Every woman who has had a baby will tell you that leaving the hospital with their little human is worth all the mysterious pain nobody has ever been able to put into words. And like anyone else who had never given birth but suddenly found themselves joining the ranks of expectant mothers, I was curious to know what the experience would be like.
Accordingly, by the day I went into labor, I had read myself blind with stuff off the internet. And in the spirit of preparing for my own labor, I traumatized myself with videos off YouTube of women giving birth in various ways; I watched c- sections until I could say pass me the scalpel with the best of them. Words like epidural and Pitocin had casually slipped into my every day vocabulary.
But while I knew what to expect when the time came to push my own baby, nothing prepared me for the wealth of experience and opinion my kith and kin were so eager to pass on.
From the time I started getting the contractions, I was made to drink flask after flask of black tea, until my bladder screamed stop.
At around the third flask, I was all but ready to give up.
Finally, I said to my mum, borrowing heavily from the words of our Lord Jesus,
“Mum, please take this cup of suffering away from me.”
But I was warned that if I didn’t drink the tea, the baby would refuse to come out. So I bit back a retort-something about reading that babies came out when they were good and ready and dutifully swallowed the cup of tea that was pressed on me.
Let it never be said of me in conversation, the sort parents start when they’re warning their own children about how not to turn out like so and so’s child:
“Anneti nkubulire,” one woman will begin, pointing with her mouth in my direction as I pass.
“Uh huh, yakolaki?” Anneti will ask, eyeing me up and down and leaning forward.
“Hmmm, yagana okunywa chai nata omwana we.”
And so, fearing condemnation from the neighborhood, the chai went in, cup after cup after cup…
Next, I was made to hop like a kangaroo; another baby inducing hack. This one was guaranteed to make the baby so uncomfortable that he would have no choice but to get a move on. And so for the next forty minutes, I jumped while the people walking around the wards watched me curiously, thinking that maybe I was in the throes of some sort of ritual.
At some point, I nodded a greeting to a woman who passed me carrying a green Jerri can and she looked away hastily.
“Yep,” I thought, “she thinks I’m crazy.”
At any other time, I would have been deeply wounded but at that moment, the pain was so much, I was beyond caring what onlookers thought of me.
When the baby finally came the next day, many flasks and numerous jumping jacks later, the instructions started all over again.
All day, the cups of bushera and milk flowed you’d think my relatives had pooled their money and invested in a small cafeteria on the hospital premises. Never mind that I was exhausted from a 22 hour labor, I was plied with drinks until it was unbearable to drink anymore.
“I need to get some sleep,” I wailed.
“You will do no such thing,” an aunt said, a determined glint in her eye. Eyeing my breasts appraisingly, she added, “You need to drink so the milk can come.”
“Please,” I wailed some more. “If you don’t let me sleep, I will slit my wrists.”
It’s as though I hadn’t spoken.
Only when the doctor came and gave the decree that I was to be left in peace so I could rest, seeing as I had had a long and difficult labor was I left to nap for a few hours. Every household that cannot seem to agree on anything should get a doctor. I have never met anyone who commands more attention or whose word is law than a person in a white coat and a stethoscope around their neck. Because it was like magic. Suddenly, the small crowd that had gathered in my room slowly melted away.
Finally sweet slumber, right? Well no.
“Wake up,” someone called, shaking me awake some hours later.
“You have to tie the stomach.”
“The stomach. If you don’t tie it, you will look like Otafiire.”
“Jesus! Poor man, why would you think to give him as the example?”
“Well, that doesn’t matter right now. Get up, turn around and touch the wall.”
Promptly, I did as I was bid because the idea of walking around looking like a middle aged potbellied man didn’t go down well with me as the way to live out the rest of my life.
You might be thinking; surely, that was the end?
They made you tie your stomach and left you in peace, right? Right?
Not at all. Because after that, there was the boiling hot, really hot water. But that is a story for another day.