Pregnancy Journeys by Marie-Ange Rukundo

I’ve been wanting to write for a long time but I found myself stuck in a rut unable to think of what I should write about. Then I remembered a piece of advice I once heard: write about a topic that you’re familiar with or one that speaks to you and the words will flow naturally. So here I am, about to write about babies, more specifically pregnancy. I can’t think of a more appropriate topic to get started and hopefully I’ll catch the writing bug along the way.

Current situation: I’ve got a 16-month old. In my close friends circle, there are 6 babies under 3 (including mine), in my extended social circle there are at least 5 babies that were born the same year as mine and a close friend of mine is currently expecting. In short, I got a baby, they got babies, everybody’s got babies *Oprah voice*

***

Before the beginning

I got pregnant about 1.5 years into my marriage. My husband and I had talked about it and decided we were ready for it. I had 3 friends who were recent moms and they were all quite open about their respective pregnancies and motherhood experience that they made the whole idea of getting pregnant appear less scary than I’d imagined. Let me tell y’all, movies lie and Hollywood has made a fortune based on lies. Don’t ever make the mistake of using your favorite mama comedy as a measuring stick for your future  pregnancy. You might be thoroughly disappointed by the absence of weird cravings- that would serve as funny tales to tell your friends and future child– and the fact you may end up getting daily nausea that “eating for two” won’t even be an option.

You may be equally shocked by the sudden onset of nightly insomnia when you used to be a perfect 8-hours-of-sleep-per-night kinda gal. I don’t mean to scare you but there are so many symptoms, occurrences that mainstream media doesn’t even scratch at the surface of in common dialogue that I found my pregnancy journey to be baffling at times, if not throughout the entire period. Through this series, I will share my own and my friends’ experiences which may serve as inspiration, encouragement or… just cause for you to delay your plans. That last one’s a joke. Lol! 

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The early days

Sleep had never been so good. I had always been an avid sleeper but man, pregnancy sleep was a whole other dimension of sleep I had never experienced. Quick to come and long to last. Every single episode was sweet from beginning to end; it was as peaceful as I imagined an induced coma to be like. I never slept so much in my life as in my first trimester. At a certain point, my sleep statistics became alarming but thanks to Google I discovered that the first trimester is when the hCG pregnancy hormone peaks and its primary side effect is to induce dreamy sleep. Surely it had a relevant function other than but I defer those details to the doctor. I had no nausea or discomfort and I thank God for that. One of the downsides of sleepiness was the inability to concentrate on anything. I found myself avoiding meetings at work because it was really hard to focus on what people were saying or to follow complex dialogue. It was a strange feeling and if I’m being honest, it was uncomfortable and it made me feel insecure. It felt like my brain was stuffed with a bunch of fluffy clouds. Try to remember how uncomfortable it is to breathe through a thin passage of air in a single nostril or through your mouth when you have a stuffy nose…Well, apply the same scenario but now to your brain. When I reached that point, I started tracking obsessively the hCG hormone chart (courtesy of Google) to find out when the hormone levels would decrease so I could estimate when I’d get my brain capacity back. Spoiler alert: it was never fully restored.

On cravings and eating for two

Depends on who you ask. My husband’s version is that I had all sorts of untameable cravings but my version-which happens to be the correct one– is that I had compulsive streaks of preference for one particular food item lasting between 1 to 2 weeks at a time. Among them: scones with strawberry jam, ice cream bars and gorillo’s. If it wasn’t for my being restricted by a gluten-free diet, I think I would have eaten pizza everyday. Throughout my entire pregnancy, my appetite was steady. I never felt like my hunger was larger than usual but the one thing that changed was the intensity of hunger. I woke up with serious hunger pangs every single morning and every time I approached mealtime, I could barely wait to warm up my food before intense hunger swept over me. 

***

Favorite sleep position

I never realized how much I loved sleeping on my stomach until my belly became too big to sleep on it comfortably. My new subscription to sleeping on the back was quickly halted when I read that it was not “safe” as it restricts blood circulation to the heart. That’s basically when I kissed sleep goodbye. Even my lifesaving U-shaped pillow was not enough to restore my sacred sleep. 

