The joy on her face was unquantifiable. It shone through her body seamlessly like a river overflowing. She couldn’t hide it; of course, it wasn’t one that could be hidden. Anytime she tried to express it, she burst into tears, conscious of the fact that at last, she had made it. Her story was unusual. So were her pains, frustrations, disappointment and mockery of 40 years.
When Ajibola Otubusin got married at the age of 25 at the Methodist Church in Yaba, Lagos, on December 10, 1977, she was indeed hopeful, just like several other women, that by the end of the first year of her marriage, she would have given birth to her first child. But a year turned to two, then five, and then 10. It then clocked 20, yet she wasn’t getting pregnant.
“What I didn’t know was that I would have to wait for 40 years,” Ajibola, a retired nurse said during the week when our correspondent visited her in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital.
Born on April 3, 1952 in Abeokuta, Ajibola had met her husband, Samuel, in Lagos while she was pursuing a nursing career at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital in the 70s.
Samuel, who retired as a professor about three months ago at the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries Management, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, was during the period studying at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).
Ajibola recalled, “I am somebody who has the call of giving. I love to give. At that time, Samuel was studying at the University of Ife while I was at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital for my Basic Nursing Programme. We met through both of our aunts, who were good friends.
“In those days at the University of Ife, if you failed a subject, you would repeat a whole year. He was surviving on only bursaries at the time, which could barely sustain him, so during one of our conversations as friends, I saw he needed help, which I offered.
I promised I would help him by sending him something out of my own monthly stipends. We were not thinking of marriage. We were just great friends, but then, friendship turned to relationship and then relationship turned to marriage.”
After their marriage, the couple had moved to Kainji, Niger State, where they worked, although briefly after Ajibola noticed some problems in her health.
She said with tears streaming in her eyes, “I expected to bear children and be fulfilled, but then, I started noticing I was unusually becoming sick, I was having some health issues. I initially thought they were small problems but when I went to a hospital at Kainji, I was referred to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, who told me I was still young and that I was getting sick because I was worried too much about having a baby.
“But I knew there were problems with me. I knew I had a problem with my thyroid. But the doctor insisted I would get over it. I went back to the hospital and this time round, I was referred to the Eko Hospital in Lagos, and there, they noticed I was suffering from hepatomegaly (an enlargement of the liver). They identified five other health problems and from there, I started battling with various diseases.”
In search of cure to her ailments, Ajibola said she went back to the UCH again, where she met a surgeon who took interest in her case.
She said, “The surgeon was nice to me, he said he would send me to India. So I travelled to India. At the hospital where I was referred to, they noticed it was a cystic lesion (a medical condition that causes the development of multiple small, benign cysts on an organ in the body) and that I wasn’t responding to drugs. The cystic lesion overtook my liver.
“I was also tested for having sessile polyps in my colons (a colon polyp is a small clump of cells that forms on the lining of the colon and can develop into colon cancer).
“However, the doctor at the Indian hospital said he would try an artificial insemination since I didn’t have a serious infertility problem. (Artificial insemination is a deliberate introduction of sperm into a female’s cervix or uterine cavity for the purpose of achieving a pregnancy through in vitro fertilisation).”
Although the artificial insemination didn’t work, Ajibola said she was determined never to give up, so she kept on seeking treatment to her health and infertility problems.
She said, “Thankfully, I got better after a series of treatment in India and eventually I returned home. Knowing it was only the infertility issue I had to deal with, I intensified efforts again with the support of my loving husband.
“I had been visiting St Ives Specialist Hospital, Lagos for 10 years before I travelled to India but I stopped going due to my poor health. But when my health improved, I went back again early this year with my husband, and I met Dr. Tunde Okewale, who understood our plight and encouraged us not to be shaken by previous experiences. We tried the IVF procedure and here we are today, with our first child!”
Telling our correspondent how she felt when she discovered she was pregnant, Ajibola said she still didn’t believe it was true, though she prayed it was.
She said, “It was on February 22, 2018, I discovered it, but I still had some health issues. I was still seeing blood, so I didn’t believe it. I went for a scan and the doctor asked whether I was doing any stressful work. He asked me, ‘Do you want to lose this pregnancy?’ I asked, ‘Which pregnancy?’
“He then showed me the monitor and I noticed some activities in my womb. I said, ‘Wow, this might be my time!’ I breathed a sigh of relief on that day. My joy became fully made.
