Unwanted Pregnancy In The Nigerian Society: Stigmas And The Unorthodox Tough Love Method Of Acceptance
“The work of preservation demands that the feelings playing about in one’s guts not be turned into action. Just watch their passing like cherry blossoms.” This kept ringing in my head as I completed the first chapter of Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir; The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a girlhood Among Ghosts.
It left me reeling with a familiar sense of recognizance and bucket loads of questions. Comparing it to our modern-day Nigerian society only seems natural. Mainly because the amount of stigma attached to unwanted pregnancy in our society is appalling. Let’s run a quick recap of the first chapter titled No Name Woman. It bothers on the author’s search for an identity through her aunt who had suffered from the hands of villagers who raided their family house, destroyed their crops, and killed all their livestock all because the aunt gave birth to an illegitimate child.
The aunt consequently drowned herself along with the new born baby in the community well. Even though this was a Chinese community, there is some semblance with how the issue would have been handled in Nigerian society. The most striking thing about this wonderful piece of literature is how long it has been written and how little has changed since then.
If my sister was to have gotten pregnant out of the blue in a typical Nigerian society where women are supposed to be dignified and full of honor. What would our society make of someone that had the effrontery to do the unthinkable? What about people from inside her home, the ones she calls family? Will they open their arms wide and rub her head like a toddler learning to walk but keeps failing at every attempt?
I imagine how terrified she would have been upon realizing her goof. I like to think she would have tried her best to get rid of the growing lump in her, and if drugs and other concoctions should fail her, the only natural thing would have been to face the consequence of her choices. Whether it is hers to bear alone or not, our society won’t care about that. She would walk with her shoulders draped and head bent to avoid questions disguised as stares by everyone that crosses her path.
Even though she may have had little choice in what had transpired and only ended up being a casualty of the idiosyncrasies of womanhood. We will never give her a free pass. She will be judged thoroughly and unsparingly as she nursed nausea and other uncomfortable constraints that accompany gravidness.
At home, she will be forced to spill out who the unfortunate human that had dragged her into this depth of lowliness was and what plans he has for mother and child. And if he happened to be out of the picture, it starts to resemble hell for her. She would not be pushed to an “ousted table” like in the memoir, our ways are not that straightforward, but she will be castigated nonetheless and be made to withdraw into her shell for she’s a constant reminder of how much shame she had brought into the family. Any food she prepares suddenly tastes too salty.
Even the things she used to sound so sure of will be listened to with caution. Not for any reason other than to nurture the inherent hypocrisy of human nature. Scolding a younger one would be virtually impossible. There’s no middle ground for someone that allowed her walls of decency to crumble right before her eyes. Neglect, No. We’d never make it that easy for her. We’d talk to her, ask how she’s holding up, mostly in a mock tone, and laugh behind her back even when she’s within hearing distance. She would be forced to confess how much suffering carrying a baby is.
To think this is just what she’d face right inside her own home. What about when she steps into the street to run an errand or exercise her muscles a little like her doctor suggested? She’d endure stares here and there and the men that used to hit on her will make jest of her for turning down their advances only to end up a liability.
What about her father, she starts to notice disdain etched over his face anytime she is in his presence, she’d even notice how he desperately tries to avoid eye contact with her. Like not addressing her fully makes it less tangible. This is where mental health issues start to knock on her doors and for someone with little fight left in her, she’ll willingly open up to the only visitor her conditions could excite.
Putting myself into the shoes of a father who suddenly found out his daughter got pregnant with no one to take responsibility. I’d go crazy and want to avenge my daughter’s assailant if I should ever lay my hands on him. My anger might blind me to the point of failing to see the silhouette of my delinquency. I’d promise to kick the stupid thing dangling between his legs and drag him all over the floor with my bare hands. I’d want to rip his throat out and probably pay to have his manhood cut off, and designed into a necklace so he can carry it around for the world to see how irresponsible he had been.
Imagine not being able to do all of that. Who then bears the brunt of all the anger? The pregnant daughter. Even though doing all of this doesn’t make me less of a human or set my conscience free of any shortcoming on my part. I probably should have been more careful. I shouldn’t have neglected all my fatherly duties and think putting food on the table is enough as the head of the family. I should have preached love and compassion. I should have sat her down and asked questions about the boys in her life. It might probably seem trivial and talking alone might have changed nothing, but trying would have certainly made a difference.
Like James Baldwin rightly said; “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them” Maybe my daughter has only ended up imitating my recklessness in a bid her bid to search for an identity. Maybe I should have shown her in my own way what it takes to lead a chaste, decent life.
Eventually, we’d all warm up to her and accept mother and child. If you ask why it had to take that long, I have no answers for you. Maybe making her suffer is our way of teaching her a lesson; of making younger ones see the consequences of treading a similar path. It is funny how we so much nurture the fear of what others would say about us that we most times end up hurting our loved ones. Our mortal disposition for infallibility has brought us to this point, when perfection itself is a mirage. A mere illusion, that we water every day in the garden of our little demented minds. The only thing worth striving for daily should be how to love equally