With the first Parent-in-Waiting Conference, Ibidunni and Ituah Ighodalo have taken practical steps to bring hope to a suffering community of infertile couples. Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha report

The tension was palpable.
For more than 50 couples in the Agip Recital Hall of the MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, this was another defining moment. It offered a new chance to hang their hope in a balance; swinging back and forth. The first Parent-in-Waiting Conference organised by the Ibidunni Ighodalo Foundation (IIF) had reached its apogee. It was time to reveal the 2017 recipients of the Ibidunni Ighodalo Foundation grant.

As the Founder and Senior Pastor of the Kingsway International Christian Centre, Matthew Ashimolowo, mounted the stage, eerie silence enveloped the hall. The chatter and clapping which accompanied his introduction had died. All eyes were on him. All ears primed to what he had to say.

For this year, about 381 applications were received by the foundation out of which 100 were screened. Fifty passed the scrutiny of the medical team, but the foundation could only afford to sponsor 10. Even though she set out to help one couple at a time, Ibidunni Ituah-Ighodalo, the compassionate woman who established the endowment, is always heart-broken to learn that there are many candidates who cannot be accommodated in her funding. At least over N1.3 million is needed to sponsor IVF and other methods of assisted reproductive procedures for one couple.

Expectation for greater successes in 2017 soared as the conference entered a different level of appreciation.
In 2016, when the foundation kicked-off, it partnered with certified fertility clinics in Nigeria to provide fertility services to 28 couples. Success stories from the first batch include 15 successful treatment, five confirmed pregnancies and one successful delivery. A beneficiary of her grant, Bodunrin and Lola Oye, recently welcomed a set of twins, the first by the foundation!

In addition to the stigma of waiting for their own children, many of these couples are already sagging under the financial pressure of visiting doctors, hoping against hope that the next appointment might just result in the lucky break or long expected miracle.

As Ashimolowo started to read the names randomly, sighs of relief and despair filled the hall. Caught in the excitement of the moment, a few husbands went ahead of their wives, although it was the woman’s name that was called. Some walked up the stage, knelt down and raised their hands in appreciation to God.
Not a few wiped a stream of tears rolling down their face.

Three persons who were chosen but did not show up, were replaced after their names were called repeatedly. To support the good cause, Ashimolowo announced he would sponsor two. The number was raised to 12. Shouts of joy filled the hall as Mr. Tonye Cole of Sahara Group offered to finance treatment for two other couples. Ashimolowo was moved again to add another couple. At the end of the day, 15 couples were given access to the IIF grant. Ashimolowo encouraged other couples who didn’t make the list and prayed for those who did that their testimonies will be complete.

The Parents-in-Waiting conference was conceived to raise awareness on issues pertaining to infertility and to provide grants for couples that require fertility treatments such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and Intrauterine Insemination. The foundation partners with highly reputable fertility clinics in Nigeria and with other donors to provide couples with the financial and material support they require during the treatments. IIF also provides the necessary psychological and spiritual support required to deal with the pressures they face along the journey to conception.

IIF is the brainchild of Ibidunni, former beauty queen and wife of accountant and founder of the Trinity House, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo.

Her quest for a child has been painstaking, leading her to explore all the legal options available. Almost every step she took towards her goal was met with annoying hindrance. In a moment of weakness and frustration, she considered suicide. She thought if she could not have a child, there was nothing worth living for. After all, several doctors had foreclosed the possibility of her having a child unless it came through assisted reproduction. She has been waiting for the fruit of the womb for over a decade.

Eleven IVF treatments after, she only conceived once. Sadly, she lost the baby. Although, she told her story in a recorded audio-visual broadcast, it was no less gripping. As the scenes shifted from her to other parents-in-waiting whose harrowing narratives of searching for a child were also pre-recorded.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, she decided to become a ‘wounded healer’ as Ashimolowo described her. Last year, she launched her foundation and kicked off the grant to help couples overcome the financial, spiritual and psychological trauma of waiting for a child.

Moments ago, there was prolonged laughter in the hall. A preacher and sex educator, Ruth Essien, had entertained the audience with her unabashed lecture on sexual intercourse. The organisers deliberately positioned Essien to rattle some out of self-righteousness and frigidity.

Not a few expected a disturbing tale of her journey to motherhood like the women who spoke before her. After all, the host Omotunde Adebowale better known as Lolo 1 of Wazobia FM said it was ‘Testimony Time’. But Essien apparently had a different brief.

