. I think the challenge is to keep it in balance, so it does not become a god and the prism through which we view life.

    Do you know the reasoning behind 45-years and older as a criteria for adoption by single men and women in Lagos State? I would have thought that because of the extended family system, single women with financial ability might find themselves raising children (of relatives) anyway. But your emphasis is on their ‘own’ children who would bear their names?

    Thanks again for s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g me 😉

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    1. Thank you Timi.

      My guess about the age for adoption for single women in Lagos is that the State ‘s social service is distrustful of single parenting and the risk of these single people marrying and their potential spouses being unaccepting of these children. And so I guess that their assumption is that single people over the age of 45 are less likely to get married in the future.
      A lot of single women over 50 that I know informally ‘ adopt’ their relatives children. But raising relatives’ children is exactly that: raising relatives children. They are not yours. They, in most instances, will always belong to the family. Again, Raising a child and motherhood are two distinct concepts which often intercept. Trust me, you can as a woman successfully raise a child BUT not be a mother in the value of the noun.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for sharing. I think that it’s always important for us to understand boundaries before seeking to move them. At first glance, adopting a first child at 45 doesn’t seem very practical, as strength diminishes the older one gets …

        What you describe is a very difficult situation for the woman who wants her own child. There’s also the implied uncertainty of not knowing how long she would raise the child because her relatives can ‘collect’ their child at any point.

        Still, when life deals us a crushing blow; when what we want doesn’t materialize, how far are we willing to go in pursuit of it? How far is too far? And what is the purpose of having children? Still chewing….

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        1. I grapple with limits myself. But I know it takes a lot for women to decide to go the parenthood trip solo and few ever will. My thought is that when they do, we need to be a lot more open minded.

          Liked by 1 person

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