Choosing Motherhood [2] A Daughter of My Own

baby shoe

I scarcely told anyone about my decision to adopt a child. Although I felt the decision was right for me, questions gnawed at me. Moreover, I did not think people would react kindly to a forty-something-year-old unmarried female adopting a baby; Nigeria is a patriarchal society steeped in tradition. I shared the sentiments of whoever coined the saying: give me the benefit of your convictions if you have any, but keep your doubts to yourself for I have enough of my own.

A few years prior, I overcame my fear of surgery and finally scheduled an operation to remove the fibroids in my womb. After the myomectomy, my doctor gently told me, “Nature abhors a vacuum. You should get pregnant soon.” His words stirred buried desire. I wanted to be more than the best-aunt-ever or best-godmother-ever, two roles I cherished. I longed to be the best-mum-ever.

Two years after my myomectomy, I was no closer to realising my dream of having children under the conventional umbrella of marriage. My anxiety over not having a family increased.

Do sperm banks exist in Nigeria? I don’t know, but a couple of friends offered to father my child. I weighed the complications such an arrangement may present in future and declined. I went to a fertility clinic to enquire about IVF treatment. They asked, “Have you and your partner been trying consistently for up to a year?” I laughed, as I did not have a partner. They recommended I return after my partner and I had tried unsuccessfully for a year.

As time rolled by, all I heard was tick tock ringing in my ears. Even the most self-assured woman would be tempted to ask, “What is wrong with me?” About twenty years earlier, my friends at university had tipped me as the one most likely to marry and have kids first. Life, it seems, did not get the memo. Nevertheless, I still believe I owe myself better than settling with just any partner for marriage sake.

During a holiday abroad, my sister suggested adoption. The idea was novel to me and I toyed with it until I accepted it. I returned to Lagos, thinking of all the babies in orphanages who need parents and rushed to one to find my child.

However, it wasn’t that simple. Lagos state government has an adoption process and a screening procedure. There is also a long waiting list and I had no idea what number I was on the list. While the waiting period can seem long for anxious parents-to-be, I appreciated the forward thinking of the state ministry of youth and culture in preparing parents and adopted children for a new life.

Months later, I was invited to meet baby Folasade. She was a few days old, beautiful, light complexioned, and long-limbed. I fell in love with her immediately. She smiled at me each time I spoke to her as I held her in my arms. Later the orphanage staff explained that babies do that when they are experiencing stomach gripe!

Due to the Lagos state doctor’s strike at the time, she had not undergone medical check-up. She barely opened her eyes and mucus oozed from one eye. I arranged private medical care. The doctors confirmed she was born HIV-positive. I refused to leave her side. The social workers, doctors, and psychologists cautioned me about attachments, which form while bonding and advised me not to set my heart on Folasade because of her condition. I could not; to my mind, she was already my daughter. That weekend they moved her to an undisclosed orphanage where she could get special care. My heart broke.

During my visits to the orphanage, a three-year-old boy always ran to meet me and we became close. He had two sisters. Lagos state has a policy of not separating siblings where possible. I prayed that a family would adopt them all. He was not attending school because he didn’t have sponsors so I organized a successful charity campaign to pay for his schooling.

My heart still bled for Folasade and I wondered what became of her and other babies like her. Should I have fought harder for her, disregarding professional counsel and insisting on an exception to policy as the state would not put her up for adoption? Biological parents do not get to ‘pick’ their kids, but in a sense, parents of adopted kids do.

Sometime later, I was called to meet a two-week-old baby girl, Alison, who appeared shy and reserved. We did not bond immediately. Maybe she sensed part of my heart was still with Folasade. During the three-month bonding period when I spent every spare moment at the orphanage changing her diapers, feeding her, and talking to her, she avoided making eye contact. Was she testing me? Did she think I would bail?

As I persisted in bonding with Alison despite my confusion, I understood a mother’s fierce love—she loves whether her child responds or not. Coincidentally, I was allowed to take Alison home on my birthday, what a gift!

