I was born and grew up in Kenya on the Ivory Coast. From my 15th year, I lived in Britain. Nevertheless, I always knew that I want to grow up my children (when I get them) home in Kenya…
And yes, I thought I would have them. I am a modern African with two college degrees and the fourth generation of women who work, but when the children are in question, I am a typical African. I guess you would say that with no children you are not complete, that children are a blessing that must not be missed out…
In fact, that question is not asked at all.
I got pregnant in the UK.
The desire to give birth at home was so strong that I sold my facility, moved home and started a new job, five months after , I’ve found out that I’m pregnant. I did what most pregnant women in the UK do: I eagerly read, although my grandmother told me that all you have to do is to “read” your baby. In every book, that I read was stated that African babies cry less than European does. I wanted to figure out – why. When I got home, I started to observe.
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I searched for mother and children and they were everywhere, though small babies up to 6 weeks were mostly at home. The first thing we noticed was although mothers were everywhere, I can hardly see a Kenyan baby. Usually they are incredibly well wrapped around in covers before taking them out from home and tied to the mother, and sometimes to the father. Even older babies that are attached to the back are protected from the environment by a large blanket. You would be happy if you can notice a limb, let alone an eye or a nose. Wrapping the baby usually reminds of their stay in the mother’s womb. Babies are literally cocooned to protect them from the stress of the outside world.
On the other hand, I observed their culture. In Britain, it was normal for babies to cry. In Kenya it was backwards – it was abnormal for babies to cry. If they cry – something is really bad and you must immediately do something to help. My sister, who is from England, well said: “People here really do not want babies to cry, don’t they?”
It all made sense when I gave birth and my grandmother came to the village to visit us. It happened that my baby started to cry. Exhausted and tired, I forgot everything I’ve ever read and sometimes cried together with the baby. However, the decision for my grandmother was simple “Feed the baby!” It was her response to any crying baby. Sometimes she cried because of a wet diaper or because I left her in her crib, or because she wanted to burp, but in most cases she wanted to suck. No matter whether she was hungry, or she was just enjoying the moment. Most of the time I held her in my arms or slept with her, it was a logical consequence of what we did before. Surprisingly I understood the not that hard secret to the blissful silence of African babies. It was a symbiosis of meeting the simple needs, you do not need to know what to do, but to act as needed according to the current need. The fact is that my baby ate a lot – more than I read somewhere about it and at least five times more than the most accurate calendars diet.
At about 4 months, when most of the urban mothers start introducing solid foods, such as guidelines recommends, my daughter went back to the style of newborn- breastfeeding every hour, it was a total shock. Over the next four months, the time between the feedings slowly began to rise. I even started working with patients without my chest to start to spill out or without the appearance of the nanny to disturb me to tell me that my daughter needs to be fed.
“Mother and Babies”
Most mothers in my group “Mother and Baby” began to introduce rice (to continue feeding) and all the professionals involved in the lives of our children – pediatricians said that it is all right. The mothers also need rest. However, I do not fully believe that, so I tried unwillingly to offer little Pavpav (traditional food for weaning from breastfeeding in Kenya) beside my milk to my daughter, but she did not want to try it. Therefore, I asked my grandmother for advice. She smiled at me and asked me if I still read books. She carefully explained that breastfeeding is everything, it is just not linear. “She will tell you when she is ready for solid food and her body also.”
“Do the same as before – regular breastfeeding.” So, my life was again on hold. While other mothers praised their children for sleeping more after eating rice and trying other products, I woke up every 1-2 hours with my daughter and I had to tell my patients that my returning to work will not take place as planned.
Soon I realized that unintentionally I became an informal support service for other urban mothers. My phone rang often and many times while I was breastfeeding, my baby I heard myself as I repeated: “Yes, just continue with breastfeeding. Yes, even if you just fed him. Yes, maybe you will not even manage to get out of your pajamas today, Yes, keep eating fruits and vegetables, and drink sufficient amount of liquid. No, now is not the time to think about returning to work, if you can afford it. “At the end I encouraged mothers:” It will be better. “The last one I had to tell to myself too, because I needed to believe in it.
A week before my daughter turned 5 months, we traveled to the UK to a friends wedding. Since I had very few obligations, I easily followed the schedule for breastfeeding the baby. Despite the agitated glances of many travelers because I breastfed my daughter in various public places (The marked locations for breastfeeding were in the toilets, where I could not make myself to go) we survived. The people at the wedding who sat next to me commented, “The baby is very calm, but she needs to be breastfeed often“. I remained silent. One lady commented, “I’ve read somewhere that African babies don’t cry a lot.” I could not laugh.
Smart wisdom from my grandmother:
Offer him the breast whenever the baby is upset, even if you just fed him.
Sleep at the same time. Many times, you can feed the baby before he is fully awake, this will get him back to sleep, and give him more rest.
Always take your bottle of water when you go to sleep, to get enough fluids during the night so you’ll have more milk.
Let breastfeeding be a priority, and tell the people around you to help you as much as they can. There is a tiny creature that cannot wait.