As told to Conrad
Are women the only ones who struggle with infertility? This is a question that has stuck with me for a while now. Maybe it’s the Nollywood films about looking for the fruit of the womb or the hundreds of religious activities that centre women looking to “complete” their family, either way, it seems like men are excluded from this narrative. To answer this question, I started asking questions of my own and that’s how I met Kolapo*.
Looking to start a family of his own, the 38 year-old was shocked when he realised he was the cause of his family’s infertility struggles. I asked him to tell me a little bit about his story, and this is what he said.
For as long as I can remember, the idea of having children had always been a core part of who I was as a person. I remember being asked as a child what I’d like to be when I grew up, and my answer — to my mother’s greatest embarrassment — was something along the lines of, “I want to be a daddy.” But after all the struggles my wife and I have been through in trying to have a child, given the choice, I doubt I’d still choose to be a dad. I’m exhausted.
I met my wife Tolu* in my second year of university. Even though we’d been in the same year and attended the same classes, we didn’t really notice each other until she became the assistant course representative. These days, I fondly remind her of her terrorist behaviour back then; she was the class’” I Too Know” asking extra questions in class and making sure everyone submitted their assignments on time. But I’ll never forget the day she randomly helped me prepare for a test throughout the night when she didn’t have to. Since then, we’ve been inseparable. By the time we got to final year, we were in love and we could weather any storm together.
We graduated, got decent jobs and got married. We could provide the necessities and still travel to Western countries every once in a while. By Nigerian standards, we were balling. For the first two years, we didn’t want kids because we wanted to have a good time and figure out our dynamic without the pressure of someone crying or wanting to suck breasts or something. We had a good time. However, it was when we eventually decided to start having kids that life just started to turn into a pot of spoiled beans.
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We took out pregnancy pills from the equation and started going at it. We both enjoy having sex, so no one needed to tell us to off pant and get busy. We did this for about a year, but crickets. Nothing happened. My wife and I didn’t read much into it, after all, we were still having fun. But when our families started adding their question marks to the equation, we decided it was time to find out what was going on.
I never got tested because I just assumed we were fine. Tolu, on the other hand, was poked and prodded with needles like some guinea pig for months on end. She desperately wanted answers, and while all the doctors said nothing was wrong with her, she still couldn’t get pregnant. Our families piled on the questions because we were both first children in our respective homes and they just wanted to see their grandkids. More questions and jokes about pregnancy made Tolu stressed and insecure. Even though I reminded her that she was enough and maybe we just needed to chill for a bit, she was already invested in this baby thing and there was no stopping her.
Following the advice of a friend at the end of last year, Tolu eventually asked me to get tested too. I didn’t think it was a big deal, after all, as a virile Nigerian man, I couldn’t be the reason for our childlessness. But everything changed when the doctor called to tell me that I had no viable sperm left in my body. I sat there, losing my shit in silence as I prayed and waited desperately for someone to wake me up.
After I got off the phone with my doctor, I left work immediately and headed back home to talk to my wife. It was the most difficult discussion I had ever been involved in. She had a straight face throughout as I gave her a detailed account of what the doctor had told me over the phone. For a second, I thought she was going to leave me. Instead, she held my hands and told me we’d be alright. Since then, every time I start to panic about something, I think back to this conversation and what she told me and it helps me power through h.
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Telling my wife was one thing, but telling our families? Omo, it was crazy. To this day, my mum doesn’t believe my condition is medical — to her, all of this could be solved if only we prayed more often and “moved in faith”. There was a lot of crying, casting and binding on my parents’ side, but that didn’t change anything .
I wish the questions and shady comments came from only our families. But, as with typical Nigerian settings, neighbours, church members and work colleagues also poked their noses in my family’s business. asking about kids and when we were going to have some of our own. It was harder on Tolu because just like I assumed at the start of our pregnancy journey, a lot of people immediately assume she’s the problem, and I can’t go around trying to correct that impression. If I could, I would, but most of them wouldn’t even believe me anyway; they’d just assume I was trying to protect her.
I feel guilty because not only did a part of me feel it was her fault initially, I actually hoped it was her fault. How many times have you heard that a man was the one behind a couple’s infertility issue? It’s always women, so I don’t know why my case is different. I’ve spent the past few months depressed and feeling like shit. Knowing I can’t father my own kids makes me feel like a failure as a man.
I’m still grieving this loss and trying to make sense of it.
My wife has asked that we look into adoption, but honestly, I’m over it — not the adoption, just kids in general. The failure of not being able to father my own children has become too much of a burden to bear, and it has thrown me off having children in general. I don’t know how to tell her I don’t care for kids anymore, especially after all she went through with tests and looking for answers. I’ll go with it, but I don’t know If I’d be able to fully love the child as I should. I’m willing to work through this and I’m seeing a therapist now, but it’s going to be a long journey. I feel like I’ve ruined everything, so building it back is going to take some time.
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