About 14 years ago, just before Nordica Fertility Centre, a medical facility that specialises in-vitro fertilisation, kicked off, many people thought it was impossible to do IVF in Nigeria due to the absence of a facility suitable for such services. Mary Ekah writes on the exciting encounter with the fertility centre’s firstborn, Julian Onwudinjo, who turned out to be exceptionally bold and courageous, despite people’s views and perceptions about his mode of conception
“My name is Julian Onwudinjo. I’m happy to be 12 years old today. I thank God for that. I have about 2000 siblings but there are only a few here today joining me to celebrate my birthday. I can actually introduce them to you if you want,” he said with such carefree disposition. And then you wonder how manage he is having over 2000 siblings at the age of 12, and then a lot of things come to your mind and you start wondering but he quickly comes to your rescue. “I am Nordica first baby, after me, also came over 2000 babies, so they are my medical siblings.”
Yes! That explains it! 12-year-old Julian Onwudinjo happens to be the very first In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) baby produced by the Nordica Fertility Centre, Lagos, about 12 years ago and after him, many other children had come through the same process. In fact, they came in torrent proving how successful the methods had turned out and so today, children produced at the centre through IVF are numbering over 2000. Julian being the “firstborn” of the centre presently has about 2000 sibling, like he mentioned, and it seems like more are still coming.
And then you wonder again, if this 12-year-old good looking chap actually understands what he claims to be, like when he says, “I’m Nordica first baby”. Again, he sweeps you off your feet with his explanation. “I am an IVF baby”, he said with an attitude that says, I don’t care what you think or feel about me”. Proving beyond every reasonable doubt that he actually knows who he is and understands quite well the process that brought him to being. But does he care? As long as he appears like every other normal child growing up without displaying any form of deformity, absurdity nor irrationality.
“I am happy knowing who I am and knowing the process that brought me to existence. I am just normal. I am not different from every other child,” young Julian retorted as he goes further to talk more about himself with an air about him. “I attend St. Gregory’s College, Lagos. I am in JSS 2. A few of my classmates know I am a Nordica baby but they are okay with me and I am okay with them too. I am just like a normal baby growing up with caring parents. My parents do not over pamper me in any way. I am treated like every other normal child and I am also growing up to be a normal child. I have a younger sister, a biological sister who was born naturally and not through IVF.“
Julian whose role model is Ben Carson, an American retired neurosurgeon and politician, says he is reading hard at school to become a neurosurgeon in future, just like his role model. Surprisingly, he has an advice for parents out there. “I am telling every parent out there that if they know any couple having challenges in making babies, they should come for IVF at the Nordica Fertility Centre where thousands of babies are being produced and they would be advised on what to do.”
About 14 years ago in Nigeria, just before Nordica Fertility Centre, a medical facility that specialises in In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), kicked off, many people thought it was not possible to do IVF in Nigeria due to the fact that the facility suitable for such services was not available at all in the country. So it was quite a challenge trying to make babies through IVF in our kind of environment then. But Nordica Fertility Centre summoned courage and kicked off its services in 2003 when it saw that probably, the greatest need for people with infertility was IVF. And as the Nordica pioneer baby clocked 12 recently, it is only obvious that there has been no looking back for Nordica since 13 years ago, not with four centres in three major cities in Nigeria and well over 2000 babies scattered all over the country and beyond.
Explaining how her journey to Nordica Fertility Centre began, Julian’s mother, Mrs. Franca Onwudinjo, said, “After we got married in 1999, as a normal couple, you would always look forward to having at least a baby in the first two years of your marriage. But for us the babies were not forthcoming till it got to the sixth year of our marriage and I got so worried and then started seeking for medical help. I got to know about Nordica through the Internet.”
After her discovery on the Internet and six years into her marriage, Onwudinjo started her quest for what she desired most then – a child. Her quested landed her at the Nordica Fertility Centre where various tests were conducted on her and medical advice given to her and at the end she opted for IVF, which proved successful and the end product is his 12-year-old son, Julian.
Hers was a huge success and she succeeded on the very first trial and it probably simply worked because she was still very young when she tried it.
“I was less than 25 when I did IVF. I sought for medical advice and I was told to do that. I believed the medical team then knew the best and understood the challenges we had as a couple. And we didn’t hesitate in adhering to the advice and today I am happy I did.”
For the couple it was not easy considering their financial status then but they had to do it, since a child was something they desired so much at that moment. “We had to really cut down on our expenses. We had to set our priority right and do without certain things at that moment. We did not have a car then, we didn’t bother to even think about getting one. There were many other things we would have wanted to enjoy then but we stepped down on them all to ensure that we saved for that which was most important to us and to God be the glory it was a success,” Onwudinjo recalled.
She was quick to advice couples that are facing fertility challenge to seek medical advice on time. “I am not saying they should not seek spiritual advice but as they wait on God and pray to God constantly, they should see fertility experts and whatever the doctors advice, they should adhere to it because the doctors know better. Like I said, I did IVF at a very young age, if I had said let me wait, I would have kept waiting till it become too late for me to go for IVF.
If I had said let me wait till I was 40, you and I know what would have happened by now. So when you seek medical advice and if it is something that you can afford, please do not waste time just do it, even if it means borrowing money to do it; it pays than spending so much money bit by bit on what you are not even sure will work for you. No matter the amount involved, it is worth doing when you see the joy that comes with having a baby of your own after waiting for so long for it to come. I thank God for the doctor that gave me that advice 12 years ago and I heeded to it. So once you are given a medical advice take it and I am sure you would be happy for it.“
For Onwudinjo, age matters a lot in achieving success with IVF. She got through in just once circle and that she ascribes to timely intervention and at the right age.
