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LETTER FROM SOUTH AFRICA
MEMOIRS OF THE INFO AGE
MY GLASS HOUSE
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LAGOS, NIGERIA - "My baby will be walking in no time, and he"s only six months."
"My baby crawled at four months. Unbelievable, huh? She"s a real genius!"
"My baby"s so-o-o intelligent. He can say ten words already, and he"s only one!"
Familiar lines, huh? They should be ... to any mother. Interestingly, I didn"t realize there was a war going on out there until I had my little girl last November. Until then, the focus was on me and my rapidly changing figure.
"You don"t look a day more than six months," a lot of people would say when I was already thirty-six weeks gone.
"Pregnancy suits you," some would declare even on days when I felt like Godzilla.
Half the time, I felt as though I was under scrutiny, even by complete strangers. Not a very pleasant experience, to say the least. In any case, I assumed it would all end once my baby was born. Wrong!
Suddenly, the scrutiny shifted to my little girl. At 2.75kg [kilograms] (roughly six pounds), a lot of people did not hesitate to let me know she was considered "small."
"What was your baby's weight at birth?" a friend from the antenatal classes asked.
"2.75kg," I replied.
"My baby weighed in at 4.25kg," she informed me rather smugly.
What my good friend failed to add at the time, though, was that her 4.25kg baby was born with a bacterial infection and had to spend a week in hospital. My little darling might have weighed in at 2.75kg, but she was born perfectly healthy and we got to go home after the stipulated two-night stay in hospital.
Well, this is a war, remember? And you -- the recipient of the attack -- either fight back in like manner or resort to anger, resentment or even guilt pangs.
In any war, there are endless number of weapons and this isn"t any different. Weight, height, complexion and, of course, your baby's physical and intellectual development.
"Can he sit on his own yet?"
"Is she crawling yet?"
"Is he teething yet?"
"Is he walking yet?
"Can she sing like Aretha Franklin yet?
The list is unending.
More often than not, the mother who poses these questions has a weapon up her sleeves, waiting to aim it at you. My little girl was just about four months old and just able to lie on her stomach and lift her head while placing her weight on her forearms when a friend proudly announced that her little tyke crawled at four months. That's it! I said to myself then. I'm not about to sit back and wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong with my baby. I"m going to fight back with a better weaponäknowledge.
I went on the internet and the first thing that struck me about almost all the websites devoted to the developmental stages of children was the advice that parents should bear in mind that not all babies mature at the same time.
In addition, it is stated clearly that it is NORMAL if a child is a little ahead or a little behind at a certain age. Another thing that struck me was that there was always an age range in which a child was expected to achieve a particular feat. For example, between 3 to 6 months, babies were expected to gain some control over movement of their bodies, while between 6 to 18 months, babies were expected to sit, crawl, stand, walk and talk. Not one of the sites I visited categorically stated that ALL babies should sit at 4 months, crawl at 6 months and be just about ready to rediscover the world at 12 months.
This is a serious war, believe me, and just like in any war, one side usually suffers most. In this case, the recipient mother who feels her baby isn't developing as fast as his peers suffers a great deal. Often times, she is haunted by feelings of guilt. She wond ers if she isn"t doing well as a mother.
The guilt is often doubled if the mother works outside her home.
- Perhaps she should feed her baby more;
- perhaps he is being over pampered;
- perhaps she should take him in to see the paediatrician.
A friend of mine who works outside her home had guilt pangs because her son didn"t crawl until he was seven months. She felt he might have achieved this feat earlier if she had breastfed him longer than the three months she did and if she had been there at home for him. P-puh-lease! I am a stay-home mother who works from home and my little angel didn"t crawl until she was six months! Need I add that I am still breastfeeding her and intend to continue until she is one?
It isn"t only the mothers who suffer in this war. The poor little babies suffer, too. I have heard of mothers who force-feed their babies because they want them to gain weight rapidly. In extreme cases are mothers who wound up resenting their babies because they feel they are not developing as fast or as well as they should.
We all know that there is no stopping the proud mama out to extol her baby"s achievements, but we must realize that more often than not her words are often exaggerated. If we fail to recognize this, then we would not only fail to recognize and appreciate our babies abilities, but we might also end up judging them too harshly or pushing them beyond their capabilities.
The Hawaii Chapter, National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse states clearly that parents need to remember their babies limitations. They also state that parents should be encouraging and supportive. I dare to add that no one expects us to give birth to a reincarnation of Superman.
As parents, we live with constant anxiety. We worry about raising our children in a world that is so unsafe; we worry about the air they breathe and if the food they eat has been genetically manipulated. Indeed, learning how to relax into motherhood is enough worry on its own, we certainly don"t need the additional burden of worrying that they didn"t crawl at three months.
So, did my baby weigh in at 4.25kg? Nope, but my pregnancy books assure me that 2.75kg is a healthy birth weight.
Did she crawl at 4 months? No.
Is she about ready to rediscover the world? Certainly not!
Can she sing like Aretha Franklin? Not yet, but she chuckles just fine, thank you!
NGOZI RAZAK-SOYEBI - A full-time writer, Ngozi Razak-Soyebi's work has appeared on the internet website writershood.com and in the newsletter of the Women Writers of Nigeria (WRITA). More recently, her short story, The Passage, was chosen for publication in an anthology in the US. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria with her husband and seven-month-old daughter. This is her fourth article for The World's Magazine.
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