***

Surprising moments

Definitely the “I gotta eat NOW” intense feeling and the ability to fall asleep at the drop of a dime. Also, the amount of attention and care that’s given to pregnant women, it’s a beautiful thing!

Unpleasant moments

My least favorite part of being pregnant was the frequent visits to the doctor’s and the never-ending waiting for my turn to enter the doctor’s office. Hopefully by the next time I’m pregnant the number of ObGyn will have increased everywhere in the world. 

***

Unexpected symptoms

There were two. The first one is insomnia. While I could easily fall asleep I developed a bout of insomnia somewhere in the middle of my second trimester, whereby I woke up almost nightly around 2am and was awake for up to 2 hours. My solution? I bought myself a Kindle and got through my reading list. The second symptom I developed is itchy eyes, like seriously, for days at a time, I could not stop rubbing my eyes. I mentioned it to one of my mom friends and she told me it also happened to her during her pregnancy. Odd, right? Oh and how could I forget the profuse sweating!!! I’ll spare y’all the details. 

***

Actual pregnancy vs what I thought it would be like

I never dreamed about what pregnancy would be like, I didn’t ever envision the whole thing from beginning to end. In fact, I always feared the act of giving birth so never gave much thought to the state of pregnanthood. Having said that, there were a few factors that were different from what I expected of pregnancy. For example, I was taken aback by how 40 weeks ended up feeling like halfway to eternity. Also, I expected my hormones to lead to all types of emotional meltdowns but that didn’t happen. 

***

On bonding with the babe

Honestly, until my belly started growing and my baby started kicking, I did not feel any bond. There were like 5 wholes months of pregnancy when it felt like I wasn’t even pregnant yet because my body had barely changed. The only sure giveaway was the fatigue and extreme hunger. But when my baby started kicking, the surrealness of it all was undeniable and I developed feelings for him. I always felt awkward talking to him but I tried my best as I was advised (lol!) Real talk, for some of my friends talking to the baby in the womb came naturally but for me it wasn’t the case. There are no negative after effects that I know of, so do you.

While bonding with the baby was not something that came naturally to me, pregnancy did help create all sorts of new bonds. For starters, with my co-creator, also known as my husband. The pending birth of our son gave us so much to dream about, a future we both looked forward to with so much excitement and that we knew would be totally transformed by the arrival of our sweet munchkin. He handled his co-creator role really well, most importantly by attending every doctor’s appointment with me and making sure I was fed on time! I made him late to work so many times, but he never complained once. Waking up with an alarm while pregnant is practically impossible.

On a closing note, never have I felt more loved and taken care of by my girlfriends than when I was pregnant. Becoming a mother opened the doors to new conversations, new vulnerabilities, new perspectives, new sets of worries but also amazing advice and encouragement.  I’m going to let you in on some classified information here, there’s a secret society of mothers waiting to sweep you up into their large security blanket and take care of you throughout your pregnancy. Whatever the state of your heart, joy, fear, excitement, or worry, one of them will avail themselves for you and that’s the truth.

To me, that was one of the purest form of beauty I’ve witnessed during my pregnancy journey and I’ll forever be thankful for that.

Previously published in Fromthe1Inside

Marie-Ange Rukundo is a dynamic Rwandan, mom to the cutest boy in the world and married to one exceptional man. She is at her best when connecting with fellow humans on topics that speak to her heart, including motherhood, identity, food, the mystery of life, and God.

She advises university students in career matters during the day and when she is off the clock, you can find her at home with her family. She keeps her schedule busy with playdates, books, podcasts, a blog and trying out new recipes.  She is an extroverted libra on an unending quest for balance. 

Insert photos (1 & 3) by Iris Lasry, Cynthia Butare.

Gathering Myself Together by Temitayo Olofinlua

I: Are You Not a Woman?

I have injured myself again. The broken china decided to punish me for being careless. As I packed its shattered pieces, glistening on the floor, it left a wide thing on my index finger that could not be kept from my mother. That is why I am sitting down here in front of her, why she is sitting on a small stool in front of me, dipping and dipping a towel in the steaming bowl. That is why the steam from the bowl is mixing with my sweat, mixing with my tears, streaming down my face and forming a small pool on the floor. Mother squeezes the towel until every drop of water falls from it.

