Mrs. Mary Abah is a lawyer, banker and wife of a former Minister of Interior, Mr. Humphrey Abah. She shares her experience with FRIDAY OLOKOR on her challenge of being in marriage for 23 years without a child and the support she got from her husband
Congratulations on the arrival of your baby 23 years after marriage. Did you ever think it was going to be like this?
Before I got married, my view of the marriage institution was that marriage was a sanctuary; a place where a woman could actualise her dream together with her partner. I understood very early that marriage usually gives some form of security and the expectation was that in it, one should blossom, be fruitful and multiply generally as the Bible says. That was basically how I saw marriage in my youthful age because I finally married at the age of 27 and I was still quite young.
In essence, you did not anticipate the challenge of having a baby…
No, I didn’t anticipate it, the truth is that as a young child who was brought up by a very strict mother, I saw life as a bit of calculation: a sort of ‘1+1 =2 and 2+2=4.’ So if you get married, you expect that after nine months, as they say, you will have a child or children. My challenge has made me very sensitive to what parents and well wishers normally do at wedding ceremonies. During a wedding, people start talking about gathering again for a naming ceremony after nine months. They say it as a joke but that is the genesis of pressure on married women. So, if yours doesn’t happen after nine months, there is a question mark there and you begin to fret and other problems come in.
Did you have any health challenge when you were growing up that could have delayed your giving birth?
Not really, it was much later in life that the health challenge came. I have been a banker since 1987 when I undertook my National Youth Service Corps. I served in a bank as a lawyer. I continued to work in the bank thereafter. Because I ended up in the banking industry, I decided to update myself in everything related to the industry.
During these trying moments in your life, did you feel that somebody somewhere was responsible for your predicament?
The truth is that in the whole of the 23 years, I refused to focus on such things. I didn’t worry about who it was, what it was, where it was or how it was. I did not want to get myself involved in what would cause me anguish for the rest of my life.
You are from Cross River State while your husband is from Kogi State. Was there resistance from your parents when you initially wanted to marry Mr. Humphrey Abbah?
The way we met each other was very peculiar and our marriage was also peculiar. Our families did not actually affect us. They were not there when we met and when we started courting. Our families were not so involved and when it came to the decision of marriage, we took that decision on our own but involved our families later. My husband is not somebody that you can force to do something which he doesn’t believe in. So, even when we got married, that was already established in his family . When he said this was the young lady he wanted to marry, I don’t think he had too much opposition. If there was any at all, it was very insignificant. The truth is that my father-in-law was a very lovely person; a gentleman who had a lot of respect for his son. By the time we got married, his mother was late and my parents were late too. So, his father was the focal point and the cordial relationship they had made it easy. The rest of my family and the elders gave us a little bit of tough time as you would expect in inter-cultural marriages. But it didn’t take us time to be able to woo them to our side and that was it.
At what stage did you begin to get worried?
My first signal was when I was 30 years and three years in my marriage. At first, it didn’t really worry me because as a career person, I felt we should take it in our stride. I was already beginning to make waves in the banking industry and the demands of the job were already telling on me. Also in my innocence, I didn’t really feel it was an issue. But by the time I was 30 and nothing had happened, I asked myself, ‘what’s going on here?’ Then I began to be conscious of it and started making deliberate efforts to get pregnant. Before this time, there was no real effort. When the pregnancy was not forthcoming, I began to suspect that there was a real problem. But as usual, I went to the doctors, they said there was no problem and suggested that I should give myself time because I was a busy lady. But after about a year, I went back and they gave me one or two interpretations as to what could be wrong and we started tackling it from there and it came to the point that by 2011, the doctors were saying nothing could be done.
Which was your first point of call, church or hospital?
By 1991 when we got married, we became born again and the church had become a focal point and integral part of our lives. We were praying and fasting; good relationship with the leadership of the church had become part of our daily lives and so the church was always there for us. The church was never against consulting orthodox doctors. The only no-go area for us was to seek help outside God. So I think that was why very early in the journey of this crisis, we knew that anything outside God was not an alternative to take at all.
During these periods, did the idea of stealing a baby come to you?