I was nervous as I gave her a bath, fed her, and cuddled her to sleep. I worried she would miss her regular carers and judge me for the novice I was. Instead, she was patient with me as I navigated our first few days. She barely cried.

Tended gardens blossom. Alison and I learnt to relax. Before long, her eyes followed me everywhere I went. She rewarded me with her beautiful smile more and more and we drew closer still, clinging to each other.

My daughter is now one and a half and it’s a privilege and pleasure to raise her. When I held a welcome party to introduce her to my close friends and family, they showered us with understanding and warmth. I was overwhelmed. Does love differentiate? Could they love my biological child, when I have one, any more than they love Alison?

Tentatively, I posted our photos on Facebook. My friends responded with resounding support, surprising me.

Alison’s birth certificate bears my surname. When people ask about her dad, I smile and reply, “I’m her mum and dad.” I realise that soon, she will ask questions. The pre-adoption counselling organised by Lagos state prepares parents for this inevitability. I still cherish hopes of getting married and having a family like the one I grew up in, with a mother and father.

Alison’s facial features now resemble mine and she displays my zest for life—or has love blinded me? Often, friends look at her and comment that she’s very lucky to have me. I shake my head and say, “No, I’m the lucky one. I am the lucky one.”

Ogo Williams is a banker by day and a mother 24/7. She is an avid Chelsea fan who enjoys meeting interesting people, travelling, and reading.

 

 

© Timi Yeseibo, 2016

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Choosing Motherhood [1] Learning to Dance

Dance

Learning to Dance

I got married at twenty-one. Our first son was born a year later when I was in my second year at the University of Nigeria, studying radiological science. My Parents tried to make me see reasons to wait before starting a family, but the day I stopped breastfeeding my son, I became pregnant with my second son. My husband, Ben, at twenty-nine had lost his job before our first son was born and was still unemployed by the time our second son was born.

My Parents harboured us, providing emotional and financial assistance. Ben was studying for an MBA, while I combined schooling with business, selling anything to support my growing family.

One day on campus, I cried in frustration from exhaustion. I practised exclusive breast-feeding so I breastfed all night while studying. Then I slept for less than five hours and drove to the university every morning. A lecturer tried to talk me into moving to campus and leaving my boys in the care of my parents and their nannies. I declined. I told him being a mother came first. Motherhood had chosen me because every family planning method I tried had failed.

I had few friends because I was the only married girl among my peers. They left me alone to work out my new challenges. I was not socially aware. I never partied and didn’t have fashion sense. Ben and I couldn’t afford to go out like other unmarried couples. I was devoted to my family and I wanted to prove to my parents and everyone else that I knew what I was doing.

By my final year, I was looking forward to moving out of my parent’s home. My dream came true when I landed a job in Lagos using my mum’s connections. Ben and the boys joined me shortly. After a while, I fell sick. To my dismay, I found out that I was pregnant for the third time. I was twenty-six.

I was depressed. We still faced financial pressures and I resented this intrusion to my dreams. I scheduled an abortion although it was against my values. On the day of my abortion, a doctor who is also a family friend disclosed my plan to my mum and she called to discourage me. I cancelled the procedure.

After my only daughter was born, my husband found his bearing. He got a job that enabled us move to our own house in Lagos. I also started a cleaning company that became very successful in no time. While we prospered in career and business, our marriage suffered.

From the beginning, Ben only wanted one child and he had not even wanted a child so early in our marriage. He came from a large family while my family was small and I had always looked forward to having many children. Four years after our daughter was born, we had another son. This put more pressure on our strained marriage. When we moved to South Africa, Ben eventually left me and the children.

It takes a village to raise a child. I could not have navigated my motherhood journey without support from family and friends. Looking back, I see that although I have always wanted to be a mother, I did not plan to be one. Children are precious gifts from God and deserve a home with parents who have lovingly considered the ramifications of their presence. Given another chance, I would choose motherhood in a heartbeat, but would wait until I finish school before starting a family.

My children are now 22, 20, 17, and 13. There is no time for regret only gratitude to God as I watch them mature into adulthood. I tell them that there is time for everything under the sun. We need to give ourselves time to grow and allow school to pass through us instead of just passing through school before settling down.

