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Women Unapologetically Document Their Journey Into The World Of Surrogacy In Nigeria

Women Unapologetically Document Their Journey Into The World Of Surrogacy In Nigeria

Surrogacy hardly forms a topic of public discourse in Nigeria, and studies have not really documented any prevalence of surrogate motherhood in the country. However, things are changing as physicians continue to create awareness at every given opportunity.

Thirty-six-year-old human resources manager identified only as Juliet had been out of a job for a few years and was in dire need of an urgent way out. Her bills were piling up at an incredible rate and it looked like only a miracle could solve her financial problems.

It got so tough that life became more and more unbearable for her family members. Although married, her husband’s financial situation was not better than hers. She and her family were on the verge of being thrown out on the street for not paying their rent.

In the middle of the financial turbulence, a friend told her that if she was willing to be a surrogate mother, some of her financial needs would be settled. It was an offer that took her to the depths of confusion – it was an unsettling proposition that was tempting at the same time.

A surrogate mother is required to have a baby for another woman who cannot have one, and then gives her the baby after it is born..

“I needed to support my family as we were in a finance crisis,” she said unapologetically.

“I was out of work and needed something fulfilling and rewarding to do. It was a tough time for me and my family and I needed to do something quickly, else my family would be on the street. My friend told me that somebody needed a surrogate mother. That was how my journey into the world of surrogacy started.

“Beyond that, I also had the desire to be a blessing to someone or a couple out there but I didn’t know how to go about it. I wanted first-hand experience of what it entails to be a surrogate mother because I had heard about its practice in the western countries.”

Like Juliet, Funmilayo could not shake off the yoke of suffering that her family had come to know for some time. Her husband could not provide the funds needed for the upkeep of the home. And the mother of three knew it would require something drastic to prevent her children from dropping out of school. She shared:

“I knew I had to do something fast or my children would be out of school. It was in the middle of it that I heard about an opportunity to become a surrogate mother. I applied and became one.

But I see it as having two benefits. I am helping other women and also helping myself. A couple that has been unable to have their own children would get to have that while I also get good money to start a business. If you asked me, I would say, it was worth the risk.”

Nneka, a single mother and civil servant, described surrogacy in clear terms as a “win-win” situation. All parties get to go home with their needs met, she said. She explained,

“I became a surrogate mother to pay for my tuition and that of my child. My dad is dead and my mum’s petty business can’t handle all the responsibilities in the house. I got pregnant after leaving secondary school and I’m just picking up the pieces of my life.

“I have always loved children and I love to help others have children but it comes at a price. I love to see people happy and I love babies but I’m not ready to have another baby yet for myself.”

SEE ALSO: Surrogacy Is Now A Thing In Nigeria: Meet The Women Who Help Other Women Carry Their Pregnancies

But beyond the money to be made from surrogacy, some Nigerians also see it as their ticket to pastures new in a foreign land. Such is the case of a woman who only identified herself as Olabisi and currently pregnant as a surrogate for a couple.

Olabisi is desperate to leave Nigeria for Canada with her children and cannot wait for the baby to be delivered so she can move on with her life. She said:

“I need the money to relocate to Canada with my children but I am also happy that I’m helping a couple to have their own child. I am doing this to give my own children a better future and give intending parents the opportunity to enjoy their future too. There is no loser in the deal and that is one of the reasons why I love surrogacy.”

Recruitment and surrogacy process

During visits to several hospitals that offer surrogacy services, PUNCH correspondent who posed as someone interested in being a surrogate mother discovered that most of them do not recruit surrogates by themselves.

A number of them told PUNCH correspondent to come with the intending mother or use an agency involved in such recruitments. The selection process is largely done via WhatsApp and the correspondent learnt while participating in such processes conducted by surrogacy agencies that intending parents often give certain criteria they want surrogate mothers to meet.

The agencies ask for details of physical attributes like height, weight, complexion, beauty and so on from intending surrogates, who are also required to send their pictures to them via WhatsApp.

If the looks of the intending surrogate mother match the required criteria, she is invited to the agency’s office to have a meeting to discuss the contract – amount to be paid, health status, tests to be done and how they would be done.

In Nigeria, there are so-called baby factories which are usually small illegal facilities parading as private medical clinics that house pregnant women and offer their babies for sale.