The kind of accolades Lolo rained on the first testifier, Eme Akenzua, as she took to stage was a good pointer that her experience was nothing short of a miracle. So, the audience listened with rapt attention.

Akenzua’s journey to motherhood was marked with pain and devastation. Having married at age 33, she suffered the unbearable loss of four pregnancies and had agonising experience of witnessing the interment of three children. Left with painful scars of a damaged cervix which led to several visits to clinics both within and outside Nigeria, you could say that she had been through hell and back. In the process, she nearly lost her life.

Her nightmare started with her first pregnancy. The good news turned to bad five and half months later when she was told she was seven centimetres dilated as a result of an incompetent cervix. The doctors ended up putting a stitch in her cervix to save the pregnancy. However, Akenzua managed to deliver the premature baby who passed on. Two months later, she took in but had another miscarriage. Her third pregnancy was a set of twins. Akenzua was overjoyed with the news and felt God was rewarding her for the two pregnancies she lost but this too was short-lived.

“Ten weeks after I lost the first one. I managed the other twin till 22 weeks before I was flown out of the country to seek medical care. The doctors who managed me here said that if the child had any chance of survival, it had to be abroad.

Overseas, the doctors felt they could do something about it. They were just asking for another two weeks to get me to 24 weeks and deliver the baby. Two days after I got into the hospital, I lost the child. I cannot begin to tell you what I went through. It was so bad they didn’t throw the baby away immediately. She lived for 90 minutes and I recall the nurse bringing her to my side. She urged me to carry her but I kept shouting at her to put her in an incubator. Little did I know that they knew she wouldn’t last and they wanted me to have some time with her before she eventually passed.

“Two days later, I started hemorrhaging because the doctor had left the placenta in my womb. I didn’t know he did so I just went home and the next thing; there were clot of blood coming down. I was rushed into the hospital, got into shock and had to go through the normal procedure even when they knew it was an emergency. I had to be transfused with blood. They said it was going to take about 45 minutes to remove the placenta but they battled for several hours and nearly lost me. The doctor came out and looked at my family members that were there and told them there was nothing they could do. Suddenly, he turned around and goes back to the theatre and only God knows what happened. The next thing, I heard my name. I looked and saw all these white faces. I thought I had gone to heaven. At that point, my husband said we didn’t have to go through this again that we should adopt a child. I thought that was very gracious of him.”

After so much pain and disappointment, Akenzua was on the verge of throwing in the towel when hope knocked on her door again. She was able to have her first child who is 12 years old. She named him Miracle. Her second child, Gift who was adopted turned four years recently. Her combined experiences explains why she was called a role model to the convener of the first ever Parents-in-Waiting Conference in Nigeria, Ibidunni Ighodalo.

The next testimony came from Oyenike Bankole who had to wait for 17 1/2 years and did 13 IVFs before she finally had her children. Prior to her miraculous pregnancy, she and her husband had resolved to get a surrogate. Out of the blue, her husband suggested they tried IVF one more time and she got pregnant of a set of twins. By then, she was 48. In a dream, she saw four children clinging to her leg, so she believed she would have four children. Within a space of 19 months, Bankole’s dream came true. She had two sets of twins! The first were girls and the last were boys.

With these awe-inspiring testimonies, the audience expected another interesting tale of denial and eventual victory from Essien. Yes, they were in for a different kind of amusing story, but not in the format of the previous speakers. If her opening remarks took many aback, they were not prepared for what hit them next.

“I didn’t do IVFs or wait a long time for children. Each time my husband touches me, I get pregnant. Somebody say hallelujah.”

The audience responded, still wondering what her story was.
Her voice was a bit croaky which she blamed on a rigorous prayer session the previous night. Watching her closely, most members of the audience were perplexed when she placed a battery cable on her neck and motioned to an assistant to keep her bag of items on the floor.

“I’m here to encourage couples to enjoy sex while waiting so the title of my testimony is ‘Enjoy sex while waiting.”
Her bold pronouncement made some people uneasy. This wasn’t what they were expecting. Of course, the theme of the event was related to sex but who tells a couple who’s been having issues with infertility to enjoy sex?

Essien was ready to digress. She said, “While couples wait, they begin to quarrel with sex, which is the only means they can get pregnant naturally. I’m here to encourage couples who are tired of sex, claiming all the ones they have been doing since 1972, has resulted in nothing. A couple came to see me. The woman complained that the husband stopped sleeping with her. That he was always complaining that the previous attempts have yielded no results. One morning she observed her husband charging the dead battery of his car. So she thought to herself that if the cable could charge the battery, surely it will revive her husband’s inactiveness in the bedroom.”