I can say that I never really had the thought of doing that. The advice I had was different; it had to do with visiting witchdoctors. But the idea of stealing a baby never came to me; it never crossed my mind. I think sometimes the friends that you have determine the kind of advice you get. For me, I never had that category of friends. I did not even have a lot of friends. I can actually count them on my fingers. But the rest of them were my professional colleagues and church members. I surrounded myself critically with those I felt could help me in my journey in life. I didn’t have that crowd that could really derail me in that sense. But there were general advice of ‘a Baba somewhere,’ ‘a doctor somewhere’ and many others. There were times, through text messages, out of their concern for me, some of the women politicians would make suggestions that one Baba somewhere could do it. Most of the time, I would politely decline and smile. But I would never take it against those people because somehow I felt they were just trying to help. But I needed to communicate to them that such help didn’t suit me. When they realised that it was ‘a no-go area’ for us, most of them backed off. For us, we knew that we needed to shut out the world to be able to succeed in this journey.
Did you try IVF?
Yes, I did it many times. By the sixth time, it was very obvious that it could only be God that would help us. If you look at the Bible, you will realise that God uses what he has created to solve problems. At first, it was a problem for me coming to terms even with IVF and particularly when I had done it once, twice and three times and it failed, I was thinking that maybe that was how God wanted me to go. Sometimes I would agonise over it, sometimes I would pray and sometimes I would even face the battle with my God because I also understood that faith was also very important and faith also involves work. I understood clearly that you needed to activate your faith and so when I began to see the failure of IVF, I felt that was part of it. I would pray and I would move, but each time it failed. I was actually confused because in your journey as a Christian, you grow little by little; you don’t just become a mighty woman overnight. It is from the experiences and how you exercise the word of God that you become confident in what you are doing.
During these times, did you lose interest in having sex with your husband as most women who had faced similar experiences in the past would do?
You see, if you read the Bible clearly, there was only one woman who had a baby without sex and that is Mary, the mother of Jesus. I only said there is only one Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. All of us can’t be like Mary. So where is your action and where is your faith? You must work with your faith; there’s nothing about faith that is easy. Because you understand spiritually that the physical aspect must be part of that journey, then you must keep that fire burning, you must keep trying because without it, you cannot be pregnant. So you will find ways to make sure that it keeps going and with that, what you are asking from God will materialise. If not, you are wasting your time and you cannot blame God who had said ‘I have made man, I have made woman for creation’. Out of it, the next generation will come and you are sitting down to say you have lost interest, then don’t blame God at the end of the day. You will work and whether you like it or not, find time to make way and the Lord will see you through. I think He has shown us that it is good not to give up.
There have been cases where, due to pressures from in-laws, some women are forced to marry wives for their husbands. Did you contemplate this?
No, not at all. As beautiful as child adoption is, my husband refused it. That is the only area of thought that came to me. Not because I felt I needed to give up hope but I felt it might calm the atmosphere because I had also read situations where adoption preceded the gift of children in families. For me, adoption was not a problem; I was willing to do that if it was going to calm the atmosphere. I also understood that the atmosphere that you are in could either help you or scatter everything. You needed to be calm, have a good home and you needed to enjoy marriage for these things to happen. If you are in a tense situation, it would only prolong matters. It was only adoption that we considered, but my husband said no and kept saying, ‘ours will come.’ We didn’t think of another woman. But the beautiful thing about it is that God kept him away from that decision. I am an Efik woman from Cross River State and my husband is from Igalla in Kogi State. We used to joke that he crossed many rivers before he could find me. But a lot then believed that I probably gave him ‘love potion’ to be able to keep him and his faith surprised me.
Was there pressure from your in-laws to get another wife for your husband?
As I said, there was no room for that. Nobody could look into Humphrey Abah’s face, whether in my family or his and make such suggestion. The only person who could do that was my father-in-law. He backed off after bringing up the issue of the delay initially in our marriage. It will be a lie for me to say there was no pressure from my family or his family. They were only concerned about how things would be better for us through the efforts we were putting in. Outside of that, there was no pressure at all.
How did you feel when you were told that you were pregnant?
When they told me I was pregnant, I screamed and cried in the hospital and everyone present rose up and gave thanks to the Lord. Since then, the story has been one testimony after another. But that was not all, when I was to put to bed, I was told there might be complications as a result of all the operations I had done. They said that might make it a very difficult and dangerous birth. Yet, the Lord saw me through. It feels great and I thank the Lord for wiping away my tears and making me a mother at last. It is a dream I have had since I married at the age of 27. Now, I am more than 49 years old, it has taken a long time but the Lord has done it for me. I have shed a lot of tears. Our story is like that of Abraham and Sarah. I am already in menopause but I told God that if He did it for Sarah and gave her womb the strength to conceive, then He would give my womb the same strength. Even when doctors in London told me in 2011 that nothing could be done, I knew that it is only Him (the Lord) that could help me. I focussed on the Lord and He did it for me.