Motherhood cannot be distilled to a formula. It is a privilege to be embraced and it requires determination and wisdom. I grew up with my children, teaching them respect, compassion, responsibility, and love. They in turn gave me lessons in patience and hope. I am learning about fashion and music from them, practicing the latest dance steps and cool moves with them. We laugh together like siblings, when I go off beat.

 

Ada Obi-Okafor makes her home in South Africa. She’s a licensed radiographer who enjoys soccer, movies, a good book, and a clean house.

 

© Timi Yeseibo, 2016

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Love is Bridging the Gulf

African proverb

My grandmother was a darker smaller version of my mum. Parents do not resemble their children. It is the other way round, but that is how I keep my memory of her alive—in my mother’s strong arms, I see hers, ready to cradle the world. My mother tells me she was the daughter of a prince, who thought it a waste of time for her to acquire formal education and that she ran away from her first marriage due to harsh treatment from her husband.

She was kind. She only spoke her dialect and Pidgin English. I could neither speak nor understand her dialect. Her pidgin was the Warri-Sapele variety, which was difficult for me to understand and I barely spoke pidgin. Her eyes told me she had more to say than the little she did. She must have felt even more frustrated than I did; harbouring experience she could not transfer.

The conversations we managed to have, centred on her concerns that I could not speak her dialect. She would ask worry etched on her face, about what I would do when the war starts. I had heard about the Nigerian Civil War just as I had heard of World War 1 and 2, events in history, far from my reality. In her broken English, she would tell me how soldiers used language to determine if you were on the Nigerian or Biafran side. Those who could not speak their language were at the mercy of the soldiers.

Her stories did not motivate me to learn her dialect. I asked my parents where they had been during the war. “In Lagos,” my mum and dad answered respectively, and I filled in the blanks, “far from the war.” It showed in the priorities my parents chose for my life.

But those who have seen war speak of it with tremor in their voice. Does memory not erase the boom boom of falling bombs or the tikatikatikatika of machine gun rounds?

One time, she came to my university campus. Armed with my name and address she left her home in Sapele to visit me. When the driver who brought her came to call me, I hurried outside not believing. I met her smiling, and I loved her for taking a chance that she would find her eighteen-year old granddaughter in school on a Saturday evening.

“I bring fish for you,” she said, holding out some plastic bags.

Back at my apartment, we unpacked fish, plantain, spices, palm oil, yam, pepper. How could I tell her that I did not cook; did not really know how, especially did not know what to do with smoked fish and palm oil? That the gas cooker in my kitchen sat bemoaning its uselessness. That I nodded and said, “Mmm mmm,” to my mother whenever at the beginning of a new semester she admonished me not to set the kitchen on fire. That I was liable to throw the fish away because it ‘smelled’ and would go bad under my watch.

I thanked her instead. I did not want her to ask me what I would do when war broke out and I could not cook.

We sat in my room. She sipped a soft drink because I had nothing else to offer and because she said, “No, no,” when I wanted to go out and buy food. The silence made me restless and I longed to fill it, but you can only ask, “How your body? Home people? Sapele?” once.

She seemed content to look at me. Maybe I reminded her of her daughter. After a long time in which I started feeling uncomfortable and wished she would go before my friends came along, she broached the subject of language and war.

I let my silence speak for me.

After she lost her vitality, she came to live with us. Sometimes she would talk to no one in particular; it was no longer surprising to find her in her room alone, chatting. My mother made sure she was always within eye view because she could wander off into the sunset, her legs possessing an agility incongruent with the rest of her. By then, I was hardly home and when I was, I retreated to my world of youthful infallibility, busy with things I have no recollection of.

When she died, I felt the general sorrow, which accompanies loss of human life, and the particular sorrow that haunts a child who watches her mother grieve.

I am thinking of my grandmother because as I embark on a new series on motherhood and invite people to tell their stories, I wonder about the blank spaces in her life, which I cannot fill. I realize I did not do enough to bridge the gulf between us; there are languages other than pidgin and her dialect. My active presence is a language I denied her.

