Sunday, August 4, 2019

personal notes on trying to conceive
In the period while I tried to conceive, an irrational madness descended on me, swamped me, made a person unfamiliar to myself. Medicine says it is normal for you not to conceive immediately within the first year of unprotected sex—no need to worry or to subject yourself to vigorous laboratory testing to verify your reproductive abilities.

I remember sometime during my courtship, on a date with my fiancé, in a brightly lit restaurant in Nsukka, I, full of a sense of my own ambition and my deep-seated need for quiet solitude, told my fiancé that I would not want to have a child in the first year of our marriage. I was in my fifth year in college, my mind brimming with grand ideas for the future that awaited me after college and in view of an imminent marriage, I had created a mosaic of wisdoms—bits of marriage counsel curated from several church sermons and many pages of consulted marriage books.

When you are single, the idea of marriage is fascinating. Marriage takes the form of an exciting but unknown journey, and you become somewhat of a voyager who must prepare by amassing relevant knowledge and I remember then on campus, fellowship girls—girls like me who shared the same moral values and commitment to Christian fellowships, understood this preparation as flitting about to different church marriage seminars which always had titles like How to know the one, listening keenly to the preacher, who in our eyes were a sort of marriage veteran, taking notes, buying and borrowing books all centered on a male-female marital relationship.

In one of those seminars in a church I prefer not to mention, the preacher was advocating on a child-free first year of marriage. It seemed so progressive, this advice, so pleasantly unconventional and it appealed to me. I do not remember this preacher's face nor his name but his words resonated with something in me. He spoke, describing the first year of marriage as a live-in discovery period for a couple, a period where you try to adjust, to adapt to having another person in your most private space. According to him, the adaptation period was hard enough and it was better not to bring in a stranger at such a time. Here, the stranger is the child.

I was naive and in comparison to who I am now, it is clear that I lacked a certain understanding, and this made the idea of deliberately not getting pregnant seem good. The one thing I truly cared about becoming was becoming a writer. Because I was stiffly ambitious and inward, having a writing process that thrived in quietness, in solitude,  I somehow assumed that the one year child-free period would in a way crack the shell of my inwardness and I would step out of that shell, a new person, an evolved person, a person who would tolerate a child disrupting the ordered flow of my life.  I must also say, funny as it is, that the preacher did not offer any advice on how to navigate not getting pregnant, seeing that the first year of marriage is in fact a crucible of unrestrained passion. 

This idea of not trying for a child, brilliant as it seemed to me, was to my fiancé, simply godless or perhaps satanic, to put it more emphatically. My fiancé (now husband, just to be clear) strongly opposed this idea and our conversations that bordered on this idea were just rife with conflict. My fiancé argued that he was unwilling for us to attend to the duties of raising little children in the mid-years of our lives. It was best to raise children young, with the vigour of our youth and then simply coast in the mid-years of our lives, having tackled the more laborious demands of the early stages of parenting. He was just not going to be one of those Igbo men, who in their forties, still had to deal with school run—waking up early to load up little children in the backseat of a car in a drive to beat the morning traffic. Soon, I came to understand his reasoning.

In the stages before my madness, before I began trying for a child, I simply inhabited a place of emotional ease, resting in the delightful shade of a young husband's rapturous love. I was not scheming to be with child. I was just being in my husband's love. Though I wasn't consciously trying for a child, with time, there began to grow a subtle fear, a fear that nagged, asking why a child had not  accidentally happened. I mean, some women just have a go and it's the beginning of morning sickness.

On the matter of trying for a child—that is, in the case where it doesn't just happen, it makes logical sense to start from the basics, which really is understanding the physiology that underlies the weaving of a new human being. Aside my exposure to the theory of reproduction in my obstetrics and gynecology classes, the understanding of the basics for me actually started in a small lab room at the medical center, in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I was sick, probably with malaria or typhoid, and a nurse, an unpleasant, middle-aged woman was asking me when I last saw my period. It never occurred to me that I was supposed to note such dates. Period dates had always been unimportant dates, whose only significance was marked by the purchase of a new pack of Always ultra. When I told the nurse that I didn't know the date of my last period, she said some unpleasant things in Igbo, of which can be summarized: I wasn't properly brought up. Can I  just say that sometimes, Igbo elders are quick to whip up in your face, the card of 'being poorly trained'? A zuro gi azu!

I had my fair share of visiting the medical center when sick and because I didn't want a repeat of that episode with the nurse, I started taking down the dates of my periods in a notepad on my phone, the start and finish dates, but I never bothered to understand my cycle. In college, my life was straight forward: books, church, writing (with its accompanying emotional turmoil) and like the Bible says, "the body is the Lord's." With marriage, "the body is the Lord' s" could no longer apply and I was confronted with the need to make sense of my cycle.

I turned to the Internet, that repository  of good and bad knowledge whose chief director is Google, to understand the intricate elements that governed conception. Google opened the gates to a new cyberworld, a world of fertility websites and apps and forums, with its own unique language. Trying to conceive means encountering the language of trying to conceive, the numerous, cryptic abbreviations that mask the fact that you are actually talking about your intimate life on fertility forums with total strangers whose profiles display weird avatars.

It is the expectation of many couples to have children but every month  a couple fails at conceiving slowly adds up to what may become years of childlessness. Months easily become years. Based on this premise, I gathered my arsenal and embarked on a journey of trying to conceive, to quickly secure a child, to prevent the months of disappointments from turning into years of disappointments. And in the course of this journey, I went mad.

Madness can be described as the quality of being rash and foolish and might I add, not possessing full control of your mind. During this madness, my life swung, pendulum-style, between barraging God for a child and burying myself in all the information the Internet could offer about conceiving. I carefully curated verses from the Bible that dealt with the subject of conceiving to be used for my prayers and 'googled' testimonies about people who sought God for a child.

