By Chioma Obinna
•Infertile women who, against all odds, became mothers
In Nigeria, marriage should, at all costs, produce children but when it turns out the other way, it does not only breed hatred but also shatters homes. Such is the case with thousands. Chioma Obinna writes:
“The first 10 years of my married life was filled with bitterness and pain”, said Mrs. Ngozi Eguatu, 54-year-old housewife in Lagos, who passed through the lonely road of infertility from age 20 before God blessed her with a child at the age of 40.
Ngozi is an ideal housewife by all standards; although she is not a university graduate, her humility, care and love for her family kept her going.
One thing she, however, regretted is not furthering her education after she lost her father a week after writing her West African School Certificate Examination.
Ngozi subsequently got a salesgirl job two streets away from her home to assist her mother in the training of her siblings.
When her fiance eventually came to ask for her hands in marriage, she gladly obliged.
She settled into her matrimonial home with the hope that it would relieve the burden on the family.
Everything worked as she dreamt.
But as years rolled by, there was no sign of pregnancy.
At first, the delay was nothing of concern to her and her husband.
Even when Ngozi tried to show a sign of worry, her husband would console her.
But this soon became a problem as Ngozi knew that without a child, her being a good wife may amount to nothing.
And fear naturally set in.
Days turned into months and months into years and pregnancy still did not come.
Ngozi would spend nights wondering why God had not remembered her even her younger sister who just got married had given birth to a child.
“The frustration of a childless couple is better imagined. I cannot recount the number of times I questioned God. The pressures from both families sometimes can depress anybody”, she narrated.
“I almost had a heart attack when my husband who used to cherish me became my worst tormentor. Our love turned sour.
“When we got married, my husband used to give me monthly stipend of N20,000 because he stopped me from working, back then in 1999/2003.
“You can imagine what that amount was then, but he stopped on the grounds that there was no need giving me money on monthly basis since I didn’t have a responsibility”.
The stoppage of the allowance aggravated Ngozi’s search for solution.
“When my monthly allowance was stopped, I no longer had enough money to visit many of the churches for a miracle”, she said.
“I was always angry and bitter. I suffered mood swing, and the girls who lived with me suffered at the slightest provocation. I would overreact over minor mistakes.”
At a point, Ngozi began to accuse everybody in her house. “Everybody was a suspect. Some pastors would tell me what they thought the problem was, collect money from me, yet there was no solution.”
She knew it was time to try medical treatment.
“For a woman to be childless is slow death but I needed a child of my own. I refused to give up”, Ngozi said.
One morning, she woke up to find her husband’s family in their living room.
She knew there was fire on the mountain.
A few minutes later, her husband joined the meeting.
“I felt like disappearing from the house but I couldn’t. My husband’s elder sister announced the reason for their coming”, she said.
The sister-in-law made it clear to her that it was time for the husband to take another wife to continue their family lineage.
A few days later, she decided to visit a member of her church who had a similar case in the past.
According to Ngozi, the church member lived with infertility for 11 years. But through in-vitro fertilization, IVF, she gave birth to a set of twins after a failed first cycle of IVF.
“Her story brought back hope to my hopelessness”, Ngozi said.
IVF, according to Dr Abayomi Ajayi of Nordica Fertility Clinic, is a complex series of procedures used to treat fertility or genetic problems and assist with conception.
It is also the most popular Assisted Reproductive Technology, ART.
During the process of IVF, mature eggs are retrieved from a woman’s ovaries and fertilised by sperm in a laboratory and the fertilised eggs are implanted in the uterus.
Sadly, the culture of silence surrounding infertility, coupled with ignorance and a negative perception of assisted reproductive technologies, had left many couples like Ngozi and husband vulnerable to seeking spiritual solutions from pastors and native doctors.
Despite the fact that IVF has gained recognition, many couples are being swindled every day in the form of sacrifices while some of the women are assaulted sexually all in the hope
of making them conceive.
While Ngozi and her husband were busy agonising, the solution to their problem was just a step away.
Like a miracle, Ngozi’s prayers that her husband would accept the option of IVF treatment became a reality.
The church member took them to one of the fertility clinics in Lagos and, after series of tests and basic hormonal screenings, it was discovered that she had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, PCOS. Fortunately, her husband was found fit.
PCOS is one of the common causes of infertility and patients with such disorder have multiple small cysts in their ovaries that occur when the regular changes of a normal menstrual cycle are disrupted.
Experts say this disruption leads to enlargement of the ovary and production of an excessive amount of estrogenic and androgen hormones.
Ngozi, however, went through treatment, including the correction of hormonal imbalance. The clinic did egg retrieval alongside other processes.
Ngozi was certified okay to conceive within 14 days. Within the 14 days, she went back to the clinic and was pronounced pregnant.
Just like Ngozi, many couples, particularly the women, are going through hell.
Theresa Emenike is one of them.
Theresa, a university degree holder, who got married in 2012 at the age of 27 to a wealthy businessman, had almost given up hope of having a child after six years of trying to conceive.
She was subjected to dehumanising treatments by her in-laws.
The mother-in-law, in particular, became a thorn in her flesh as she called her all sorts of names including being a witch that ate up the babies in her womb.
Theresa was also accused of ruining her womb while she was in school.
She and her husband became enemies to other family members.
When Theresa and her husband could no longer bear these assaults, they sought medical attention.
It was discovered that it had not all been Theresa’s fault but her husband’s, as he was diagnosed to have zero sperm count also known as azoospermia.
According to a Consultant Gynaecologist, Dr Ogunirron Babatunde, so many factors are responsible for infertility.
While about 30 per cent of cases are actually due to the male factor, 30 per cent is from the female factor, and another 30 per cent is male and female combined while five to 10 per cent is due to unexplained infertility.
Today, there are millions of women suffering due to their inability to conceive and, in most cases, the fault is usually laid on their doorsteps, without the slightest knowledge that the men could be the cause of the problem.
Theresa and her husband were presented with different options, either to go for sperm donation or take Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection, ICSC, among others.
In the end, they settled for ICSC.
According to fertility experts, ICSC 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 is then transferred to the woman’s uterus. 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 embryologist then isolates individual sperm in the lab and injects it into the woman’s individual eggs.
Two days later, the fertilised eggs become embryos.
According to Dry Ogunirron Babatunde, IVF success rate has improved worldwide and in Nigeria, the rate is between 40 and 52 per cent.
In a report, Ajayi, who is also a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, said couples trying to have children should be encouraged to weigh the option of ART.
He said there is hope for men without sperm in IVF treatment. “The more couples understand how IVF works, the easier it would be for them to understand what to do when a cycle fails”, he said.
“The role of the fertility centres and experts is to lay the foundation for a successful pregnancy, but when the sperm and egg have been fused, what happens within the next two weeks remains a mystery”.
Ajayi, who said infertility was the 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.
He admitted that sperm has become a big issue all over the world, pointing out that one out of every four Nigerian couples will experience a delay in getting pregnancy.
Male infertility, according to him, is usually caused by problems that affect either sperm production or sperm transport. “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”, Ajayi added.
He stressed the need to always evaluate both parties in cases of infertility.