Friday, October 31, 2008


May 08.

My husband feels, with the birth of our first child, a huge relief, he says, that he has fulfilled a task he was sent here to perform. The interesting thing is he didn’t feel the weight of this task pressing upon him until he had successfully ensured the continuity of the genes for another generation. I can’t say I feel quite the same. Generally, I’m thrilled with not only my son himself but the fact of his existence. That is to say I think my son is a wonderful guy yes but more, I’m thrilled I’m a mother. Its coming to me so naturally I know I was made to do this.

Yet there’s a twinge of something sometimes. Not regret no, more a mourning of doors closed than regret over the chosen path. For instance I would have liked when I finished law school to take a job in East or Southern Africa. But with a husband and a baby and another on the way…, well that isn’t exactly feasible now is it? I’d like to do a masters or PhD in a world class institution. But what happens to my little son? Does he look at some other woman and say his first mama? So sometimes I’m a little sad because I feel earth bound .

My son, he has this beautiful smile that everyone adores. He’s always the party favourite. The compliments constantly pour in. Kofi and I bask in the glow of his perfection and our chests puff out with pride and every compliment we share weaves our bonds a mite tighter and our hearts a tad fonder. And then he has this special smile that he uses only on me. Those are the moments that my heart most completely contracts.

Life is about trade-offs. You take something you give something. You take up something you give up something else. The tricky part is picking the trade-offs so you don’t get stuck with the short end of the stick. Last week I had dinner with my friend Charlene. On our way out of my house I offered her some mosquito repellent. She declined saying it smelt foul. We both wore shorts. Three hours later sitting in the night breeze, my foul repellent smell had diffused into the air and she sat on the other side, stomping her feet to be rid of blood thirsty mosquitoes. It ruined her fun and eventually, sick of the battle, she packed it in early and went home to sleep away the rest of her Friday night. Pick your trade-offs with care. For the honour of the experience of motherhood, too complex to be described with any number of adjectives, I’ve had to give up the pleasure-and note how easily one adjective captures it- of indulging in a streak of self absorption.

I think what keeps those closed doors on my mind is a curiosity to see how walking through any of them would have played out. I suspect that if I could spend an evening behind the VCR watching in an hour what I would be wearing to work in South Africa or where and with which great quirky characters I’d hang out with after class, I’d be satisfied to turn off the TV and never give it another thought. For as you may notice it is not lost growth opportunities, financial coups or career highs I feel I’ve missed out on but silliness in my youth. I’ve lived a responsible youth: honouring my parents and their desires as often as I found possible; living up to family reputations and expectations; being mindful of my society and its values inasmuch as I could without diminishing my spirit.

I’m only 26 but when I look back on my 20s I know that if I could live my last 5 years over again. I would take a hell of a lot more chances especially on people. I’d guard against heartbreak with less vigour. I’d be more sexually explorative and earlier, I would be less interested in making friends and more in talking to strangers. I would in brief be more self-absorbed.

I don’t waste much time on these thoughts though. I’m more apt to examine life on the path I’ve chosen and I like most of what I see: my beautiful children, financial self-sufficiency ahoy, professional respect (also ahoy) and one hell of a man by my side. My Kofi is a man not just a male, a man. His heart is soft; his spine is steel, his head rules all. His touch is gentle, his scorn is harsh, his outlook ever changing. There are of course the minor added attractions that he is gorgeous smart and funny. Even alone he is a pretty damn good deal. Add awe inspiring things like motherhood, life-partnership, and a family and you should understand why there is that rather smug note in my voice when I say that the road taken is making all the difference.

holding my mystery

I have read before that a woman loses her man the moment she loses her mystery. My mother told me same when I was getting married. She said that the tricky thing about being married was staying sexy in the eyes of the man you take turns at the toilet with. She told me when I got pregnant that good reason did not a disgusting thing pretty make. So as much as possible I was to try and keep the puking, spitting and so forth private.

