Back home from the hospital, after having my second daughter, I struggled to cope with two kids and the daily grind of running the home. My long-suffering husband did his best to help, but I found myself fantasizing about home, back in Nigeria.
You see, back home, I would have had a bevy of experienced women attending to me, consisting of my mother-in-law, sisters and aunties in law and my own mother and aunties. They would boot my husband out of the room and take over. They would be the ones to bathe the baby and perform age-old traditional rites while I am not watching. They will hold her upside down to help her overcome primal fear; they would stretch her limbs to make her flexible, generally massage and poke the poor little creature until she becomes finely tuned.
They would take care of her ear piercing and tend her umbilical cord. They would wash her with black soap and massage her with cam wood and shea butter. According to tradition, not only would this make her smell clean and fresh for life, but also, her skin will never lose its suppleness. Apparently, the African womans secret of eternal youth starts from babyhood!
The baby of course would not find these ministrations at all funny and neither would I, so I would be hustled to another room for my own post natal treatments.
Two sturdy women would tie a wrapper snugly round my still distended belly and pull hard. They would casually warn me that it might be a bit painful, but that it is the only way to quickly regain my figure. This is the same thing they said about labor!
I would be made to sit on very hot water to hasten the healing of tears or cuts you-know-where. Someone would prepare hot pepper soup with special spices designed among other things to flush out impurities from the system, promote the flow of breast milk, ease bowel movements and give the new mother an energetic jump-start on her new life.
More energy would be given by feeding her with pounded yam, food so nutritionally dense that you are guaranteed to pass out after eating it!
The baby would be brought to me smelling sweet and strangely calm after all the drama she endured. I would nurse her and finally be able to sleep while someone else whisks her off to be diapered! This queenly treatment would continue for about a month, and then everybody returns to his or her own home. By then, I would have adjusted pretty well and would be up and about. My mother or mother in law would stay for a little longer, maybe up to six months, helping with baby and siblings, teaching me how to do things and how to cope. Eventually when she had to leave, she might find me a young person to assist with household chores, so I would never be without help.
Back to earth as I muse and fantasize about all these and I am filled with deeper respect for all my sisters throughout the Diaspora who survive and thrive without the customary traditional support when they give birth. So many people called in their encouragement, but few came to visit!
Back home, even if you were away from your family, neighbors would still rally round and give assistance, solicited or not. I had a charming old Guinean grandmother visit from the sixth floor. She offered me the stomach clamping treatment, which I politely declined. I was however struck by the significance of the visit. She came because she was African and she understood.
In all this I thank God for a wonderful husband who does the night walks up and down to calm the baby so I can sleep, a country where everything works, clean running water, constant electricity, and wonderful healthcare. These are things I can never be blas about. In the meantime, little Mercy and I are taking it one day at a time!