I raised all my children by myself as a single parent with five children, although from three different fathers.
One died, two simply walked away after fathering a child each. All my children remain as one. I have never allowed them to think one was superior to the other.
As you can imagine, my life was not easy as a single mother but even at that I did all that was in my capacity.
I worked long hours at the then Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in Lagos, I did contracts as a civil servant; I sold jewelry, clothes, provisions…the only thing I didn’t sell was a human being.
But God was faithful, soon, my children finished school one after another and three of them relocated abroad. One in the UK, two in the US. I don’t know how they did it. They said it was through friends.
They struggled through the years and were sending money home for the rest of their siblings.
After some 25 years or so, my eldest son called me, Maami, come and live with us in yankee. This came after several times of me falling sick, and by this time my two youngest children had gone to join their siblings abroad.
I was alone but surrounded by family and friends. I had also gone to visit them a few times but always hurried back to Nigeria because the cold in those places just didn’t work well with me.
So, I didn’t want to go and live abroad, I said, me ke? America, oti, o. All my friends and family are in Nigeria what is jee ro looking for abroad? I was already in my late 50s.
But they prevailed upon me; not that I had much choice. Many times when I fell sick, I would rely on neighbours or family to come over to my house and drive me to the hospital or help me go to the market.
Anyway, I went to the UK to stay with my daughter and her husband; UK weather is more preferable. I lived with them for 3 years but you see, they were always fighting over one issue or another. I realized the long and short of these fights were because of me. So, I called my son in America that I was going to stay with him; that’s how I moved to America.
America was a lot better, big house, big environment, no clashing but nasty weather. We lived in Texas. I lived there with my son and his family for 8 years; I took care of their four kids when I moved in with them but I got bored after they were grown. So, I told my son I wanted to be a nanny; not the book type, babysitter, yes. At least, I would be engaged in something and I would also earn something, even if a little to help my son and his wife, especially my grandkids.
That’s how I started, they converted their basement into a nice nursery for me.
First it was taking care of their friends’ kids; they would drop them off and come for them in the evening. These babies energized me. They made me alive again. It was good to be able to nurse babies, wash them, feed them prepare them for their parents return in the afternoon or evening, I mean I have 5 children of my own and 7 grand kids and each of them I raised on these lap.
Then they brought other non-Nigerian kids; from neighbours, co-workers of my children and from people whose children I have helped care for. Sometimes I took the children to the park to play or for fresh air, it depends.
That is how I was given baby Nicole, she was just 6 months but very tiny. She was a picky eater. She would not eat and many times she would just cry and cry and be very irritated.
It was easy to see why the baby was always cranky, babies should feed every two hours and an empty stomach makes anyone cranky which is why the baby was always crying. Simple logic.
After a few weeks, I decided to force- feed her, you know, Yorubas say, ‘e roo omo ti o ba jeun’ meaning, force feed the child who refuses food. That’s how I fed two of my kids when they were babies. Just hold the baby at an angle on your laps, block the baby’s nostrils and force the milk down its throat. Of course, you have to be an expert to achieve this but whatever you are forcing down must be liquid; milk, pap, custard… same thing we do with medicine or agbo for the child that keeps spitting out his medicine; we do it all the time!
I did it to Nancy. The milk went down, she gasped and I poured in more milk, so she could have food in her stomach. The baby hadn’t eaten all morning; it was getting to evening and her stomach was completely flattened to her back.
Ase mo ti da ran!
The child began to choke, which is normal…then she stopped breathing. I didn’t know, then, so I tried to make her burp. She was just limp. I saw her colour was changing, so I immediately called my son. I told him the problem, he called 911 to the house and came almost as soon as the paramedics rushed in. They took the baby and tried to resuscitate her. Milk was coming out of her nostrils and mouth.
I was praying, omo yi ma ko ba mi, this child, don’t put me in trouble, please wake up.
She was pronounced dead and I was arrested. I was taken to the police office. I told them that I was feeding her when she suddenly began to gasp.
I told them it was a method we have successfully used for years where I come from. But, you see, the baby died. I regret this. I regret I have put my children in trouble with this issue.
I feel sorrow for Nancy’s parents. I swear meant no harm to their child.
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)