I tried to keep this in mind all through my pregnancy and I found that keeping ickies to myself wasn’t the hard part. It was finding the inspiration by month eight even to comb my bloody hair that was. Still I kept hearing mom’s voice in my head and I struggled through it. Then came the baby. Labour is a painful, painful thing and Kofi, bless his heart was there singing to me the whole time. Or so I thought. I just found out that he deserted me to watch one scene in Stomp the yard. I have vowed never to watch it. He defends himself that it was during the hour, early in labour, that I was asleep. Humph! Anyway so after DovĂ© came is when the true hold-my-mystery challenge came. I got a long tear in my vagina during delivery and was sewn up almost to my sphincter.

Here in Ghana, a new mother sits over a bucket with some boiling hot water, camphor and salt twice a day for the first two months of her child’s life at least. The point is to get the steam inside you to heal your womb. Though initially somewhat painful, it sounds worse than it is and you actually feel good afterward; kind of like massaging sore muscles with a mentholated balm. It feels good but it doesn’t smell so hot. Or look too sexy. Afterwards, the bathroom smells like you just cut up some freshly killed chicken in there.

Those early days, I was somehow struck with a desire to make him see all I was going through so he could feel the weight of what I had had to endure to make us a son. I wanted him to see my episiotomy and be grossed out by it. I wanted him to see the blood clots that fell into the bucket while I was purging and the milk squirting out fountain-like from my breasts when they were too full. I guess he was so thrilled about the baby I wanted him to be concerned about me too. It wasn’t the same for me you see. He and his baby were both great. I had a great baby but I wasn’t great yet and I wanted to bring him down to the same plane. So he could give me the support I felt I needed. At the same time, I didn’t really want him to think of my vagina as the patched up one or to give him a clear vision of my sphincter. I didn’t see how I could recover my sexiness from there.

So I kept it all to myself, sometimes raging inside about the unfairness of it all. How is it that I’m the female and I have to be macho? Sometimes I would feel very alone in my misery. Other times, my feminist strains would awaken and yell at me for being a slave to a man’s superficialities and letting his sexual preferences supersede my emotional needs. It would goad me to let him see all that went into this baby-making thing. According to the voice that would force him to respect me, “he better. You did all the work…” and on and on it would go. Somehow I managed to shut her up and would sit on my hot water after he went off to work and before he came home, apply my wound’s treatment locked up in the bathroom and when it hurt, I’d retire early. My reward was the pride in kofi’s voice when he told everyone that I was a soldier and the respect in my mother’s eyes. I have great respect for my mother’s toughness. Overhearing her telling kofi that I am a very tough cookie, made it all worthwhile- at least until the next hot water session.

Our son is 5 months old. Memories of the first weeks have all but faded, with all the new ones he gives us everyday. And I’m gladder than ever that I never let him touch the wound, or smell the chicken, or see the sphincter. I’m back to being smart, and sexy and funny and gorgeous and my post birth issues are long gone. Everyday I feel thankful (and vindicated to my pushy feminist voice), that I resisted the urge to subject us to group pain and disgust. Now when he gives me the appreciative once over, I know he does not see a sexy body over a patch-quilt pussy.

I've become an obaatan- a mother

I started a journal of my experiences and lessons of motherhood when I had my first son in November last year. So much has happened in my life and soul since this miniature piece of humanity came home to stay. This journal is in honour of my children. I have my husband’s consent to share our family’s journey with you through the beautiful and heart wrenching experience which is baatan-ye (motherhood).

Today my second son is a week old. It is an important moment in our culture. Here a child is not really human until the eighth day of their lives. We believe he parts ways with the spirit world completely on that day. Now he can come outdoors, he can be named; he is truly one of us. Though I had the very best and warmest of medical care all through my pregnancy, delivery and post-op, I am still deeply emotional this day. My son has come to stay. [By the way, if you have a child or fertility issues in Ghana, seek out Dr. Richard Banful. He’s a miracle worker I tell you.]

A historical note: child mortality in days past was of course incredibly high. A child who was going to die would likely have done so already by the eighth day. We tried to reduce the agony of child loss by not naming or making public appearances with him till after that.My sons are named Dovene and Vinyo. Dovene means ‘now we are two.’ The emotion behind the choice I’m sure is self-evident. Vinyo means ‘it is good to have children.’

Vin akwaaba. Welcome to the world; cruel world, fun world, lovely world, cold world. So much to see, feel and experience. God guide your footsteps my sons all the days of your life.