By Amandla Karungi
In some African cultures, if not most, a first time mother is always flanked on both sides by an army of women during labour, delivery and after birth… Well, most of them wander off eventually, but one woman usually remains, the new grandmother; the mother of the new mother. She usually becomes the second mother, the main point of reference for everything motherhood, the unwavering trunk of support to lean on.
Having become a first time mother myself, I applaud this African culture knowing fully well how necessary it is to have a steadying hand to guide you into this new realm of being. In the ultra-nuclear family of the West; the “first world”, many women always lament the beautiful but torturous first weeks of birth, because most of them go through the transition all alone. I call it beautiful but torturous, for there is nothing as paradoxical as the pain and happiness of giving birth.
For the first weeks though, being overwhelmed can surpass and capsize any feelings of joy.The only thing that keeps you robotically circling your house without food, water or a drop of sleep is “mother-adrenaline”. Is it the same adrenaline that makes you keep going in the midst of labour when it seems like you cannot possibly go on but you have to? Maybe.
Well, not every African woman gets to enjoy a tribe of women hoarding her house to make her passage easier. And if you find yourself, after having had a C-Section, barely able to walk straight, your stitches looking like they just might give way, dirty dishes at the sink and four walls staring down on you while you try to sustain this little completely dependent baby in your arms, there are a few “things” that can make it easier.
Sometimes you will forget to feed yourself. Sometimes you will overstay your time on the toilet seat just to get a break. You will (you can) survive on two scattered hours of sleep for a week. Your nipples, red and sore (before you get the hang of being fed from) will still need to be pecked. That is the sensation of feeding a baby; a little tiny chick mouthing around for food.
And when you think that you can finally put your baby down to sleep, he or she WILL wake up and refuse to be comforted until the break of dawn.
You might feel like running away or throwing yourself, your battered back and diastasis-recti-befallen tummy over the balcony. And just when you think you have reached the edge, your baby will smile, a brief beautiful smile, so brief you could almost miss it. But it was there! You saw it! And somehow you can press on.
Water. Please hydrate. As the water enters your body, your eyesight will get clearer and your thoughts will become a little more distinct. Also, water is the best galactagogue.
Sleep. Even 20 minutes is enough. Put down that basket of clothes. 20 minutes is A LOT of sleep. You need that pause.
Speaking about pauses, try to meditate. Just sit down and think of nothing. You have a thousand thoughts flying through your head and frankly, you are mostly too tired to sleep, so just close your eyes and breathe. Say a little prayer while you are in there (I know, it breaks the rules of just being quiet but you know WHO is sustaining you). And after, you can bow and say NAMASTE and feel accomplished.
Eat. Use a food or grocery ordering application if its available to you. Most likely you have not been given your six week clearance by your doctor to drive and besides that, taking a newborn to a restaurant on your own is very difficult, if not impossible.
A good pregnancy app or three. You need something to consult, something to let you know what is actually going on.
Talk therapy. Sometimes, you really need a friend. It is in those times when you need one that you are likely to realise that the number of friends that you can actually talk to (besides talking about other people and sending funny videos and laughing emojis) might be NIL or only a quarter of your phonebook.
Most of them hope that you have it all together while others are sad and angry that you “have it all”. But, when you do find that friend, talk to them.
I did not want to write this one because I was judging myself. But I would not be in the mental space I am today without YOUTUBE. While breastfeeding, you usually have nothing else to do but stare at your child and think about how beautiful he or she is, but it does get mind numbing since you are breastfeeding A LOT in the early months and your baby is not interacting with you yet. Not to say that you should always have your phone near your baby (you could put it on a surface a little distance away if you are afraid of any possible phone hazards), but watching and listening to other mothers talking about their experiences and living their lives with their little babies teaches you so much. It also gives you company.
And when or if you finally go back to work, a breast pump. They come in different forms; manual, battery-operated and electric. Being able to produce breast milk for your baby will make you feel a bit better and somehow console you for not being able to witness every cute moment of every new thing they do.
Stock up on millet porridge. It comes in handy between meals. Breastfeeding can literally knock you out. So if you don’t have a snack, boil some water and pour it over a millet powder paste.
Get your hair out of the way. That means if you have a texture that needs babysitting, plait it and tuck it away. You have another baby to take care of.
And an additional thing, Dance. When your baby starts getting more sleep, which means you too are getting more sleep, your body is healing and you have more energy and more strength, switch on some music and pretend to be Beyonce or Cardi B or that other version of yourself that loves to shake their bum.
* Image by Autumn Goodman on Unsplash