But what differentiates surrogacy from baby factory setting is that in surrogacy, all parties are well informed of the terms and conditions as negotiations, agreements and proper legal documentations are done. However, the money involved in being a surrogate does not in any way come easy as the procedures are quite excruciating.

According to Juliet, the process, including the tests to be carried out on the intending surrogate mother, is tedious while the In vitro fertilisation, popularly known as IVF, is “very painful.” She said,

“I became a surrogate after seeing a WhatsApp post shared by an agency that needed one and was able to meet the requirements.”

According to a surrogacy and fertility agency, surrogacy is done through IVF.

“It involves a thorough medical and physical evaluation and screening, psychological assessments, counselling and so on. The treatment phase involves injections and medicines at timed intervals and continuous use of medication once there is a pregnancy up until delivery,”

says a fertility expert who owns the agency, Toyin Lolu-Ogunmade.

Based on information on the medical website, medicalartcenter.com, there are certain medical stages that surrogates must successfully go through in line with guidelines from the Federal Ministry of Health.

Such include physical examination, counselling, genetic evaluation, screening and laboratory test, complete medical evaluation, psychosocial education, and psychological evaluation.

It also specifies that there should be laboratory testing for surrogates that should include HIV I antibody, HIV II antibody, HIV group O antibody, Hepatitis C antibody, Hepatitis B surface antigen, Hepatitis B core antibody (IgG and IgM), serologic test for syphilis, blood type and rhesus factor (risk of incompatibility must be discussed), gonorrhoea, chlamydia, cervical cultures, pap smear, mammogram, rubella (GC only), drug screening (illicit), additional tests for I-P & GC.

The website added,

“The standard surrogates requirement includes healthy females (age 21 – 45 years), previous successful full-term pregnancies. At least one term pregnancy, not more than five vaginal deliveries and/or two C-sections, stable supportive environment (stress of pregnancy), psychosocial evaluation (community and family dynamics), screening and testing, complete personal & sexual history (questionnaire), and complete medical evaluation (not pregnant).”

And the test must be done not more than 30 days before the eggs are inserted. Basically, intending parents are expected to have some medical tests carried out on them. There are different types of surrogacy but all the people our correspondent interviewed went through gestational surrogacy.

For gestational surrogacy, the woman carrying the child has no genetic relationship to the baby. This is more common than traditional surrogacy in Nigeria because the surrogate is only required to be the carrier of the baby and won’t be donating her eggs so she has no biological link to the baby. In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate’s eggs are used, making her the biological mother of the child she carries.

The difficult task of convincing husbands

Most of the surrogates that our correspondent interviewed were married and for many of them, getting their husbands to agree to their plan to carry someone else’s child wasn’t a walk in the park. But eventually, the fact that their wife was salvaging the family situation without doing anything illegal, made them give in.

Juliet said,

“I am happily married with two beautiful children. Being a mother is an important factor needed for surrogacy. But getting my husband to approve of it was not easy at all. I pleaded with him and told him that nothing was wrong with being surrogate. He initially refused but later agreed.”

Like Juliet, a businesswoman, Omolola, said convincing her husband to allow her to become a surrogate was like forcing a horse to drink water. Eventually, her husband agreed to her decision.

“It was hard to convince my husband because of what I normally go through when I’m pregnant. Pregnancy isn’t always easy for me but he eventually respected my opinion,”

said 30-year-old Omolola, who has two children of her own.

“My mum was also aware that I wanted to be a surrogate mother and she pleaded with me not to do. She went as far as crying and saying I should not to do it but my mind was already made up. She eventually succumbed to my desire to be a surrogate.”

Funmilayo said that her husband was initially  sceptical but on learning how much she would be paid, he quickly gave his permission which no doubt paid off for them.

“My husband found the idea really strange before he finally agreed to it. Of course, he was scared for my general well-being. When I told him how much I would get from the procedure, he loosened up a bit. He was really assured when I told him that it had a legal backing and entailed a thorough medical procedure,”

she said.

Nneka and Olabisi had no such worries as they were single parents; however, they also needed the approval of their parents. For instance, Nneka’s mother initially considered it as a taboo. But after explaining to her mum that she needed the money she would make from it for their upkeep and to start a business, it got better. She said,

“I had to tell my mum about the situation. She flared up that she wasn’t going to witness such a taboo in her family. She screamed and made a lot of noise but I told her I was doing it for us. I told her it was healthy and legal, and how much the money involved would change our lives.

