By Sunmola Olowookere
Motherhood is a beautiful experience which many women long to have at a period in their lives. Mothering is a nurturing ingredient that mother nature has bestowed on all females; both human and animals. Many females welcome the opportunity of mothering a living being of their own specie as it grants them the chance of exhibiting this inbuilt potential.
As fate would have it, not all women would have the opportunity of mothering as they are not able to conceive due to myriads of reasons.
Recently, a Nigerian man divorced his wife of almost two decades over childlessness. Although the wife begged that she would gladly welcome a second wife but the man was adamant saying he could not handle two wives. The court had to separate them. Many women are going through this problem.
Here comes in surrogacy to the rescue. This scientific innovation which is gradually becoming popular in Nigeria is putting smiles on the faces of women that had hitherto been condemned to a life of loneliness and childlessness.
In lay man terms, a surrogate mother is a woman who goes through a nine-month pregnancy cycle and delivers a baby for another woman
More couples opt for surrogacy, when facing difficulties to conceive a child naturally.
Infertility is one of the main reasons why would-be parents opt for surrogacy.
The social media was agog some weeks ago when a popular Yoruba actress, Biola Adebayo and her husband, Oluwaseyi Akinrinde, welcomed their first child, a boy, via a surrogate .
Biola who began acting in 2002, is the second Nigerian celebrity who has recently welcomed a baby via a surrogate and made it public knowledge. Many people in her shoes are not so confident.
Another Nollywood star, Ini Edo, shook the internet too in December 2021 when she announced the birth of her daughter via surrogacy.
Why women go for surrogacy
Melinda Guy, a medical doctor who runs a surrogacy agency shared that there are countless reasons a couple or individual may struggle with infertility issues, ranging from low sperm count or urethral stricture to endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease. A woman that has previously had surgery for an ectopic pregnancy may also face infertility issues.
Although, this is not common in Nigeria, the doctor explained that same-sex couples are unable to conceive a child naturally and often turn to surrogate mothers to help them in their journey to parenthood. In recent years surrogacy has gained more popularity in the LGBT community as a great way to start a family.
She expatiated further that a single woman with inability to conceive or carry a baby to full-term will require the help of a surrogate mother. Alternatively, a single man will require a surrogate as well, regardless of his fertility status.
She warned that age plays a big role in a woman’s ability to conceive and carry a child. By the age of forty, the likelihood of getting pregnant drops significantly. However, a majority of women will likely need to use a surrogate at this age.
A hysterectomy or congenital uterine abnormality may make pregnancy or birth impossible for some women. A hysterectomy clearly makes conceiving a child an impossibility, but some women don’t find out about problems with their uterus until later in life, typically after trying to get pregnant for a while with no success. At this point they might choose to reach out for a surrogate mother, Guy added.
She stated further that a physical and emotional trauma surrounding a past pregnancy or birth of a child may deter a woman from pursuing pregnancy. This is a situation where a surrogate would be chosen to move forward with having their baby.
“A struggle many women are faced with is the ability to get pregnant with ease, but an inability to carry to full-term. Conception may happen quickly and frequently, but the fetus may not develop past a certain point. There are many reasons why this may happen, some of which are treatable, and some that are not. For non-treatable cases, these women turn to surrogate mothers to carry their child to full-term.
“Infertility is not always the main reason for choosing surrogacy. For example, some women choose not to carry their own child to be able to continue their career or maintain their physique. No matter what reason, surrogates are welcoming of every individual’s circumstances and personal decisions” She concluded.
Legal perspective on surrogacy rights
A seasoned Legal Practitioner, Serah Onyeche Sanni said that the subject of surrogacy is a unique one and most countries do not have a uniform legal stand on the concept. It may be argued that the sensitive nature of this procedure has affected the way it is viewed and accepted in different societies.
Her words “This is an emerging area in some jurisdictions which the law is yet to address sufficiently. Also, a number of legal and social questions have stirred up from the existing laws that attempt to address it. There exists a nagging question of whether a woman’s ability to make decisions concerning her own body should include the right to extinguish her parental responsibilities to a child born by her on the basis of a contract agreement.
“There is currently no legal framework regulating surrogacy in Nigeria; however there exist a system of arranged third party reproduction prevalent in the country. There are some privately organized agencies that engage in consensually organized conduct of surrogacy in the country, they do this by serving as the middle ground between the surrogate mother and the commissioning parent. They render the service of bringing parties together through a signed contract agreement. Of course, these agencies operate based on some form of fees payable by parties involved.” She informed.
Sanni observed that surrogacy agreements in Nigeria are based on simple contract terms, while expressing concern if such contracts birthed for the purpose of surrogacy can be enforced in our national courts.
She stated that some states like California makes surrogacy contracts specifically enforceable while others have been seen to place a band on it.
” It is also argued in some portals that surrogacy contracts should falls under the category of unenforceable contracts, this argument emanates from the morality attached to the act of surrogacy.
Like most jurisdictions, in Nigerian, once a contract satisfied the required element, it becomes enforceable. Although there is no law or statute regulating the act of surrogacy in Nigeria, its contracts and agreements remain enforceable.
The Nigerian society is still conservative in this area and it is reflective in the kinds of laws which exist on related issues.. From another view, the concept of void contracts under Nigerian law which considers a contract to be void if it is illegal or against public policy may also come into play in affecting the enforceability of surrogacy contracts. It could be argued that such contracts are contrary to public policy as they present the possibility of abuse.” She added.
She disclosed that there are whispers of a 2016 surrogacy bill being presented to the National Assembly, although no statute has emerged from this.
According to her, research conducted by the Association for Fertility and Reproductive Health (AFRH) of Nigeria, a non-governmental association of assisted reproductive technology (ART) providers concluded that the absence of a law regulating ART in Nigeria have largely contributed to the growing unethical practices.
In her words “Respondents to the research believed that a law regulating ART in Nigeria would improve the standards of practice, monitor ART agencies and ensure that all participants abide by the law. This would definitely curb the existence of baby factories and exploitation of both surrogate mothers and commissioning parents. A statute that seeks to regulate surrogacy must therefore be structured to combat such abuse.
“The process of surrogacy as we know is one that should not be treated like simple contracts because different lives are affected in the process, particularly the life of the unborn child who was not a party to the contract, and is certainly affected by the result of the agreement. .
“In developing and maintaining a legal regulatory frame work and a holistic practice of surrogacy in Nigeria, the legislature and the judiciary in developing and enforcing decisions should bare in mind the best interests of the babies born as much as the interests of the parties to the contract.”
Speaking on the matter, a business woman, Tomilola Adewusi advised women interested in surrogacy to go through a certified agency, where one has everything documented legally, and have little or no contact with the surrogate mother.
“She deals directly with the agency likewise you the intending parent. I know of one very proficient agency, you would have nothing to worry.”She assured.
Another respondent, Grace Adekunle expressed worry that emotional attachment between the surrogate and the child may pose issues for the couple.
Lolade Akinwunmi, a middle aged mother gushed, saying
“If that is the way someone who cannot have children for one reason or the other can be called a mother, then it is okay! But unfortunately our outlook in this part of the world is something else, an agreement has been made, price has been sealed, testing has been completed, implantation has taken place, both pregnancy and carrier is being nurtured on a daily basis awaiting the birth.
” Then, surrogate mom becomes another person entirely! She becomes the victim, saying “ her baby” is being taken away, ah! Someone who doesn’t own the eggs or the spermatozoa, someone who was just used to incubate the already fertilized end product, now she is claiming she is getting attached to the baby and can’t part with it! It is meant to be a business transaction now, it is going to be a matter for litigation.”
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