Being a single mother or what is now stylishly referred to as baby mamas Is not new to the world. Like fashion, it evolves. And while we have seen a kind of it with the generations of our parents and generations before theirs, the trend in the millennial age is coming with a facelift; one that is new to all and scary to many. The situation is scary enough for us to question whether this new trend poses a threat to the marriage institution.
Formerly, single motherhood, especially the ones without shame, were mostly seen in cases where a woman loses her partner. Women who become single mothers from unprotected sex hide away in shame. But in this time and age, the case isn’t just about unprotected sex or even divorce. There are single mothers who become single mothers by choice through artificial insemination.
In those days, and even now, being a single mother had little or nothing to be proud of. Not only is your act seen as a shame to your immediate family, it can affect your relationship with your friends, become a hindrance to your plans in life, and may affect your child in the future. For some of these reasons Ikechukwu Nwaogu, a young Nigerian writer says: “I can’t allow my girlfriend to be pregnant for me before marriage. We’ll use every preventive method necessary to avoid it because; I know how harsh society can be to women who become pregnant outside marriage. I can’t allow the person I love to go through that”
Baby mama is a concept although likened to single motherhood, in recent times has been known to be very different. According to Wikipedia, “a single mother is a woman who lives alone with her child or children without a husband. She might have sole or joint custody of the child if previously married or never married.” The last statement is similar to what a baby mama is, and as we have seen recently, this path is now becoming more of an aspiration for many women, than the unfortunate circumstance it was once known to be.
Speaking about her experience as a single mother, media personality, Azuka Ogujiuba talks about the shame that being pregnant out of wedlock brought her and her family. “I’m from a Catholic background and the Catholic Church does not support abortion. So when it happened, I had some good friends who I went to, and they were really supportive; but then, I had friends who I spoke to and they said really cruel things about me. That really shatters you, especially, with people you’re close to.
“The way I planned my life, I wanted to be married. I wanted to have many children but that didn’t happen. My mom was disappointed and considering the fact that I’m Igbo where such act is a taboo, I was hiding from everybody for a very long time until the stage where I accepted my fate and said: ‘Okay, the worst that can happen they’ll kill me.’ “After that, I had to go to my uncles and beg for their forgiveness because, I knew I disappointed them. But, I also knew I didn’t want to marry the father of my child because he didn’t really care and still doesn’t”.
Unlike Azuka’s parent’s, some parents are supportive during this process; that is after the shame-phase, and they realize there’s nothing they can do but, to love their child despite the mistake.
Speaking about her experience and the impact it had on her family, fitness coach, Titi Olatunji said; “I got pregnant when I was in my final year at the University in the U.K. I was 20. Before then, I was a happy-go-lucky girl with a lot of friends, and we used to go out a lot. When I got pregnant, I lost a lot of friends because I wasn’t able to do the things that would normally do. I also realized who my real friends were: because, some people didn’t want to be associated with me. A lot of people wanted to talk to me to get the gist about how it happened and my parents’ reaction. This was 10 years ago, there was no social media except Facebook but I did feel ashamed. Although there wasn’t really any social media aside Facebook, I did feel ashamed.
“My dad sat me down and brought out a family tree and said, ‘this kind of thing has never happened in our family’ I felt bad. I felt really bad for him because I didn’t really want to let my parents down. I really didn’t”.
In spite of the shame Titi had to endure, she is happy that good also came out of the whole experience. “The best thing that has come out of it is that I now know who my real friends are, and I believe it brought my family closer”.
She however confessed that in all of what happened to her she was harder on herself than her family. According to her, “I think rather than my family being hard on me, I was harder on myself. It wasn’t people as much as it was my disappointed at myself because that wasn’t what I expected of me at that stage. That wasn’t just part of the plan for my life”.
Titi who married her baby daddy eight years after getting pregnant, in between two engagements, has an experience that’s far different from a lot of women who are unfortunate with their partners who either encourage abortion, or refuse to take responsibility for the child or simply abscond.
For 22-year-old Morayo (Surname withheld), she was encouraged by the father of her son to abort the child who’s now five. “I told my then boyfriend and he suggested I got rid of it but I disagreed. I didn’t inform my parents of the pregnancy until my then boyfriend decided to marry me, so I told my parents he was coming for an introduction and skipped the pregnancy part”
An important part of life and society is our religion and from a religious angle, being pregnant before marriage is a taboo that institutions like churches seriously frown at. This treatment was one Olufunmilayo Ajibade was served when she got pregnant at 21. Narrating her ordeal she says: “Immediately I got pregnant, the pastor in my church stopped me from leading praise and worship which was what I was doing at that time. All the other young girls that were my friends started keeping their distance. During my second trimester, I remember I didn’t have any friends. Everybody deserted me. The only friend I had were my foster parents who were my aunt and uncle. What kept my sanity were the pregnancy books I was reading then. I couldn’t go to church all through my pregnancy period. The way people looked at me, segregated me, even other parents didn’t want to say hello to me”
The treatment meted out to Olufunmilayo is similar to the experience of many women who find themselves in this position. Pregnant girls are stigmatized in their various religious gatherings. This stigma is not just theirs, but it also spreads to their family members and this, in most cases, is why parents disown their children, to dissociate themselves from such shame.
