I was sixteen when I got pregnant. It was right after Junior secondary school. The man who got me pregnant was a stranger I had known for just a couple of weeks. Menses then was very painful. I struggled to live whenever it was the time of the month. I met this stranger during one of those moments and he told me he could help me live forever without menstrual pain. I asked how and he told me, “See me when your menses is over and I’ll show you the trick.”
I was just a girl, fifteen going to sixteen. I believed him and followed him to his house after my menses was over. He told me it was shuperu that could stop the pain. “But mom said when I have shuperu I will get pregnant,” I protested. He told me, “Mom lied to you. She knows you’ll get better but she won’t tell you the truth. Ask her why she doesn’t have pains when hers comes. It’s because of your father. Your dad takes care of her so she’s always going to have it painless.”
I believed him and started sleeping with him. He said I should do it often like my parents before it could work so each afternoon when I was sent, I used the opportunity to see him and we did it. When I got pregnant and I told him, he fled out of town. That was in 1994. The world was so small but very large. It wasn’t easy to find people who were on the run. They only had to change location and that was it. That was exactly what the man did.
My pregnancy shamed my parents so much that they disowned me. They compared me to the children of their friends and found me unworthy to be their child because I was pregnant. Dad one day threw my things out to go and live with the man who got me pregnant. My mom supported him. It was my maternal grandmother who came to my aid. My parents didn’t want the community to know about my pregnancy so when my grandma agreed to live with me, they gave me away to her. It could have been anybody, and they still would have given me away. I was an unwanted child—the child who brought shame to her parents.
I lived with my grandma until I gave birth. It wasn’t easy living with my grandma. She also didn’t want anyone to know about my pregnancy so when my pregnancy started showing, she kept me in the room, out of the sight of everyone until I gave birth. When her friends visited her and I was in the hall, she would ask me to run into the bedroom and never make a sound. I obeyed because she was the only one who wanted me. I gave birth to a girl in a hospital near our village. When we were discharged, we waited until late at night and sneaked back into our home. I woke up the next morning and my baby was gone.
My grandma said, “Get ready, you’re going back to your parents very soon. You have to go back to school and never in your life would you tell anyone that you have a child. You don’t have a child. Whatever happened to you was a nightmare and it’s over. Listen to me if you want a better future like the friends you completed school with.” I nodded, ran out of the house into the bush behind the house and cried as if a piece of me had been stolen from me.
My pain was the fact that I couldn’t get the opportunity to see my baby very well. At least they should have let me spend a week or months just to bond with what I’ve made. It never happened. I had a baby but I didn’t know her.
I went back home and my parents treated me like nothing had happened. They were very happy to see me and to my dismay, my mom started treating me like a queen—something she had never done for me. I was their only child but never in my life was I treated like an only child. They didn’t ask me about my child and they didn’t even whisper about my past as a child who brought shame to them. They took it right from the point where I wasn’t pregnant and ferried me along as if life was just how it used to be. The only time they insinuated about the pregnancy was when they repeated what my grandma said.
“Don’t ever open your mouth and tell anyone what has happened to you. They will laugh at you. Your future would be ruined and you’ll end up in the gutters. Listen to us and you’ll have a better life.”
I went back to school, completed and made the grades. I got admission to the university and also made the grades. I turned things around. I became the child my parents wanted me to be but never in my life did I forget the fact that I had a child. I tried to move on but I couldn’t. I had dreams where my baby was crying out so loud that everyone was looking at me and wondering why my baby was crying out that loud. One dawn, I shouted in my dream; “Stop crying! Can’t you see everyone is looking at us?” I shouted in a dream but it appeared in my mouth. My roommate heard it but couldn’t join the lines together so she only made fun of me, calling me “Sleep talker.”
I had a job and met a man. Everything showed that we were going to get married. I was confused. Should I tell him or I should not? I was older but the voices of my parents and grandma were loud enough to put me into silence. Each time I remembered their words, I shivered and kept mute. I didn’t tell Johnson about my past life—the baby and how I lost it.
The night after our traditional marriage, I wanted to tell him. I wanted to tell him I had a child when I was sixteen but it died. I felt telling him a half-truth will take the guilt away but it was too late to talk about shadows from the past.
We got our first child a year after marriage. The second one followed a couple of years later and two more followed. By the time we opened our eyes, we had four children. We decided we would stop there.
When I was heavily pregnant with my first child, I heard my grandma was very sick. I knew the end had come and wanted to get closer to her and asked who she gave my child to but I was heavily pregnant so I couldn’t go until she died. Yeah, I know you’ll be calling me a coward by now. You’re insulting me in your head asking why I didn’t ask questions when I grew up and left their fold. The truth of the matter is, I was also running away from the truth. All my life I’d silenced the voice of my past and it was hard bringing it back to life.
