by Demola Rewaju
Etiono and Zainab were both in the late and early 30s respectively. Life had dealt them harsh cards emotionally before they’d finally met each other at their company training held in Dubai. After everyone else departed, both stayed on for two days more to get better acquainted with each other and Etiono came back to Zainab’s base in Plateau State, Nigeria with her before returning to his own station in Gambia.
Over the next couple of weeks, both had to scale hurdles together – ethnic differences, religious differences, working for the same establishment and distance were some of the problems they faced. Etiono resigned from the company to set up a gaming business for EPL enthusiasts in Nigeria and as both his parents were late, he had no issues to deal with except his uncles and aunts in Akwa Ibom who would have objected but over the years, he had emerged as breadwinner for them and all they could do was accept his choice of a wife or offer only muted resistance.
Zainab on her part persuaded her educated uncle, a professor based in Ukraine to influence her father to accept her choice of a husband. At 34, she pointed out, she had little options and there was nobody with whom she’d felt more peace than Etiono. She subtly reminded her father that she’d played the role of his wife since her mother had died many years before as well as several of her siblings before her father had married another wife when she had to go to study abroad. Her father accepted her choice after much persuasion and Etiono’s flimsy and hilarious efforts to speak Fulani also helped matters.
Two months to the proposed wedding ceremony, Etiono found out he was AS and having known all along that Zainab was AS just like her father – her mother was SS as were many of her late siblings. Zainab would never consent to marrying him if she found out he was AS – she’d asked him when they met and he’d responded that he was AA – an assumption he now regretted making.
Breaking It Down – What is Genotype?
If those alphabet combinations confuse you, then you need to get informed about genotype and pairings. I don’t know enough about it to get technical but I know that there are three major groups of genotype: AA (normal), AS (carrier) and SS (sickler) and there are the less known genotype groups: SC and CC. In the process of impregnation by sexual intercourse, both persons combine genotypes to influence the genotype of the unborn child and using the major groups, it is usually advised medically that intending couples should ascertain their genotype in order not to produce kids with the SS genotype.
Personally, I think most ancient cases of abiku and ogbanje were really cases of SS genotype but I don’t know how my theory would explain the birth of children with incisions that were carved into the corpse of the last abiku…just a passing thought though.
The Genotype Issues
The hope of creating generations of kids living without the SS genotype hinges on humans showing great discretion in marriage choice by carefully selecting and choosing a marriage partner with genotype compatibility as one of the criteria – AA can marry SS, AA can marry AS, AA can marry AA – clear. SS and SS can never marry – that’s a little obvious. AS and SS may be difficult to join in union since the SS person knows firsthand the pains of living with sickly cells. It is therefore the case of AS and AS that makes up genotype and marriage issues.
AS carriers have no issues with being sickly and can live a normal life till adulthood. Without knowledge of the pains of SS sicklers, they usually do not hesitate before going into marriage, but for the recent campaigns about sickle cell. There’s also the hope possibility – by permutation, only one out of four children may be SS: that’s a 25% chance or .25 odds – not bad for a gamble.
The Genotype Reality
All their offspring can turn out to be SS and even one sickly child is enough to cause much emotional stress in the marriage. To know that one is responsible for bringing a sickly child to life is painful but worse still is the knowledge that one foolishly rejected superior intelligence and insisted on going ahead with an AS/AS marriage. Matters can be made worse if it took a lot of persuasion on the part of one partner before the other agreed – one person will have to do the duty of encouraging the other and shouldering the blame. An enlightened society is also not likely to show support in this age: “didn’t they know they should have gone for genotype tests before marriage?”
But is Marriage Really Just About Kids?
Some assert that the first aim of marital union is companionship and I agree: nobody looks out for how the other person would fit into the role of a parent from the first day (maybe later). The first point of any union is attraction then emotional bonding – can I live with this person forever? Before asking questions about offsprings when things start getting serious.
But any marital union hopes to produce children, except the couples plan to adopt or if they somehow believe they can cope with a child of the SS genotype.
Medical Science to the Rescue
There are processes by which couples of AS genotypes can get married and produce children who do not have sickly cells. One is called amniocentesis and the other is called chorionic villus sampling test (CVS test) – the latter can be done between the 8th and 12th week of pregnancy while the former has to wait a longer period – 15th and 20th week. Both carry risks of less than 5% (according to some authorities) and can determine if the fetus (unborn child) has any defects, including the SS genotype. If the fetus is sickly, it can be terminated.
There’s also a very expensive procedure where the fertilising sperm and egg are carefully selected and bred outside the woman’s body before it is taken back into her womb as a healthy fetus.
Does Spirituality Help with Genotype Incompatibility?
Yes, it does. I heard of a couple from Borno State last year whose SS genotype children were miraculously healed and their genotype became AA but sadly, this is an exception these days because such events require a level of faith maturity to occur.
The other way religion helps is that it can help the parents to cope with the sickliness of their kid(s) or even their death. Guilt will however play a role if they both ignored the consequences of such a marriage and selfishly went ahead despite their wrong genotype match.
What Should They Do?
As for Etiono and Zainab who could be any couple reading this: they need to be open with themselves – let your partner know what they’re getting into and let them make their choice themselves. Etiono should tell his fiancee his genotype.
For those who don’t yet know, genotype testing is as important as HIV tests and even marriage counselling. It is even better to know it before you start a relationship and to discuss it upfront with each other before you start having sex. It shouldn’t be so difficult, considering that young people these days discuss sexual act preferences even before meeting physically. If you will reject a person because they’re not financially capable to raise children, you should be able to reject a person if your genotypes don’t match. Nobody should bring children into the world to suffer – financially or genetically.
Furthermore, If a couple need to ask for emotional support, it’s better they call it quits; nobody can support them emotionally forever. If one person hesitates and the other keeps pushing, let the pusher be ready to push the hesitant for the rest of their married lives. Couples have divorced when they found out too late that they were both carriers of sickly cells (AS + AS).
Nevertheless, if both parties fully know what they’re getting into, with full understanding of the challenges that may come and yet are willing to go ahead, then by all means! Emotional compatibility is hard to come by and if that matters a lot to you, then hold on to it above all else and let things sort themselves out. I insist though that both parties MUST be in total agreement on what to do and what they’re getting into yet, both must be willing to support each other in times of emotional trauma or weakness and both must realise that humans can be fickle: the husband may decide to opt out somewhere along the road if he is emotionally weak. If they agree to adopt children, either partner can go and find a willing AA partner outside the marriage to have a child by so it’s still a risky situation, but one that can be handled.
If you decide to go through with marriage despite genotype mismatch, you will need to keep it as secret as possible (you should tell your doctor)because there will be many people who will oppose you. I know a couple where the wife is the elder sister of a bosom friend – both AS yet went ahead with marriage and have two issues: AA and AS. Nobody except my friend (and I, and you now know too) knows about their status.
Ultimately, nobody can make a decision for you except the one who created both of you; take Etiono and Zainab for instance: creatures of my fertile mind – I can decide that both of them would get married and have only AA genotype children…it all depends on the creator.
It’s a sunny Friday – a bright start to the weekend and a good day to like this page on Facebook if you haven’t. Have a splendid weekend and feel free to drop your thoughts on this issue in the comments space below.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.