 

In loving memory of Princess Ajoritse-Debi Atsemudiara Etchie.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

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Forging Connections through the Internet

connection

A friend shares a story about a CSI-style drug bust sans gunfire in her apartment building. When the police question her about her neighbours who are involved in the crime, they are surprised that she knows so little about them. I am not. Once, I saw a man fitting a key into the lock of a front door two houses from mine. He waved as I walked past and I nodded in response. I hadn’t seen him before. Maybe he is a neighbour. Maybe he is a thief. This is city life.

It is against this backdrop that I wonder if the internet and social media and the technology behind them are responsible for the distance and disconnect among people living in the same physical space. Before cell phones, Facebook, and Twitter, we insulated ourselves from each other with newspapers and earplugs on the bus or train. Maybe technology is neutral; it just amplifies who we already are.

In his 2011 TEDx Talk, Simon Sinek argues that nothing replaces human contact. He says, “. . . technology is absolutely fantastic for the exchange of information and the exchange of ideas. Technology is absolutely wonderful for speeding transactions. It’s wonderful for resourcing and finding people, but it is terrible for creating human connections. You cannot form trust through the internet.”

Since that talk, human interaction via the internet has been steadily rising as evidenced by increase in social media use. When I emailed people whom I had only ‘met’ on the internet and asked them to each write a 300-word piece on some aspect of motherhood for my blog, I was asking them to trust me with their stories. How could they be sure I would treat their stories with integrity? How could I be sure that they would deliver the stories they said they would?

For me, transactional trust began by examining their digital footprint—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or blog profiles, and the writing on their blogs. I suspect the converse is true for them too and that having mutual digital friends played a part. Working together to polish stories necessitated questions about word choice and sentence structure, which fostered meaningful connection. It was humbling to hear their backstories.

In the end, you read the finished story, and all our worlds became smaller because story mirrors life and life mirrors story. Every story on your phone or tablet or laptop was an invitation to trust and an opportunity to forge connection.

Writing can create empathy and establish credibility. If trust is a function of the part of the brain that has no capacity for language, causing people to look at empirical evidence and still say, “Something doesn’t feel right,” then some kind of digital intuition is vital to navigate the future because we are using technology to form human connection after all.

I agree that nothing replaces human contact; nothing should. However, until I meet you in person, I hope technology continues to connect us through words.

I cannot thank you enough for knitting your heart with ours as we shared what motherhood has meant to us this past six weeks.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

p.s. Thank you Ozoz, Afi, Eileen, Elaine, Taye, Yvonne, Joxy, Brina, Unathi, and Tamkara!

 

Photo Credit: Kaboompics/ http://pixabay.com/en/technology-laptop-keyboard-computer-791029/

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Rethinking Motherhood

Rethinking Motherhood

I

She volunteered at an orphanage in Lagos, driven by her need for a baby. It was symbiotic; the babies also needed a mother. She changed diapers, fed, and held them. She sang quietly to them, tears welling up in her eyes as it receded from theirs. The way they hungered for her touch and cocked their heads to make eye contact with her legitimized her hunger for a child. Her time with them pacified but did not satisfy her hunger. She wanted her own child.

As a single woman in her thirties, legal adoption isn’t an option for her. According to the Family Law code in Lagos State, women below forty-five years don’t meet the criteria for adoption. The law is not her only constraint: culture frowns on single motherhood and her religion is negatively silent about it.

She gave up volunteering after a few visits because a couple adopted the child of her heart.  Although she knew they would do well by the girl, she was heartbroken and reported ill at work the next Monday. She spent the day wetting her pillows, stung by the loneliness that comes with being single and the childlessness that compounds it.

She is not alone. There is a growing demography of single women in their forties and fifties who may never marry or may be past their reproductive years before they get a chance at motherhood.  Should marriage or a steady male presence always be the precursor to motherhood without exception?

The absence of marriage does not take away the longing for motherhood. Ask the forty-five-year-old woman who never married and woke up to the onset of menopause or the thirty-eight year old who found out she has endometriosis.  Ask your friend who was married for fifteen years and lost her husband three weeks to their IVF procedure. Ask your grand-aunt who is divorced from a childless marriage and never remarried.