The hall erupted in laughter. While the guffaw was still loud, Essien launched into a dramatic lecture on 10 things couples can do to enjoy great sex. Due to the setting, she couldn’t express herself as much as she wanted but that didn’t stop her from telling couples different sex positions for maximum pleasure; foods to enhance fertility, personal hygiene tips as well as sexy lingerie to wear to seduce your spouse.

For a moment, the burden of infertility was thrown out of the window. Essien had approached the subject from a different light.

It was a long day. As early as 9am, most of the guests filed out on a queue outside the venue waiting for the doors to open at the scheduled time of 10am. The protocol services and organisation were impressive. It was a clear pointer to Ibidunni’s famed skill as an event planner. Inside, partners of the event like Clinix were setting up their apparatus for screening. Each attendee was given a form which required various tests such as HIV, cervical cancer and blood pressure. They were to tick the ones they were interested in before being screened by the team of medical professionals.

The conference finally kicked off with a lecture on infertility: its causes and treatment. Staff of Roding Reproduction Centre took the audience through the different processes of IVF. They defined infertility as inability of a couple to conceive after having unprotected sexual intercourse for a period of 12 months.

The causes of infertility vary in both males and females according to the coordinator and counselor of Roding Reproductive Centre, Dr. Margaret Irele. She revealed that 75 per cent of infertility in men can be traced to abnormal semen which are caused by testicular infections, surgeries, occupational hazards, tight underpants, consumption of heroin and marijuana among others. For the females, the major causes include poor egg quality, ovulation disorder, cervical cancer, eating disorder as well as STDs. Her colleague Dr. Femi Olaifa elaborated on laboratory processes of IVF and Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). He emphasized that females who have blocked tubes cannot undergo IUI and enlightened the females on egg banking – a process of freezing their eggs until they are ready for pregnancy.

Another staff of the reproduction centre, Mary-Jane Igori, lectured the audience on donor and surrogacy.
Mr. Oluwatoyin Ikotun, Head of Adoption and Fostering, Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Social Development shed light on adoption services in the state. According to him, the process of adoption begins with a formal application. The next step is that the applicant is taken through a pre-counseling session before a social worker is assigned to visit their home to be sure that it is suitable for a child. An administrative fee of N80000 is paid to the state before the adoption process is complete. However, the applicant needs to undergo further assessment by an adoption multi-disciplinary committee that will either approve or disapprove the adoption. Once the adoption is approved, the applicant can visit an orphanage to pick a child of their choice. The bonding period follows. The final stage is legalisation where the applicant is legally and formally recognised as the parent of the adopted child. Adoption processes in the state may go on for about 12 months. He warned that it is a criminal offense for anybody to resurface and claim an adopted child because once the process is complete; the biological parent loses their parental right to the child. He also indicated the two types of adoption that are available in the state which are local adoption for residents of Lagos (who must have resided in the state for at least five years); and international adoption for foreigners or Nigerians living outside the country.

During the period of interaction with the audience, the panel debunked myths like sperm leakage and infertility caused by abortions. According to one of the professionals, several abortions can only result in damaged cervix but not infertility. The audience also learned that the embryo from IVF can only survive five days and the process of transfer is very painless and that the patient can be discharged same day. For those who were interested in surrogacy, a prerequisite of the clinic is that the surrogate must be young, beautiful, have a high IQ and must have given birth through the vagina. They however advised that surrogates should not donate their eggs more than three times. The cost of contracting a surrogate they said could be as high as N3 million.

One of the wives of the Emir of Kano, HRH Sanusi, Mrs. Maryam Sanusi, was present at the event and gave a short speech on the high rate of infertility as well in northern Nigeria while clamouring for support for couples who are confronted with the challenge.

Apart from Essien’s refreshing course on sex, the audience was entertained by a series of monologues presented by a seven-member cast that dramatised the trauma faced by couples suffering from infertility. The theatre production broadened the enlightenment on infertility. At the end of the day, even if the play was all the IIF could present, the characterisation and acting conveyed strong messages on the subject of infertility.

The conference must go down as one of the few talkshops that held the attention of a large percentage of the audience for close to six hours. The hall was still packed when Pastor Ituah said the closing prayers.