Mumfessions: On Marrying Young and Raising Five Kids at 28
Ify and I had a few mutual friends online. She had a first class undergraduate law degree and lived in the same town as I did, so when on one of her posts she seemed to be considering legal practice in the UK, I reached out to help. And the rest, as they say, is history. She’s one of the most hands-on people I know. From cooking to baking, sewing to knitting, hair-braiding, and soap-making, Ify seems able to do it all. As long as there are no heights involved—she’s afraid of heights.
At the moment, however, she’s mostly a stay-at-home mom. Ify says, “I do freelance consulting work and oversee certain aspects of the cases handled by my husband’s firm.”
At twenty-eight and after eight years of marriage, she’s had five kids. In this Mumfession feature, she shares her experience as a young mum of five! Ify discusses a lot—from the joys of having a large family, the impact of motherhood on her career and marriage, a terrifying moment as a mother, and of course some helpful advice for other mums!
On Always Wanting a Big Family
I’m one of those people that are just inherently broody. I’ve always loved kids and babies and the idea of big families. In my head I have this image of kids grown, with their own families, and everyone home for the holidays; a busy, noisy house filled with laughter and fun.
I got pregnant right after marriage because I’ve always felt like I don’t want to deal with kids after 30. Raising kids so close in age is a bit like Groundhog Day because the minute one’s walking, I’ve got a new one to watch. But it does get easier the older they get. One of the key advantages of having kids close in age is the natural camaraderie they develop; my kids play well with each other and are more of a team than perhaps they would be if there was a wider age gap between them.
I’m a bit of a paradox in that I like to plan for things but I also don’t get flustered when faced with the unexpected. My husband has been a very hands-on and present father which has helped immensely. For example when they were smaller and it was bath time, we operated a sort of conveyor belt system where he would wash them and I would dry and dress them before the next person was out. I suppose from the outside looking in it may seem like a lot, but we really just keep it moving.
On Marrying Young
We met in London when he was on a business trip. With family, there’s bound to be a bit of a furore if a 19-year-old says she’s getting married. It didn’t really matter to me. This is probably going to ruffle a lot of feathers, but let me explain.
On our first date, my husband told me that he sees me as his wife, and that I am pretty much what he has been looking for. I laughed it off, but then it was a recurring declaration. I had no doubt about what he wanted from me from day one.
Ultimately, I think I made the decision to say yes from a logical point of view. Some people get married just based on how they feel about someone but I think to make that kind of lifetime commitment you need to step outside of your heart and really look at it objectively. You need to be able to like this person without any strings attached; it has to be someone you can stand, for better or worse.
I thought to myself, here is a kind man, who is educated, God-fearing, and stable. I saw how he treated people who didn’t have much, how he helped anyone he could, and I thought I need to lock this down ASAP! Aside from our age gap - he is more than 10 years older, nothing else jumped out to me as a reason to say no. I also prayed about it and my spirit was at peace so I got on with it. Eight years later, I think I definitely made the right decision. I fall more in love with him everyday, and I’m not even exaggerating when I say he’s the nicest man I know.
Being a Mum Vs Being a Wife
I saw this meme on social media about how you have to focus on building your marriage and not forget to be a wife. People try to create this dichotomy between being a mom and being a wife, whereas in real life everything just kind of meshes together. The reality is that when you have kids, if you decide to be an active and present parent, that takes precedence over everything.
My husband and I may not have so much time for date nights and all that, but we try to make the best of it. Some of the best memories we have involve kids asleep, bottles of champagne, and Scrabble. Essentially, I wouldn’t say there’s been a negative or positive effect. It’s just inevitable that having kids would change things a little. It doesn’t have to be bad or good—just different—and we are dynamic and go with the flow.
Pregnancy, Times Five
The boy pregnancies were similar -- no morning sickness and I was generally well. The girls on the other hand dealt with me. I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum and was hospitalised several times. I even lost my daughter’s twin in utero.
Labour has been different for all five kids and I tend to have long labours of about two days. I have had vaginal births, planned CS, Emergency CS, episiotomies, epidural and non epidural births. I think the only thing I haven’t experienced is a VBAC. But that may not happen. For now, I think I’m good with five kids.
Having Kids: A Paused Career and Entrepreneurship
I have always been stuck between the arts and sciences. I love both and I’m good at both, so the switch to Law was a last minute decision. I did Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and Maths for A-levels and was on course to become a doctor. However, when I got married I wanted to have kids straight away, so I decided to switch to Law as I couldn’t fathom dealing with medical school and babies. I worked for a while in family law in the UK but it didn’t really appeal to me; I prefer corporate law and research. I don’t practise currently because we moved to Nigeria, and apparently I need to go to law school here, but I do some freelance work on the side related to my LLM in International Corporate Governance.
