Mama Pendo

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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.

Day One
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.

Day Six
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.

3 weeks
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.

Day 45
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.
Day 60
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.

Present day
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.

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182 Comments
  1. Wow, took me back and such a well-told, real motherhood story Sophie. And the temperature
    thing, I mean what’s up with all the pull-necks, boshoris and humongous blankets??? Kenyans!

    1. Tell me about it. Baby is wearing a thick jumpsuit, jacket on top and wrapped all over(plus the face )in 3 blankets and its 30 degrees outside. I always wonder how these babies don’t suffocate or get heat stroke

      1. hahaha….”kwani mtoto haskii baridi?” a constant question I get. I must use the immunity booster reason:-)

    1. You know… cant they just close their damn eyes and sleep. We must warn Sophie that this crackiness due to sleep goes on even when they are 3 years old …

  2. I wanna know how you solved the latching issue. Mother’s need to be taught it seems from other mothers. Help for a friend. Congrats on your 5 months

    1. Hi there, I got a super duper lactation consultant who came to my house and showed me the ropes. You can find her on FB, her name is Josie KKaroki

      1. Is there even a proffession like that? I must be living in a cave. . . Anyway my son is 8days old n mother has learnt fast.

  3. After reading all that all I came up with was “oh little sweet things”. Babies are that. And you write great Sophie. The humour is enchanting. I also want to know if Pendo has a ka-forehead – She could be a writer for all we know. Foreheads are a writers thing. A bump of untold tales.

  4. Haha…
    “God, don’t let me say anything about her stomach. Hold my tongue, Lord. Deliver me from that potbelly.”
    Congratulations Sophie

  5. You lead a healthy lifestyle- drinking kale and spinach juice, excersicing only to choke on saliva and die leaving guys who smoke and eat burgers and fries on the daily.

  6. Read somewhere about the typical Kenyan mom==> the number of sweaters and warmers on children is always dependent on the degree of cold as per the mothers mind ( January sun but still a jacket has to be worn ?

  7. Nice read. Oh don’t we want to return them from where they came from during those early days!! Totally relate.

  8. I have laughed soo hard my sides are aching! As a first time mom I can relate. My LO is 10 months and everything you said Sophie i can relate. I can only tell you that it will only getting better. Wait until she grabs your face with her chubby little hands and grins at you oh! not to forget the hugs and wet kisses 🙂 Your heart will melt. Those first few months for me are now a blurr. All the best mama!

  9. I enjoyed that. You’re a good writer and you made my Tuesday better.
    Keep it up. From what I gather, you’ll be a great mum too.
    “Definitely her father’s child,” I think wryly. (Funny that).

  10. I missed u sophie. I see your grandma’s ‘herb’ worked (oluwombo article).. Hehe.. Congrats and welcome back…

  11. The lady at my local wines and spirits started spotting a bump around last year September. I swear every time I went there it looked bigger. So one day I asked her how far off she is… turns out it was Guinness simmering in there for it’s second trimester.
    My mistake? I asked in front of other customers. They laughed. And now just to pay back always says “Kijana kama huna ID rudi highschool” Pay backs a female dog right?

    Also congratulations Sophie.

  12. I wonder if occasional nudity boosting the immunity is prescribed for all age groups bwahahaha!
    Motherhood! Here’s to the real “On the job training!”

  13. Congratulations Sophie and the good husband! Long live the cuddling trio! Haha, I’m taking this too far lol. Beautiful read.
    PS. You sound like a warrior mother. Kudos.

  14. congratulations Sophie for the new baby… and you still write beautifully- ati feeling like a cow being prepared for what? lol

  15. Can totally relate. You’d think it gets easier the more you have them. Nursing my 3/3 who is heading to 4 months and its like ive never done this before

  16. Heheheh The poop was fine too, he said. But he hadn’t seen it, so we showed him the diaper”
    Sophie That was crazy of you. Anyway can’t laugh at you for i know soon i will also be where
    you are/were. I have never fed a baby nor living in a house where there’s a small baby but God will be there with me come that time

  17. first time mothers, things we do! I carried a soiled diaper to the doc coz colour was “weired” …. this job has neither manual nor job description. But again, better be safe than sorry!

  18. my child’s doctor prescribed occasional nudity in order to boost her immunity.,,haha yeah women seems to have answers to every bit about kids that are not hers

  19. 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? hehehe… i see the herb worked Sophie congrats!

  20. I tell them that my child’s doctor prescribed occasional nudity in order to boost her immunity.
    … Nice one.. Haha

  21. At 9 weeks that’s us exactly oh and how I also envy Le hubby’s freedom, but I love it. Motherhood is fulfilling

  22. Congratulations Sophie! reminds me of 21/2 years ago and our rush to the hospital coz the little girl was just crying. Hold her, cuddle for the day she learns to walk, holding hardly happens. Enjoy motherhood too.