“I didn’t worry about neighbours because accommodation was part of the package and I didn’t need to move back to my former area. I moved on from there and I am glad of what I have become today through surrogacy.”

Olabisi said she didn’t need anybody’s approval because the most important thing to her at the time was the welfare of her children. She said,

“My husband had abandoned me and my two children for another woman. And during the time I was struggling to provide for my children, who was there for me? So why should I care about what people would say?

“I didn’t need anybody’s approval. I stayed in the house provided for me by the agency. My children knew that mummy was pregnant but didn’t know the full story. I intend to use the money to relocate or take my children somewhere better and provide a better life for them.”

ALSO SEE: INSPIRATIONAL: Nigerian Woman, Folashade Akiode Relieves Her Tortuous Journey To Becoming A Mom At Age 57

Blessings of surrogacy

According to Juliet, nothing beats the ability to know that you were a party to solving people’s longtime challenge with childbearing. She said,

“I don’t see anything negative in being a surrogate beyond the regular changes that pregnancy and hormones cause to the body. Aside from that, it’s a beautiful thing.

“I felt fulfilled when I realised that I was a medium through which a set of twins came into the world and made the intended parents happy. I enjoyed love and care from the agency and hospital involved. I ate good food and fruits.

”I enjoyed the journey as it was revealing. It was a nice to see how technology has greatly advanced to the extent that a family that cannot conceive naturally can still have their own children by using a surrogate.”

On her part, Omolola said her experience as a surrogate made her love God and science more than before. She said,

“It was a whole new experience; a beautiful experience I must say. It makes you love God and science more. The consciousness that a family’s life was about to change for good was enough happiness for me.”

Funmilayo said the whole process thrilled her as she had never imagined that a thing like that could ever happen. She added,

“God is wonderful! That is the whole message of my experience as a surrogate; it was interesting to see that another person can help a couple carry their children and the child will still look like the biological parents.

“It was an experience I enjoyed and I wouldn’t mind trying it once more.”

Pregnancy period

Juliet explained that she got free accommodation during pregnancy and really felt exceptional carrying the baby.

“I did have some fears. I had been pregnant before but not as surrogate, so it was normal for me to be afraid,”

she said.

“Well, I had minimal challenges during pregnancy because the agency cared for me but my major challenge came towards the end of the project when I was running short of blood {becoming anaemic} due to the rapid growth of the kids. I was pregnant with two boys (twins). It was my first time being pregnant with twins.”

Funmilayo said the only issue she had with her pregnancy came when she started having early morning sickness in her first trimester but that things got better over time. She said,

“I vomited a lot and couldn’t eat. I was basically eating fruits but I received good medical care. I was really scared, especially after the insemination and when the morning sickness started. I rarely had morning sickness but this was different. I thank God that I was delivered of the babies safely. I had a girl and a boy.”

Emotional attachment to children

Some surrogate mothers have been known to have psychological and emotional attachments to their children but only one of those who spoke with our correspondent said she had no such feelings. Juliet said,

“I had no form of attachment to the kids. From the beginning, I had gone through counselling and the legal documents were already there. I knew they weren’t mine. I have my own children and I knew why I wanted to be a surrogate, so that wasn’t an issue for me. Rather, I was happy and fulfilled that I was a medium through which a couple had a set of twins.”

Funmilayo also said though the pregnancy journey attached the mother to her foetus, she never got too emotionally attached to the children she had as a surrogate mother. She stated,

“I knew that the children were not mine. Yes, I love them because I carried them in my womb but there was no serious attachment. The ones in my house are still struggling to survive, so why would I want more? I was just excited that the procedure was successful and I got my money.

“It was after delivery that I even met the intended parents because the woman demanded to see me so that she could thank me. I was grateful to God to have been of help; she even gave me more money after the delivery.”

Nneka said though she loves children, she didn’t see any reason why she should want to hold on to another person’s child when she had her own whom she was trying to give a better life. She said,

“That was not part of the deal; I didn’t even get to see the child. After the caesarean section, before I woke up, they had already taken the child but I know it was a girl. The most important thing is that I helped the couple.”

However, Omolola said she bonded with the children although she knew they were not hers. She explained,

“It’s normal to love them, the kicks, the bonding, but I already knew that they were not mine. For a few weeks after delivery, I had mood swings; I would find myself crying over unnecessary things. But my husband and the agency helped me through it.”

