Nigerian couples cautiously turn to surrogacy to ease fertility woes

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Toyin Lolu-Ogunmade, the founder of the agency Precious Conceptions, which helps women with fertility problems, poses with a picture of her family in the backyard of her office in Lagos on December 12, 2018. (AFP)
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Toyin Lolu-Ogunmade, the founder of the agency Precious Conceptions, which helps women with fertility problems, shows pictures of her family in her office in Lagos on December 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 27 December 2018
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Nigerian couples cautiously turn to surrogacy to ease fertility woes

  • Infertility is sometimes seen as divine punishment and most often the woman is blamed when couples are unable to conceive
  • “Most people in Nigeria can’t afford the cost of IVF or a surrogate mother, so there is not an extensive market for it in Nigeria

LAGOS: Ada became a surrogate mother after her landlord threatened to evict her family from their apartment in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, two years ago.
But her husband wasn’t open to the idea when she first brought it up.
“He was like, ‘What’s that? Why on earth would you think of something like that? Please don’t even go there’,” she recalled.
Ada became intrigued about surrogacy when she heard about it on a US reality television show, but thought it was only for Westerners. Then a colleague revealed that she had done it.
But in a religiously conservative nation, many Christians and Muslims alike are skeptical of surrogacy — even though the practice has historic roots.
Some polygamous ethnic Igbo or Yoruba clans used surrogates when a wife was unable to conceive.
In some Igbo villages, certain women could “marry” another woman. Any child born from the marriage would take the name of the “female husband” and the male donor’s identity was never divulged.
But as years pass, traditions fade. In their place, a relatively lucrative but murky and secretive system has developed.
Ada, for example, was paid two million naira (more than $5,500, nearly 5,000 euros) to be a surrogate.
Key to her involvement was the surrogacy agency’s provision of decent accommodation for her, her husband and their own two children while she was pregnant.
“That was what attracted me to the project,” she told AFP.
“We had a pressing need to move out of our place and when I showed (my husband) the accommodation fee, he started looking at it differently, even though he was scared.”
Her husband’s fears were justified even if he finally relented: Nigeria is the fourth most dangerous country in the world to give birth.
According to the World Bank, 814 women die for every 100,000 births — four times more than the global average and 100 times more than in the European Union.
Ada eventually gave birth to twins. So as not to arouse suspicion and to avoid the stigma attached to surrogacy, Ada told her friends she lost the babies.
The taboo surrounding surrogacy is even greater for the women who have to turn to it.
Infertility is sometimes seen as divine punishment and most often the woman is blamed when couples are unable to conceive.
“When you go to church and you see couples praising God for giving them a child after 15 or 20 years, they say it’s a miracle but often it’s IVF (in-vitro fertilization) or surrogacy,” said a surrogacy agent, who gave his name as Chike.
“Most people in Nigeria can’t afford the cost of IVF or a surrogate mother, so there is not an extensive market for it in Nigeria.
“There are a lot of stereotypes around surrogacy because of the ‘baby factories’. People don’t know the difference.”
“Baby factories” are illegal maternity units where many young women and girls give birth anonymously after getting pregnant accidentally — sometimes as a result of rape — or go there to sell the newborn.
Huge social and religious pressure forces many infertile couples without means to go in desperation to these units, which are prevalent in southeast Nigeria and are often raided by police.
Toyin Lolu-Ogunmade knows the pain of not being able to have children but didn’t want to use a surrogate. “I wanted to carry a baby myself,” she said.
“My thinking was, ‘If you can’t carry a pregnancy, then how are you a woman?’ That is the essence of femininity and it’s being taken from me.”
“Most people want to have children that are from their own genes, adopted children are not biologically linked to you,” she explained, “with surrogacy, they are related.”
Lolu-Ogunmade’s 12-year struggle with infertility was due to uterine fibroids and post-surgery complications.
Doctors told her the only chance of becoming a mother was by using a surrogate.
“I didn’t know where to start,” she recalled.
After discussing the matter with her husband and their pastor, the couple traveled to India where surrogacy is legal.
They eventually returned to Nigeria in 2012 with twins and the idea of setting up an agency to help women with fertility problems.
In Nigeria, there are no laws governing surrogacy.
Lack of legislation leaves parents and the surrogate vulnerable to inadequate medical screening, a lack of psychological support and excessive use of Caesarean sections.
Ayo Sogunro, a human rights lawyer, said Nigerian courts were likely to follow common law precedents recognizing the rights of both parties in a surrogacy contract.
For Chike, the lack of proper legislation was too much of a risk and last month he closed his online agency after five years.
“We will not respond to any surrogacy requests. We thank you very much for your support,” a message reads on the firm’s Facebook page.
Chike said his involvement in commercial surrogacy has left him facing possible legal action for human trafficking — and it was not worth the risk.
“Nigeria is not ripe enough (for surrogacy) until there’s legislation in place,” he added.


