Mrs. Omobola Bello’s expectations on her wedding day, 20 years ago, was to become a mother within the next one or two years. But she had to wait till after her 53rd birthday to experience the joy of motherhood.

One could not ignore the joy that radiated from her as she responded to pleasantries from well-wishers who came visiting at the St. Ives Specialist Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos, where she has just delivered a set of twins.

Bello said she conceived the two boys through In-Vitro Fertilisation, an assisted reproductive procedure usually offered to women with fertility challenges.

Bello, who spoke to our correspondent in the company of her husband, Gbenga, at the hospital in Lagos on Monday, said she had been married for 20 years before having the babies through the procedure.

Initially, she had wanted to speak on condition of anonymity because she did not want any stigma attached to her and the babies. But she changed her mind after she realised that her story could encourage other childless couples. She agreed to speak with our correspondent on condition that her photograph would not be published.

“After 20 years of pain, shame, disgrace and many moments of tears, pressure from within and outside the family, I’m now Mama Ibeji. There was pressure, pressure here and there. It has been a trying 20 years, but I held on to God. I was always surrounded by other people’s children calling me Big Mummy, but now I’m now a real mummy. I’m just happy that this day has come to pass,” she says.

Narrating her ordeal, Bello said  that apart from pressure from her husband’s family, which led to the crash of her first marriage, she also lost money to quacks who claimed they could assist her to get pregnant.

She said, “In this country, a union is said to be successful only when there is a child. The absence of a child led to the failure of my first marriage. I lost so much, financially, as people with many claims wanted to assist me to have a baby.

“In fact, I had saved money to do IVF some years ago, but just when I was about to do that, another doctor came up with another plan that ate up all my savings but produced no result.”

Her breakthrough came when she read in a newspaper that the hospital was offering subsidised IVF services to childless couples and she had benefitted from the bonanza though she was broke.

Bello said, “I came in last September, and asked for the CMD because I did not even have the money to pay for the subsidised treatment.  We got talking and he accepted to enroll me. He could not even reconcile my stature with my age, but I started the procedure and it was successful.”

Bello, who described her story as a miracle, urged other women with fertility challenges to seek medical attention early, adding that they should also embrace IVF — a procedure that has, so far, produced over one million babies worldwide.

She advised childless couples to shun all myths and taboos associated with IVF or babies born through the procedure, saying though initially, she had wanted to do it, her friends and relations, as well as some health care professionals, erroneously told her that it was not a viable option.

Bello said, “I want to urge all mothers that have been waiting out there, no matter their religion, to hold on to God and to also seek medical help early in the right place, because I was exploited several times but I did not give up in spite of my age and circumstance.

“I waited for over 20 years. IVF is not a taboo; and in my case, for the shame of my life, God gave me double. I have two boys. I thank the hospital, they are not after money; otherwise, they would not have registered me because I did not have money to pay.

“I also want to thank my husband. He held on with me and even told me that I should go for the procedure though we had saved for it initially but diverted the money to other needs. He insisted I did it and, see the result!”

The elated father, Gbenga, also called on couples to stick together when waiting for the fruit of the womb and also seek orthodox means to avoid being exploited like they were.

He said he was able to resist any pressure because they were childhood friends.

“Our society is such that most explanations for infertility are in the spiritual, traditional or cultural realms. Fasting and prayer is usually regarded as the only solution because we had initially saved money for IVF, but somebody told us not to try it and suggested something else.

“But last year, when we didn’t even have any money, we saw the light. It was like we were in the dark and someone shined the light in our faces, but we did not have the resources. We thank the foundation and the hospital that gave us a chance in spite of our financial difficulty.”

Meanwhile, the Chief Medical Director, St. Ives Specialist Hospital and the Foundation, Dr. Tunde  Okewale, said the conception could be considered a breakthrough, as it was more difficult for women to conceive through IVF as they grow older.

According to him, the chances of a woman having a baby through IVF after age 50 are between zero and 50 per cent. And due to cultural beliefs associated with infertility in Nigeria, most women who need it do not access it early and when they do, they often come late to the hospital.

He warns, “If you are between 25 and 35years, your chance of not achieving pregnancy through IVF is 25 per cent; at 35-40 years, it’s a 40 per cent chance that it will not work. If you are above 50, then it’s zero to 50 per cent chances of failure. That is why it is important for a woman to seek IVF or other assisted reproductive procedures as early as possible.

“I have heard patients say IVF does not work, but we must know that success depends on how early they come. In Nigeria, when a 30-year-old is told that she needs IVF, she would rather go to her pastor or spiritual father and fast and pray to reject it. The longer couples wait, the higher the risk of not achieving conception.”

Okewale, a UK–trained gynaecologist, noted that infertility was on the increase in both men and women globally. He said new factors were increasing its prevalence in Nigeria.

He also noted that due to increasing quest for advanced education among women, more females are getting married late.

He added that the rate of infections, especially sexually-transmitted ones, was increasing and that due to abuse of antibiotics used to treat these infections, more men were finding it difficult to impregnate their wives.

The specialist said, “More girls are getting educated and even at the advanced stages, they are getting empowered and they delay getting married to cope with the demands. The earlier a woman gets married and starts having babies, the better for her.

“For men, infection is on the rise and they are not easy to treat because Nigerians abuse antibiotics such that when they have the infections and they use antibiotics, it does not work.

“Untreated gonorrhoea causes low sperm count in men. Also, Chlamydia is an infection which has no symptoms; it blocks the fallopian tubes in women and reduces sperm count in men. It is not easily treated when discovered late. I advise people to undergo gynaecological screening at least once a year for early detection.”

Okewale also stressed that Nigerians were becoming more obese, and that being overweight was a predisposing factor for infertility.

He said, “Fat in a woman predisposes her to choleretic ovaries, which cause infertility. Fat in men reduces the production of the hormone, testosterone, which is crucial to male fertility.”

He advised fertility-challenged couples to undergo the procedure not just as an option but as a solution.

Okewale also called on government to make provisions for subsidy for more childless couples to access assisted reproductive services to reduce cases of divorce due to childlessness and improve family ties.

“IVF is just as important in medicine as a kidney transplant; it produces a baby or babies and the cost cannot be quantified. A transplant is like N6m, but a round of IVF is between N650,000 and N1m for a cycle.

“So, it’s expensive globally; but if government can subsidise it for couples who need it, then more women can access it like it is done in developed countries where governments see it as a social responsibility. Infertility has broken many homes and that should not continue to be the case in Nigeria,” Okewale noted.