Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here.
This week’s #ZikokoWhatSheSaid subject is a 53-year-old Nigerian woman. She shares how she had her “miracle” baby at 47, beating the 4% chances of conceiving and mistaking the early symptoms for menopause.
Did you always want kids?
Yes. As a young lady, I wasn’t preoccupied with the thought. But yes, deep down inside, I wanted kids. I wanted a little me to guide and nurture and watch grow up.
Why exactly did it take so long, then?
First, I wasn’t lucky with love at all. I was very shy and closeted as a teen and young adult, so I didn’t even have male friends till I started working at 22. I had my first boyfriend at 29. That didn’t last long because I was SU, and he wanted sex some months in but strangely shied away from marriage conversations.
I became more focused on my career as a system analyst at NNPC, which was a big deal at the time. So I really didn’t want to lose that job. I wanted to grow, make money and support my parents for all the sacrifices they made sending my siblings and me to school. So I was still living with them when I met my second boyfriend and first husband at 35.
How did that happen?
I met him in church, where I was an usher, and he was a new member. This was in 2005. We became friends after I reached out to him a few times, encouraging him to attend our services, as we had to do with new members then. But after a few weeks, it became romantic. He would take me out on little dates at eateries, and we would talk on the landline for hours most evenings.
What did you talk about?
Silly things, like office gist — he worked in a popular bank. We also talked about church gossip and past relationships. I was worried at first because he was almost five years younger. I honestly didn’t think we would go far.
I was already being teased that I’d missed my chance to find a good match. All my friends, younger sisters and most of the cousins my age were long married. I was getting invited to the weddings of family members who’d just even graduated from university. And before him, I could count on one hand how many men had approached me for anything remotely romantic.
Why do you think that was?
I didn’t go out much, that’s the truth. I wasn’t even an active usher — I was constantly on probation for not attending the numerous worker’s meetings. In the office, people just saw me as shy and boring. The men who talked to me, I didn’t like. I realised most only approached quiet girls because they think we’ll be doormats. They’re always surprised by how outspoken I am when I start talking, and then they just vanish. It happened to me at least twice.
Besides those two places, I loved my room too much. I read and slept a lot and loved helping my mum with housework and in her little vegetable garden. My parents never pressured me to marry. I guess they loved having me around, and they had three other daughters who’d married and given them at least two grandkids by that time.
It was just by chance that I met this charming man the once in a blue moon I decided to fulfill my ushering duties.
How did the relationship progress despite your misgivings?
I think life just took its course. We enjoyed each other’s company a lot, the conversations were never-ending, and I like that he treated me with respect. One of my sisters’ husband was so condescending when he spoke to her, and I couldn’t stand that. I knew right away that if I ever got married, it would be to someone who saw me as an equal.
As it should be
You’d be surprised how men didn’t regard their wives back then. Anyway, we had our first challenge when I met his parents a year in. It was at his sister’s wedding in their hometown. We went there for a weekend, but we hadn’t quite started talking about marriage. We were from different tribes, so his parents treated me badly during those few days. I also think my age and the fact that I was older than him influenced how they treated me.
They’d give me these cold glances or purposely speak their language when I was there. And they’d make statements or ask me questions that were so rude, like, “What do you want with our son?” or a reference to how I was no longer fresh or my tribe was known for being dirty. When we returned to our city, I cried and told him about what went on behind his back. By my next visit to them some months later, they were much more pleasant.
He proposed two years after we met, and I was expecting it because our lives had gotten so intertwined by that point. We changed churches and started going together. We’d also started making future plans and discussing finances. Although I was earning more than him at NNPC, he was doing very well at the bank. Some months before our wedding, he even switched to a new bank for a higher role and better pay. I was 37 when we got married, and he was 33, but we were so happy.
Did you try to have a baby right away?
Yes. It wasn’t a secret that I wasn’t young. And we could afford to raise children comfortably, so I was advised by a doctor friend to start seeing an O&G right away. I’d actually done a consultation months before our wedding and was told that from the early 30s, women become less fertile, and it may take longer to get pregnant.
They said I had a 25% chance of conceiving. I made this clear to him ahead of our wedding, and he was hopeful that everything would work out well. However, seven years in, several fertility procedures and lots of money spent later, I was 44, my chances had dropped to 4%, and we’d lost that hope.
You said he was your first husband, so did he leave because of that?
It could’ve been a trigger, maybe, but the real dealbreaker was when he relocated to the US in 2014. I was indifferent about moving, but it was his dream. He’d always wanted to move overseas, but all the fertility wahala kept draining our finances. We’d drifted so far apart by the time he travelled that it no longer felt like we had anything connecting us.
