Choosing Motherhood [2] A Daughter of My Own

baby shoe

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

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.

Advertisements

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.