Nigerian churches and the problem of ‘baby factories’
By Abimbola Adelakun
This year alone, I have heard up to six accounts of women who had been arrested by the police for buying a child at a baby factory. Each time the Police broke up a baby factory, they traced prior buyers and found these women. One thread that ran through each of the stories was that the women had claimed to have delivered a “miracle baby” and had shared a testimony either in church or before a church audience. In some instances, people had suspected that the women did not look like they had been through parturition but had chosen to look away for reasons embedded in our cultural ideas of morality and the kind of sentiments they breed. A child that would have ended up in a foster home had found a mother, and for it was a win-win situation. With that kind of attitude, which I think is general, the problem of baby factories will not go away.
For the umpteenth time this year, men of the the Nigeria Police raided a baby factory. This time, it was in Akwa Ibom State. Before then, they had raided others in Delta, Enugu, Ogun, Anambra, and Abia states. Meanwhile, there are others out there yet to be discovered. Efforts by the police, commendable as they are, are unlikely to end the baby factory problem. When a problem grows like a rhizome, tackling it requires analysing the underlying attitudes that generate its symptoms, and how such attitudes are manufactured and cultivated. That, basically, is why I think churches have a role to play in stemming baby factories.
There are of course a number of other reasons baby factories exist but this piece is primarily concerned with churches’ fixation with spectacular miracles; how it fuels women’s drive to surreptitiously adopt a baby and pass them off as a miracle birth. Before I go on, I must point out that I am not merely blaming churches for wilfully participating in a crime of baby harvesting. Not at all. Though there is a probability that some of the pastors of the women who patronise baby factories are aware of how the child was procured, it will be simplistic to saddle them with the entire responsibility of a problem that implicates various facets of the entire society. Yet, we must involve them because church culture powerfully impacts the maternal industry in Nigeria.
The extent of church’s influence manifests in how pregnant Nigerian women insist on giving birth like a “Hebrew woman”, a euphemism for effortless vaginal delivery as against a caesarean section. While I understand the prejudices against going under the knife – the fear of medicalisation and the uncertainty of surgical procedures – the risk some women subject themselves to win a trophy for a birthing feat is not worth it. I have had conversations about birthing with groups of women and each time I have been taken aback about their vehement insistence on playing the “Hebrew woman.” Also, I have been to thanksgiving services in churches and “testimony time” has felt like some kind of self-glorification sessions by new mothers who proudly proclaim they gave birth like “Hebrew women!” While I am convinced they suffer from a high dose of self-righteousness, some of them seem to have a genuine conviction that prescriptions they derive from the Bible are an ideal worth striving for.
But, assuming that the Hebrew women in Egypt did give birth effortlessly as the Bible suggests, why is it construed as special? Unassisted delivery has been a norm for centuries among many cultures before the advent of modern medicine. I do not see why the birthing practices of Hebrew women in the Bible are worth coveting. They were enslaved and, presumably hardened by their circumstances and shorn of any class privileges, they could not afford any kind of self-indulgence as the Egyptian women. Nobody who lives in this age and is surrounded by modern facilities needs to replicate the feat any more than they need to hunt with stone tools. The idea of birthing like Hebrew women sold in churches is however so powerful that some women have died trying to do so. The only miracle of birth churches should promote is one where both mother and child made it through the experience, simple! Any other addition is sheer self-adulation.
This whole preoccupation of racing to the finish line with a dramatic miracle causes people to resort to self-help; procuring a child from the baby factory is one of the fallout. These women spend months packaging their miracles – they pretend to be pregnant, and while they await that phone call from a baby factory somewhere for them to pick up their “order” they act like they are truly undergoing biological transformation. Finally, when they women receive the babies, they validate their crime by publicly dedicating the child to God. To admit that the child was adopted would be to depreciate their testimonies before their audience. But why should they go through such a fraudulent process when they can simply adopt legally?
But suppose churches de-emphasise the notion of the spectacular in the miraculous. Suppose we are allowed to convince ourselves that testimonies do not have to be sound like a movie plot when they are being relayed. Would it not convince those who source children from baby factories – which, by the way, functions like unofficial adoption agencies – that they need not pile on a thousand other lies to sustain the lie that they had birthed a child? I am definitely aware of the reasons people crave phenomenal happenings – one is that a miracle is not a miracle if it is not self-validating. It has to break through the mundane to convince people that there was indeed a divine intervention. We have also been conditioned by our culture to think that a woman (especially) has to tick certain boxes – be able to get pregnant and deliver like a Hebrew woman – to confirm her “womanity.”
The reality, however, is that life is much more complicated and never fits nicely into cute boxes. People should not have to endure antagonistic conditions to be seen as biological parents of a child they did not birth.