A heartbreaking articulation of infertility and childlessness in Nigeria: Stay With Me, Ayobami Adebayo

stay with me book

Stay With Me offers a beautiful but often heart-wrenching portrayal of the stigma surrounding infertility and child-bearing in modern Nigerian culture; giving voice to a topic that, even outside of Africa, remains a surprisingly taboo and intimate subject for most couples. Tracing the marriage of Yejide and Akin, Adebayo tenderly and intelligently depicts tremulous years of childlessness, and all the resentment, hope and heartache that is borne from a couple desperate to conceive.

“Even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it’s in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer love”

The narrative, though mostly set in 1985 to the late 90’s, jumps easily between the past and 2008 in the present day, and is written from both Yejide and her husband Akin’s perspectives. This duel narrative offers an interesting shift in perspective, and allows Adebayo to explore the different societal and familial pressures on both husband and wife to bare children; as well as the different desperate decisions these pressures provoke in both. The oftentimes extreme and, at least to those outside of the culture, baffling lengths both Yejide and her husband are willing to attempt in order to conceive a child offer a rare and intriguing glimpse into Nigerian fertility practices, as well as a commentary on Nigeria’s amalgamation of modernity with traditional, superstitious convictions.

The novel’s twisting drama unfolds amidst the backdrop of Nigeria’s struggle for democracy; bloody coups, failed elections and protests frequently punctuate the narrative. Unfortunately, though the inclusion of the political turmoil in 1980’s Nigeria is certainly useful for context, somehow the addition of these historical events oftentimes feels forced and intrusive in a story that, at it’s core, is a very intimate one. The novel’s primary focus is on family, love and parenthood, and one cannot escape the feeling that the frequent inclusion of political events is jarringly out of place. Particularly as  Adebayo’s otherwise beautiful and heart-rending depictions of human emotion seem to melt away as she dispassionately describes violent protests and uprisings.

Regardless, her outstanding debut novel Stay With Me has undoubtably concretised Adebayo’s position as a remarkable emergent female voice in Nigerian literature. Adebayo’s beautiful depiction of Yejide’s desperate struggle to be the mother she never had, as well as her battle against the stigma of a woman who has failed to giver her husband children, is perhaps one of the most gut-wrenching and visceral novel’s about maternal love you will read this year.

Overall score: 7.5 out of 10

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