Have you ever met a lady you are acquainted with and she has this a ka-small bump where her stomach once lay flat, and you silently wonder to yourself whether she is pregnant or she just had a large pizza with too many toppings? You can’t risk congratulating her lest it turns out that she just let go of her midsection with warus, you know, took the Burger Festival a little too seriously? Maybe she’s trying yoga and eating only salads, then you amble by and ask her “How many months now?” Men have been blocked on Whatsapp for far less. But also you wonder what kind of a friend she will think you to be if you didn’t congratulate her, if indeed she turned out to be pregnant. It’s tricky because it’s so hard to tell a potbelly from a First Trimester. You are then caught in a Catch 22, you know, between a faux-pas and a fetus, if you will. I wish women would declare their status immediately they meet a man to avoid us sticking our foot in our mouths.
Last time I saw Sophie Gitonga, we had gone to review Graze Steakhouse at Sankara Hotel one evening. I was going to introduce her to the Executive Chef and the sous chef – who actually grilled the steak – and sample some meat while at it. More than understanding food, Sophie can write about food with a beautiful and intelligent turn of phrase. Her words never stick to the pan.
That evening she showed up for dinner in a short dress. I saw her stomach and thought to myself “Damn, Sophie, is it hibernation season already?” I was certain she wasn’t pregnant but I have been around the block before and learnt to shut up when it comes to women’s body issues – unless it’s a body that touches my own body. I tried not to stare at her stomach or even address it. As they brought all sorts of meats to us at the balcony where we held court I told God, “God, don’t let me say anything about her stomach. Hold my tongue, Lord. Deliver me from that potbelly.” And he did. And I forgot about it until a mutual friend told me she was expectant and I thought, “Ahhh, it wasn’t the warus, after all!”
Now she has a baby. First time mother. I told her to write something about motherhood and she did.
Here it is, our Resident Foodie, now back as a mother.
By Sophie Gitonga.
She’s here! Two weeks earlier than she was supposed to be and in a fashion other than the one I had meticulously planned.
I had spent months drinking green smoothies, walking 8kms a day, doing 150 squats every other day, doing meditative breaths as I lay down to sleep. I was determined to have a sublime, natural birth. My efforts came to naught because on the day she announced her arrival, she was folded over like a note in a money clip. Her bum was where her head was supposed to be. I spot an incision across my bikini line, the trap door from which she was pulled out. It took 43 minutes to do that, it takes longer to boil beans. They cut the cord freeing her from me. My little human now the master of her own destiny.
As the drugs wore off and feeling returned to my legs, they wheeled her by my bedside and I studied her. She was the littlest thing I had ever seen. At 2 kilos, she weighed a little more than my laptop, she was a pocket size baby. She smelt of newness and possibility.
The initial euphoria gave way to bewilderment. It occurred to me that I didn’t know what I was doing and I was sure that the kid had caught on too. We made an emergency trip to the hospital convinced that she was near death because she had pooped six times in one hour! The doctor who saw us was sympathetic, he could tell we were first time parents by the way we asked him if he was absolutely sure that there was nothing wrong with the kid. But she was crying hysterically, we said. They do that, he said. And the poop? The poop was fine too, he said. But he hadn’t seen it, so we showed him the diaper. This was classically good baby poop he assured. We left relieved and slightly embarrassed.
Breastfeeding was supposed to be easy, it wasn’t. My mother in law had sent me porridge flour to encourage milk production. Uji has never been my thing, so I have not had any. The good husband has bought Ovaltine and Nettle tea and is boiling soup bones, all in an effort to boost production. I feel like a cow being readied for the agricultural show. I’m lugging around these fifty pound boobs that leak at the sight, sound or smell of the kid. That in itself deserves a blue ribbon or an honorable mention. These are the kinds of boobs I wanted when I was in high school because big boobs got noticed and somehow, that was good for your self-esteem.