Regarding how she dealt with curious neighbours, she said,

“I am a private person, so when I told them that the baby had moved on, they knew they shouldn’t press further.”

Cost range

Surrogacy, no doubt, is gaining more acceptability in Nigeria and it sure comes at a price for intended couples. PUNCH found out that the process costs intending parents between N2m and N7m.

Juliet, for instance, was paid more than N2m for helping to deliver a set of twins. She said,

“The amount people get depends though. I got N2m for the project, N500,000 for accommodation, N20,000 monthly for transportation pre and during pregnancy, N10,000 post-pregnancy for three months, N100,000 for CS, and N20k for cerclage (should the surrogate mother have tears during childbirth).

“I am glad I was able to use the money to meet the needs that we had in my family then. We invested part of it and we are financially stable today.”

Omolola, who didn’t disclose the amount of money she collected, said the agency had a fixed price and that she got an inconvenience fee, which was added to the agreed price when it turned out that it was a multiple pregnancy.

“I used the money to meet the needs in the home and also invested in a business. I am now fully into business,” she said.

Funmilayo was paid N3.6m in all. She said,

“I was paid N3.6m. The agreed fee for everything, including accommodation, was N3m. It was after the delivery that the woman told the agency that she wanted to meet me and after meeting me, she gave me an additional N600, 000.

“I paid my children’s school fees, started a business, and gave my husband some good amount of money to invest in his business too. We are living fine at the moment and I am thankful to God.”

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Olabisi, who is pregnant with triplets, said the amount they agreed on was N6m to cover accommodation, feeding and others.

“We agreed that I would be paid N6m, what else am I looking for? The couple is willing to pay and I am really glad I am in a position to be of help. My only prayer is to have my babies safely. They have many criteria and conditions. The amount they are giving for accommodation is also much,”

she said.

Nneka was paid N2m and has moved on with her life. She said,

“I was paid N2m which I used to set up a good business for my mum, paid my siblings’ school fees and that of my child. I invested the rest. I am still using the proceeds of the investment to foot my bills. I’m glad my life is stable to an extent. My body is also back to shape.”

SEE ALSO: Actress and Mum Of Two, Ufuoma McDermott Reveals She Conceived Her Son Through Assisted Reproduction Technology

Becoming a mother through surrogacy

A mother of a three-year-old boy, who identified herself as Mrs Asabe, narrated her ordeal with infertility for eight years, an experience she said she would like to forget. She said,

“The pain, trauma, stigma, and silent tears aren’t things I would wish that anyone should go through. I kept on praying and praying, and going for tests. At a time, I got tired. It was my mother-in-law who introduced us to surrogacy but I wasn’t willing to do it, I wanted to carry my own child in my womb. But my husband, mother and mother-in-law convinced me to do it and it turned out well.”

She said she was placed on medication from the time the process started till when the baby was delivered by her surrogate. She added,

“I didn’t use a fake tummy; some do though. The drugs they gave me made me look pregnant. I was full; my breasts were full. In fact, by the time the baby came, I was lactating. Science is powerful. Only very few close family members know that I had my baby through a surrogate. Though it is expensive, it is worth it.”

Lolu-Ogunmade also found herself in a situation where she was unable to give birth to her own children. She tried everything possible for 13 years to become a mother but it looked like the more she tried, the more it looked impossible.

She said,

“My journey to motherhood took 13 years. I had post fibroid surgery complications known as Asherman’s syndrome and I felt the only way for me to become a mother was through surrogacy. It wasn’t what I initially desired but after several corrective surgeries failed, I went to India, hoping to have a successful surgery which also failed.

“I was back to the surrogacy option which I then embraced.  I went through IVF surrogacy treatments in India and became successful at the third cycle. My surrogate is Indian, and she gave birth to my twins in 2012 in India, where I lived for two years. My twins look exactly like me.”

She added,

“I am a proud mum and had my child through surrogacy. I felt sharing my experience with people would inspire them. I have been doing that since I came back to Nigeria and I have also put it in my book titled, ‘Mom at Last.’ During my stay in India, I trained as a fertility counsellor and advisor and learnt what I do now.”

She said when she returned to Nigeria in 2012, she decided to speak out about her experience and help other couples having difficulty conceiving.

She said,

“I have twins, a girl and a boy who are now eight years old. Infertility was such a mystery in Nigeria when I started talking about it. Surrogacy was seen as a taboo. In fact, it was. The stigmatisation was bad. People considered infertility as the woman’s fault and surrogacy as not in line with God’s will.

