My wife Ada and I were both 37 when we got married, even though she had wanted to tie the knot with Mr. Right since she was 24. She just never found the one who struck the right chord. Lucky me, I came along and it seemed as if we had known each other all our lives. We created a beautiful symphony out of our friendship and when the matter of marriage came up, there was no question that it would be the best decision we ever made.
It was of little consequence that we were from different ethnic groups. She was Ibo, I was Yoruba. It did not matter. We were Nigerians. We were both Africans. Case closed. Not as if we were prejudiced towards people of another race though. We just didn’t consider it, especially since we both had limited geographical mobility. According to her, the only thing she had requested of God, was to lead her to a man that she was perfect for and who would love her as himself.
In the manner characteristic of many new couples, we decided not to start having babies immediately, since we wanted to just take our time and get accustomed to living under the same roof and sharing each other’s lives more closely. 2 years would be a long enough waiting time. That was the plan.
Funny how things would turn around one evening though, when we went visiting with Ada’s parents and her mum asked if we were having any issues with conception (you have to give it to our African mothers, they always want to be in the know). When Ada loudly protested, “Mum!” and revealed to her mother that we were not ready yet, her mother sternly chastised us, emphasizing that we were taking too long and that age wasn’t on our side. It would be better to start this affair quickly, get it over with and face the more rigorous business of raising children.
Well, we had a re-think and decided it wasn’t a bad idea, not because her opinion in this instance counted per se, but because we thought we had already settled comfortably into each other’s lives and could take on an additional challenge. So we started trying.
We tried for a year. Nothing happened. No pregnancy. Then frustration set in – for Ada. This couldn’t be happening! How was it that she could not conceive? This was so important you see, because in Africa (and I’ll be particular about Nigeria because that is where I reside), it is generally believed that conception and all that is related to it is the doing of a woman. The only responsibility of the man is to deposit whatever, wherever and get on his way and expect things to happen. When things don’t happen (that’s pregnancy), accusing fingers start pointing in the direction of the woman. Even those that should know better – the educated and supposedly enlightened, university graduates even – often choose to continue touting this culture of ignorance.
Well, not wanting to be numbered among the ignoramuses and especially now out of need, we decided to see a gynecologist, who turned out to be a male (they oftentimes are male, in case you haven’t noticed). After he physically examined my wife, he recommended that she run some tests and a scan. That would be the first time I would hear the term, “hysterosalpingogram.” “Huh?” I asked the doctor, “what does that mean?” He quickly ran us through the procedure, saying basically that it was an X-ray test that examines the inside of the uterus, the fallopian tubes, and surrounding area. It often is done to look for a cause of female infertility. I was not comfortable because that would mean introducing into Ada’s body some foreign substance as a contrast material so that the x-ray images could be taken.
As we were rounding up that visit, the doctor said casually that it might be a good idea, if he examined me briefly. I reluctantly acquiesced, as I felt his trade was only with women.
It was brief. Very brief. But he quickly adjudged that I had something called Varicocele and should see a urologist. That announcement got me instantly stunned beyond explanation, as if I had just been doused with a bucket of ice cold water, except this time, there was no fun of the ice bucket challenge attached to it. To imagine that I could be the problem! How? Why? I was quiet all the way home.
The urologist confirmed the varicocele suspicion and set this as the reason for my low sperm count. Tada! Indeed, I was the culprit. He slated me for a varicocelectomy, a surgery that would right whatever wrong there was. This was all strange for me so I wanted to read up every information that I could find about it. Read I did, though at some point, I wasn’t sure whether to go ahead with the procedure, as I read that not all physicians agree that a varicocele can be a cause of male infertility. After weighing my options carefully though, I decided to try.
At this point, I told my wife to hold on until my issues were sorted out. And all the while, we tried to keep our cool: “we still weren’t ready,” was the GOOD reason but that was of course different from the REAL reason. And we dared not tell our parents, neither hers, nor mine. That would have created some serious pandemonium, followed by a dirge or something like it. A discerning mind had taught us that issues like these have broken up marriages and families. Ours would be different.
I had my varicocelectomy in November 2013. A couple of weeks later, a test showed that my sperm count had picked up. A further couple of weeks later saw my wife Ada pregnant with our first child. She says she remembers the look on my face the day we checked together with the home test kit and confirmed her pregnant and that she would never trade that look for anything.
For me this was victory. We had won. This culprit had been sent to a correctional facility and had been issued a clean bill. He could walk tall again, without fear of victimization.
After the initial excitement though, I couldn’t help but imagine what Ada would have been made to go through – the trauma and the medical examinations, some of which I consider invasive. I marvel, to think of the many men who would sternly refuse to submit themselves for a fertility check and instead have their relatives (especially mothers and sisters) convince them to marry another wife (often a girl of their own preference, from the village), on the grounds that the first wife is barren, infertile, unfruitful (we see this in the movies). Adoption is not even an option. The rule is that they want a child from their own loins, of their own blood.
I shudder when I think of the wife who is constantly verbally and physically assaulted only for this reason. She is not regarded as being entitled to anything belonging to her husband, in the event that he dies, whether such property was jointly acquired or not. She is robbed emotionally, materially, psychologically, indeed tortured in the worst manner. She is made fun of, called names such as ‘tree, stone (to connote unresponsiveness to male ‘’stimuli’’), man (because men don’t get pregnant), witch, (having supposedly eaten all the children in her womb), basically any demeaning expression to imply that she is not more relevant than the furniture in the house).
Except of course if she is bold enough to fight back or has relatives who put their weight behind her. Such appalling happenings must just stop! And our women must learn to stand up for themselves, whether the infertility lies with them or not!
In spite of the popular African reaction to this kind of situation, I am certain that I would have been patient with Ada, if we had discovered that the problem was with her. I really do love her very much. However, again because I am African, I cannot be certain how long my patience would have lasted, or that I would not have yielded to the pressure from family and supposedly well-meaning friends. Such is our dilemma in this part of the world.
I am sure of one thing though and that is that I am grateful that things turned out happily for us.
When our little girl arrived on December 13 2014, we were beside ourselves with joy. Before the trying times began, we had decided on a name for our baby whenever it would come. But as the Yoruba proverb goes, “ilé l’àáwò kí a tó s’ọmọ lórúkọ,” meaning that it is the circumstances of its birth (or the events leading up to it) that should determine what a child’s name will be.
I took the chance to ask Ada what she thought we should name the little miss. “Chimamanda” she said. “My God never fails.”