I watched videos on Youtube University as my friend called it, trying to figure out how to latch the kid onto the boob and how much of it was supposed to be exposed, because apparently it’s a science. The lactation nurse at the hospital, in my opinion, had last breastfed during the Mau Mau rebellion. Her technique was the smash and grab, you know like how the looters do it, get in and out quick with whatever you can. She was all about grabbing a fistful of the breast and stuffing as much of it as she could into the kid’s mouth while hoping for the best. For her, breastfeeding was literal, the kid was supposed to eat the breast.
The days are dissolving into each other now. Every new morning a surprise that we are still trying at this relationship, me and the kid. I would have thought by now one of us would have given up and walked out on it. My nipples hurt like something fierce; everytime the kid latches on feels like she’s gripping with pincers yet she doesn’t even have teeth. I ask Jesus to take the wheel at the start of every feed. I lay around the sofa like a war casualty with packs of frozen peas and cabbage leaves atop my chest. I look like I’m prepping a salad but Dr. Google says this is one way to ease the discomfort and I’m willing to try anything.
The husband walks in to find me like this and he’s not sure if A: he’s in the right house or B: if I’ve lost my mind.
It’s perfectly normal I explain to him and I show him the literature on the interwebs to back up my claims. He knows to agree with me because he’s interested in living to a ripe old age.
We’ve gone to the clinic for our three week review and the kid has gained 600 grams. We are thrilled beyond belief and congratulate her on being such a champ. She doesn’t care, she wants to eat. She feeds and sleeps, feeds and sleeps. Rolling over like a satisfied lover without even an acknowledgement that I contributed to her present state of wellbeing. Don’t I warrant a cuddle at the very least? Definitely her father’s child, I think wryly.
Day why is it morning already?
I’m delirious and my mood is sour. The kid is not sleeping. Is it the dreaded colic? We’ve tried every potion in the market to treat that. I have rocked her, walked her, had her father sing her traditional Embu songs about harvest time. She has these little 24 minute cat naps and is up again demanding more song and fanfare and I want to say to her, go the fuck to sleep. But I can’t because she’s just a kid and doesn’t yet speak the language.
I don’t get that about kids, why the fuss about sleeping? I mean the eyes are yours so why not close them when you want to? I want to take her back to where she came from, but we can’t undo her. We can’t unfurl the coming together of the chromosomes that made her and really I don’t want to. I just need a moment to shave my armpits and catch a snooze.
She smiled at me and I crumbled. She has bewitched me body and soul. I think she knows who I am. That I am more than the boob lady. That I am her one true mother. She got her first set of jabs and I was gutted to hear her cry like she did. It was a metaphor of all the pain that she would feel and I couldn’t protect her from. The fever that ensued brought on the cuddles that I had so longed for. She doesn’t want to let go and I don’t want to either. We are caught up in our collective pain and her father, our number one protector comes in for an embrace. We realize anew how much we love her and how much we love each other. That is where the beauty in the pain lies.
I’m super bored, I’ve eaten my way through a pack of digestive biscuits. I’m watching season four of Cuando Seas Mia and I’m craving adult company and conversation. The husband is traipsing in and out of the house at will, like he has no care in the world. I resent his freedom. I’m tethered to the kid, and the kid to the house. I want to see the outside, to sit in traffic jam like normal people. I want date night and girls’ night and conversations about the current state of affairs in Chechnya and not did the kid go poopoo today. So when he walks in and says he’s tired from his day and wants a moment to think and read or dwell in his nothing box, I want to say to him, sorry homie, wrong MC – you owe me a rhyme or ten. I don’t even know what that means but I decided to use it on him. My mind is definitely going soft.
She’s 5 months old, she coos and drools profusely. She’s cute as a button and smiles at strangers, as long as they don’t try to touch her. She sometimes cries at the sight of her own reflection – that makes me laugh.
I’ve grown accustomed to the constant barrage of judgement and criticism from women I don’t know. There’s a fanatical obsession with my kid’s temperature, isn’t she cold, I get asked all the time. Kenyan children have a penchant for freezing it seems. I tell them that my child’s doctor prescribed occasional nudity in order to boost her immunity.
That should shut them up, if only for a little while.