By Francis Ewherido

I read with shock the story of a woman who requested her husband to allow her sleep with his friend to get pregnant since the husband had low sperm count. You want your husband to give you permission to sleep with his friend. What a request?

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As I was still thinking about it, I saw a comment on Facebook that “before the advent of the whiteman, this was a standard solution in Igboland for impotence in men. The Igbo culture tolerated it because fatherhood belongs to the man who… paid the bride price and not the sperm donor.”If I may ask, if truly such a culture existed, did it also detail the woman, as this woman did, to specify the man to impregnate her?

On a number of occasions since this column started, I have thought of writing on childlessness, but I always jettisoned the idea. I always feel that, since I am not in their shoes, I might not be able to capture the pain and frustration of childless couples. My closest experience to childlessness was when a close female friend (a very baaad girl) of mine, during our single days, asked me if I had ever impregnated a girl.

When I answered in the negative, she told me it is possible I had low sperm count. The thought haunted me and only stopped when my wife got pregnant with our first baby. In the last twenty five years, as people of my generation started getting married, I had close friends in childless marriages. Happily at least 90 per cent of them went on to have children after waiting sometimes for 16 years. One of them adopted, while one is still childless.

Children are a handful. At every stage of their lives you have to deal with issues. Between when they are born and when they start talking, you must figure out what they want at any time. Very few things frustrate a parent as a child crying and you are unable to figure out what the issue is. You do everything possible, yet the child is still crying. Or is it babies who stay and keep parents awake all night, then by 6am they start sleeping? Meanwhile, parents have to go to work. How can you be effective in the office when you had a sleepless night?

By the time they are toddlers, they are going all over the place and you have to keep an eye on them always before they come to harm. There are issues at every developmental stage of children. Parents scarcely breathe until children become adults. Thereafter, parents still keep an eye on them. Parenthood is a lot of “hassle.”

Notwithstanding, children bring enormous joy and fulfillment; they keep the house warm; they make life feel so complete. There is scarcely an African couple who does not want children. Childlessness is still seen as an aberration in this part of the world. The pressure and taunts are enormous. So the desire of every couple to have children is understandable.

Once in a while, I have tried to empathise with childless people to see if I will be pushed to do some of the funny things some of them have done. I know for certain, that even if I had low sperm count, as my friend suggested, I would NEVER encourage my wife to sleep with someone else to get pregnant. As an Urhobo man, it is repulsive; as a Christian, there is no place for it. How do I parade the children as mine when I know they are not mine? How do I sleep well?

This woman talked about sleeping with her husband’s friend as if it is that straightforward. Unless she was already sleeping with the guy, who told her that the guy will flow with her plans? Even if the guy sleeps with her and she gets pregnant, then nine months later, she is delivered of a baby, he will notice the coincidence unless he is dumb. Then he will begin to watch out as the baby grows. If he has strong genes, the baby will look like him or have one of his features (complexion, lips, nose, ears, shape of head, etc.). Then it is not only he that will know, family members and circle of friends will also notice the resemblance. Over time, a paternity case will arise and you know where the pendulum will swing.

There are many people unknowingly answering surnames different from their biological fathers’. Over time in history, some hidden secrets have been revealed. Some were very messy. It is not the kind of mess you want to be entangled in. This lady was too hasty. They have only been married for a few years. There are couples who waited for 25 years or more before having children. If her husband’s problem is actually low sperm count, there are modern solutions and some of them are very natural. All you need is patience. Over time, the sperm count increases and the man is able to make a woman get pregnant.

Unfortunately, patience is not one of her strongest points. Apparently, the husband is rich and she is worried about the riches. She is worried that, without children, her place in the family is shaky. Relatives of her husband might undermine her and inherit their wealth if anything happens to her husband. This obscene attachment to material things is what has led her into this mess. She said she “needed a child to consolidate on my marriage.” The marriage she wanted to “consolidate” is what is now slipping through her hands. How can a normal woman in this age ask for permission from her husband to sleep with his friend? Let me ask the womenfolk; even as patrilineal as Nigeria is, how would you feel if your husband asked you for permission to sleep with that your beautiful, sensuous and well-endowed friend?

You can see humans have problems. Here is a wife of a rich man, who probably has all her material needs catered for, doing dumb things as a result of childlessness. But I can also assure you that there is a woman out there with children, whose husband is not well off, doing or looking forward to doing dumb things to get money. Sometimes, we need to ask ourselves what we really need.

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Even though her husband refused, adoption would have been more honourable, but our society also stigmatises the act. Does the extended family accept adopted children as their grandchildren, cousins, nephews and nieces? Our society places too much burden on people and force them to do stupid and dumb things. But it is still up to the individual to do the right thing.  Meanwhile, I just hope that her husband would reconsider, forgive her and take her back.


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