Why African children do not cry

12 12. 06. 2022

I was born and grew up in Kenya and Cote d'Ivoire. I've lived in Britain for fifteen years. But I always knew that I want my children (when I have them) to be brought home in Kenya. And yes, I assumed I would have children. I am a modern African woman with two university diplomas, a fourth generation of employed women in the family - but I am a typical African woman when it comes to children. We still have the conviction that without them we are not whole; children are a blessing that would be foolish to reject. It just does not seem to attack anyone.

I got pregnant in Britain. The desire to give birth at home was so strong that I sold my practice during 5 months, established a new business and moved. Like most of the pregnant mothers in Britain, I've read the books about children and upbringing. (Later my grandmother said babies do not read the books and just what to do is "read" their baby.) I repeatedly read that African children weep less than Europeans. I was curious why.

When I returned to Africa, I watched mothers and children. They were everywhere except for the smallest within six weeks, you were mostly at home. The first thing I noticed was that, despite their ubiquity, it is actually very hard indeed to "see" the Kenyan baby. They are usually incredibly well wrapped up than their mother (sometimes father) attaches to themselves. Even larger toddlers attached to the back are protected from the weather by a large blanket. You are lucky to look at your hand or leg, not to mention your nose or eye. The packaging is a kind of imitation of the womb. Infants are literally staring at the stresses of the surrounding world they are entering. The other thing I watched was a cultural affair. In Britain, babies were supposed to cry. In Kenya, it was totally the opposite. Children are not expected to cry. When they cry, something must be terribly wrong; it needs to be resolved immediately. My English sister-in-law summed it up like this: "Here people really do not like to hear the crying of children, right?"

It all made more sense when I finally gave birth to a grandmother coming out of the village. In truth, my baby was crying quite a lot. Angry and tired I sometimes forgot everything I read and wept with. But for my grandmother the solution was only: "Nyonyo" (koj ji). That was her answer to every beep. Sometimes it was a wet diaper, or I laid it down or needed to rush, but she just wanted to be at her breast - whether she was eating or just looking for pleasure. I've been wearing it most of the time and sleeping together, so it's only a natural extension of what we've done.

Finally, I understood the notorious secret of the joyous room of African children. It was a combination of satisfied needs, which required a total forgotten of what should be and a focus on what is happening at the moment. The result was that my baby was feeding a lot; much more often than I ever read from the books and at least five times more than recommended by some stricter programs.
In about the fourth month, when most urban mothers started to introduce a solid diet as recommended, my daughter returned to the neonatal approach and asked for breastfeeding every hour, which made me totally shocked. Over the past few months, feeding time has been slowly lengthening, even when I started to take patients from time to time without dripping milk or interrupting my daughter's nurse to warn me that she wants to drink.

Most of the mothers in the group I went to had already bottled their children for rice, and all the experts who had to do with our children - doctors, and even thorough, said that it was okay. Even mothers need to rest. We were delighted that we have done an admirable performance when we exclusively breastfed 4 moons and assured us that the kids would be okay. Something did not fit me, and though I hesitantly tried to mix the pawpaw (the fruit traditionally used in Kenya when weaning) with the aspirated milk and offer a mixture of my daughter, she refused it. So I called my grandmother. She laughing, asking me if I read books again. She then explained to me that breastfeeding is all but straightforward. "She'll tell you when she's ready to eat food and her body."
"What am I supposed to do by then?" I asked eagerly.
"Do what you've been up to, fuck."

So my life slowed again. While many of my contemporaries have been enjoying how to strain rice and gradually introduce more food, their children are asleep, I have grown up with my daughter at night every hour or two and explained in the day to the patients that with my return to work it does not go as fully as planned.

I soon became inadvertently an informal counseling for other urban mothers. I handed my phone number and I often heard myself answering my phone during breastfeeding: "Yes, just keep feeding him / her." Yes, even if you just fed them. Yes, maybe today you can not even change your pajamas. Yes, you still need to eat and drink like a horse. No, now it's probably not the right time to get back to work if you can afford not to go. "And finally, my mother assured," It'll be easier. "This last claim was a hope of hope for me because it was still for me it was not any easier.

About a week before my daughter was 5 months, we went to Britain for a wedding and also to introduce her to relatives and friends. Because I had a few other duties, I did not have trouble keeping her feeding plan. Despite all the embarrassing looks of many strangers, when I nursed my daughter in public places, I could not use public rooms for breastfeeding because they were mostly linked to toilets.

The people with whom I sat at the wedding table said, "You have a happy baby - but she often drinks a lot." I was silent. And another lady added: "But I read somewhere that African children are not very much crying." I could not help laughing.

My grandmother's wise advice:

  1. Offer breast each time the baby is restless, even if you have just fed them before.
  2. Spi it with him. Often you can offer your breasts before the baby wakes up and it will allow him to sleep again more quickly, and you will be more relaxed.
  3. Always have a bottle of water at your hand to drink and have enough milk.
  4. Breastfeeding understands your primary task (especially in periods of sudden growth acceleration) and allows people around you to do as much as possible for you. There are few things they can not wait for.
  5. Read your baby, not books. Breastfeeding is not straightforward - it goes up and down and sometimes in circles. Your child's needs are the greatest expert.

J. Claire K. Niall


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