Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
The subject of this week’s What She Said is a 54-year-old woman who has three children she doesn’t like. She talks about how they felt like distractions and how her relationship with them has only gotten worse with age.
Let’s start from the beginning. How old were you when you got married?
I was 26. I wanted to get married, but I wasn’t really sure who I wanted to marry. I had a number of options. I was sleeping with one of these options — he was a colleague in a different department.
I got pregnant. Abortion wasn’t an option. I was Anglican then. Even though I’m religious now, I won’t judge anyone who aborts a baby. Back then, I couldn’t even think of it. Also, I was scared of dying.
My parents too would have killed me if they found out I had an abortion. So when I found out, I was worried about what to do. Then I came up with a plan to tell my parents I was engaged, so that once I started showing, the pregnancy would not shock them.
You didn’t tell the father?
That was the next step in the plan. After I told them I was engaged, I went and told him I was pregnant and that my parents said we had to get married.
Truthfully, that wasn’t a problem because he was ready to marry. I just wanted to rush the process. I had to do a lot of people-management to ensure that nobody spilled what I had told them.
How did your parents react?
They didn’t want me to court for long. You know how mothers are. My mother, God bless her, just wanted us to have a really big wedding as soon as we could. We got married three months after. I wasn’t showing, so my parents didn’t know. They began to suspect when I started showing within a few months of being pregnant.
Did anyone catch your lie?
Oh, not at all, but I eventually told my husband that my parents never forced us to get married. I’ve always been the kind of person to sneak around. As a young girl especially. Although I’ve changed now, I do think I enjoyed the thrill of doing that. My husband didn’t feel duped. He wanted to get married. He was much older, I should mention. He was in his 40s.
So what was that like? Getting married so fast? How much of him did you know?
Quite a lot from working together and going out together. But we were not necessarily in love. I was a romantic then. I wanted to marry someone I loved, but he wasn’t all about that. He was the opposite, a strong-head. People were not marrying for love as they are today, but I was optimistic that we would eventually fall in love. And we did, sooner than I expected.
How did that happen?
I had a stillbirth. That was the first real traumatic experience I had in my life. I had never experienced grief like I did. I was just crying and gnashing my teeth. I said God hated me.
That should have pushed us away from each other, but it drew us together. I say that it should have pushed us away from each other because first of all, he really loved that child. Second of all, it was the foundation of our marriage. When it happened, we became so close and started protecting each other. That was simply how we fell in love.
That’s sweet. I’m sorry you had to go through that.
Thanks. We went a few more years before trying again. I felt that our relationship had become monotonous and didn’t have any ideas on how to make it better. All we did was talk about work. Even though we no longer worked together, we still worked in the same industry. We were both very career-oriented people.
Unfortunately, getting pregnant this time was war. We simply couldn’t get pregnant, no matter what we did or how we tried. The doctor said we were both fine, that we just had to keep trying.
When I turned 32, I got pregnant. I decided I was going to resign and be extra careful because I was scared of miscarrying or having a stillbirth. The doctor said I was okay to work way into my third trimester. I said I didn’t want to. I had a very easy pregnancy, but I was in bed almost all through. I took up sewing and would make many things for my baby. I wasn’t excited because I was scared, yet, I was expectant.
When my baby girl came, I didn’t feel anything.
What do you mean?
I had assumed that I’d at least be excited that I got another chance to have a child. But I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t sad, and I’m not sure if I was depressed, but I wasn’t happy at all. I would spend hours staring at my child, expecting to become happy by just looking at her. Nothing happened. I faked happiness though. I faked the tears. Everyone around me was so excited; I just had to. And I couldn’t tell anyone.
That must have been hard for you.
Yes. Then child number two and three followed in quick succession. For number two, it was a difficult pregnancy. When I cried after giving birth, people thought it was tears of joy. It was, but it wasn’t because I was happy about my child. I was just happy I had gotten him out of my body. Once I had my third child, I told my husband we had done enough.
What happened next?