There is this popular Nigerian gossip blog that ironically has a section that deals with prayers for conception, and I find it to be a rather strange mix of worldliness and spirituality—but then again, the average worldly Nigerian can easily fluctuate between the impious and the pious. Women in different stages of their trying to conceive journey congregated on this blog, for the prayers, to share testimonies of their conception and offer advice on what worked for them and to just share in the sense of community that they were not alone.

I read the testimonies of the women who conceived to find encouragement and to copy their strategy. Though these women upheld the Bible as the word of God, their doctrinal leanings were greatly varied and some of their suggestions came across as bizarre. Praying to saints, dramatically crying before a grotto and praying naked at night facing the night sky are just some of the suggestions that remarkably stood out.

Seeking Saints:

personal notes on trying to conceive
My family house in my paternal hometown, Amawbia, is replete with relics of the Catholic church—a small gourd of holy water hanging on the front door, wax-chaplets hanging from nails driven into walls, missals and a dedicated  shrine-room where my grandfather does his private prayers. My father was raised Catholic but broke away from the church, from his father's stiff Catholic devoutness to embrace pentecostalism—an outright protestantism that meant doing away with the sacred objects of Catholic worship, boycotting the saints and Mother Mary to pray directly to Jesus and to disbelief purgatory and firmly hold to the belief that after death comes judgment which culminates in either Hell or Heaven.

 Growing up as a child, I remember kneeling on the rough rug, my face pressed to the sofa, as we said our morning prayers as a family. My mother called these times morning devotion. Every morning by six o'clock, my mother dutifully woke me and my siblings up for prayers. And it was common to see other flats in the street lighting up, to hear other families in nearby apartment buildings, clapping, singing and raising their voices in prayers around that time in the morning.

My parents often asked us the children to pray. Each of us took turns praying, and then one parent would finalize the prayers. As a child, my prayers revolved around mentioning every member of my family, asking God to bless my parents and two siblings, to bless my aunts and uncles and to make my grandfather repent and stop worshipping idols. My prayers were borne out of an infantile sincerity as I could not bear the thought that my grandfather would end up in Hell because he said the Rosary and accorded reverence to Mary. I prayed that prayer many times until one morning, my father interrupted me while the prayers were still pouring from my mouth, to say that I should stop saying that my grandfather was an idol worshipper. He lectured me on the fact that even though my grandfather was Catholic and crossed himself before he ate his meals, he was indeed not an idol worshipper.

I never said that prayer again. My grandfather, though Catholic, is a good and admirable man, and a true believer of Jesus Christ and I believe this is what Christianity is really about—believing in Jesus as the way to salvation. Of course, I no longer think that Catholics are idol worshippers who are destined for Hell, nevertheless I was not raised Catholic and did not understand why some of the women on that popular Nigerian gossip blog were recommending praying to particular saints so as to conceive.

But when your mind is infiltrated with the madness associated with trying to conceive, you cease to question things, to critically think about an action because you've been engulfed by an impetuous desperation that freezes your mind. All my life, I've prayed to no one else but Jesus, but there I was on Google, looking up saints who would answer my prayer for a child. I did not know how to pray to saints and my version of the Bible did not have any information on praying to saints. Looking back now to that dark period in my life, I think that my consideration of saints was me questioning Jesus' kindness—me assuming that there was some person out there who would be kinder to me, who would empathize more with me, who would not hesitate to help me since it seemed Jesus already had a lot to deal with. In the end, my foolishness glared at me and I no longer pursued seeking the hand of saints.

A Spontaneous Prophecy:

personal notes on trying to conceive
Nigeria is a deeply religious place. This religiosity is not the benign Caucasian type, but a stark, brazen religiosity that does not try to be hidden. Nigerians walk under a brooding religious cloud whose precipitation somehow miraculously fails to soak them wet. My husband has a colleague at work who describes women as soup. Recalling a story my husband told me, I imagine this his colleague standing with other work guys, loud and boisterous, saying in Igbo, O bu so ofe egusi ka nwoke ga n'eri? That simply translates: Will a man eat only egusi soup? Igbo people enshroud meaning in parables and this work colleague of my husband was blithely saying that a man cannot find satisfaction in only one woman, who he vulgarly compares to egusi soup.

 This work colleague man is engaged to be married but he joyously keeps other women because he has crafted for himself an understanding that the fabric of his masculinity cannot be compatible with only one woman. His side-chick is a religious woman who visits prayer houses to receive prophecies and deep down in her heart, I suspect she wants to unseat the main-chick. The side-chick took the work colleague man to a prayer house where the Prophet prophesied to the work colleague man that he was going to be a powerful man of God. The work colleague man believed the prophecy and began attending this prayer house with his side-chick. He believes that though God wants to use him, surely God must also understand that fornication and adultery are intricately threaded in the fabric of his gender. This can be likened to walking in a storm of religion but being impervious to the water.

I, too, can be described as religious, believing that words spoken to me by spiritual people can affect my life. I believe in prophecy and earnestly treasure words that foretell my future. When someone spiritually inclined says something good about my future I note it down and store it in a file bag with my other keepsakes or simply type it down and upload on my Google account. In the morning of 25th September, 2017, a little after praying with my husband, he said to me that by September 25, 2018, I would already have a son (we were clear on gender). I took him seriously and typed it up in a draft page of my Gmail. Then I forgot about it. And continued with my mad desperation. It is however truly remarkable that I did in fact give birth to a son before September, 25th 2018. My son, Chimdile, was born on Tuesday, September, 11th, 2018, though he will in no way walk in the manner of Osama bin Laden whose name has become a sort of malignant presence shadowing the date September 11.

Read Part 2 here


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