My battles against childlessness

Ibidun Ituah-Ighodalo, ex-beauty queen, looms large even in death

By Chris Onuoha

A good number of Nigerian women have infertility challenges and many more are going through untold ordeal over their inability to bear a child. These women have gone through many forms of medication to achieve pregnancy. Some succeeded while others fail. And in a country where the cost of living continues to spiral out of the reach of the average family, many people are in dire need of new technology for assisted motherhood which they cannot afford. The late Ibidun Ituah-Ighodalo, founder, Ibidun Ighodalo Foundation, a former beauty queen and wife of Senior Pastor of the Trinity Church, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, who passed on last week, was at the forefront of women’s struggles against childlessness. She shared her experience:

Her encounter with infertility and life experience

Initially, like every other girl, I thought that as soon as I am married, within a year or two, I should have my own kids. A year passed, followed by another year and I was still expecting. Although I was having fun just fresh from school, I felt I should be ready for the next stage of my life. I only started getting worried in the third year and I said to myself: ‘okay, what’s going on.’ You know people have their own definition of life; how you should live your life. Just even before I started getting worried, they have already started telling me stories like: ‘You know Pastor Ituah was married before and he didn’t have kids. So be ready that the same thing is going to happen to you.” I thought to myself, ‘You can’t say that to me.’ But that in a way started putting me under a pressure. It is something I would never have thought about and I said, ‘Okay, this is now.’ I started going to the hospital, doing tests and I discovered that I fell into that category of infertile women.

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People would walk up to me and say, ‘Oh! You have put on weight, I am sure you are pregnant,’ because when you get married and there’s this body change, people will anticipate. Then, while I hear this, I would have probably finished crying at home because I just saw my period. Sometimes, somebody would call and say, ‘What’s happening; you have done this wedding over three years ago and we haven’t heard about the twins.’ Naturally, I love dogs, and, at a time, my dog had 15 puppies. A woman came to the house, saw the puppies, and said, ‘No wonder you don’t care about kids because you are busy breeding puppies.’ Those things are so hurtful.

Sometimes, kids would be having birthday parties. When you carry a baby, someone would say, ‘Oh, you have to hold the head well, because someone who does not have one would not know how to hold the baby’s head well.” Honestly, I heard a lot.

In all of these, you have seen it all and turned around. When you are going through the infertility challenges, what was the road like, including the people you met on that journey?

I have done 11 IVFs in total. From the first one, I discovered that I have blocked tubes. This happened when I was sixteen years old. I had surgery done abroad for appendicitis and it wasn’t done properly. That was when the blocked tubes happened. I couldn’t have done otherwise except when God intervenes and opens it up. The first IVF was a roller coaster. The injections they gave me lasted about 30 days and messed my system up. And I had to go for a scan every day. Today you are happy because you are responding to the injection, then when it is time to harvest the eggs and you are told that out of 20, you have only 2 good ones, your mood drops. When they fertilize the eggs the first day, you are happy and have to wait for 24 hours for it to divide into two. Sometimes, the cycle stops the fertilization and you have to start all over again. Sometimes, it divides into two, four or eight before proceeding and sometimes it stops at eight. These experiences can take up to two weeks before they can declare you pregnant. All the 11 IVF’s I did come out with different results and all were with pains. It is very expensive, emotionally and psychologically draining. At a point, you stop living. They always think the next one is going to work. The last one I did work. I had a set of twins but lost them through miscarriage. That was very traumatic; especially when you are not getting pregnant, and then you are, but lose it.

We understand that these experiences led to you establishing a foundation. Could you tell us about the foundation?

You know, when you have been through something, you will understand the shoes other people are not wearing. I decided that this is a lot of difficult journeys. During my own journey, I met a lot of women who had complained bitterly about the cost of that treatment, who sometimes, I considered they didn’t need the IVF. Some people may need the IUI or even just tablets, but when getting to the point when you know what the problem is… Before the idea of the foundation occurred to me, I had a record of many things I jotted down in my small note as things to do in life. As I was praying on one of my birthdays, I heard God whisper to me and said, ‘Let everything that has happened to you go and leave all to me’. He said that ‘there are other people waiting that you need to hold their hands’. At that moment, something rose in me and I started the foundation. In the first place, I said to myself, ‘How am I going to fund this project, having to pay for people to go for this treatment? Sometimes, some of us are so nervous because of society and you will feel that you are alone on this journey. But once you know that somebody is holding your hand, it is a lot easier. My husband was there with me. He kept telling me ‘I didn’t marry you for children. If God will not give you one, let it be left undone’. That really kept me going, but deep inside me, I still want to carry my own. I knew that holding other women’s hands, supporting them, and providing the little I can, spiritual, financial, and education will go a long way.

Your foundation is faith-based. How do you advise women who do not believe that because of technology, it is possible?

What we don’t understand is that, ultimately, knowledge comes from God. It is God that gives people power on what to do. At every point, doctors will say to you, ‘we can try, but God heals.’ At the point of (eggs during IVF) transfer, my doctors always tell me ‘this is where our power stops. The next step is all in God’s hand. He is the one that will make the baby stay’. The first IVF baby was about 40 years ago and, since then, we have had several millions of babies that are in existence because of technology. How many homes do you think God has blessed because of technology. Are we now saying that is not of God?

A lot of people misrepresent what IVF stands because of a lack of faith. What percentage of people would you say do not understand what you stand for?

It is about 30 percent. Some people don’t understand. At the last conference we had, a lady said she would be enjoying the sex while waiting. Some women believe that if you don’t have sex in a certain way, it will be difficult for the sperm to go the way of pregnancy. My elder sister waited for five years before she got pregnant. She had a polygenic disease and she was even advised to go and do IVF. But all that my sister needed was tablets. She has three boys now and she is happy.

If someone is waiting for a child and not having it, what will be the first place of contact? Will it be your doctor, spiritual adviser, or conference? Who do you go for advice and what do you ask?

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Once you are married for a year and you are childless, you need to go for a test or screening for a hormonal profile, both of you. That can be done in any hospital. After that, you need to scan your womb to know if you don’t have fibroids. They (doctors) will ask questions about your period and then they will do a sperm count test. That’s the tricky one because most men don’t like the test. You cannot rule male infertility out because, these days, it is so high. Most men who work in hot weather conditions will drive home in about four hours, wearing tight trousers. Some toxic in the air can also cause that including alcohol. But some men can also come out with unexplained infertility. Those ones might be psychological. Some, you can find out that a man has a health problem, but once you figure out the problem, you know what to do.

But most people who have done IVF don’t want to talk about it. Why?

Actually people are being afraid of being laughed at or made fun of because people would refer to your baby as a test tube baby or glass baby. It is bad and this is why some women are not encouraged.

Adoption:  Are Nigerians making progress and what do you think people should do?

Nigeria is growing and trying in the case of adoption because there are processes you have to go through before you adopt. You have to fulfill all these before you adopt and make it authentic. But people are still running away from it because of the stigma of adopting. People will prefer to steal children and pretend they were pregnant. They would feign make-believe pregnancy and pretend they are pregnant. Our parents practiced it a long time ago. There is no shame. A lot of people grew under our roof that my father looked after. By then adoption was never discussed and legalized but people must learn to open their hearts for other options. I adopted two beautiful kids that I love so much. I will not treat them badly. You can’t box yourself into a corner and live in pains.

  • Interview first aired on Arise Television
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