The average Nigerian’s reaction to teenage pregnancy is outright condemnation. However, it happens more often than we know and can have far-reaching effects — like being a grandparent before middle age.
That’s what happened to Nene* (42), a millennial mother of three and grandmother of two.
This is Nene’s story, as told to Lolade
My life took an unexpected turn shortly after we celebrated a new millennium in January 2000. I was a 19-year-old, navigating the normal challenges of undergraduate life at Unilag.
Born into a close-knit, conservative family, education was our top priority, and my parents, both educators, had high hopes for my future. I studied law because of my dad. He always talked about me becoming a barrister who would one day be a judge and even Chief Justice. I didn’t even know if I wanted it, but his passion was enough to make me aspire towards his dream for me.
I was a sheltered child with two older high-flying sisters, and I was focused on my studies. But in 200 level, I got into a relationship with a final-year student, Chijioke*.
It was my first relationship ever, and I didn’t know how to manage it. Things moved too fast for me; the consequences of our passion became evident when I discovered I was pregnant just before it was time to resume classes that January.
As God would have it, my mum was with me at the hospital that day, so there was no time for the fear, anxiety and sense of disappointment that overwhelmed me to stick.
I hadn’t been myself throughout the holiday, but we all thought it was malaria. My mum, a staunch anti-self-medication advocate, insisted I got tested before I started taking drugs. That’s how the doctor revealed I was pregnant, and my mum went quiet in that small room in the hospital.
The stigma attached to unwed pregnancy loomed large for us all, but to my surprise, my parents responded with understanding and support. We had this meeting, my parents and I, in my bedroom. My dad said, “It has happened. We can’t change that. We can only move forward with wisdom”.
They never tried to question my pregnancy. In fact, they all but ignored it except when I wasn’t feeling okay or I had to go for a pre-natal. Sometimes, I’d think I saw a side look of disappointment, but it might’ve been all in my head because I was filled with guilt. My family chose love and unity over judgement.
They didn’t let me communicate with Chijioke directly. Rather, they fished out his parents’ contacts and visited his home themselves to inform them of the news. My mum joked some years later that there was no way she would’ve let me back into the hands of a young man who hadn’t even started life, to let him whisper foolish ideas into my mind.
His parents wanted us to get married right away, but mine refused. Thank God. Imagine me moving into a man’s home with a baby at 19, a man who was probably pressured by his parents to take me in. I can’t imagine how badly it would’ve gone.
My relationship with Chijioke essentially ended with my pregnancy. But together with my parents, we faced the challenges that lay ahead — the main one being judgement from extended relatives, neighbours, church members, nurses at the clinic and everyone else. My parents made me feel comfortable at home like it wasn’t a big deal, so I mostly stayed home.
While they pulled me off campus, I was encouraged to continue my classes and take that semester’s exams before deferring the next year. I continued my studies while navigating the early stages of pregnancy. And in October, after almost eleven months of pregnancy, I finally gave birth to a beautiful healthy baby girl I named Ada*.
Motherhood became an integral part of my identity. My gap year was focused on nurturing her. With my mum, sisters and grandma a constant presence, I had a great support system.
Chijioke’s mum came by from time to time and always sent money. Some years later, he also developed an interest in Ada and started visiting. But for some reason, we never tried to reinitiate a relationship.
Resilience and determination saw me the rest of the way through university, and with my family’s support, I graduated well.
As the years passed, I embraced my role as a young mother, working hard to provide a stable and loving environment for Ada so as not to overburden my parents. I think I got married young, at the age of 23, because of this underlying feeling of guilt.
My husband is many years older and a traditional man, so it made sense to settle down with him right away. His instant rapport with Ada was a defining factor too. He took her in as his child, and I felt so blessed. I had my two boys within the next five years so I could focus on getting my master’s and returning to work. But it was hard.
My mum and dad are both professors, and if not for the kind of example they laid, and the support of my husband, I would’ve given up. However, the challenges of being a young mother were not lost on me, so I encouraged Ada to prioritise her education and career.
Fast forward to 2017, and I found myself facing a surprising turn of events. My 17-year-old revealed that she was pregnant. At 36, I was taken aback. Despite the open communication and guidance I’d provided her, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own journey.
I felt a mix of emotions — nostalgia, guilt and a deep understanding of the challenges that lay ahead. I absolutely didn’t want her to go through the trauma of an abortion, but I also regretted that she’d have to take on the kind of responsibilities I’d taken on, and 17 was so young.
Her father blamed me for being too lenient with her. And honestly, I blamed myself. I remember my mother’s deep sigh when I reluctantly told her about it. “You children,” was all she said at first before shaking her head.
But in the end, I chose to approach the situation with the same love and support she and my dad had given me. My mum dived right in too. She even moved in with us for some years. Once again, we united as a family to welcome a new member. Our house was full and warm during that period, and the development no longer felt like such a bad one.
We spoke with Ada about the father of her child many times during this period. We met him too, of course. While I did everything a mother could to establish rules and keep her in check, their relationship blossomed. They had another baby in 2020.
Ada is 23 now, and they’re planning to get married in 2024 after she graduates from school.
It feels like history repeating itself, but today, at 42, I’ve defied societal expectations and stereotypes. I know Ada will do the same. I’m not only a successful legal professional but also a grandmother of two, and I’m proud of both truths.
I may never be Chief Justice, but the intergenerational bond I share with my daughter and grandchildren, now when I’m young enough to enjoy it, is so special. And I’m glad we got all the support we needed to get here.
*Names were changed for anonymity