“But I shunned all criticisms and shared my story anyway because people needed to hear it. Someone had to shout it from the rooftops, and that person was me, so that others can benefit and not lose themselves or their marriages or die because of problems that have solutions. Infertility is not the end of the world. There are treatments to cure, manage and bypass it.”

Lolu-Ogunmade also noted that for gestational surrogacy, the child will not look like the surrogate mother.

“My surrogate was an Indian and my twins look exactly like me. My story gave a lot of people hope, courage and faith and several families have come to embrace surrogacy and have children due to the fact that they saw the proof in me,”

she said.

Also, a gyneacologist and fertility expert, Dr Kayode Adebayo, said surrogacy is widely being accepted in Nigeria with many intending couples preferring the option to adoption. He said,

“The level of acceptability is increasing. People are more open to surrogacy, surprisingly even more than adoption.  Also, the advancement in IVF has made surrogacy in Nigeria easier. This no doubt increased the level of acceptability and openness to it.

“Year after year, the awareness of surrogacy is increasing and in the next five years, it would be something that would have become widely accepted across the country.”

He said,

“Surrogacy in a lay man’s term means that someone else is helping another woman to carry her pregnancy. In a normal situation, a woman should be able to carry her pregnancy, but in some situations due to certain factors – physical or medical factors – some women are unable to carry their pregnancy. In such instances, another person helps her to carry the pregnancy.

“What we do is after the egg has been fertilised and the baby is formed, we let it stay for five days. On the fifth day, the baby is transferred into the womb of the surrogate. The surrogate has no familial relationship with the child. She is just a vehicle.”

Adebayo also described surrogacy as legal, saying the process is not complete without proper legal documentation. He said,

“There is always a signed document that she is not the owner of the child, she is only a vehicle through which the baby is transported to the world.”

Adebayo also added that surrogates are not attached to the babies. He said,

“All these things are myths; they don’t get attached to the babies because they would have gone through pre-counselling and signed legal documents that tell them that the children aren’t theirs.  It is just like their wombs were rented.”

Ogunmade said there was a huge difference between surrogacy and baby factories. She stated,

“Baby factory schemes are evil. They are not legal. I say evil because those who perpetrate these acts sell babies and exploit the women who gave birth to these children. The mothers are usually forced or coerced to part with their biological children, kept in a house against their will, and constantly sexually abused by the perpetrators, so they could keep the cycle going.

“Surrogacy, on the other hand, is a legal agreement between two parties that one party would carry a baby for the other party who is unable to carry a child by herself, due to certain physical or medical conditions. There is no sale of the baby involved, and usually, as found in a gestational surrogacy arrangement, the surrogate mother bears no DNA /genetic connection to the pregnancy she is carrying. She is just a host.

“The treatment is through IVF and she hands over the baby at birth. The intending parents are the legal parents of the baby born through this arrangement and they are responsible for all related expenses incurred during the treatment, pregnancy care and delivery. The surrogate may or may not be compensated, depending on the agreement.”

‘Poverty, a major drive for surrogacy’

Adebayo stated that in some cases, there are cases where people become surrogates for their relations who cannot have children. He said the anonymous ones are more common and usually for financial gains. He said,

“Many of the surrogates do so for financial gains. Many of them do it to meet their financial needs. With the level of poverty in the country, many more people will become surrogates.

“They become surrogates to meet their needs. Surrogates earn up to N2m and above, and in some centres in Lagos, surrogates are paid up to N7m. That is why couples and agencies are beginning to look for surrogates in the outskirts.”

In the quest for answers, our correspondent observed that the various fertility centres visited were crowded by couples trying to have children of their own.

Adebayo said that there are many reasons for infertility. One of them is delayed marriage. According to him, in previous generations, the cases weren’t this high because people got married early. He stated,

“Fibroid is common now because most women go to school, get jobs, settle down, get married and so on. By the time they are ready to start giving birth, their fertility level would have dropped and fibroid would have grown in their wombs, in most cases. There are some who had infections, abortions, used contraceptives, and so on. Many of these things cause infertility.

“When you test a 23-year-old lady, you will see that her eggs will be very fertile. Not getting married early is a major cause but that doesn’t mean that people who marry early don’t have fertility issues. But the fact is that the reproductive state is excellent at early stages of life.”

 

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