I started dabbling in making my own soaps and creams after I had a bad reaction to a product while pregnant with my third son in 2013. I also noticed fewer issues with stretch marks and melasma (pregnancy skin darkening) since using my own products, so it’s just kind of taken off from there. I don’t really do it for profit -- I love creating things so it’s more of an outlet than anything else.
In terms of balance, I don’t really have time for all I want to do in my life. So, I do what I can when I can. My life motto is “one day at a time,” or as Nigerians say, I can’t kill myself.
Raising Boys and Girls
To pick their names, I tend to look on Google and find names with meanings that resonate with me. For example, my second son is Jesse, which means “gift,” as a I didn’t know I was pregnant with him till about 20 weeks gone!
Generally speaking, my boys tend to prefer rough play compared to the girls. Having said that, I don’t enforce archaic gender roles. I intend to teach my boys how to cook, and if the girls want to learn martial arts instead of ballet, they are more than welcome to. I think boys and girls are different in the general mannerisms, but the culture especially in Nigeria seems to coddle boys more and then put so much pressure on the females to be a certain way. My husband is a great cook, and he is neat and a very hands-on father. So the boys are used to seeing him help me out. Hopefully they model that as they grow.
On the Kids’ Personalities
My first son is the best child anyone can ask for as a first child. He’s super caring and helpful. My second is the artsy type, very pedantic but also manifests in a good way because he likes to keep everything clean. My third is the funny one; he loves to make jokes and he cracks us up all the time -- it’s always play time.
The girls are feisty and dramatic, and I love it. We all had to call my daughter Aunty Gia for weeks, otherwise she wouldn’t answer! My sons thought it was hilarious, so we played along till she got over it. I look forward to seeing them grow and become who God has called them to be; I cannot wait to start playing the role of the bragging mom haha! They are all loving children and I’m still lucky that they want hugs and kisses from mama -- it might be a different story when they are teens, so I’ll enjoy it now!
Moving Back to Nigeria
I always intended to raise my children partly in Nigeria to give them a different perspective of life. It is my opinion that no matter what country’s passports they hold, they’re still Igbo and still Nigerians, so that needs to be part of their upbringing and of their story for their future.
The kids love it here, I’ve spent most of my life in the UK, so for me it’s more of an adjustment but the kids have adapted quickly. I miss the convenience of grocery delivery and online shopping. I could place weekly grocery orders from the comfort of my home and it was great for a busy mom like me. I’m an avid online shopper, so for me it’s a massive change having to physically go and do things. I think Nigeria is improving daily in that regard. There’s still a long way to go but there’s no point comparing standards with the UK; it’s apples and oranges. I also miss access to certain foods and being assured of buying genuine products. Here you have to worry about things being tampered with and all sorts. It’s rather annoying but one has to get on with it.
I definitely think there are lots of things that could be better in Nigeria and Nigerians should make a concerted effort to select better leaders and create a better country. Running away to live abroad is only a short term solution for a long-term deep-seated problem. We can’t make changes from the outside; we have to get in there and effect a change. This is partly why my husband decided to run for Senate for Owerri Zone in Imo State as we know the impact laws can have on regulating society.
A terrifying moment: On the 23rd of May 2018, my last child swallowed a small piece of Lego which got lodged in her throat; she was bleeding from the nose and coughing blood. I have no idea how she got that as I consider myself a careful mom. I ran out of my house barefoot and was able to find a stranger to drive me to hospital before calling my husband. We had it removed but I have never been more terrified in my whole life. I was hoarse from screaming and I had just completed a five-day fast which I felt convicted to do, so I just thank God that it ended in praise.
Being intentional: I set aside mommy-and-me time where I do things with only one child. This reinforces their sense of identity, not that they’re just “one of the kids.” I think it’s a vital thing to do especially in large families where it’s easy for some people’s voices to go unheard, so I make a conscious effort to make sure that I take time out to really connect with them on an individual basis.
Best moments: My favourite thing is watching my kids play with and help each other; you can see the genuine love and laughter and it just makes my heart swell. My kids say I am the best maker and the best mum in the whole world. This is usually after I’ve made them something they like to eat but I love hearing it.
Least favourite part: Nothing really, except maybe that I would like more privacy! There always seems to be someone looking for me or needing something.
Uncommon advice: You need a sense of humour and positive thinking. One proverb roughly paraphrases to “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry,” so when I’m up at 3am with a twitchy eye and a baby who won’t sleep unless I’m standing, I remind myself that at least she’s healthy; it could be worse.
I couldn’t help cackling at the conveyor belt system for bathing the kids in the morning! But I loved this feature. And it’s great to get an insight into how both Ify and her husband have made things work. You can connect with Ify on Instagram and shop her soaps here.
Do five kids seem like a lot to you, or not enough? What’s your ideal number and do you come from a large family?