I wasn’t scared to ask about it but I also wanted to run away from it and pretend it never happened. It was at the funeral of my grandma that I asked my mom, “Who did your mom send my daughter to? I know you know everything. I’m old enough now and I deserve to know the truth. Where is my daughter? Who raised her and in what home?” Her answer was, “You’re still carrying the burden of your childhood? The woman who sent your daughter away is dead now. Let the memory die too. You don’t have any child apart from what you’re carrying.”
I broke down and cried like a baby. Those who saw me thought I was crying because of my grandma so they came to console me. I hated the fact that my mom wasn’t sympathetic. A piece of me hated her and regrets having a mom like her. The next person I spoke to was my dad; “My daughter is a teenager by now and I know you know her whereabouts. Who did grandma give my child to?” He was a little bit considerate. He answered, “I know it’s hard to forget though we are trying to bury it. I don’t know. I didn’t care to know but I know your mom has the details. One day, we’ll talk about it so concentrate on your marriage.”
Dad died in 2015. By that time my daughter was twenty years old. The only person alive who knew about my daughter was my mom and I wasn’t going to allow her to die with the truth so I started fighting her. I don’t know what came over me but at some point, I figured it was a do-or-die affair. I had to know about her or forever live with regret. I chose not to live with perpetual regret so I confronted my mom. It is also worth noting that my marriage at that time was suffering.
My husband had impregnated another woman and he was talking about bringing the child home to live with us. I couldn’t even get angry. If anything, I felt pity for myself and instead clapped for him for standing up for his mistake and even trying to bring the child home for a better life. “What did I do with my mistake? I ran away from it for over twenty years and I’m still running away from it.” I no longer cared about my marriage. I wanted to make peace with my past no matter the cost so I paid no attention to whatever was happening around me.
One night, before I gave up on my marriage, I told my husband the truth. I told him I was telling him because I no longer wanted to be married to him. “I lied to you and you lied to me too. This whole marriage was built on lies so there’s no need to pretend everything is alright.” My husband was shocked but he was ready to forgive me but I couldn’t forgive myself and couldn’t forgive him for having another child outside when we had four already. He tried to make it work but I pulled away from the marriage to chase after the child I had when I was fifteen years old.
My mom indeed knew the whereabouts of my daughter so one day we set off to see the woman they gave my daughter to. After going round and round for weeks searching, we found the place where the woman who took my daughter was living. A woman in her late fifties who looked like she had her own. Her demeanour looked like someone who was surprised to see us but was trying to maintain calm.
We told her our mission and she said, “I knew this day would come and I was ready for it. I named her Efua because she was born on Friday. Her surname is that of my father. I don’t know how she would feel when she meets you but the good thing is, I didn’t raise her as my own child. She knows half of the story, where I’m not her mother but someone who raised her. She’s old enough now and she should be fine if we handle the whole situation well.”
I cried. It felt like I’m denying a mother her child. How dare me to come out of nowhere to claim what I’d thrown away so many years ago? But I was happy with the way the woman received us. She told us, “I can invite her home one of these days so you come around and meet her.” She wanted to show us her picture but I declined to see it. I was scared of what I was going to see. I was crying. I was breaking apart. My mom asked when I would like to come back and I couldn’t talk.
I took the woman’s number and we left. Not long afterwards COVID happened so I used it as an excuse not to go there. After COVID, I cooked up another excuse just to stay away. The woman called. I told her, “Let’s take it slowly. The whole thing is too much for me. If we meet her today and she hates me, I can die out of regret. Please let’s take our time.”
Last year, I gathered the courage to go and see her in her office. I had no mental picture of her but immediately I stepped into the building and she walked by, I knew it was her. Her eyes, her nose, the way she walks, her stature. Everything was me. I didn’t have any vivid memory of her father to associate anything of hers to but what I saw was me. I sat in a chair in the corner and watched her go up and down, innocently doing her work and smiling all along. I called the woman and said thank you. She asked when and I told her someday. She said, “She’s getting married very soon so we better do it before she gets married.”
Her marriage is the new reason why I don’t want to meet her. I just don’t want to jump into her life claiming spaces I don’t deserve and raising conversations that shouldn’t be raised at this very moment of her life. I want her to be happy even if that happiness doesn’t include me. Knowing her is enough. Coming to a conclusion with my past is enough. Seeing her and knowing she’s in a good space is also enough. I’m forty-five years old now. I’ve had my opportunity at life and I took it. I want her to take hers too, with or without me and I’m happy the woman is also helping me. When the time comes, I will only want her to know me without claiming any authority in her life. I birthed her but I’m not her mother. I won’t take her away from the woman who laboured and put her in a better place when all I did was run away from her and her memories.