“Meanwhile, I still told my husband not to think too much of it, maybe the doctor didn’t want to make us sad, that’s why he said I was pregnant. But my husband encouraged me. He had always stood by me.”
It was clear Samuel stood by his wife, particularly in a society where childlessness could bring about frustration and mockery from family and friends.
Breathing heavily, Ajibola shared some of those moments of frustration, “It is normal in our environment that if you are childless, people would call you various names. But what helped me is my husband’s faithfulness and support, as well as my own positive attitude. I don’t easily get angry over issues. When people told me something negative or called me names, I would just go back home and pray instead of crying.
“Some people in my husband’s family confronted me, ‘Release your husband, let him go. Stop tying him down, you are a witch.’ But I usually told them jokingly that I was not tying my husband down. As a matter of fact, if he wanted to marry as many as 10 wives, I told them I didn’t care. It’s even better for me because I would have some peace.
“My husband taught in the university and where he worked, he could have also married any female lecturer. But he is a devout Christian. I remember a man in his family once told me, ‘You married the best person in our family. If you had married someone like me, I would have left you a long time ago.’ I told him, ‘Thank you, sir.’”
However, with the birth of her baby last Saturday, after four decades in marriage, Ajibola said all her mockers had become her friends within the past few days.
Asked whether such people had called to congratulate her, she replied joyfully, “Yes o! Those who gave me negative names then have been calling to congratulate me since I gave birth. I have been shedding tears of joy.
“I think it’s better when people are negative because it’s an opportunity to draw you closer to God. But when you are angry in your heart and you keep malice, it makes the results of your expectations to never come.”
Asked whether people stared at her weirdly anytime she went about during the pregnancy, the sexagenarian replied, “I didn’t go about with the pregnancy, because I didn’t want to feel weird. I had to be sensible.
“After about two months of the pregnancy, I started antenatal care here in Abeokuta at the Atoke Medical Centre. And last Saturday, my bundle of joy came!”
Ajibola, who retired in 2012, said her story would be incomplete without encouraging other women in similar circumstances.
She told our correspondent that despite being suggested to by family and friends to visit herbalists, she never did.
She said, “So my message to women in similar circumstances is that they should hold on. They shouldn’t go about visiting herbalists and taking concoctions because they want to have a baby.
“That was a decision I took right from time. There were suggestions that I should visit herbalists, but I didn’t give in. You don’t know what concoctions you would take and would spoil your womb. The best thing is to be patient until one’s time.”
When our correspondent called Ajibola’s husband, Samuel, he expectedly expressed delight, saying all was set to name the baby on Saturday (today).
“God is ever faithful,” the 70-year-old retired don said briefly.
Meanwhile, Dr Taofeek Ogunfunmilayo, who is the founder of the Atoke Medical Centre, Abeokuta, where Ajibola gave birth, said he had never seen such a thing in his years of medical practice.
He said, “Mrs Otubusin came here for the first time in April, following referral from St Ives Fertility Centre. She was referred here when the pregnancy was just two months old and I took over her antenatal care. I had to introduce some drugs because of her age, but thank God things went smoothly.
“When the pregnancy was 16 weeks old, we did cerclage insertion for her and what this entailed was that it would help close the opening of the womb into the vagina so that the womb wouldn’t open too early before the baby got matured.
“We monitored her on an outpatient basis until the pregnancy was 30 weeks old. Then we had to do foetal kick-chart, wherein the mother would know the well-being of the baby in the womb. With the procedure and help of some radiologists, the pregnancy progressed. Immediately it clocked 36 weeks and two days, that was on October 20, we planned her for surgery. I told the specialists at St Ives and they also came here.
“We took her to the theatre room at 11am and by 12.30pm, the surgery was over and behold, it was a boy, weighing 2.5kg! We wanted to feed him with formula before because we thought the mother was stressed and should be allowed to rest after the surgery. But by the following day, she was already breastfeeding the baby.”
Ogunfunmilayo, a medical graduate from the Obafemi Awolowo University, told our correspondent on Friday that Ajibola was eventually discharged on Thursday.
“Since I have been practising, I have never seen anything close to this: a 66-year-old woman becoming pregnant and having a baby. She is one of the oldest women to have had a baby through IVF.
“It is amazing, and I am happy it happened in Nigeria, because it shows we are moving forward. It is really a success story because many women have been calling me since Mrs Otubusin’s story broke. But for the high cost of IVF, I believe many women passing through similar challenges would have had their stories changed,” he said.