By Sola Ogundipe
From a very young age, Halima’s greatest desire was to be a wife and mother of many children. When she was just 4 and in kindergarten, she already knew the picture of what she wanted to be when she grew up.
She always drew a picture of herself surrounded by 12 children. Even up till high school and university, the feeling of being a mother of many children continued.
It never crossed her mind that a woman could be unable to have children. Growing up, Halima didn’t know any woman who didn’t have a child. Her belief was that infertility was something associated with ageing, and she was only 25.
The eldest of four children—two boys and two girls, Halima tied the nuptial knot shortly after graduation. When she was 24, she met Danladi, someone she described as her dream man. It was love at first sight.
Danladi was a good looking and loving gentleman. Halima fell head over heels for him. He was an only child and although from a family not as well-to-do as hers, he, however, had a promising future. There was an aura of completeness about his simplistic background that rocked Halima’s world.
At 25, she and her heartthrob were married and immediately began trying to start a family. Danladi was 28 and desperately wanted to become a father. Being an only child, he was under pressure to provide grandchildren for his middle age parents.
The couple felt the urgency to have a baby and so didn’t want to wait. Halima wanted four children before she turned 30, and another four by the time she was 40, so she was trying quite really hard to get pregnant. She and Danladi had a lot of fun trying to make their first baby.
The first six months of trying for the baby was a happy time. Halima obsessively Googled “early pregnancy signs” but every month her period relentlessly returned. She bought books about understanding a woman’s body fertility signs, took her temperature before getting out of bed every morning, tracking it on a graph to see when she ovulated, or peed on tiny, expensive sticks that showed a less and less appropriate smiley face if the right hormones were present.
But two years, and innumerable negative tests later, they were still trying. So many internal ultrasound scans, tests and investigations revealed nothing. It looked like everything was fine, only that it was becoming unlikely Halima and Danladi would conceive naturally.
To the casual observer, the couple’s married life appeared flawless. Halima was a banker and Danladi, a lawyer. Their careers were going well. They bought a house, renovated it lavishly and it became their castle, but running like a thread through everything that was going right was one thing that was wrong.
What was the point of working hard if there was no one to provide for? Why bother building a family home if they were just going to live in and out of it by themselves? These were big issues they had no immediate answers to.
Time passed. Halima was already 28 and Danladi 31. Halima’s dream was already crashing and she desperately wanted it to come true more than ever. Few of her other friends were yet to have children, but that didn’t matter or make her feel better. She and Danladi wanted their own baby and told whoever cared to know that it wasn’t a negotiable issue.
When they spoke to medical experts, they pointed out that they were young and as such should not be infertile because infertility was older persons’ problem, or wasn’t it?
Another year passed and nothing happened to help the couple realize their dream. They seemed to be surrounded by people who only needed to look at each other to get pregnant.
Couples who hadn’t even met when Halima and Danladi first started trying, were already parents. Their closest friends all had babies; some having two or three.
Halima, in particular couldn’t help feeling like a failure. She had never experienced such a lack of control. Usually, through hard work and determination, she forced things to go her way, but not with matters of conception.
Spending time with pregnant couples or their new babies became unbearable. If anyone around realised what Halima and Danladi were going through, they didn’t mention it because the couple didn’t confide in anyone.
One night, at a Christmas party, two sisters announced they were due to have babies in the same week, and that one was having twins. It was a bit too much. Halima locked herself in the toilet and cried bitterly, then, strangely, got very drunk and had to be driven home in a taxi.
She had three close girlfriends, who all had daughters within a year of each other. As any proud parent would, they sent her photos regularly; unforgivably, she asked one to tell the others to stop. If babies came up in conversation, often she would simply leave the room. Later, friends admitted that they mistook her distance for disdain. Others assumed she’d chosen career over a family.
Soon, Halima began ignoring her friends that had children and began hanging out with other, much younger, child-free friends. Infertility was a deeply private experience, something she didn’t want to discuss.
But already other people were asking questions. At least once a week, a client, friend or relative would ask when they were planning to have children or remind them not to leave it too late.
But nobody forgets to have children. There was nothing Halima wanted more than seeing a positive pregnancy test result and for people to stop asking when she would be ready.
It was not until five years after trying to get pregnant and failing that Halima and Danladi first considered IVF treatment. During one of her trips to the UK, she accidentally discovered that two-thirds of women who have IVF treatment in the UK are under 37.
It was with a surprise when she got to know that just less than 44 percent of women who have IVF are aged between 18 and 34. Soon she came to know that the idea that only older women need IVF is out of date and that in fact, less than 20 percent of women that undergo IVF are over 40.
Halima was 31 when she discovered she and Danladi needed IVF. Danladi was 34. They were first tested for abnormalities and cleared, but because their infertility was still unexplained, they were referred for tests at a fertility clinic.
Halima’s ovaries and Fallopian tubes were checked for cysts and blockages, and more sophisticated checks were done on Danladi. His sperm count and motility were fine, so it was expected that the problem was with Halima. It wasn’t surprising because most people assume that infertility is a primarily female problem.
But they were wrong. Later it was discovered that Danladi had anti-sperm antibodies. At some point in his life, the usually impermeable barrier between his semen and his blood supply had been broken, perhaps by a sports injury or during an illness such as mumps, and his body started to attack his sperm as though it were an invader, making it practically impossible for him to impregnate his wife.
The option suggested for the couple was intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), a more complex version of IVF.
An embryologist injected a single sperm into her egg. It was an expensive procedure but one that was worth it.
Halima’s need to be a parent filled her thoughts; they waited a long time before starting treatment, and never talked about what would happen to them if this treatment didn’t work, or what else they might try, because it simply had to work.
A month later, treatment began. Halima began injecting herself with hormones so she could produce enough eggs for collection. She produced over 20 eggs and after a long process, four made it to blastocyst stage, meaning they were the most likely to become embryos and result in pregnancy. The transfer was done.
The doctor put two embryos into her uterus. It was almost three weeks later before a test could confirm she was pregnant. The IVF treatment had worked, first round, first time. Their daughter, Tamani, was born almost 37 weeks later.
Danladi felt instantly euphoric. Like Halima, he fell in love with Tamani the moment she appeared.
Mothering after IVF brings with it specific challenges: the first few weeks are startlingly hard for all new parents, but Halima waited half a decade to achieve what she expected to be a state of bliss, and while the reality seemed shockingly painful at first, she had never experienced anything as relentless as having a newborn baby. And she had never been so happy either.