“I am dead-o.” I shout before she brings the hot towel anywhere near me.

“The dead do not scream.” She pulls my hand closer to her, trapping it with her left armpit.

“Pa ara e po,” she says, ordering me to brace myself, to gather myself together.

To express pain is to let yourself go. To let your body scatter in many places. To scream is to transport your voice, your pain, your body to places beyond you. The pain is soon to hit me. I shut my eyes tight. I shut myself tighter.

“Don’t you know you are a woman?” She asks, drawing me from my reverie.

I do not understand her. What does being a woman have to do with this pain permeating my body? What does it have to do with shouting out pain? Today, I refuse to be a woman. I scream myself hoarse. After mother is done with “burning” my wound to “heal” it, she applies methylated spirit. It shoots more pain from my finger through my body, making me dance an ugly dance, as it moves swiftly though me, to my brain; it sits there while I seethe.

“Wrap your pain inside your body.” My mother says, taking the now cooling bowl away.

“Your body is where it belongs. It must not be scattered for all to see.” The wound heals. The scar remains.

“You may have learned from your mother or any other hunted woman. Smiling at devils is a useful learned thing. Swallowing discomfort down in spades. Holding it tight in your belly. Ageing on the inside only. Keeping it forever sexy.” ― Yrsa Daley-Ward

II: Hello Pain

It takes me years before I understand my mother’s question: Don’t you know you are a woman? It takes my period arriving for me to feel this pain associated with being a woman. It comes with the blood clots streaming down my thighs. The pain makes me curl up in bed, days before I even see the blood, making my waist heavier for my body to carry. When it finally arrives, the aching spreads beyond the waist, straight through the ridge of my spine.

Mother does not understand how period pain bends your spine and curls you into a foetus. Her period never brought pain. Mine warns my body before its arrival. And when it arrives, it commands my world to a halt, like a Nigerian politician arriving to commission an incomplete road, causing traffic, causing the people to be at a standstill. And once done, blowing dust and siren in their face as the entourage hurries away.

It is in the way period pain forces my body to stop that I gradually begin to understand it. I start to touch it, to feel its rough jagged edges. Now, I prepare for its arrival, getting things done quickly before it knocks at my door. I have become familiar with it, touching my belly with a warm bottle, using its heat to cancel the pain in my waist. Pain cancels pain. At other times, I pop the pills. Paracetamol when it is a slight pinch. Ibuprofen when the long nails of pain pinch deeper. On some nights, I pop no pills; I pop a can of Star. The slumber knocks the pain out as long as my eyes are closed. The next morning it is there, in my body waiting for me.

“Hello Tayo!”

“Hello Pain!”

I wince as I gather my body together as one. Every month, we know ourselves better. Month by month, pain becomes less and less a stranger. Period. When it arrives, I pull a seat and invite it to drink: beer or coffee?

“Blood,” it says, “your blood.”

“Cheers,” we click glasses. I shudder; it smiles.

***

III: Ma-fo-ya

My first child chooses to stay in my belly beyond the days that we expected him. A doctor looks at my distended stomach and demands a scan. After the scan, the doctor says that if the child doesn’t come out within the next two days, we may have to bring him out.

“So how can I hasten him?” I ask, not wanting to go under the knife. I want to be there, to be awake, to hear his first breath, soft against my chest, his first cries renting the room. I have prepared for it, for the pain to come.

“Exercise more.” He says. I walk back to my friend’s house. The road is uphill and it demands more pressure to climb. As I inch closer to the house, I walk back and return. Going and coming, back and forth, I continue until my feet are tired. I make this walk every evening. Yet, rather than come out, my child sits in my stomach, a sigidi—a statue—refusing to budge despite the sacrifices of its worshipers. It’s deadline day. I am put under. That experience is a series of first—first time hospitalised, first drip, first surgery, first baby, first death, first resurrection.