  23. “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?”
    The involuntary laughter that has escaped my body has scared me AND woken up my 10 week old nephew and now we are back to square one…rock-walk-soothe-sing him back to sleep *sigh*

  24. Welcome back Sophie. Congs! on the new baby. I missed you but my favorite article will always be the “Luwombo one, I am Ugandan. I like how you write though. When the time comes for me, I will be like those Jewish women in slavery!

  25. Congratulations Sophie, babies are a blessing and a bundle of joy. I kept on asking myself, where had our resident foodie gone to? We are glad to finally hear from you but now a different chapter of thoughts and experience. That was such an enchanting read.

  26. ‘go the fuck to sleep. But I can’t because she’s just a kid and doesn’t yet speak the language.this woman is mean AF hahahahaha,welcome to motherhood Sophie

  27. Awwww…so sweet..Congratulations Sophie!
    I must confess that the worst thing for me when baby came out, was no longer having excuses for noshing on everyone’s food. When she was in, everyone understood that I was preggos and I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, in the quantity I wanted.. 🙂
    Milk every second of time with her (pun unintended), it may be a tad bit inconvenient..but it’s only for a while..social life can wait.. In time you’ll find yourself going into baby lingo and it won’t be so boring, most importantly, these bonding times will enable you to decipher her cries and body language.
    Take as many pictures as possible…maybe you’ll be able to combine them in time-lapse format someday, and she will be grateful for those memories.
    You’ll get an earful of advice by more experienced mums..at the end of the day, do you.
    It may seem like a work in progress, which it is but it truly gets better…though there are stages..the most horrendous being terrible twos when she will drive you up the wall with mood swings and tantrums..then there’s the pre-pubescent stage where baby truly believes you are sisters..but it’s absolutely amazing watching her grow into a little big person who has enough vocabulary in her mouth to ask the most difficult of questions yet hold an entirely mature argument.

    1. I relate to everything you’re saying….breastfeeding is apparently supposed to come naturally but it’s so hard for some of us. The sleepless nights are just the worst, if we could swallow them back into the tummy we would lol…but its all worth it. All hail motherhood!

  28. “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 know..right?!

  29. Motherhood is a blessing but sometimes you feel like going bananas. Sleepless nights, high fevers…the list is endless. We are paid back by their innocent beautiful smiles. ooh…i miss my princess.

  30. This giving birth business is getting gross every time i read an article on it. Uncomfy 9 months, labour pain, going home in diapers, pain in feeding and everyone treating you like they want you to be “ng’ombe ya gradi” all in the name of the child.

  31. Family life.It scares the hell out of me but not as much as raising a kid. Congratulations! and what a beautifully crafted piece. 🙂

  32. Thank you everyone for the congratulatory messages.
    For mamas experiencing breastfeeding challenges, get help, it saved me from a fate
    worse than death.

  33. 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…….Sigh..:)

  34. Wow congratulations for making the 5 months mark.Nice piece well done. Am reading it and am like. Yeah thissus what I’ve been experiencing. We did our six weeks jabs last week and yes am a new mother too and I couldn’t help screaming with him as he screamed from the jabs. Thanks Sophie thought I was the only one going crazy as baby grows. Kudos

  35. This captures those first 150 days so accurately….enjoy the cuddles because once they realise they have feet that actually move you from one place to the other, you are done for.

  36. I als wonder why babies fuss so much abt sleep I mean it’s not rocket science it’s just closing your eyes.
    I hd a rough time when my baby was abt to sleep.

  37. Congratulations Sophie.After this post methinks you are more than a foodie.
    Please work at being a ‘toddlie.’

  38. Beautifully written, Sophie! Kids are the reason I wish we laid eggs and the little ones emerged independent and a little more grown! But I guess the pain of bringing them up is paid back many times by the innocence and the awe factor of bringing a whole new person into the world.

  39. Congrats Mama Pendo. My baby is the same age as yours, so i can relate,esp being tethered to the baby meaning the house, in this cold season.
    Men i miss nyam chom with booze, havent had it in nearly 1 and half years now.

  40. It seems the ladies are having a field day with this post, So i’ll just ask if ‘did the kid go poopoo today’. I have a friend who is a graduate of Youtube University. Awesome read. Congrats Mama Pendo

  41. As one who is expecting twins, this article was such a joy to read. Laughed for tears! Thank you Sophie, Pendo and Baba P (and Biko for sharing the platform)

  42. 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.
    sophie you are special, cracked me up good. unfortunately there is no manual…congratulations to you and the MC

  43. ”Learnt to shut up about women’s body issues-unless it’s a body that touches my own body”…Ni hayo tu kwa sasa.Biko I saw what you did there 🙂

  44. congrats Sophie, at 11 months I truly do understand you…at least as they grow you get more sleep, at least a continuous 2 hours.

