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Childless marriage: I was on the verge of committing suicide — Frustrated lawyer

…My wife became my punching bag

…I never knew I was the cause of our barreness

By Chioma Obinna

AS Emeka Umeh and his two-year-old triplets walked into one of the popular supermarkets in Ago area of Lagos, everyone turned to his direction, beaming with smile and admiration for the children.

He cuddled one of the triplets while the rest were busy running round the supermarket, as their mother went about shopping for the family’s need.

Clad in a straight-cut blue jeans and sky blue shirt, it was obvious that the father of the children was amused by his toddlers’ activities, judging from the expression on his face. Not many knew that the arrival of the triplets has transformed the life of the 58-year-old man from that of anxiety, uncertainty and frustration, to a fulfilled individual, after 14 years of childlessness.

For Emeka, the gift of his triplets was the best life can offer, as he flaunted them anytime and anywhere. His years of endless wait were so traumatic that he almost killed his former wife, Chiamaka, over her inability to become pregnant and was himself on the verge of committing suicide.

Stormy first marriage

His matrimonial home could best be described then as hell on earth. No week passed without friends and relatives visiting to settle quarrels, as Emeka, an accomplished lawyer, became a wreck. Unable to control his emotions, the 10 years union crashed, with both parties going their separate ways.

 Emeka shares his story with anyone who cares to listen. In an emotion laden voice, he recounts his travails. “I never knew it could be better. I never knew Chiamaka and I were wasting our lives. I turned her into a punch bag. The frustration was so much that one day I thought of committing suicide. To say I became a beast within a twinkle of an eye was an understatement. It got to a point I wondered if I was under a spell when I approached my wife for marriage.

There was no derisive name I did not call her. Ashawo (harlot), witch, barren, bad luck and foolish, were just samples. There were no hurtful things I did not say or do to her because she could not conceive. But I never knew I was the cause of the problem. Our once envied marriage became a jest before our neighbours. All my friends kept advising me to take it easy but I was blinded by my ego as a man,” he said amidst tears.

“Chiamaka was my best friend from secondary school through university. We had memorable days. We were ready to get married after our youth service and also have children as quickly as possible. But when a year passed and there was nothing, worries began. By the second year, we got anxious, and by the third, fourth, and fifth years, I became frightened.

“Chiamaka went for several tests alone but doctors told her she was okay clinically that she should exercise little patience. A year after, nothing changed. She went to other places but I refused to accompany her. It infuriated me so much because I never imagined I had a problem. I have always believed that it was always the women that have problem of infertility. This was the beginning of our problems.

“One evening, my mother came from the village. After the dinner she summoned both of us in the sitting room for a talk. I was not surprised that she came because of our problem and was not disappointed when she let the cat out of the bag. Chiamaka narrated how she went for medical examination and I refused to go. This statement also infuriated my mother. She was angry and said to my wife to buckle up and give her a grandchild. ‘Do you know how many children I have? It runs in the family to procreate and there is no way my son will be infertile,’ she said angrily.

From that night, the relationship between my mother and Chiamaka became sour. All through the five days she stayed with us in Lagos, my wife had it rough. There was nothing she could do to appease my mother. My mother even called her names and threatened that she must leave because according to her, a man does not get married to a man. If it was possible to exhaust tears from one’s eyes, my former wife would have ran out of tears,” he narrated with regrets in his voice.

With the kind of support Emeka enjoyed from his mother, he had nothing to worry about. “As if I was given a medical certificate showing Chiamaka was barren, I became more hostile to her. I beat her at any little provocation. This continued until my family encouraged us to have the marriage dissolved and then, my mother had already arranged a marriage proposal between me and my current wife,” he said with tears.

However, although, Emeka’s family members were against the decision by his mother to arrange another wife even when the first marriage was not terminated, the long years of childlessness was brought to an end by that step taken by his mother. The new wife, Ngozi, was also educated but more pushy. When one year elapsed, she called Emeka that they needed to see a doctor together, apparently too afraid to allow the situation to degenerate to what happened in his first marriage.