Before I walk inside the surgery room, I try to imagine what will happen in that theatre as gloved hands tear through layers and layers of my skin, reaching inside me to pluck my child. Pain is knowing that I will never know what happened in there. The now fading scar, lying below my belly, hiding beneath the folds of flesh, is a silent testifier of my pain. It reminds me, even when I want to forget. Strange hands were here. It reminds me of how my body was opened up so that I would be clothed—omol’aso—your child is your cloth. It reminds me of how I died, so that I could give life — bi inabaku, a f’ erub’ oju; b’ ogede b’ aku, a f’ omo e r’ opo — if a fire dies, it is replaced by ashes; if a plantain dies, it is replaced by its sapling.

When my eyes open, my ears also open. The whole room turns round and round, as a loud whirring pierces my ears. Soft raindrops caress my face as I am wheeled into the maternity ward, a robe covering my nakedness. I struggle to match voices with the blurry faces in front of me. I feel nothing until my baby starts to cry, until he is tossed into my arms.

“Feed him.” It is the nurse.

My right hand is strapped down by a drip; drugs flowing through my veins, antibiotics washing my body clean of bacteria, pain relievers bringing calm after a storm.

“You have to suckle him or else your breast will be hard.” She places him beside my breast, my nipples in his mouth. The hungry boy suckles. He draws my pain with each suckle. In that moment, I experience the answer to my mother’s question. I do not feel all the joy, love and excitement associated with motherhood. I feel a sense of responsibility for this tiny thing that wades through my pain just to be fed.

I learn that to be a woman is to be able to bury your pain in your body, to be able to fold it neatly like freshly ironed clothes after you have worn it once, the heat from the iron melting away the smell from your sweat. To be a woman, your pain must not stand in the way of your motherhood. To be a woman, you must be able to take all that life brings your way, to carry it on your shoulder as though it were a feather, to carry all your sorrows within you and not break, lest you are swallowed.

Days later, still in the hospital, now sitting, my son looks at me, as he smiles a toothless gummy smile. He seems happy to see me. In that moment, my eyes locked in his, his in mine, I know that my life will never remain the same again.

“I think about the tragedies the women in my life have faced. How every time a child gets sick or a man leaves or a parent dies or a community crumbles, the women are the ones who carry on, who do what must be done for their people in the midst of their own pain. While those around them fall away, the women hold the sick and nurse the weak, put food on the table, carry their families’ sadness and anger and love and hope…. Have women been the Warriors all along?”―Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior

IV: United in Pain

My second son comes like my first. He is carried out of me. I do everything I read in the books, so that I will not have a big baby. I do everything so that I will be able to push him out myself. I want to deliver like the biblical ‘Hebrew woman’.

On the day he should have come, I barely weighed 60kg. Yet, like his brother, my sacrifices mean nothing. He is in no hurry. He is brought out of me one humid Wednesday evening. He comes out a small dainty thing, at first.

Days later, he becomes a small dainty yellowy thing. Jaundice. I am recuperating by the drip when they carry him away from me, to be tested; to be sure that what the doctor’s eyes saw was what was in his body. Then, he is taken to the photo-therapy lights to suck the yellowness out of his body.

For three days, his father and I shuffle between the maternity—for early morning baths and doctor’s checks—and the pediatric ward. We hold shifts around the clock to ensure that the handkerchief protecting his eyes from the direct glare of light stays in place. We slap biting mosquitoes off our flesh as we watch. We did all we could to hold our baby down here, on this earth with us. During this time, I learn to ignore my pain, to pretend that it is non-existent. Whenever it arrives on the operation site, I bring out my bottle of methylated spirit and cotton wool, clean and clean even as I continue watching over my baby. I do not entertain it to a drink. I am too busy ensuring that I do not return home with an empty nest in my hands.

Every morning and evening, we carry him into the laboratory. He is pricked. With each prick, his screams pierce the silence in the air as some of his blood is drained into a small tube with his surname written on it. Every day, the results from his blood work shows increasing bilirubin levels in his body. Dr Google tells me that the higher the levels, the higher the damage to the child—brain damage, even death. I am suspicious of the lights here—the place does not look like the photo-therapy units I see online. I am more suspicious of our lack of electricity. He is not getting enough of the not-good-enough photo-therapy light: That’s a fact. We are afraid of losing our child, my husband and I. So, we take him away.

