The mother of the protagonist in The Middle Daughter has an unusual job: she’s a trained midwife with a clinic that functions as a baby factory. The first time I heard of a baby factory, I imagined factories where babies were assembled and rolled out, and it didn’t make much sense to me. A baby factory is nothing of the sort but it doesn’t make it less worse. It’s a clinic or a home in which pregnant women are housed – with and sometimes without their consent- and their babies, when they are born are sold to new parents. In some of these ‘factories,’ young women are kept against their will to breed babies for a willing market of parents who want “their own children” without the inconvenience of the sort of paper trail that legal adoptions leave behind. Or the bureaucracy of it.
Although baby factories have only become well known in Nigeria in the past fifteen years or so, they have always been there except the one I knew wasn’t called that. When I was a child in Enugu, a woman with whose children I was friendly had a clinic that was very much like the one Nani’s mother owns. She also had the reputation , like Nani’s mother, of “helping pregnant, young women.” She was also known to be magnanimous, a Christian and an exemplary community leader. When I started writing Nani’s mother, I thought of this woman who must have thought of herself also as offering an indispensable service. In a country where sexual assaults happen, where single mothers are stigmatized, where sex education isn’t encouraged, a young woman who must carry a pregnancy she doesn’t want may not feel exploited if someone offered them room and board and some money to take the baby off their hands. And the “savior” may not feel that selling on the baby conflicts with any moral values they hold. Afterall, they did not force the women and it could be worse. As it was for a young woman I spoke to in researching this novel. And for the sister of another.
I hope that The Middle Daughter contributes to illuminating the existence of this industry and to conversations around stamping it out, among all the other conversations I hope this contemporary retelling of Hades and Persephone provokes.
You can now pre-order The Middle Daughter by Chika Unigwe.