What She Said — “I Wanted to Get Married at 21 to Escape My Parents”

March 2, 2022

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 week’s subject for #ZikokoWhatSheSaid is a 24-year-old Nigerian woman who shares her unplanned transition to motherhood at 22. She talks about her parents keeping her away from boys, learning intimacy from Youtube and the hot sex that landed her in an unplanned version of the reality she wanted. 

So, marriage at 21?

LOL, yes. Getting married at 21 was at the top of my list when I was 10. 

Tell us, how did you get to that decision?

I had to get out. As my parents’ only daughter, I was treated like an egg. My dad never let me hang out with friends after school or play outside like other kids. My mum, on the other hand, was more concerned about keeping me away from boys.  I was tasked to “protect my virtue”.

Their overzealous protection felt like a cage. 

Any reason why they were so protective?

I don’t know for sure. But it wasn’t always like that. When we were financially stable, we were good. My dad worked in the UK, and we spent most holidays taking trips to see him. I didn’t feel trapped. 

Then on one of my father’s visits to Nigeria when I was 9, he couldn’t travel back to the UK — something about missing travel documents, probably an expired visa — and everything went downhill from there. We went fromboat cruises down the River Thames to struggling with school fees and food to eat. Maybe it was the stress of dealing with the transition, but my parents went from 0 to 100 with restrictions at home. If I went anywhere, my dad would yell when I got back. 

Then my mum? Hers was extra. She yelled about the most ridiculous things around the house. The way I dropped a spoon, closed a cupboard — everything irritated her. If she wasn’t yelling, I was receiving bible scriptures on abstinence until marriage. Every morning devotion segued into “Marriage this, marriage that,” “Not until marriage.” I was tired. 

I started to reason the marriage to escape the talk.  21 was the target — I wanted to be the boss of my house.

What was the first thing you did when you turned 21?

What didn’t I do? I was living on vibes by then. I’d been in school for three years — three years of finally being away from my parents. I had finally made friends and hung out on my own terms. No more talks about staying away from boys or daily bible quotes from my mother. I was in a serious relationship and very in love. 

A month to my 22nd birthday, I got very pregnant..

Hm. Please, explain yourself.

LOL. I met my soon-to-be baby daddy — let’s call him Daniel — right after secondary school. While I was waiting to get into uni, an aunt got me a job at the bank as a greeter. My job was to stand at the door and say welcome to the customers. In my first week, people walked in, complimented my skin, teeth… I was 16 years old and just went past puberty changes. My acne had barely cleared.

For the first time, I felt pretty. And then Daniel came along. He said he liked me. He was so relentless; I was so psyched by his interest. Like, is it really me somebody is falling for like this?

What did Daniel want?

Marriage. When I finally gave him my number, he was very direct about it. He’d send texts and calls trying to set a time to hangout. Daniel was looking for something long-term and was ready to wait for me. I didn’t know what to do with that information. He was 24.

At 16 I barely knew anything about boys. Of course, I wasn’t ready for a real relationship. Whenever I tried talking to my mother about boys I liked at school, she shut me down with the bible. Protecting my virtue was more important than lessons on handling boys. As for my dad, if it wasn’t about school, then it wasn’t an important conversation to have. So there wasn’t much to work with on how to deal with boys, talk less of a man way older than I was.  

I said no.

But?

LOL. I’ll get there.

Daniel had given up on trying to date me. On one of my mum’s occasional snooping, she found a text from him on my phone. She called him to stay away from her daughter. He obliged. Even if he didn’t, my mum seized my phone for weeks. When I finally got it back, she spent more time policing me. No calls past 6 p.m., no texts. We had to move on from each other. I got into uni a year later.

In my second year in uni, I dated a guy in my faculty but we didn’t last because sex was off the table for me. 

Why?

I was protecting my virtue. A year after the breakup, Daniel sent a text: “Hey Lamide, I know it’s been a while. How are you?” We went from that to “Let me take you out for dinner, Lamide” in a few weeks. Daniel was the same relentless guy I met at the bank. This time, I was ready for it. We started dating a year later.

With Daniel I considered the thought of being intimate. Why? I honestly don’t know.  All I know is, my mum’s voice didn’t overpower the desire to explore. I was ready to know what sex felt like.