Nonchalant attitude

Emeka continued with the nonchalant attitude and claimed to be virile. Ngozi went to a popular fertility clinic on the Island but she was urged to bring her husband because they could only be treated as a couple. Ngozi visited another clinic where she was put on treatment. One day, Emeka was about reversing his black Rav4 SUV, after dropping Ngozi when the doctor came out and waved at him to stop. The doctor tried to persuade him to give it a trial but Emeka declined and drove off.

Back home, Emeka however, gave a deep thought to the issue. He recalled his activities with women while in school but could not trace anywhere or anytime any of them claimed to have been impregnated by him even though he never used condom or any form of contraceptives.

Opening up to Good Health Weekly, he said: “I thought over the doctor’s words for six weeks and compared it with my activities with women; I then decided to visit the doctor secretly.”

He walked into the hospital alone one Monday morning to run some tests and the doctor was apprehensive. It turned out that Emeka had zero sperm count also called azoospermia. On seeing the results Emeka broke into tears.”I was surprised that I have been the problem all these years.”

He pleaded with the doctor not to tell his wife. However, the doctor congratulated him for coming in the first place and promised not to tell his wife but encouraged him to tell his wife. “I am not a marriage counsellor but do you know that there is treatment for this condition and you need your wife’s support,” the doctor said.

Emeka was again faced with the challenge of telling his wife. It took him a long time to do the needful. He had sleepless nights thinking over it. “I took my time to work on my wife. One Saturday, I took her to Domino Pizza because she loves eating pizza. Although she was like, “Ah! Honey this one that you volunteered without persuasion to buy me pizza?” I just smiled and said “my love it’s okay. “That was when I summoned the courage to tell her about my infertility problem. Although, it was difficult to convince her, my wife accepted my apology and broke down in tears.”

The following week, they both went back to the hospital to see the doctor. There and then, Emeka started treatment for low sperm count. Although, before now, Emeka claimed that he had been on special supplements to boost his sperm but experts say there is nothing like boosting of sperm.

Emeka was then presented with different options. They were told they could go for sperm donation or Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSC) among others. The doctor placed him on Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSC), while the wife was placed on IVF.

How ICSI and IVF is done

ICSI, according to experts, is the most successful form of treatment for men who are infertile and is used in nearly half of all IVF treatments. The procedure requires just one sperm, which is injected directly into the egg. The fertilised egg (embryo) is then transferred to the woman’s uterus (womb). In ICSI, as with standard IVF treatment, the woman is given fertility drugs to stimulate her ovaries to develop several mature eggs for fertilization.

When the eggs are ready for collection, the woman and her spouse will undergo separate procedures. The husband may produce a sperm sample himself on the same day as the wife’s eggs are collected. If there is no sperm in his semen, doctors can extract sperm from him under local anaesthetic.

The woman’s doctor will use a fine needle to take the sperm from the husband’s epididymis, in a procedure known as percutaneous epididymal sperm aspiration (PESA), or testicle, in a procedure known as testicular sperm aspiraction (TESA) If these techniques don’t remove enough sperm, the doctor will try another tactic.

The embryologist then isolates individual sperm in the lab and injects them into the woman’s individual eggs. Two days later the fertilised eggs become embryos. The procedure then follows the same steps as in IVF. The doctor transplants one or two embryos into the woman’s uterus through her cervix using a thin catheter. If the woman is under 40, she can have one or two embryos transferred.

If she is 40 or over, she can have a maximum of three embryos transferred if her own eggs are being used or two embryos if donor eggs are being used.

ICSI restored happiness in Emeka’s marriage

Emeka and his wife successfully went through the first IVF cycle, they had five good embryos and three were implanted because of the age of the woman. It was successful as after three weeks his wife tested positive. And nine months after, she gave birth to triplets; two boys and a girl. The babies came out in good health condition and Emeka’s problem was solved.