While adoption laws tend to restrict eligibility for single women, assisted reproductive options are more open towards them. For instance, a woman in her thirties can elect to have a child through ICSI or IVF. But often she won’t. Culture and religion make this taboo for her. Should they?

If we dare think beyond what we have always known, even within the confines of religion and culture, we may find space in our hearts for the unconventional mother.

Ideally, children need a mother and father figure to strengthen their socialization, but our world is far from ideal. We wouldn’t think of taking away a widow’s children because they would grow up without a father figure. We applaud the man who raises his child alone because his wife left him. We recognize that their children brighten their worlds.

Why then do we think less of a mature single woman who chooses to be a mother on her terms? Will motherhood through assisted reproductive options make single women lesser mothers or does it challenge our thinking about motherhood and families?

Step back and look a little closer.

Perhaps if these women were to choose between marriage and motherhood, motherhood would trump.

Abiodun Baiyewu is a lawyer and a human rights activist with a strong interest in medical jurisprudence and reproductive health. She is married and the mother of rambunctious toddler.

 

II

From childhood, many girls are programmed for nurture and they role-play motherhood with their dolls and toys. Their maternal instinct heightens as they grow older and wish to have families. Having children is a dream realized which brings them happiness. Anguished longing therefore afflicts the woman whose dream hasn’t come true as the end of her best reproductive years come into view.

But, is the purpose of having children to quiet the legitimate cry of a woman’s womb? Is it to assuage the loneliness that accompanies being a single woman? Then married or single women who have children would have ceased to grapple with loneliness and be living in contentment utopia by now.

In ‘rethinking motherhood’, two words raise concerns: longing and choice. Longing as a precursor to choice can be a shaky foundation. Longing is usually sustained by focus. If focus changes, what then? If we exercise our choice to satiate every longing, where would that leave us? Which yardstick do we validate or invalidate longing by?

Longing ebbs and flows. Longing that gathers momentum and threatens to overflow its banks one day, is the calm river that grants many boats safe passage the next. Like you, I have longed for something or someone until I thought my heart would burst. And like you, I have learnt to live and thrive with longing unmet.

Some have called ours, the ME generation. My life; my choice, are four words, which can be reduced to one: selfie, because the underlying assumption is that I am the only one in the picture. But choice reverberates like ripples. Our decisions have consequences we may not perceive because the time differential between choice and outcome prevents us from connecting the dots.

For example, can we rethink motherhood without rethinking fatherhood? What about the forty-year-old man who wants to adopt a twelve-year-old girl because he could not find a woman to marry and build a family with? Or the older man who wants a surrogate womb to carry his own child? Does maternal instinct trump paternal instinct? Society is evolving and choice experiments, driven by longing are giving birth to what was once considered unconventional families around the world.

Law, culture, and religion have been put forward as impediments to being a single mother by choice in the Nigerian context. Nigerian culture, steeped in patriarchy and communal living, seems to be antithetical to what at first glance appears like an independent and individualistic lifestyle for a woman.

Religion may pose the question: what is the optimal order for family regardless of the conditions that exist in an imperfect world like sickness, spousal death, or abandoned children? It may argue that it is one thing to accommodate a less than ideal situation; it is another to create one deliberately through choice.

In democratic societies, the law of the land is the will of the majority. In a sense, democratic institutions are custodians of choice. Democracy necessitates an educated citizenry for informed choice. This means asking even more questions and researching answers.

Should we rethink motherhood?

Timi@ Livelytwist
© Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

Photo Credit: gilprata/ http://pixabay.com/en/baby-shoe-maternity-girl-child-666355/

 

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Portraits of Motherhood [5]

motherhood

 

Kinky and Coily

Twice a term my daughter and I go through the drill—at the start of the term and just before the half-term break ends. She sits on a stool and we unravel unwilling braids. They tangle at every turn resulting in tugs and pulls. She scrunches her brows and lets out a yelp.

“Mummmyyyy! Not so hard! It really really hurts.”

