My next-door neighbors just had their first child. It was a pleasant surprise to notice her huge bump a few weeks ago. Her tiny frame near toppled as her belly led the way. Critical information hidden under jackets and scarves in frigid temperatures.
Eight weeks prior, another neighbor bore a son. Except for the courteous “hellos” exchanged on the side-walk, we were strangers. With my daughter by my side the uncertainty of our new faces in the neighborhood smoothed over. We showed up at the door with a gift card. They were delighted. My daughter and I peered at the little bundle wrapped in swaddling cloth. Baby was cute, chubby and peaceful. The pregnant silences nudged, we left a few minutes later. And now the confession. Those cute fresh breathed little human beings have their codes wrapped tight round my heart. Commandment ten, “You shall not covet” has crashed to pieces on my floor. Is this a sin subscribed to women?
New born babies draw crowds constantly. My sisters and I competed for the honor when an aunt or uncle came home with their baby. When the news of a birth was announced, visitors looped like favorite mobile apps – Facebook, twitter, instagram, whatsapp, snapchat, back to facebook, on and on they came. Countless shoes lined the door as visitors came and left in series – some reluctant. The joy and promise of new life. Flowers, balloons, Johnson products. Tables and bookshelves were rearranged to spread greeting cards. The sleeping baby was passed around. The mother sat to tell the birth story while a matriarchal type supervised guest refreshments. The father sat dazed as he pondered his predicament – a little fragile human being was now in his care, what was he to do?! He’d been submerged into a woman’s world – wash, feed, carry, change, feed, change, feed, change, wash – what a helpless cycle.
It’s been two days since the neighbor’s baby came home. Two sets of foot prints led to their front door and only one set has been mobile since. The neighborhood is deathly quiet. With the sound proof houses, one doesn’t hear the baby cry. A huge contrast to an experience with the local council chairman near old Nakawa market who casually mentioned he knew I’d just had a baby. The midnight cries woke him too – at 11:30 pm, 2:00 am, 4:00am and 6:30 am.
A decision is made, I must visit. I cook chicken stew. Should I present a little Kente outfit to keep with the #Wakanda theme? Must I call and set an appointment? I ditch formalities and gently ring the door bell. Steam fogs the stew dish. Perplexed to the reason they are dragged along, my husband and daughter shuffle for the most discreet position behind the door. We are received warmly. I wait for an invitation to sit, it doesn’t come. We stand and coo at the cute little baby, soft as silk, eyes shut tight. Can I reach out and hold the baby? I wonder. I resist the urge to stretch out my hands. The dad holds the baby up at an angle. 10 minutes later we say goodbye “We are a few steps away if you need an extra hand” I say. “Thank you” comes the reply.
Here I am again 2 weeks later, looking at the window again yearning to hold that new life in my arms. Wondering how things are coming along, thinking how I’ve slowly turned into that weird neighbor – the nosy older woman. Is baby sleeping through the night? Has mom got a hang of breastfeeding? How does she juggle all aspects of her day when dad’s off to work? When it’s just baby and her? I needed support from all the women in my life – to hold the baby, burp the baby, put baby to sleep. Uninterrupted rest was gold, in the same sphere as winning the lottery.
Overcome, I peep through the window – nobody’s there. Dad’s gone off to work. I try the door handle, it unlocks. I walk into the sitting room and find the baby in her cradle. She stirs and opens her eyes. Before she lets out a deafening scream I pick her up and rock her. A bottle of milk stands on the counter in a warmer. I pick it up and feed the baby. I burp the baby, make funny faces. It’s enthralled by my features. I lay her down on her back, let her marvel at the colorful creatures twirling at the top of her crib. Then I walk out the door and shut it behind me, glad to support a new mother.
I had not acted at all, only wished it.
Woman. It’s that nurture instinct that draws on the heart strings. It cuts through the layers of race, tribe, culture, creed… Rooted at the core of her being. Created unique in purpose. To lead and to serve, to be the voice and the silent listener. The backbone and the womb – versatile. Woman!!
I end with an excerpt from “Things Fall Apart”.
Okonkwo’s uncle speaks to depressed Okonkwo who has been exiled to his mother’s village for seven years. He was exiled for killing a clans man by mistake.
“You think you are the greatest sufferer in the world? Do you know that men are sometimes banished for life? Do you know that men sometimes lose all their yams and even their children? I had six wives once. I have none now except that young girl who knows not her right from her left. Do you know how many children I have buried, children I begot in my youth and strength? Twenty-two. I did not hang myself, and I am still alive. If you think you are the greatest sufferer in the world ask my daughter, Akueni, how many twins she has borne and thrown away. Have you not heard the song they sing when a woman dies?
“For whom is it well, for whom is it well?
There is no one for whom it is well.’
“I have no more to say to you.”
Sometimes the woman’s lot is different, not laid out or executed as expected by self and society. Even then she remains strong, useful, empathetic and confident.