Reacting to this “abominable” acts, Pastor Akin Fadipe of Global Impact Church says; “I think it’s a function of our level of understanding and knowledge. The fact is that where we are as a church, we are still hinged on rules and regulations. A good example is the woman caught in the case of adultery where she had an encounter with Jesus. At that point in time, the people around Jesus were people you could consider to be the church, and so the church was coming out very harsh on the woman, saying what she deserve was condemnation. Now, are we saying the act was good? No. It was a wrong act but Jesus wasn’t focused on the act, he was focused on the person. So while he focused on the person, he said, hey look, I’m not here to condemn you, what you’ve done, don’t do it again.
However, who amongst us has not done something even worse? So I think there has to be a change in our mindset and thinking based on God’s word. And that is from the perspective of love. Nobody decides from childhood that they’re going to be baby mamas but even if there are circumstances that made them baby mamas, I don’t think the person is a bad person. Is that a good thing for them to do? No. Is that what God wants? No. He’ll want it to be done within the confines of marriage, however, when it has happened, I think there has to be a show of high demonstration of love towards that person because there is no child that comes on earth, that does not come without God’s permission. It means that the child has a plan and has a purpose. This is one of the many reasons I think they should be showered with love because if not, it’ll be easy for them to digress and meeting people that might negatively influence them and their child.
“That said I believe there should be a small group that addresses that in churches; a group that can help people feel loved, rather than condemned despite what they have done. They need to be reassured that their mistake does not reduce the love God has for them and he still has a plan for them”.
He ended his point with a biblical analogy; “If we’re truthful with ourselves, David was born out of wedlock. So his mother was also like a baby mama. But he grew up to become a king because God has a purpose for his life just as he has for the life of every child born in or out of wedlock. The act is not right but when the deed has been unfortunately done, we should still love them despite. That’s the attitude we should have as a church because when we shower people with love, God has a way of turning what the devil planned for evil into good”.
With all these negative effects that come with living as a baby mama; changing the planned course of their lives, and bringing stigma to their doorstep, one would wonder why there is a rise on single motherhood.
In recent times, there’s been a rise in the number of celebrities have multiple baby mamas just because of their influence. On the other hand, women who end up pregnant for men who aren’t celebrities are sometimes consoled with the knowledge that the man can take care of them and their child(ren). This new attitude of intentionally being a single mother comes with the solution of co-parenting rather than be married and stay together in a home. More women are now becoming baby mamas because more guys are opting for such alternative where they believe they can be fathers without being present at all times in their children’s lives.
According to Akeem Wale, more women now see this as a business venture that provides a financial plan that can cover them and their children. This to them is a little price to pay for running away from responsibilities. “I feel most ladies are becoming baby mamas to exploit men, especially when they want freedom and know the guy can support in a way’’ while App developer, Precious Johnson stated that; “some women are using this as a way to make money from men. They get child support from the men for their kids and also use the money for themselves. That way, they’re not trying to work to fend for themselves which is wrong”.
For Morayo, who is currently living the experience, “Baby mama is not a self-imposed decision for most ladies”. But Adekemi Ojelabi, who had the opportunity to be married after pregnancy, begs to digress. She revealed that she prefers variety of sex that not being married offers, than staying in marriage with one man. The mother of one says: “I was excited probably because financially, I wasn’t in red or yellow, I was in green. I didn’t want to get married, but his mother was of the opinion that we did. I wasn’t mentally ready. I love my freedom and I believe that variety is the spice of life”
The advent of social media has helped confer a glamour status on this act more than is desired. The lives of single mothers are displayed on a daily basis on social media especially Instagram, women putting their best foot forward, sharing experiences that are making a lot of ladies scream “my ovaries” all over the internet. This mentality, automatically, brings a shift of reactions with some people open to being single mothers than they did in the past. For most part, it is all for vain reasons such as social media content.
Does this present reaction to being pregnant out of wedlock pose a threat to the institution of marriage? Social media exhibitions and positions like that of Adekemi who wants to still enjoy the various spice of life while being a mother, can trivialize the institution of marriage, thereby promoting single parenthood which might be harmful to the development of a child.