I sigh and relax my hands taking some pressure off. We finally loosen the braids and then wash, condition, oil, and plait her hair in fat clumps, ready for the new braids or cornrows she will sport.

She touches her hair and asks, “My hair is long enough, why can’t I leave it to just flow down . . . all the way down to my back?”

“You know why.” I respond gently.

“Why?”

“Your hair is kinky and coily. If you leave it to air-dry without a plait, it will coil and shrink into an afro-ey puff that will tangle and be difficult to comb.”

As her brown eyes look into mine, I continue, “This is your hair, it is my hair too. It’s the beautiful and versatile hair that God gave us, and we will rock it and love it and share it with the world.”

About four years ago, I decided to wear my hair in its natural state instead of straightening it with relaxers because I wanted my afro to reflect who I am. I made the decision for my seven-year-old daughter also.

As she grows older, I want her to be proud of her hair and to experiment with different styles, textures, and colours and discover what works for her. So, I tell her about my days of perms, red hair, and many hair extensions. She laughs.

“What about you? Would you like a perm . . . so your hair can fall to your back and it doesn’t hurt so much to comb?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

She nods and I sigh in relief.

I like that she owns her hair and approves of my choice for her. When she is older, whatever she does with her hair is fine as far as she understands that externals do not define her.

Tamkara Adun@ naijaexpatinholland
Tamkara rocks her clogs expat style in the book, Dutched Up! with 27 other expats who share their perspectives on life in The Netherlands.

 

The Art of Pee

We were at the mall, and my daughter needed to pee. I took her to the public toilet, which was reasonably decent. I’d read that the risk of picking up germs from sitting on public toilet seats was low. I’d read that there are more bacteria on office keyboards than on public toilet seats. That dodgy information resides somewhere in my intellect, meanwhile, my heart moves me to act differently.

I lifted the toilet seat cover and tried to get her to squat. She pointed at the seat. I gave her a brief lecture on the dangers of actually sitting.

“Mummy, I can’t do it.”

“What do you mean you can’t?”

“I can’t.”

“Just bend . . .  like this . . .”

I squatted over the toilet to ensure a healthy distance between my thighs and the edge of the bowl, feeling and I suppose looking undignified, while my daughter watched and doubled over with laughter.

“Your turn!”

“Mmmmm—”

“What?”

“I don’t want to pee anymore.”

“You what!”

“I can hold it.”

I took a deep breath. When I opened the door, I was relieved to find that no one had been eavesdropping on our mother-daughter rite of passage.

Just as we were about to leave the mall, my daughter had the burning urge to pee again. Immediately, two damp circles stained the armpits of my blouse. To my chagrin, our training session ended with an empty bladder, a wet mother and a wet daughter.

At home, I tried to teach her the art of peeing in public toilets with marginal success. My instruction to pee before an outing was laced with undercurrents of meaning that her father and brother could not understand. For insurance, I carried paper toilet seat covers and antibacterial wipes. I learnt to defuse world war four by letting her innocent suggestion, “Why don’t you just clean the seat?” prevail. 

When I was a child, I played house and fed my children okro soup made by crushing hibiscus leaves and petals in an empty derica tin. I wanted to be a mom. Judging from appearances, my daughter also wants to be a mom. She bathes and dresses her dolls with patience that she does not reserve for herself. She dishes plastic eggs, bacon, and bread made in her Fisher Price deluxe kitchen, for them. Oh, the joys of motherhood await her!

Timi @livelytwist
© Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Portraits of Motherhood [4]

Motherhood4

A Question From My Daughter

After a day that threatened to break my distress-tolerance scale, I could not refrain from disintegrating in front of my five-year-old daughter. We were sitting in our kitchen and I was looking at her through eyes red and swollen, from crying.

“Mama who is your mommy?” she asked while typing gibberish comprising emoticons, punctuation marks, and jumbled-up letters on my phone. “I want to tell her you are sad.”

I giggled as though she had just pounced on me with one of her random tickles. I was pleased that she was brave enough to ask things I never dared to ask when I was a child.

