How have you been? Keeping safe in these uncertain times?
So, I’m trying out something new on the blog – more like an expansion of what is currently available. I’m thinking of a series of frank conversations with people on health-related issues – to put real faces and voices to the topics discussed on the blog.
Today, we talk a bit about infertility. Infertility is the inability of a couple to get pregnant, despite carefully timed, unprotected sexual intercourse for a year. It is a common problem worldwide, with more than 100,000 new cases being diagnosed in Nigeria every year. It could be male-factor or female-factor infertility, depending on which of the partners is diagnosed with the problem.
In Nigeria, and indeed, many parts of Africa, regardless of the partner with the problem, the woman is almost automatically blamed for childlessness, and bears the fallout from infertility which come in form of mental and physical abuse from spouses and extended family members; loss of employment and income; and breakdown of the marriage. Some men have used infertility as an excuse for polygamy and extra-marital affairs.
I got to this a conversation about infertility and surrogacy with Judith, a dear childhood friend who has walked this tough, tough road, but eventually found the solution in surrogacy. A former Mechanical Engineer, she now runs a surrogacy agency. She has decided to be very vocal about this topic which is almost a taboo subject, in order to give hope to women in a similar situation. You can follow her on Instagram at @mysurrogatetwins.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: My name is Judith, I used to be a Mechanical Engineer, but I am now a fertility consultant. I am married, with a set of twins, after waiting for 12 years, and enduring 8 miscarriages and 1 divorce.
Q: When did you first receive the diagnosis of infertility, and what was your reaction?
A: The diagnosis only came after my last loss. A hysteroscopy showed that the size of my uterus was the culprit. I actually got pregnant with ease a year into my first marriage – the delay was intentional, to allow me finish youth service. The month I finished service, I had sex on the right day and got pregnant right away, which led to the first of my many miscarriages, and becoming a regular customer in hospitals.
When I was diagnosed, I cried a little, but I somehow found the courage not to breakdown completely.
Q: Do you feel like you received enough support medical practitioners? Were you encouraged to explore the available options by your caregivers?
A: Honestly, no. I didn’t receive the support I needed. On reading my hysteroscopy result, the first thing the doctor said was “Have you ever considered adoption?’ I wasn’t made aware of the options, or encouraged to pursue them. I stumbled upon surrogacy in the course of my own personal research; I wasn’t even told that it was an option.
Q: What other options did you try before arriving at this choice?
A: I actually applied for adoption. It’s been two years now, and no word.
Q: Can you walk us through your experience with surrogacy, and how it played out.
A: So, when I decided to embark on this mission, I went to one of the biggest IVF clinics in Lagos and started the process. The cost was very high; I didn’t think I could afford it, but we had hope, and a savings account we were building. Along the line, we heard about a cheaper hospital in Abuja, so we travelled to Abuja and registered with them. Luckily for us, we had a positive result from the first cycle.
How I found a surrogate? I advertised, and two people responded. They both bailed on me, after I had spent a lot of money on them. The third time was the charm – she followed through on our agreement. But this became the motivation for me to start the surrogacy agency; to help connect women with trustworthy surrogates, without all the heartbreak and stress I experienced.
Q: Many people are conversant with in-vitro fertilization (IVF), and know that it is resource-intensive. How does the surrogacy process compare?
A: Surrogacy is actually more expensive than IVF because in addition to paying for the surrogate’s IVF treatments, you also pay her a fee, accommodate and feed her, and buy her drugs. But it is also dependent on your negotiation power, and ultimately meeting a good person who agrees to provide the service without too much stress and extortionist demands.
Q: I have deliberately avoided the social aspect of this topic. We know what women suffer when they get a diagnosis (or even a suspicion) of infertility, and I imagine you went through the same. How did people react when you decided on surrogacy?
A: Many people expected me to do a hidden surrogacy – maybe travel to the village or travel abroad for a while and come back with the babies, claiming that I was pregnant before travelling, or wear an artificial belly with increasing sizes to mimic the months. But I refused to pretend or be deceptive about the process; I am more comfortable owning my truth, and that’s exactly what I did. And you know what they say about the truth setting you free – it really has set me free.
Q: Congratulations on your baby girls! What key lesson would you like people to take away from this journey?
A: People should be open to new ideas, they shouldn’t give up, and they should stick with the science, rather than pursuing sham ‘cures’ and treatments. It may take a while for it to work, but have faith, and trust. It is also very important that they continue to pursue their dreams in other spheres of life; do what you love to do, while you’re looking forward to the dream of having your children.
Dear Judith, thanks for your strength and courage, in owning your truth, and speaking up. For finding a way of turning this into a story of hope for many women and in deciding to fill an existing gap through the lessons you’ve learned.
My sincere hope is that one day, we will get to the point where we treat infertility like we do hypertension or asthma – a treatable medical condition, without stigmatization. The happiness, mental health, and the very lives of many of our sisters, mothers and friends depends on this!
Dear friends,this is it! Let me know what you think about the idea for this series, and this first post. Also feel free to share and send in your comments!
Till I post again, #MaskUp and stay #COVIDFree