By Francis Ewherido
Before we got married, I agreed with my wife on the number of children we would have. It was a decision we had to make to avoid disagreement in future. Surprisingly, I never asked myself why I wanted children in the first place. It was just the usual mindset that marriage should necessarily bring forth children. That is why childlessness is still a very big issue in this part of the world. How many of us who are married sat down to articulate why we wanted children and how many of those preparing for marriage have done so?
It looks superfluous or even stupid, but answering such a “stupid” question can give you clarity of purpose. Our grandparents had large families to enable them have a large workforce; some people have children so that they would have people to take care of them in old age. For some, children are simply a source of livelihood in old age. Some others have children to perpetuate their lineage. Such people are ready to give birth to one million children if they all turn out to be females until they get the “almighty” male child. Some have children to have people to bequeath the family wealth to. There are also those who are having children because others are having. They do not really know what they want.
Whatever your reasons are, bringing up children is a tough job. First, the mother has to carry the pregnancy for nine months, plus, minus two weeks. Then a painful child birth follows. Then you start nursing the baby. For the next 20 years or more, you will feed, clothe, house, educate and make provisions for the child’s other needs. It is a life of enormous sacrifice, selflessness and love to children who at some points will be at loggerhead with you, disobey you and sometimes do not seem to appreciate your efforts. But you are consoled that your sacrifices are only for a while; at the end of the day, children leave their parents’ homes and move on to live independent lives.
But it is not so with some children. A few weeks ago, I took one of my children to the clinic to stitch him up after doing one of the stupid acts children are prone to do. As I sat down, I noticed a child with cerebral palsy with tubes in his mouth and nostrils on a wheelchair. His case is particularly bad and unless, a major miracle happens, this child will spend his lifetime on the wheelchair. He will never be able to able to feed himself, do his laundry, or live independently. From children’s diapers, he will graduate to adult diapers. He was brought by caregivers from a Cerebral Palsy Centre. The parents probably abandoned him when they found out about his condition. They probably did not want to contend with endless visits to the hospital, frequent sessions with therapists and 24/7 attention such children need.
But there are parents who have refused to surrender their flesh and blood. I have not seen families where such totally-dependent children are being lovingly taken care of by their parents and siblings. Some of these parents knew right from when some of these children were very young that they would never grow up to be independent and still hung on to them instead of abandoning them or quietly snuffing life out of them. Over time, these children, like all human beings, grow bigger in size and into adulthood. Carrying them from the bed, giving them their bath, putting them on their wheelchair and putting them on a toilet seat or bowl are huge tasks due to their weight, but their parents and families continue to do these tasks.
And this is happening in a society that scarcely has the weak and disabled in mind when planning. There are people who suffered temporary disability and found out they could not even function in the houses that they used their own hands to build. They could not come out of the house unless they were lifted by others because there was nowhere to roll a wheelchair through. Many public buildings are still inaccessible to people on wheelchair. Many years ago, a friend came back to Nigeria on a wheelchair. At the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, there was no lift to bring him down to the arrival hall. The escalator, where they could have supported him to stand and get down to the arrival hall, was not functioning. They had to manually carry him and his wheelchair down.
A few years ago, a friend came down to Nigeria after sojourn abroad. The building where his company office was located was not accessible to people on wheelchair. Meanwhile, the company rendered services to all and sundry. He felt it was discriminatory and built a ramp. Some colleagues laughed at him, some felt he was suffering from colonial mentality, while others were angry with him for “wasting” company’s money.
It is in this same uncaring society that some parents have decided to hang on to children who will not be able to take care of them in old age, children who will not be able to procreate and perpetuate family lineage, children who will not conquer the world and put the family name on the global map. They do it without expecting any reward in return. Beyond biological parents are caregivers who have devoted their lives to these children. Where their parents rejected them, the care givers have become the children’s parents; where their parents refused them refuge, they have provided them homes and where the parents refused them what we all cherish, love, these caregivers have lavished it on them.
I was just amazed at the tenderness and love with which this woman carried and handled another person’s child who will probably never to able to mutter “thank you” not to talk of paying her back in future for her good deeds. If these caregivers were working in orphanages where children without challenges are raised, maybe someday, some of them will become very successful and come back to say thank you, but not these cerebral palsy cases.
There are no words to describe this extraordinary sacrifice, selfless service and unconditional love. I am blown away.