  45. This was me 3years ago.. gave up on breastfeeding at 6weeks, then started dealing with Post Partum depression, im not sure I ever want to go back.. but motherhood is the best thing that can ever happen to anyone…this was a beautiful piece a throw back:)

  46. 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…..Salute to all mothers out there!!!

  47. It’s so good to hear another first timer’s story. I cried and laughed and cried again. Thank you for sharing, Sophie! You have strangely enriched my life.

  48. That intro by Biko is so spot on. Congratulations mama pendo. On a lighter note, I normally feel like when a woman gives birth to a new born baby and post the pictures online We the men assist her to raise the baby through ‘our bundles’ because the pictures are always online 24/7 fam. 🙂

  49. Welcome back Sophie and congrats. You have reminded me of the first three months being a new mom without a manual.

  50. The eyes are yours why don’t you just close them when you want to sleep .
    Mine is now 15months but we still have to hassle before sleep takes over. Good piece there

  51. Tethered to the baby and baby tethered to the house….i feel you sophie…90 days today. Spot on on every point..except going to hos after she pooped 6 times in an hour…congrats Sophie. Be writing often…3rd article i have read by you now..so beautifully done.

  52. Mama Pendo, Congratulations to you and Hubby on your latest arrival. May she grow to be bright and strong,and may Christ watch over her!!

  53. On a light note: Nobody is congratulating the man! I mean, he carried that child too, all his life as a matter of fact!

    Anyway, that line about a nurse who last breast-fed during Mau Mau left me on the floor. Haha Niokotwe maternity ward Haha I can’t I just can’t Ati smash-and-grab Haha You just compared breast feeding to looting Haha *tears* Just leave me alone in this corner Hahahaha

  54. Congrats mama pendo. But lemme correct a misconception about first time dads and staying in the house or rather not staying in.. The house which used to be his ‘den’ immediately turns chaotic after the child arrives. You got your mother in-law,Women from chama,women,women etc everywhere with mucene touching ‘uncormfortable’ topics and changing tv stations while seated on your favourite chair. So we just turned to be errand boys “Kumbuka kukam na maziwa..ile ya asubuhi iliisha”. So inshort our absence or the technical appearance shouldn’t be mistaken ati ‘ata anakaa hajali, kazi tu ni kuleta shopping ka amepotea’. Anyway welcome to parenthood. Enjoy 🙂

  55. Well done Sophie. Lovely writing!

    I remember being very suspicious driving home from the hospital after the first one was borne. I couldn’t help feeling like someone should have given us a manual. I mean, today if you buy a basic phone it comes with a little booklet with instructions in many languages. Get a baby and all you get is a bill and and many congratulatory wishes. Hang in there mama Pendo. This too shall cone to pass 🙂

  56. 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. Nice read.

  57. Congratulations Sophie.
    Beautiful writing too!
    Some of the truest statements I’ve heard are ‘nothing prepares you for motherhood’ and ‘your life is never the same again’. Enjoy the beautiful ride.

  58. It was the Mau Mau WAR, not rebellion! Dedan Kimathi and my grandfather were warriors, fighters – not damned rebels.

  59. I have also never understood why the hell Kenyan mums bundle their babies as though they are experiencing a Siberian winter. I mean, why should your baby look like an overstuffed cushion? Anyway, great piece Sophie, and congrats!

  60. Loved this. The first “non-Biko” post that I’ve loved. Made me scared about motherhood a little bit though. Hehehe! But ironically i envied the bonding moments between mother and daughter.

  61. “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.”

    Hahaha

  62. “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.”

    That got me laughing!! LOL

    Congrats, Sophie. What’s the champ’s name? #justasking

  63. This is so beautiful ..made me nostalgic.. i experienced the same two years ago..laughed out so loud and almost teared up at a point…God bless and guide you up as you bring up your girl

  64. Great read, I love the honesty and humour in this piece. Craving adult company and feeling like a prisoner, that I can relate to. Congratulations Sophie.

  65. And now I’m looking forward to starting a family.
    sounds like a challenge but one with a satisfactory …

  66. Beautifully synthesized thoughts on first time mothers’ chronicles laced with hilarious anecdotes seamlessly rolled into one. Congratulations Sophie.And of course “her father’s daughter.”Lol

  67. I enjoyed every word; every sentence and every paragraph of this story . Biko, let’s have Mama Pendo writing more. And Mama Pendo just so you know they will forget your original name, if they haven’t already . You will be called mama Pendo henceforth!

  68. “That I am her one true mother She’s cute as a button and smiles at stranger..s
    Kenyan children have a penchant for freezing it seems.”
    Laughed all through good work mama pendo

  69. Each infant is born with unique and adorable qualities, and it can be a real pleasure to see your baby’s personality begin to blossom day after day. Congrats!

  70. My journey has just began, reading this gives me shivers and warmth at the same time.
    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?