Tunde and Lola had been dating since their 100L days in the University. They were brilliant, witty, and fun to be with it. Wherever you sighted Tunde or Lola, you could confidently wager that the other person would soon appear there too. Everyone on campus conceded that they were a handsome couple who understood each other very well. They were the gold standard of a successful campus relationship and everyone naturally expected them to get married. They did not disappoint, as, within a year of having completed their NYSC service, they got married. Tunde had secured a job with a Telecommunications company while Lola joined a prestigious Law Firm. Finally, all their dreams were coming true, and God was faithful.
By the end of the first year of their marriage, Tunde’s mother was becoming openly inquisitive about Lola’s health. ‘My daughter’, she will start. ‘How is your body doing? ‘Any changes? ‘Is my grandson on his way?’ She would fire the questions at Lola in quick succession. Although Lola was initially amused and would placate Mama to be patient, her emotions soon transited into mild irritation and then embarrassment, humiliation, and impotent anger – as Mama increased the tempo of her pressure and became openly antagonistic. To Lola’s amazement, even her own mother started putting pressure on her, to go for prayers at various places. ‘Look, Lola. You are my daughter and I want the best for you. Anywhere we can find deliverance from this problem, we have to go ooo.’
The couple comforted each other and promised to remain patient – especially as the tests have all shown that nothing was wrong with either of them. But as the years rolled by, and one year became 2, then 3 and 4 years, the pressure was becoming like a crescendo and from every quarter. ‘Have you heard that so and so just had their 3rd baby?’ ‘Won’t you be attending the naming ceremony of so and so’? Lola’s mother compounded the problem by consistently warning her daughter that they had to ‘do something’…. otherwise, she will not be safe in her marital home. The pressure began to tell on the couple and they became irritable and short-tempered. All the negative innuendoes and comments were beginning to exert their toll on their emotional well-being.
Lola became weepy, sad, and unsure of her place in life. She felt incomplete, especially considering her mother’s frequent admonitions. Tunde started drinking and keeping late nights and would return home irritable and in a quarrelsome mood. The couple started drifting apart. Lola became depressed, anxious and worried, and would frequently wonder where all their previous happiness has disappeared to. Sometimes she wonders if it was not better for her to just sleep and never wake up again to face all the constant taunts, which she feels helpless to counter. She felt that no one really understood her, but everyone was offering suggestions and telling her to do this or do that. It was very frustrating to her.
For something so common, it is surprising that there is so much humiliation, stigma and societal pressure on persons going through such problems. Such pressure frequently leads to emotional problems such as depression, anxiety and worry, suicidal thoughts (as Lola was experiencing above) and turning to substance abuse (as we saw with Tunde). It also weakens and puts the marriage in jeopardy and under a great strain. Not many relationships will survive such sustained and intense pressure and scrutiny.
The WHO estimates that about 80 million persons globally have difficulty achieving conception. In Nigeria, nearly 1 out of every 3 couples (prevalence of 30%) have problems with achieving and carrying pregnancy successfully till delivery.
Ultimately, such pressures are very unhelpful and can be out rightly damaging for their emotional wellbeing. We need to support, encourage and be tolerant of persons going through such experiences. Stop telling them what to do…they are adults and they would have thought about it too. Simply let them know that you are there for them, and allow them ventilate if necessary. Encourage and give them hope. Many couples with initial difficulty…especially where the tests show no abnormality, will eventually achieve success. But even where all else fails, they can adopt children and bring them up, shower them with love and affection.
As a society, it is important for us all to realize that if you achieve conception and you become a mother or a father, it is not by any special skill of yours. The situation could so very easily have been reversed and you will feel helpless. In such a case, how would you like others to treat you? The negative stigma, taunts and humiliation often meted out to such individuals are totally unacceptable and we should all actively put a stop to it.
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 27th October 2022