He wasn’t thrilled about this. He wanted four children. He first tried to cajole me into having one more. Then we fought about it when I told him that if he wanted any more children, he had to either carry them himself or go and find another wife. Eventually, I made him understand that I had wasted five years of my life on having kids and would be wasting a lot of more time out of work if I had a fourth child.
You didn’t work all through the period of time you were having kids?
I tried to get a job when my daughter was two. My mum was staying with us, so she was going to help. I applied to different places but my application was rejected. I finally got a job, but a few months later, I got pregnant again. This time I didn’t quit because I wanted to protect my child from dying or anything, I quit because the workplace was hostile to me. People made jokes about my body that I was uncomfortable with. If I had to miss work for a check-up at the hospital, they would remove it from my salary. It was very rubbish. I left and didn’t bother until after I had my third child.
What did you do then?
I went to do my masters. I was 39 and was the third oldest in my class, but I didn’t care. If I was going to go back to the workplace, I felt that I needed an edge, and pursuing my education would give me that. My mum had basically moved in with us at that point. I didn’t even bother with my kids. She cooked their food and took care of them. She gave them the love that I simply did not have the time or care enough to give. She was with us until she died. However, by this time, they were old enough to take care of each other.
Wait, during the time your mother took care of them, did you have any relationship at all with them?
Not as much. I showed up for all the school events; sometimes, my mum or husband went. I was never excited about these events, as other mothers seemed to be. I tried to take them out when I could. I bought them what I thought they’d like. At some point, I thought they didn’t like me too, because they didn’t tell me things. My first daughter had her period, and it was my sister who told her what to do. I didn’t find out till a month later. I felt like a horrible mother. I still feel like a horrible mother. I took it out on her. I lashed out and that pretty much framed our relationship for years.
What do you mean?
She went a few years without talking to me. Except it was necessary. She didn’t tell me things. She only told my husband or my mum.
Was going back to work the main factor?
Yes. It definitely did affect my relationship with my children. I was working seven days a week. My mind was on work because I really didn’t want anyone to make me feel left out because I have children. But I never really liked them from the beginning. I loved them, but did I like them? I didn’t. They felt like distractions. They demanded time and energy.
What about the other two children, what’s your relationship with them like?
Last born is my baby. I cherish her. That became a problem for my second child because he thought that I had favourites. They used to fight a lot when they were younger. And I didn’t help matters. I didn’t know how to mask my favouritism or limit the way I spoiled my last child. My mum actually warned me about it; I didn’t listen. Eventually I stopped spoiling her and that became a problem. She began to say that I hated her. She didn’t tell me this. She told my sister, who told me. My sister said I didn’t hate her, that I was just busy with work. She said she would pray to God to make me lose my job.
Child number two and three became wiser and formed an allyship that was against me. They realised I was the problem. I would scold the boy for being messy and the number three would tell me that I should leave him alone.
Wow. What was your husband like in all of these?
Just as absent as I was. He was busy with work, but he seemed to have the parenting thing on lock. He was definitely a better father than I was a mother.
Then he became sick and died. That was quite the painful experience. I hadn’t experienced anything as traumatic since the stillbirth. But again, grief played an important role in uniting us, making us come together. But that lasted only for a short while.
What’s your relationship with them today?
Nothing has changed. We just grew apart more and more. It feels like I am alone most of the time. My first daughter has moved out. She’s doing impressive work. We talk. I’m closer to her than the others. She says that maybe she had to leave home and get a well-paying job for me to start respecting her. I don’t fault that reasoning.
My son lives at home, but we don’t talk a lot. I think he’s trying my patience.
Not going to church anymore. Dyeing his hair. Wearing earrings. He started it after I complained about someone in church who dressed like that. I haven’t said anything to him about it. Both us will continue looking at each other. But he is teaching me not to judge other people.
My last girl on the other hand is in university. She rarely calls, so I have to call her and shout at her to call. That path is still very rocky. I don’t like teenagers of any age.
Lmao. Is there anything you’d do better about motherhood?
Maybe I’d have sought help. I was educated enough to know there could have been a problem. Also, I think not all women need to have children. It’s okay to not want them. They’re not just fillers in a relationship. They’re real people. I wish someone had told me this.