I wonder: was there anyone you could talk to about your decision?

No one. My parents would have wrapped it around sin, and I preferred experiencing things alone, especially on the subject of sex. I’d seen too many scenes where girls talked about their experience with sex, and it came back to bite them. 

If I needed help, I watched videos and learnt along the way. Youtube taught me how to kiss. By the time I got pregnant in school, I didn’t regret keeping the sex part to myself.

So what’s something you regret?

At first, not using a condom. LOL.

We dated for a year before having sex and had only been at it for six months. There were a few times we did it without protection, but omo, there was something about that one night. Tensions were high. When I found out I was pregnant, I wasn’t shocked. Things went down that night. LOL.

LOL. So, how did you deal?

Finding out I was going to become a mother was… complicated. What did I know about being a mum at 22? I barely spoke to mine. The only thing I learnt from her was the bible. As for my dad, If it wasn’t about school or a job, we weren’t talking. Daniel on the other hand? His parents didn’t care about that. A baby wasn’t going to disrupt his life. Emotionally, I was devastated. 

Daniel proposed after a few months. Still, it didn’t take away the fact that I was unmarried and pregnant. Well, engaged and pregnant — the one thing Nigerian christian parents love. I knew the chances of a dream wedding with our baby on the way were slim. I was unhappy, but I needed to accept that.

I’m sorry.

After a few days of sulking and crying, I decided to call my mum. She was in the US at the time, so at least the shouting was from a different continent. The “why would you do this to us” talk happened. 

Next was my father. He was in Nigeria, so that was scary. When I told him, he went ballistic. The man brought the drama to the table. 

I can laugh about it now, but all hell broke loose. What did my father not tell me that day? He yelled every kind of insult in Yoruba. 

How did you all cope?

I hated my dad for how difficult he made getting through the pregnancy. He imposed his decisions on me. Chose the hospital I’d give birth in, forced Daniel to save up so I could have the baby abroad — the list of demands was endless. He treated me like a child. 

Asking me to move back home after the baby was where I drew the line. I wasn’t the little girl he could yell at to get inside anymore. When the baby came, I moved in with Daniel, and my father learnt to live with it.

What was the hardest part about getting pregnant?

The hardest part was losing friends. In the first trimester, I tried to hide my pregnancy. It worked. At least until Daniel invited some of my friends out to celebrate our engagement. A friend — let’s name her Sarah — sent pictures of me to some of the girls in our hostel. A mutual friend eventually ratted her out. The message was about my big boobs and how pregnant I looked — it was horrible.  Apparently, when you don’t talk about sex, getting pregnant is hypocrisy. 

And school?

Luckily, I didn’t have to deal with the judgment for too long. ASUU strike happened, and I went home. When it was time to resume, I was already in the last trimester and things had calmed down. 

The most awkward moment was bumping into an ex-boyfriend — that one guy I dated before Daniel — at the faculty. I got an “Oh, so you ended up pregnant” stare. By that time I’d seen worse, so I found it funny. My only goal was to graduate, and I did that. 

I’m glad you could. Tell me about the birth.

When I held my son for the first time, the weird pregnancy cravings for salad covered in baked beans and eggs, dealing with my final year project and wobbling around the faculty, the estranged relationship with my parents all felt worth it.

There are moments of sadness when I see people my age partying and having fun while I’m saving up for school fees, but I can’t imagine life without my son. Life happens in phases. It’ll come for them too. 

How are things with your parents?

My dad is now a happy grandpa. As for my mum, becoming a mum has brought us closer. Maybe a part of her understood that there was no going back on the pregnancy. Either way, I needed my mum. Who would have taught me pregnancy hacks like drinking pap for more breastmilk? LOL.   

Choosing to keep the baby was not an easy decision. But it was the best decision for me. Everyone around you eventually gets with the programme. If they don’t, they’re people you don’t need. 

Do you still want to get married?

After the baby, we had a small court wedding. As a Yoruba babe, I can’t accept that. I want my huge Owambe bash with amala everywhere. I want to walk in with my son and celebrate the ups and downs of the last four years.  

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