It was the most satanic question I have ever asked as a journalist. And may God forgive me for asking. I asked her: “when you discovered the situation of your baby, couldn’t you have simply wrapped him in a nylon bag and dumped him in the bush and move on with your life?”
The lady in question is by name Joy Odiete. You might not know her by that name. But you will surely know her by her stage name J’odie, the 2007 West Africa Idol star who hit the airwaves with a beautiful album titled African Woman which spun off hits like kuchikuchi (Oh Baby), Under the Mango Tree, African Woman and my favorite Akpona Igbunu, an Enya-inspired Urhobo lullaby which says “Life is a mystery.”
Ever since I heard her, I had fallen in love with her voice and her music to the point where I called to encourage her to keep moving on up in her musical career and that the sky is her limit.
Then six or seven years ago, she got married and Joy joyfully carried her first pregnancy like a badge of honour, waiting for that glorious day when her baby would be delivered. Nine months later, the baby was born, a baby boy born with certain shortcomings which gave her parents sadness, anxiety and concern instead of the joy that comes with a new born baby.
“From the very day he was born, he didn’t cry for nine hours,” the mother recalls, as she tells me her story. A story that would make a bestseller if written as a book. “The hospital wasn’t well equipped,” she continues. “So they referred us to another hospital. His dad and my sister took him to two or three hospitals before they found one. Because not all hospitals can handle such cases. He eventually got one hospital and my baby was admitted there while I was being taken care of in the other hospital.”
In the hospital, the doctors were divided between those who gave the parents hope and those who felt there was nothing to hide.
“The doctors didn’t want to come out bluntly to say the baby was not OK,” J’odie says. “It was more of their body language that spoke louder to me. The higher percentage of the doctors said he would be fine. Maybe they knew the bitter truth but they didn’t want to tell a new mum negative news. Only two doctors had a dissenting opinion that this child may not be normal. But I quickly struck that off because I wanted my child to be normal. I said: ‘This is not my portion. I reject it in Jesus’ name.’ I chose to believe the higher percentage of doctors who were optimistic that he would overcome it.”
Six weeks later, there was a new development. “We noticed a slight depression on the right side of his head. A small hole. But his head looked normal. We then decided to take him to hospital for routine check. And that was the beginning of everything. It was one test after the other: MRI, PT Scan and everything. For one month, we were running from one hospital appointment to another, till we finally got a diagnosis of cerebral palsy and lissencephaly which is a rare brain disorder. That was their diagnoses. That was the beginning of the feeling that my son may not be like a normal kid.
“The doctors were like: ‘Take him to one of your mothers. They know what to do. You have to move on because this child would drive you mad. It may affect you emotionally—the fact that you are putting your all into taking care of this child and he doesn’t turn out as you would want it.’
“To be sincere, at that time I didn’t understand what they were saying. It was not as if I didn’t understand the English part. I just didn’t understand the gravity. Years later, I kept hoping for something else and fighting in the sense that I had a lot of recommendations like: ‘Go to so-so church, they would pray and he would be healed miraculously.’ Or: ‘Go to this hospital. Go here, go there. It was confusing and depressing.
“With time, I have now come to terms with what this challenge is all about. I have come to terms with the fact that it could be for life. That he may never speak to me in the way children speak to their parents. He may never walk. He may never talk. He may not do these things but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know I am his mum. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have feelings. He just expresses them in different ways from how other normal children would.”
With what she went through, was there any time you were angry with God? I asked.
“I was angry for a long time. I would carry my child and cry. I was bitter. The bitterness was killing me and not anyone else. I was angry with God but I was not angry with my son. I am grateful for him. Having him as my son has taught me a lot of things about life. It made life more meaningful. It made me less selfish. It made me more thoughtful about life. It made me less judgemental. It made me willing to be patient. It made me understand the imperfections of life. Right from the beginning, he was the only person that kept me going. He gave me the energy to fight even when I didn’t have the energy. The energy to keep trying, to keep pushing. The fact that he can’t talk to me gave me the zeal to fight, the zeal to say: ‘Jodie, you can’t give up.’ If it were just me alone, I would have given up.
“Initially, he was going to a special need school. Over time, it’s advisable you put such children in normal schools, so that they live among normal kids and you focus on the physiotherapy, their nutrition and all that. It’s really expensive taking care of him. It’s not advisable to give him just anything. There are specific requirements.
SPECIAL MOTHERS’ CONCERT
“For the sake of my son, I am planning a concert to draw attention to the plight of other such special mothers who carry such burdens. I am raising funds to get some special mothers and their kids’ gadgets like wheelchairs, back slabs, gadgets for physiotherapy sessions and other needs. I opened the Chinua Foundation named after my son. I will be staging this concert for the sake of my son. But for him, I wouldn’t have known there were other special mothers. I wouldn’t have understood their pains and their struggle. I will be performing with my band. I have already composed a Special Mothers’ song and a video showing on Apple music. I have guests like Koffi, da Guru, The Distinguished Senator Comedian, Yinka Davies, The Only Chigul, a comedian.
“The concert will take place on Saturday, November 5. It’s a normal concert but a bit different. When they pay for their tickets online, they would get by email a link to watch the virtual concert. It’s not like the attendees will assemble in one venue. You can reach us for more information at www.specialmothers.africa. And the foundation has its site: www.chinuafoundation.org
Now to the opening satanic question, J’odie replies: “To dump my baby in the bush? I can never do that. I will never be OK. I will not sleep well. The baby will continue to haunt me for life. I cannot kill my baby because he is my life. He has become a part of me.”