American psychologist, Jordan Peterson in a video on Bite-Size Philosophy’s YouTube channel says: “I really do think it’s the sign of the degeneration of the society when single parenthood becomes anything approximating the norm. Part of the reason I believe is that this has to do with the overwhelming selfishness of modern life. Marriage isn’t for the people who are married. It’s for the children. And if you can’t handle that, grow the hell up. Once you have kids, it’s no longer just about you.”
Research has shown how important it is to invest in children’s early years as this phase is critical to their development. This study, carried out by Better Care Network with the support of USAID in 2013, shows the importance of a family unit in the lives of children. Although there are no statistics in Nigeria on the percentage of children from single mothers, there are global reports stating that children raised by a single parent or from broken homes, have high chances of turning out broken with various psychological traumas.
According to a report from prospect.org, “Children who grow up with only one of their biological parents (nearly always the mother) are disadvantaged across a broad array of outcomes. They are twice as likely to drop out of high school, 2.5 times as likely to become teen mothers, and 1.4 times as likely to be idle — out of school and out of work — as children who grow up with both parents. Children in one-parent families also have lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, and poorer attendance records. As adults, they have higher rates of divorce.
These patterns persist even after adjusting for differences in race, parents’ education, number of siblings, and residential location.
This is not to say that every child raised by a single mother turns out this way. There have been cases of single mothers raising great men like the former American president, Barrack Obama. But, it is also a fact that the burden will be easier on the single mother in an ideal, happy home, where both parents are responsible for the emotional and financial needs of the child.
Speaking on the possible realities of a single mother raising a son, Peterson gives a hypothetical situation of how a child can be wrongly influenced when he has no father figure to emulate at home. He said; “To some degree, a good mother can try her best, but it’s hard for one person to be everything. But the kids who lack fathers, first of all, they can find out from their friends, and that’s often with fatherless boys, in particular. They go with the boys, they generate the missing men masculinity in the gang and that’s not so good because, what the hell do they know? They don’t know anything, they’re fifteen-year-old kids and testosterone flying around and they want to get away from their mother, which is what they’re supposed to do, and they’re not in the right position to exercise any authority over themselves, So that’s not good. They can find it in education, books, movies, in sports hero and so forth because; the image of the father is so fragmented and distributed among the community. But it’s very difficult to not have a father. And one of the things we’re doing in our society which I think is appalling is that we’re making the case that all families are equal. But that’s wrong because there’s no empirical data supporting that proposition. So for me, it’s much better for kids to have two parents, now who those parents are is another issue”.
According to American actress, Regina King, in an Essay collection, ‘He Never Came Home’, by Regina R. Robertson, “A lot of people think that girls need their mothers and boys need their fathers, but kids need both of their parents”
In most cases, mothers who are sensitive to these psychological effects, consciously try to shield their children from the experience, by doing their best to create a stable life for them. But, that also means stretching themselves more than they are probably capable of, which will lead to mental issues as Morayo explained. “Sometimes, I get depressed from the whole drama and struggle. It’s also a struggle when I am trying to keep my son away from the drama going on between me and his father. Also, trying to teach him to love and respect his father by sometimes saying positive things about his father in his presence or whenever he asked about him. Maybe when he’s grown he’ll be able to decide what and how to feel.”
This experience as single mothers can shape and break women. For some, it sends them to a place of no return with one bad decision after the other while to some, as mentally and physically stressful as it is, has helped them step into who they are. It has helped them tap into that strength they didn’t know they possessed because they wanted to be better for their kids.
In the words of Tolu Bally, “To be honest, I’ll say the birth of my child made me who I am today. It gave me more courage and more willpower to be able to do more. Before, I was just that normal random girl; but now, when I look at my son I say you know what, I’m going to make you proud, so I work harder”. For Morayo, “Raising a child without a father in the picture has revealed my strength and also gave me a sense of living; not just living but living responsibly.”
Despite this self-discovery journey this experience has taken these women on, many revealed they wish they had gone through the journey of motherhood the right way because being pregnant before marriage, is never an easy route to take to motherhood; especially, for the purpose of a mentally healthy child. “To be sincere, I’m not happy I’m a baby mama. I even hate that word with a passion because of how derogatory it is. I don’t want to be in that circle. I’m grateful for my child but I don’t think any woman should set out to be a baby mama.”
For Morayo, “I’ve always believed that the appropriate thing to do is marriage before pregnancy; and even though I’m a single mother, I still believe it to be so.’’
First Published in Vanguard Allure