Ijeoma* came to me that Saturday evening, and I knew that it wasn’t a regular visit. She seemed drained of every ounce of strength in her body. It wasn’t the first time we would have cause to chat, specifically about TTC related issues, as that had been how we’d met, after all. But this time, she seemed different. This time, she didn’t have the zeal to fight any more.
We met through a mutual friend, who gave her my number. I had just had my girls, and our mutual friend thought she would benefit from speaking with me. From the first time we spoke, we clicked. Yes, she and her husband had been trying for a baby for years, and yes she was eager to see those pink lines on a pregnancy test, but her attitude was uncharacteristically chipper and cheerful every time we spoke. As they progressed from one treatment to the other, and as they suffered failed cycle after failed cycle, nothing seemed to chip at her armour. In fact, I would even be the one more emotional and upset every time she had a failed cycle. As far as I knew, she and her husband were suffering from unexplained infertility, as both their tests had come out great. And so, for the first couple of years after we met, that was what I thought.
But when we spoke that evening, I realised that had been far from the truth. Ijeoma had reached her wits end. She was tired of being the fall guy, the person standing in the line of fire and absorbing all the bullets. As she opened up to me, it was like a dam had been opened, and, for the first time since I met her, she was emotional and despondent.
Nduka*, her husband, had been diagnosed with a very bad sperm condition. It wasn’t that he had low sperm count. No, his count was fine. However, about 85% of the sperm in his semen were dead. Lifeless. Zero motion. And the remaining 15% were extremely sluggish and abnormally shaped. They refused to accept this after seeing the first doctor, and proceeded to see the second, and the third, and the fourth, and even the fifth doctor…all of whom had told them that the chances of her getting pregnant through natural intercourse were slim to none. She told me how, after seeing the final doctor, Nduka had cried like a baby. Her heart had broken for him…for her macho husband, now reduced to an emotional, weepy mess! They had gone through a roller coaster of emotions. From her consoling him and telling him everything would be okay, to him lamenting about he wasn’t a ‘real man’ and urging her to go look for one, to him cursing, raving, and ranting about all the doctors they had seen, and how they didn’t know what they were talking about. Ijeoma found herself walking on egg shells…always careful about the things she said around him, lest he misconstrue anything, and attribute it to some sort of disdain on her part.
That had been when she had decided to step forth, and protect her man. She swore that nobody else would be privy to this classified piece of information. She was determined to help her man protect his masculinity, and she would be damned if he would be exposed to any ridicule.
Even when the heat from her in-laws started, first of all like a small blue flame, before gradually growing in momentum to a roaring inferno, she hadn’t been too bothered. She had absorbed all the questions, demands, innuendos, and insults, with grace, and instead prayed for their treatments to yield results that would hopefully shut them up. She had accepted being the poster child for their infertility, the one to whom the finger of blame was pointed, not only by her in-laws, but her family, and their friends as well.
It was all fine in the beginning, but as the years rolled by, Nduka’s protection and defence of his wife started to wane, and he even started to believe their lie himself. He seemed to have gotten himself convinced that, truly, Ijeoma was the reason behind their infertility. And so, anytime Ijeoma faced taunts from her Mother-in-law, or an insensitive remark from a friend, it eventually got to the point where her husband did nothing to protect her.
Slowly, her resentment started to build…and by the time she came to see me, two years ago, she had become fed up. It was bad enough that they had just suffered their sixth failed IVF cycle, but being thrown under the bus by her husband was bad enough…and she was done with it all.
Unfortunately, that had been the end of their marriage, as they separated a few weeks later.
Speaking to her got me thinking. I had never met anyone in her shoes before, at the time, and I wondered if that kind of thing was possible. Alas, in the years following my chat with Ijeoma, I have met too many women in the same situation…covering up the infertility of their spouse. Some of these women have been, and are still, happy to do this…but the others have found themselves left alone in the cold.
I used to have this colleague, Edwin*, in one of the earlier places I worked. He got married to this very pretty lady, Kemi*, in early 2007, and theirs was a match made in heaven. His wife was bit on the plump side, so when they didn’t start a family right away, I actually assumed she had PCOS, and it was the reason why she hadn’t conceived. It turned out that almost half of our colleagues, not to mention their other friends, thought this was the case too. And Edwin never corrected any of us.
Late last year, when I still had my column with Bella Naija, I got an e-mail from a lady, who turned out to be Kemi. She was asking for the information for a good Urulogist, as her husband had sperm problems. She didn’t know I was this so-called Nicole. As we exchanged e-mails, I never revealed myself to her, and instead shared as much information as I could, and pointed her in the direction of a good Urologist here in Lagos. But I couldn’t help but resent Edwin. Yes, it wasn’t anyone’s business, but I marvelled, not only at her willingness to continue being the fall guy, but also how easily Edwin had allowed this.
I am not one of those who have been opportune to experience this first hand, as ours wasn’t male factor infertility, but I know how stoically my husband defended me, every and any time anyone even as much as breathed an innuendo my way. But thinking about it, it is possible that love would have driven me to do exactly what these women did…to protect my man. Nothing wrong with that. The worry only comes when this defence is one-way. In that instance, it is simply a case of selfishness, inconsideration, and cowardice!
Men, don’t throw your wife in under the bus. Step up to the task, and rise to the occasion. Because the minute she is tired of covering up for you, there might be no going back.
Like R. Kelly sang in one of his songs; When a woman’s fed up…no matter how you beg…there aint nothing you can do about it…
Food for thought!