Woman’s responsibility

Emeka’s story is one out of thousands of marriages where women are sometimes derided, scorned and ridiculed when the union could not produce an offspring.

Many Nigerian women suffer unnecessarily due to delay in having children which may not necessarily be their fault. Sometimes, the man is the cause of the problem. Clinical findings have shown that men also suffer infertility due to a number factors.

Hope abounds for even men with zero sperm count – Experts

Explaining why men suffer infertility, the Medical Director, Nordica Fertility Centre, Lagos, Abuja and Asaba, Dr. Abayomi Ajayi, said men also contribute to infertility as much as the women but noted that there is hope for even men without sperm in IVF treatment. Ajayi who pointed out that infertility is inability to conceive or produce offspring despite having regular unprotected sex said technology has made it possible for men with as low as 40,000 sperm count to have children instead of the average sperm count of 15 million.

Findings have shown that nearly 25 percent of Nigerian couples are affected. Experts claim that 40 to 45 percent of all consultations in gynaecological clinics are infertility-related.

Although, there have been several cases of male infertility and approximately 30 percent of infertility attributable to male factors, in many cases, it appears that men are not as willing or as able as their female partners to talk about their experience. When a man is involved, in countries like Nigeria, it is treated in utmost secrecy. A school of thought believes it could be due to the fact that, traditionally, children are seen as a woman’s province, or because, over the ages, conception has been thought of as the woman’s responsibility.

According to  Ajayi, findings have shown that every year, there is 30 percent decline in sperm count. Ajayi, who is also a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, said sperm has become a big issue all over the world, adding that sperm count appears to be decreasing worldwide and no one knows why it is so.

“We don’t know why but that is what we have seen. We have substantiated that in Nordica by comparing the sperm of people who presented 10 years ago to the sperm count of people who are presenting now. It is obvious to us that there had been about 30 percent decline.”

According to him, one of the advantages of ICSI is that the sperm doesn’t have to travel to the egg or penetrate the outer layers of the egg and this process can help couples where the man’s sperm can’t get to the egg at all. It can also be recommended when sperm can get to the egg, but, for some reasons, can’t fertilise it. ICSI is likely to be recommended if your spouse has a very low or zero sperm count. It can also be recommended when you have a high percentage of abnormally shaped sperm and can result in poor motility, which means the sperm can’t swim well.”

Fertility regulation

Ajayi pointed out that one out of every four Nigerian couples will experience delay in getting pregnancy, saying that if 100 couples have intercourse at once, only about 20 percent will conceive. A reproductive Hormone and Fertility Regulation expert, Mr. Bamiro Babajide, in a report explained that male infertility accounts for 40 percent of cases and a critical factor in childlessness.

Available data over 20 years have shown that in approximately 30 percent of such cases, pathology is found in the man alone, and in another 20 percent both the men and women are abnormal. Therefore the male infertility is partly responsible between 40 -50 percent cases of infertility among couples. Babajide  identified chronic consumption of alcohol, use of anabolic steroid, excessive stress and overly intense exercise as causes of both infertility and testicular shrinkage.

Also speaking, Consultant Gynaecologist, Dr. Victor Ajayi, noted that: “Male infertility is usually caused by problems that affect either sperm production or sperm transport. About two-thirds of infertile men have a problem with making sperm in the testes. Either low numbers of sperm are made and/or the sperm that are made do not work properly.

“Sperm transport problems are found in about one in every five infertile men, including men who have had a vasectomy but now wish to have more children. Blockages (often referred to as obstructions) in the tubes leading sperm away from the testes to the penis can cause a complete lack of sperm in the ejaculated semen”.

Ajayi stressed the need to always evaluate both parties in cases of infertility. “Current studies have shown that, after 45 years, a man begins to have issues with sperm. At that age, a man may experience two heads and two tales sperm. We encourage DNA in older men. Some may have their DNA damaged and there will be problems such as having difficulties impregnating their women, or damage babies.” Explaining that semen is not the same thing as sperm, he said sperm cannot be seen with naked eyes as it lives within the semen.


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