The plan was for me to join him the next year once we’d both saved enough again, but our communication suffered greatly within weeks. At a point, we’d go days without speaking. We went from Skyping every other day to messaging once or twice a week. Meanwhile, I’d developed something with a close mentor at the office.
Ooooh. What? Who? How?
He was a widower, and because I had a lot of time and space with my first husband’s relocation, our conversations over career advice often dragged and shifted into the personal. I told him how my husband and I no longer had anything to talk about on our calls and even messages, how the awkward silences made me cry for hours after, and how deeply lonely I felt.
It was a relief to open up about my struggles to someone older than me for a change. I was so open and vulnerable at the time, I was scared he’d take advantage of me, and something would happen that I’d regret. We had these conversations in his office at NNPC, but I was still slightly ashamed at the things I’d tell him about my personal life. I suddenly had no one else to turn to.
But how did you meet this man in the first place?
He was a director at work and just took an interest in me because we’re from the same tribe. I met him even before I got married, sometime around 2001. He used to prop me up a lot. You know how federal government parastatals are full of politics and inner machinations. Everyone needs sponsors and mentors in high places to take notice of you, or you could be at the same level for years without promotion. It’s the same in banks.
So he’d encourage me when I did good work, call me out when I was falling his hand, tell me the right opportunities and trainings to take and generally look out for me. He’s just a kind man like that. When his first wife died, I knew about it but sadly couldn’t attend the burial. It was a year after my wedding.
So what happened with him?
He was over a decade older, but again, that didn’t stop me from falling in love. I hid this from him even though I somehow knew he felt the same way. Things proceeded faster with him than with my first husband. But nothing physical happened until he asked me to marry him in December 2014, shortly after he retired from civil service and seven months after my husband relocated. The wedding happened in March 2015.
How did your first husband react to this?
It still haunts me to this day because he was devastated. He actually cried on the phone the night I told him. I immediately wished I’d taken a flight to Dallas to break the news in person instead. I never expected he would take it so badly, given how disconnected I thought we were during that period. His late mother, God rest her soul, even called to rain insults on me the very next day. But I’ve long since healed from that experience and prayed to God for forgiveness.
I feel for him. So did you approach having kids differently this time?
Not at all. Or let me say, yes. This time, I didn’t try at all. My O&G didn’t hear from me, and no fertility treatments or prayers. I mean, he already had three children young enough for me to help bring up. And they were kind, just like their father, so no stepmother-stepchildren Nollywood drama. I’d accepted my fate because I believed I’d long passed my time at 45. I was happy and content.
Then how did it happen?
Hmm. It was about a year into the marriage when I missed my period and then another one. I thought, “That’s it. My time is up. Menopause”. Then, I think around five months in, I was feeling so sick I had to go to a clinic for a malaria test.
But it was a baby
It was a baby o. I was almost six months along and didn’t even know it. Hey God! I’ve always been petite, and I didn’t gain any weight. No symptoms whatsoever. A surprise miracle baby. The only thing I remember is I was always so tired, but I made excuses for that. My husband jokes that the best gifts come when you don’t stress.
I agree. What was the pregnancy period like? Were you scared?
Yes. The initial joy and euphoria gave way to fear. How can I carry a baby in my womb when I’m almost 50? How would I survive labour? There were so many scary stories, even from my doctor. There was a high chance the baby would have down syndrome or a score of other conditions. I myself had a high chance of preeclampsia, diabetes and more.
But abortion was out of the question for me because somewhere deep in my heart, I didn’t want to let go of this renewed hope that I could have a little me after all. I finally relaxed when tests confirmed my baby was healthy. The pregnancy went on smoothly, my skin was glowing, and I just felt great. Even the depression they warned me about didn’t come.
I carried my daughter to a full term of nine months and a week and delivered her through elective C-section as a healthy 3.15 kg baby. I had my only baby at 47. It could only be God.
Hallelujah. And how does motherhood feel now, six years later?
Sometimes, I worry I may not be as energetic as the average parent. But I know for a fact that I’m a lot more attentive to my daughter and smarter at raising her. I have a lot of time, experience and resources on my hand, and that’s worth something too. Nothing’s all good or bad.
I also worry I might be dead by the time she starts making a life for herself and achieving things. But I’m hopeful that I still have up to 40 more years on this earth, and so, I’ll be around for as many of her wins as possible, by God’s grace.