I scarcely told anyone about my decision to adopt a child. Although I felt the decision was right for me, questions gnawed at me. Moreover, I did not think people would react kindly to a forty-something-year-old unmarried female adopting a baby; Nigeria is a patriarchal society steeped in tradition. I shared the sentiments of whoever coined the saying: give me the benefit of your convictions if you have any, but keep your doubts to yourself for I have enough of my own.
A few years prior, I overcame my fear of surgery and finally scheduled an operation to remove the fibroids in my womb. After the myomectomy, my doctor gently told me, “Nature abhors a vacuum. You should get pregnant soon.” His words stirred buried desire. I wanted to be more than the best-aunt-ever or best-godmother-ever, two roles I cherished. I longed to be the best-mum-ever.
Two years after my myomectomy, I was no closer to realising my dream of having children under the conventional umbrella of marriage. My anxiety over not having a family increased.
Do sperm banks exist in Nigeria? I don’t know, but a couple of friends offered to father my child. I weighed the complications such an arrangement may present in future and declined. I went to a fertility clinic to enquire about IVF treatment. They asked, “Have you and your partner been trying consistently for up to a year?” I laughed, as I did not have a partner. They recommended I return after my partner and I had tried unsuccessfully for a year.
As time rolled by, all I heard was tick tock ringing in my ears. Even the most self-assured woman would be tempted to ask, “What is wrong with me?” About twenty years earlier, my friends at university had tipped me as the one most likely to marry and have kids first. Life, it seems, did not get the memo. Nevertheless, I still believe I owe myself better than settling with just any partner for marriage sake.
During a holiday abroad, my sister suggested adoption. The idea was novel to me and I toyed with it until I accepted it. I returned to Lagos, thinking of all the babies in orphanages who need parents and rushed to one to find my child.
However, it wasn’t that simple. Lagos state government has an adoption process and a screening procedure. There is also a long waiting list and I had no idea what number I was on the list. While the waiting period can seem long for anxious parents-to-be, I appreciated the forward thinking of the state ministry of youth and culture in preparing parents and adopted children for a new life.
Months later, I was invited to meet baby Folasade. She was a few days old, beautiful, light complexioned, and long-limbed. I fell in love with her immediately. She smiled at me each time I spoke to her as I held her in my arms. Later the orphanage staff explained that babies do that when they are experiencing stomach gripe!
Due to the Lagos state doctor’s strike at the time, she had not undergone medical check-up. She barely opened her eyes and mucus oozed from one eye. I arranged private medical care. The doctors confirmed she was born HIV-positive. I refused to leave her side. The social workers, doctors, and psychologists cautioned me about attachments, which form while bonding and advised me not to set my heart on Folasade because of her condition. I could not; to my mind, she was already my daughter. That weekend they moved her to an undisclosed orphanage where she could get special care. My heart broke.
During my visits to the orphanage, a three-year-old boy always ran to meet me and we became close. He had two sisters. Lagos state has a policy of not separating siblings where possible. I prayed that a family would adopt them all. He was not attending school because he didn’t have sponsors so I organized a successful charity campaign to pay for his schooling.
My heart still bled for Folasade and I wondered what became of her and other babies like her. Should I have fought harder for her, disregarding professional counsel and insisting on an exception to policy as the state would not put her up for adoption? Biological parents do not get to ‘pick’ their kids, but in a sense, parents of adopted kids do.
Sometime later, I was called to meet a two-week-old baby girl, Alison, who appeared shy and reserved. We did not bond immediately. Maybe she sensed part of my heart was still with Folasade. During the three-month bonding period when I spent every spare moment at the orphanage changing her diapers, feeding her, and talking to her, she avoided making eye contact. Was she testing me? Did she think I would bail?
As I persisted in bonding with Alison despite my confusion, I understood a mother’s fierce love—she loves whether her child responds or not. Coincidentally, I was allowed to take Alison home on my birthday, what a gift!
I was nervous as I gave her a bath, fed her, and cuddled her to sleep. I worried she would miss her regular carers and judge me for the novice I was. Instead, she was patient with me as I navigated our first few days. She barely cried.
Tended gardens blossom. Alison and I learnt to relax. Before long, her eyes followed me everywhere I went. She rewarded me with her beautiful smile more and more and we drew closer still, clinging to each other.
My daughter is now one and a half and it’s a privilege and pleasure to raise her. When I held a welcome party to introduce her to my close friends and family, they showered us with understanding and warmth. I was overwhelmed. Does love differentiate? Could they love my biological child, when I have one, any more than they love Alison?
Tentatively, I posted our photos on Facebook. My friends responded with resounding support, surprising me.
Alison’s birth certificate bears my surname. When people ask about her dad, I smile and reply, “I’m her mum and dad.” I realise that soon, she will ask questions. The pre-adoption counselling organised by Lagos state prepares parents for this inevitability. I still cherish hopes of getting married and having a family like the one I grew up in, with a mother and father.
Alison’s facial features now resemble mine and she displays my zest for life—or has love blinded me? Often, friends look at her and comment that she’s very lucky to have me. I shake my head and say, “No, I’m the lucky one. I am the lucky one.”
Ogo Williams is a banker by day and a mother 24/7. She is an avid Chelsea fan who enjoys meeting interesting people, travelling, and reading.
© Timi Yeseibo, 2016
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