For women in Nigeria, the decision to have children is often tied to the institution of marriage. But what about those who don’t find a partner in time or struggle with infertility? While societal norms may suggest that these women have missed their chance at motherhood, the truth is far more complex. In fact, advances in medical technology have made it possible for women to have children on their own terms. For some, that means embracing single motherhood as a powerful and fulfilling option.
As the old saying goes, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.” But what if that order doesn’t quite work out? In Nigeria, women who reach a certain age without getting married and having children often face societal pressure and stigma. “Na, when you go marry?” is a common question for women – and men – approaching their early 30s; it’s also a major prayer point for parents and pastors wanting to see their wards fulfilled. Today, a growing number of people, especially those born in the 1990s and 2000s, do not intend to tie the knot. Some say they do not mind having children at some point in their lives but do not see themselves “settling down” in the traditional sense of the word. This mindset flies directly in the face of convention and is one thing religion and culture both agree on: if you want kids, first get married.
Tradition and religion notwithstanding, a number of factors have contributed to broadening people’s choices in the 21st century. Thanks to globalization and technological advances, there are now more options than ever for women who want to become mothers, even if they’re not in a traditional relationship or are unable to conceive. Also, celebrities and public figures like Seyi Shay, Linda Ikeji, and Isha Sesay have opted for motherhood on their own terms. Their boldness may help make the idea more acceptable in Nigeria. Even though celebrity lives are often far different from everyday people’s, there is an ongoing conversation about how much control the family or religion should exert on a woman’s body.
Many people still believe that a woman’s primary role is to be a wife and mother, that it is morally wrong for a single woman to get pregnant and have a child, and that it is ethically questionable to use technology to conceive children instead of “waiting for God’s timing.” This makes it difficult for women to pursue alternatives beyond generally accepted norms, and many choose to remain childless rather than face judgment from their communities. There is still a long way to go in breaking down these barriers and creating a society where women can make their own choices without fear.
Single and Searching for a Baby
“I am 46, single, and pregnant!” This was the title of Isha Sesay’s compelling October 2022 essay published on Today.com. A well-known international journalist and author, Ms. Sesay, who had her baby only a few weeks ago, has been candid about her pregnancy journey and how she decided to have a baby on her own. “If you’d told the 16-year-old me that at 46, I’d be divorced, single, and having a baby on my own — by choice!” she writes, “I’d have shuddered and firmly said ‘no!'” She then describes how she came to her decision and alluded to a critical point, “… it hit me: Not having a child would be the greatest regret of my life.”
Ms. Sesay’s story echoes that of many women the world over. This was evident in the support she received from thousands who followed her journey, admired her strength, and called her brave. Similar stories from other public figures have been featured in the media. Their openness about their decision to become moms may help break down some antiquated reasoning around single motherhood in Nigeria.
But is the idea of single motherhood becoming more acceptable in Nigeria? By sharing their journeys and showing that having a family without a partner is possible, is this a social evolution that becomes fully acceptable in another 10 years? Despite advancements in reproductive technology and the increasing number of single women who want to have children on their own, some still hold conservative views about marriage and parenting. These individuals believe that children should only be born within the confines of marriage and that single women who seek to have children using technology are going against the natural order of things.
The desire to have children is a deeply human one, and many women want this fulfilment on their own terms. As more women embrace the “single option” and become successful parents, conservative views may begin to shift. Also, as society becomes more accepting of non-traditional family structures and more single women become vocal about their experiences, attitudes towards parenting and marriage will likely continue to evolve. Ultimately, what matters most is that children are raised in loving, supportive environments, regardless of the family structure in which they exist.