“Your grandmother . . .  the one we visited recently . . .  where we slept over, is my mother,” I stuttered.

“Oh,” she replied.

I expected more questions but she seemed satisfied with my answer.  I, however, felt discontented. My answer contained only one half of the truth. How could I explain that I have two mothers or that it was possible to have two mothers?

Would she understand if I told her that I had been brought up as my grandmother’s sister’s child because my grandmother’s daughter, my mother, had given birth to me at a young age? And that the woman she called grandmother was really my mother’s maternal aunt?

In 1981, if you were twenty, schooling, and living with your parents or grandparents, as was the case in many black homes in South Africa, you were a child. Children did not raise children. They went to school. How could I tell her the truth—that sometimes mommies gave their babies away through a process called adoption? Would she not think that perhaps I too might give her to another mommy forever?

I decided to keep the answers in my things-to-tell-my-daughter-in-future file. I remembered that I was once a child who needed answers about the people who made up my family.

Unathi Kapa shares her thoughts on identity, culture, belonging, and purpose on unathikay

 

An Extra Mouth to Feed

In the shower, steam shrouds me but does not insulate me. I am thinking about money. I worry about my lack of it.

Once, when I manufactured a few minutes to play with him in the park, he threw the ball to me, an easy pass that I should not have missed.

“Mom you’re not looking!”

He was right, again. I am rarely present; I am in our future worrying.

“I’m sorry. Let’s play again.”

I threw the ball so it spun in an arc that began its descent farther away from where he stood. He was already moving back, calculating the trajectory of the ball. Before delight widened his eyes, weariness had narrowed them. How easily children forgive and forget.

Kalanne said that ever since she got a nanny, she was a better mother. By way of illustration, she said when Sowari spilled his milk, instead of screaming, “What’s wrong with you! Why are you so clumsy?” she now said, “Aw, darling be careful. Don’t worry Tari will clean up.”

I think that if I had money, I would be a better mother. I would not shout as I had done over the loss of his monthly bus pass, berating him with words from a tornado inside me.

I sigh and adjust the shower settings so hot water stings me like needles. When I leave my frugal pleasure-penance behind and open the door, he is there.

Steam rushes to embrace him, but it does not insulate him either.

“Mom, I’m sorry. Don’t send me to my dad. When I grow up I will buy you a car.”

Dangerous thoughts had been circling my mind. How wonderful to be free again. How much easier life without an extra mouth to feed.

I pull him close and wrap him in a fierce hug. My tears mingle with water droplets and disappear into his hair.

If the love of money is the main root of all evil, the lack of it is the secondary root.

Timi@ Livelytwist
© Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

The Empty Crib

We do not interrupt the drive home from the hospital with small talk. When we pull up in front of our house, the neighbours spring out from theirs. Their merriment uncoils in laughing smiles, waving arms, and dancing legs.

The confusion begins the moment I step out of the car. Their eyes travel from my empty arms to my ‘flat’ stomach and from my flat stomach to my empty arms, until someone blurts, “Where is the baby?”

We had not discussed how we would answer their questions. I go inside, while he stays behind to explain.

Death is a thief. It also stole my sleep. The sedatives they force me to drink, freeze in my digestive tract. I walk from room to room weeping for a daughter I never held. It is a long time before my legs give way and I lie on the carpet in the room with yellow walls and the empty white crib.

In the days following, they tell me I am lucky to be alive. I do not feel lucky; I feel empty. They tell me I am young; I can have other children. But, I wanted this one. Oh God, how I wanted this one.

In the beginning, I held a vigil for her every year, so she would know that even if everyone else forgot, I would not. Then one year I looked at the calendar and realized that while I was driving my son to football practice and watching my daughter pirouette in ballet class, her birthday had passed. I had not known that pain could fade into oblivion.

Now I understand what they told me many years ago: I will go to her, but she will not return to me.

Timi@ Livelytwist
© Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

Can a woman forget her baby?
Can she forget the child who came from her body?
Even if she can forget her children, I cannot forget you.
I drew a picture of you on my hand. You are always before my eyes.
Isaiah 49:15-16

 

 

 

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