Big wins for ‘Fleabag,’ Phoebe Waller-Bridge at Emmy Awards

(L-R) Antron McCay, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Ava DuVernay, Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam attend the 71st Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 22, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2019

Big wins for ‘Fleabag,’ Phoebe Waller-Bridge at Emmy Awards

  • The awards opened without a host as promised, with an early exchange pitting Ben Stiller against Bob Newhart

LOS ANGELES: “Game of Thrones” resurrected the Iron Throne at Sunday’s Emmy ceremony, ruling as top drama on a night of surprises in which “Pose” star Billy Porter made history and the comedy series “Fleabag” led a British invasion that overturned expectations.
“This all started in the demented mind of George R.R. Martin,” said “Game of Thrones” producer David Benioff, thanking the author whose novels were the basis of HBO’s fantasy saga.
Porter, who stars in the FX drama set in the LGBTQ ball scene of the late 20th century, became the first openly gay man to win a best drama series acting Emmy.
“God bless you all. The category is love, you all, love. I’m so overjoyed and so overwhelmed to have lived to see this day,” said an exuberant Porter, resplendent in a sparkling suit and swooping hat.
Amazon’s “Fleabag,” a dark comedy about a dysfunctional woman, was honored as best comedy and earned top acting honors for its British creator and star, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and a best director trophy.
“This is getting a ridiculous,” Waller-Bridge said in her third trip to the stage to collect the top trophy.
Her acting win blocked “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus from setting a record as the most-honored performer in Emmy history.
“Nooooo!” a shocked-looking Waller-Bridge said as Louis-Dreyfus smiled for the cameras. “Oh, my God, no. Thank you. I find acting really hard and really painful. But it’s all about this,” she said, her acting trophy firmly in hand.
In accepting the writing award earlier, she called the Emmy recognition proof that “a dirty, pervy, messed-up woman can make it to the Emmys.”
Porter, a Tony and Grammy Award winning actor, relished his groundbreaking moment, quoting the late writer James Baldwin, Porter said it took him many years to believe he has the right to exist.
“I have the right, you have the right, we all have the right,” he said.
English actress Jodie Comer was honored as best drama actress for “Killing Eve.” She competed with co-star Sandra Oh, who received a Golden Globe for her role and would have been the first actress of Asian descent to win an Emmy in the category.
“My mum and dad are in Liverpool (England) and I didn’t invite them because I didn’t think this was going to be my time. One, I’m sorry, two I love you,” Comer said after saluting Oh.
Bill Hader won his second consecutive best comedy actor award for the hitman comedy “Barry.”
Peter Dinklage, named best supporting actor for “Game of Thrones,” set a record for most wins for the same role, four, breaking a tie with Aaron Paul of “Breaking Bad.”
“I count myself so fortunate to be a member of a community that is about nothing but tolerance and diversity, because in no other place I could be standing on a stage like this,” said Dinklage, a little person.
“Ozark” star Julia Garner won the best supporting drama actress trophy against a field including four actresses from “Game of Thrones.”
The auditorium erupted in cheers when Jharrel Jerome of “When They See Us,” about the Central Park Five case, won the best actor award for a limited series movie.
“Most important, this is for the men that we know as the Exonerated Five,” said Jerome, naming the five wrongly convicted men who were in the audience. They stood and saluted the actor as the crowd applauded them.
It was the only honor for the acclaimed Netflix series of the evening; “Chernobyl” won the best limited series honor.
Streaming hit new Emmy heights, powered by Amazon Prime winners “Fleabag,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and a “Very English Scandal,” and Netflix’s “Bandersnatch (Black Mirror),” honored as best movie. But HBO again showed its strength, including with the trophies for “Chernobyl,” “Barry” and John Oliver’s best variety-talk win.
Michelle Williams, honored as best actress for her portrayal of dancer Gwen Verdon in FX’s limited series “Fosse/Verdon,” issued a call to arms for gender and ethnic equality.
She thanked the network and studio behind the project for “supporting me completely and paying me equally because they understood ... when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value. And where do they put that value, they put it into their work.”
“And so the next time a woman and, especially a woman of color, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterpart, tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her,” Williams said.
Patricia Arquette won the trophy best supporting limited-series or movie actress for “The Act.” She paid emotional tribute to her late trans sister, Alexis Arquette, and called for an end to prejudice against trans people, including in the workplace.
Ben Whishaw took the category’s supporting actor trophy for “A Very English Scandal,” admitting in charming British fashion to a hangover.
Alex Borstein and Tony Shalhoub of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” won best supporting acting awards at the ceremony, which included early and varied messages of female empowerment after the hostless ceremony.
“I want to dedicate this to the strength of a woman, to (series creator) Amy Sherman-Palladino, to every woman on the ‘Maisel’ cast and crew,” Borstein said, and to her mother and grandmother. Her grandmother survived because she was courageous enough to step out of a line that, Borstein intimated, would have led to her death at the hands of Nazi Germany.
“She stepped out of line. And for that, I am here and my children are here, so step out of line, ladies. Step out of line,” said Borstein, who won the award last year.
Shalhoub added to his three Emmys which he earned for his signature role in “Monk.”
The awards opened without a host as promised, with an early exchange pitting Ben Stiller against Bob Newhart.
“I’m still alive,” Newhart told Stiller, who introduced him as part of a wax museum comedy hall of fame that included Lucille Ball and George Burns.
Kim Kardashian West and Kendall Jenner drew some mocking laughter in the audience when they presented their award after Kardashian West said their family “knows firsthand how truly compelling television comes from real people just being themselves.”
An animated Homer made a brief appearance on stage until he was abruptly crushed, with Anderson of “black-ish” rushing in to, as he vowed, rescue the evening. He called “Breaking Bad” star Cranston on stage to tout the power of television from its beginning to the current golden age.
“Television has never been bigger. Television has never mattered more. And television has never been this damn good,” Cranston said.