You may not have known but it is a fact that the things that border around reproduction is of great importance to the Igbos. The fertility of a woman is about the only thing she is valued for. If a woman does not have the ability to reproduce, then she is not considered a woman. More specifically, she is called a log of wood.
Also, if a woman starts out in her marriage well and loses the ability to reproduce along the line, she loses everything she has gained. Her prestige (ugwu), acceptance (nnabata) and property (aku n’uba) are all taken from her. She is ostracized and mocked.
Now how in the world do you think people like that will accept surrogacy? The Igbos have closed their hearts to the reproductive health option and will never have anything to do with it. Any woman who considers it an option automatically loses her place in the community. No matter how educated they are, surrogacy is an abomination and an aberration. And so are the children that are birthed from this method.
To talk about this in depth, especially as it is obtainable in Eastern Nigeria, Mr. Ben Ojiribe, who is a “traditional man to the core” made out time to speak with everyevery.ng.
What do you think of surrogacy?
“In Igbo Land, it is important that everyone sees that you are pregnant when you are pregnant. The only time you can hide your pregnancy is if it by an act of infidelity. If this is not so, your child will not be accorded all the privileges due him or her. The child will be labelled an outcast because they were not ‘borne’.
Take the Igwe’s wife for example. Everybody is supposed to see her pregnant. We need to see her so we can celebrate it and even assign people to help her as her baby grows. Apart from this, traditionally, it is improper to have another woman bear the heir to the throne. That’s infidelity. Most children born that way are exempted. The bottom line is that there has to be seen proof of pregnancy.
Why do you think this is so?
“The reason for this is that surrogacy is new. Our people are not aware. They are holding onto traditions and everything contrary to their beliefs is seen as unreal”.
How long do you think the Igbos will reject surrogacy?
“There is no specific time. The plan should be to keep talking about it. Even the people in the urban areas do not have a full grasp on the concept for now. Talk more of our brothers in the rural areas. The people in rural areas have laws that guide them and these laws are binding. It is all they know and have. Hopefully, there will be a case that will open their eyes to the need for surrogacy and if it is consistent, they might begin to consider it.
I spoke with my mom yesterday after you informed me of this interview and she said she has never heard of it. My explanations came off as abominable to her. I could sense her disapproval. What I got from her is that traditionally, the strength of woman is measured by the number of children she bears in her lifetime. When a strong woman dies, a full goat is killed for her and her immediate family members are given the waist of the goat to celebrate her. These traditions are the things that make us Igbos”
Before yesterday, have you heard of surrogacy?
“I have but I used to think of it as the incubator system. I used to think that after fertilization, the fetus will be incubated to maturity.
“So I asked some questions and the answers I got baffled me. I used to think that surrogacy was bringing a man’s sperm and woman’s ovum and placing it in another woman. But I found out that it has to be fertilized outside first. The surrogate mother only serves as a body for carrying the baby to maturity.
“For my sister who is a medical practitioner, it is a new health option Nigerians should explore but for my mother, it is a no. As a matter of fact, my mother thinks that whoever carries a child in her body, whether it is from her ovum or not is the rightful mother. The commissioning parents have not say whatsoever”.
Statistics laid side-by-side with traditions, what would you think about it all?
“For me, among the tests couple do before marriage, this should be one of the essentials test. Peopl say you can not tell if a woman can carry a child or not until she attempts to, but i think that is not true. I don’t think there are no tests that doctors cannot do. It might be expensive but it can be and should be done. If the woman is incapable of carrying a child, she should be warned. Let her not go into the marriage and begin to look for someone else to carry her child”.
What would the traditional man say?
“Opting for surrogacy simply means the woman is not woman enough. Your mother carried you, why can’t you carry another. You see this is why people do investigations before marriage. They investigate for madness and curses and for deformities like this. Maybe because of a sin the person has committed in the past, they cannot carry their child. It is important to check well because in her lineage, there might be something that is affecting her. Why should I give another woman my child to carry when I have a wife. If she cannot give birth, then I will marry another”.
Do you think surrogacy is a bad thing?
“No! not in the least. I think it is good not just for women with health challenges, but for women who have to support their husbands by working”.
There you have it.
What is surrogacy?
According to Wikipedia, surrogacy is an arrangement, often supported by a legal agreement, where a woman (the surrogate mother) agrees to bear a child for another person or persons, who will become the child’s parent(s) after birth.
People may seek a surrogacy arrangement when pregnancy is medically impossible, when pregnancy risks are too dangerous for the intended mother, or when a single man or a male couple wish to have a child. Surrogacy is considered one of many assisted reproductive technologies.
In surrogacy arrangements, monetary compensation may or may not be involved. Receiving money for the arrangement is known as commercial surrogacy. The legality and cost of surrogacy varies widely between jurisdictions, sometimes resulting in problematic international or interstate surrogacy arrangements. Couples seeking a surrogacy arrangement in a country where it is banned sometimes travel to a jurisdiction that permits it. In some countries, surrogacy is only legal if money does not exchange hands.
Surrogacy in Nigeria (the East to be precise)
Surrogacy is a new term to most persons in the rural areas and in some urban areas of Nigeria. Where it is a thriving reproductive health option in developing countries, for us in Nigeria, it is a taboo. As a matter of fact, it is un-Nigerian to claim another woman’s child as yours. What is meant here is that there is always the need to carry one’s own child for nine months, go through labor and be delivered or one loses face. An African woman is not considered complete if she does not go through the traditional method of child-bearing. So any child that comes from methods other the traditional way, is denied of rights and privileges.
The age-long traditions that punish women
This is not a bid to indict the Igbos and their traditions but it is a call for their custodians to be more open-minded. Some of the things we consider culture/tradition today didn’t exist some 200 years ago. As people evolve, they come up with laws and traditions to guide them. So why not change with the times and adapt instead of holding onto things ones that are obviously detrimental.
Because of the way Nigerians hold onto traditions, one can say it is one reason we are not progressive. The tight grip we have on “what our forefathers said” is why we are lagging behind in so many areas.
Most traditions in Nigeria are patriarchal in nature; they give more power to men and take everything from the women. With the Igbos, it would seem that every single time, the traditions that are put in place seek to punish women.
Generally, it is like there is a deliberate plot to subdue the Nigerian woman in every way possible, so she never finds the strength to ask questions or even fight back when she is pushed against the wall. So even in childbirth, the African society says she must suffer to bring forth her child and that if that is not so, then such a child will not be accepted into the society or even be accorded any privileges.
Surrogacy is not a taboo. It is an health option that is saving the lives of women and their children around the world. With the rising deaths and deformity rates in Nigeria, it is not wrong to adopt other methods that are safe.
And for the Igbos, there are some rights that are called fundamental human rights. They are so called because they are required to live even the most basic of lives. All a person needs to be to be accorded these rights is be human. The cruelty (in forms of ostracization and abandonment) meted out on children born from surrogacy is an infringement on their fundamental human rights. If abortion is not an option, then they should be taken care of like everyone else when they born.