Growing up in the eastern part of Nigeria, we dreamed of getting married before having children: you meet a man or woman, introduce him/her to your parents, go on to have a traditional wedding, then a white wedding before having kids.
It was the right thing to do, not just as Christians but as well-raised children from reputable homes. Never for one minute did we imagine for ourselves a different turn like getting pregnant while still a teenager and being forced to have and care for the baby or opting to have a child without necessarily being married because we don’t want marriage at all or we still haven’t found love and age is no longer on our side. How could we imagine it? There were hardly any exceptions… and even the few exceptions were sort of kept under tight wraps.
When I was about 13, one of my best friends got pregnant. She had dared to have sex at a young age (she was 14). This girl was not only shunned by her parents, she was quickly taken away by her aunty to her village to have the child. The child was then left behind with the grandmother. It was kept“hush hush” and the family was not disgraced.
The father had actually wanted to force a wedding between her and the father of the child, but in a bid to protect her future, she told them she did not know who the father was. She wanted to keep the baby and raise it on her own, but the family would not abide the dishonour.
Let’s face it, she was 14. She could barely already cater for her own self. The main problem her parents had was that she had deviated from the traditional structure: sex after marriage to ensure child birth only after marriage, and it was unacceptable.
Of course, things are a little different now. Nigeria has since seen a dramatic liberalisation of sexual attitudes: you can boldly announce that you have a lover while still unmarried and no one will turn up their noses at you; you can cheat on your spouse and it would be overlooked; you can also even “abandon” your husband a few weeks into the marriage in the name of a divorce and you will not be judged too harshly; however, somehow unmarried motherhood has remained a sort of taboo.
In an argument with a couple of friends in a chat room, I mentioned that they had to start saving up money for my baby shower as I had plans to harvest sperm from one of my male friends and have a baby by next year. I meant it as a joke, but clearly they took it a little too seriously and attacked me. Not one of them out of the entire 16 members in the group, including the ones that had lived abroad the most of their adult lives, supported my decision. I mean, when I saw that they took it seriously, I kind of went with it, to see where it would lead.
The first person was of the argument that I was being impatient, and I should wait on the Lord and not deviate from his plans for me. According to them, having a child out of wedlock, even if I could afford to raise it on my own was just not right or respectable. Another person suggested that raising a child on my own was a huge responsibility that comes with an elevated risk of falling into poverty. She suggested that in supporting the child (For example, while trying to care for myself during pregnancy, and then for the newborn and growing child), I was more likely not going to be able to keep with all my jobs, and I may have to take a lesser paying job, which would be the gateway to poverty.
The last person was the one who came at me the most. She said that I was being selfish as not only will I bring a child into the world to face soci-oeconomic disadvantages, but also deal with emotional traumas that will certainly play out as behavioural issues. According to her, there is a certain stability and safety that comes with a child knowing that both of her parents are committed to each other and married. Then advised that if I had the baby fever that bad, it is better I do some good and adopt a child, than bring a fresh child, of my own blood, into such a situation.
My counter arguments were as follows: First, while parenthood outside wedlock has its own unique financial planning challenges, it is not something that cannot be tackled. Not too long ago, the norm was one parent (the man) supporting the family and the family enjoying economic upward mobility nevertheless. My father did it. Many fathers have done it. Why then is the assumption that, as a single mother, I cannot support a child and have her enjoy the same?
Secondly, there are many successful, well-adjusted children who come from single parent households. Being a single parent is not a guarantee that the child will be lacking emotionally or otherwise.
Lastly, what if it is part of God’s plan for me is to have a child before marriage? What if it is a grooming process for me or something? And what on earth makes bringing a child into this world “not right”?
It appears the cultural and religious views of marriage before pregnancy are still very valid. People don’t want to hear that you are a mother without a husband because it visibly screws with the stereotype. Even if you earn so much, are independent and can clearly take care of your child, they still look down at you… because it still is an “untraditional” way of bringing children into the world.
This negative reaction to single parenting is probably why people are forced to marry people they don’t want to, so that they can have a safe covering for bringing in their child to the world. Marriage should be a commitment separate from pregnancy. People should be able to make the choice to become parents, without pressure from outside forces. What do you think?