“I will say it anywhere, age matters a lot in solving infertility problem, especially for the ladies. Once you find out that babies are not coming in the first, second and third year of your marriage, just rush and seek for medical advice and whatever you are advised to do, do it fast and you would achieve success. It is God that gives the knowledge to these doctors and so you must heed to their advice when it comes to getting babies, I see the doctors as a bridge between man and God.”
So for Onwudinjo, now a businesswoman who has also got a second child, a girl, through natural birth, she came at the right time and at the right age, even when she was not sure of where to get the means for it, she still persevered and success was achieved within a very short period, in fact, just in one circle. And her husband was also a solid support to achieve the success. “When I informed my husband about going for IVF, he was supportive and we had gone through it together until we achieved success. All he wanted was for us to have our own child and to be happy and having a baby then was the ultimate thing for me,” she noted.
She describes her son, Julian, as a normal child. “He came as a normal child when I had him. He started doing every normal thing that every other child does when growing – he crawled, walked and ran at the normal time. Even at his school presently, if you take statistics of the boys in his class, you will find that most of them are of the same age with him. So I am sure he is doing well for his age. And I pray God to continue to uplift, uphold, keep him and grant him his inner most heart desire. I know he has a dream even as early as 12 years old and so God should grant him his dreams.”
As the very first successful client with the Nordica Fertility Centre, the Onwudinjos have been in the limelight all through the past 12 years but ironically she said, “I have never had any negative reaction nor treatment from friends and family members. I have never had any negative remark said to my face, I don’t know if any one does that behind me but rather, I have received encouragement and supports. And all along I have said it to the whole world and whoever cares to listen that I achieved my success through IVF, got the joy and happiness that I desired for so long before Julian came. I want people around me who are going through the same challenge I had, to know that this thing is real and if they try it, God will definitely come to their rescue.”
The Clinical Manager for Nordica Fertility Centre, Lagos, Mrs. Tola Ajayi was extremely delighted over the occasion, saying she was always excited whenever it was Julian’s birthday. “I am always excited when it is his birthday because it is a thing of joy when you see your child grow. Julian is my child and he is doing very fine. We thank God for that.”
Speaking further she said, ”when you see them grow from one stage to the other, you realise that the fear that people have about IVF is not there because a lot of people still have this negative perception about IVF babies if actually they are normal babies. So each time we celebrate Julian, we let the world know that he is a normal child like every other child of his age. That is why we have been following up Julian right from birth and so every year, we try to mark his birthday so that people can see his developmental stage and to also see that everything is well with him.”
Ajayi who explained further that the centre is about 13 years old, noted that their first breakthrough, Julian came just about when it started, adding, “Achieving pregnancy right after we started, is a great breakthrough for us and this is a luxury that a lot of clinics out there are not privileged to have.
We have that luxury and we are proud of it and we love what we do. It is also to encourage other people to take that step of faith rather than for them to just wait until when it is too late and then see themselves as childless and not being able to do anything about it when actually there was something they could have done about it if they had sought advice at the right place and at the right time.
If Julian’s mother had not taken that bold step at that that time, maybe she wouldn’t have been where she is today. But thank God that she took that bold step with us. It was like believing in Nordica and we were able to achieve that success together because it is not just Nordica success but it is her own success also for her to have her first child which Nordica is very proud of.
And that is why we try to like bringing him out every time for people to see that we had a baby right after we started and he has been growing with us. As Nordica is growing, Julian is also growing and we would also like to tell the whole world that we are proud of him as our first baby. We have recorded quite a number of successes after him. We have had over 2000 babies after him, including twins, triplets and quintuplets. We are still counting.”
She said that within the last 13 years of operation, a lot of people are getting to know more about IVF and all the other services offered at Nordica. “Knowledge is power and some years back a lot of people didn’t have this knowledge but right now the knowledge is growing, people are getting to know that they have options and they do come in and we are happy that we have a lot of babies and we monitor them,” she said.
She however had this candid advice for women who get pregnant through IVF but will conceal the truth about it. “I will use this opportunity to encourage people out there because we still have problems with some people who after having done IVF, go about telling people that they got pregnant spontaneously and that it wasn’t IVF. They are not helping. Even if you are not telling your whole story, encourage other people by telling them that you did IVF.
There is nothing wrong in it. Let them come out to say, we did IVF, it’s successful and we have babies from IVF. There is nothing to be ashamed of. But if you keep quiet and say that you achieved pregnancy spontaneously, you are not helping your neighbour who probably is in need of this service. So it is important that we let the whole world know so that they could achieve the same success that you have had.”
When asked if there was no stigma attached to people who got their babies through IVF and which perhaps makes it difficult for them to come all out to tell their stories, Ajayi got rhetorical: “Why would anybody stigmatise anybody that has baby through IVF? It is because they lack knowledge. Why would anyone want to do that? What is the stigma there? I had my baby through IVF. So what? Would you prefer that people would say that you have bought babies? “It is not just right to stigmatise people who have had babies through IVF. And would they prefer them not to have babies at all rather than have babies through IVF?
“There is nothing to be ashamed of. At Nordica, we are proud that we have helped to complete families. We have helped families to be happy and to see their dreams come true. And I think that is the major thing that people should work with,” Ajayi retorted with a note of seriousness.