As the cab carrying us home stopped at the hydra-headed junction, we weighed our options: What do we do? What do we know about caring for a jaundiced child? Where can we take him?

“Should we go to UCH?” I ask unthinking.

You see, University College Hospital, Ibadan, a Federal Teaching hospital in Ibadan is famous for protocols, queues and lack of beds. The peeling walls of the towering hospital can be seen from afar. Today, we do not have a choice. It is our only choice. We carry our swaddled child and head to UCH.

This is after another child that was born on the same day as ours underwent EBT–Exchange Blood Transfusion—a medical procedure that involves taking out some of her blood and replacing it with another blood, a way of “crossing out” the bilirubin levels in her blood. Her screams as she was transfused on a table in the open air still rings in my head; this was after the chief pediatrician asked me: are you Jehovah’s Witness? Is that why you don’t want blood transfusion for the child? We sign an undertaking that we took our child away against medical advice.

***

That night as we arrive at UCH, the pungent smell of drugs mixed with disinfectant rush into my nostrils, I look at the doctor, a young looking dark complexioned man and ask, “Will my child get the kind of treatment you would give your own child?”

“Yes,” he assures me as he takes the child from my arms, place him in the last available bed, in a room where he shared with another baby patient. There is a sink opposite the bed, a hand washing soap stands atop it. We are given a list of things to buy—drugs, syringes, cotton wool, and more— and the items sit in a nylon hanging at a corner of his bed. We fill all the necessary forms as we hand him over to the hospital. Blood is drawn. Tests are carried out. The treatment begins. I feel as if my son is treated like a human being: his eyes are covered with a black sleeping band that makes me call him my Spiderman; his penis is also covered before he is swaddled in diapers. Asides these coverings, he is naked as the blue glow of the light shines on his skin. Goosebumps rise on his skin. A nurse shows me how to turn the machine on and off. She instructs me to wash my hands before and after I carry my child.

That first night, I cry myself to sleep in the ward, on a hard bench as I wait for dawn to crack. That is the first and last night I sleep at the hospital. I have to leave him every night, there under the light. I have to t(h)rust him into the hands of nurses, praying that by the next morning he will be better, that daily, the light sucks out the bilirubin in his body.

The noise of walking feet and voices of other mothers arriving to take care of their children wakes me in the morning. I see women gather around the low benches as they bring out their breasts and squeeze and squeeze milk into open cups bearing their children’s names. I join the other women, breasts in palms, squeezing and squeezing milk into cups. Strangers united in mission: to nourish their children to health. As drops of milk fall into these cups, we swap greetings; exchange tips for coping with hospital life.

“The more hot pap you drink, the more you lactate. So better to drink it before coming here.”

“Better to sit down straight, your back relaxed before you start squeezing.”

“When they give you a long list to buy things, just buy what you can afford.”

After several minutes, I squeeze a full cup of breast milk but there are some black particles sitting on the white fluid. I’d to trash the milk as the nurse said it was not good enough. Then, I washed my breasts before squeezing again. That day, I return home to take a bath and change my clothes.

Every step is a prayer, to once again return home, with my living healthy child in my arms.

“You will rise…and are you less of a woman for this? No. What is woman? Woman is this— enduring. Listen girl, you will survive this–you will. But what fool said you had to do it silently? Here is a tip—scream”― Salma Deera, Letters from Madea

V: The Rise

We spend days on standby in the hospital’s restroom with two beds. The nurses always need you to buy things, from cotton-wool to baby food, to answer questions, to do something. You may be needed to do blood work, and to run around carrying small bottles with your child’s blood from one floor to another floor in another building. In the restroom, we rest our tired bodies, side by side on the beds. Others perch on any available spaces, shutting their eyes in quick naps. Once awake, we swap tales of our birth experiences.

“My baby has been here for five months,” the light-skinned petite woman says, going into the child’s medical history, how she was born premature—barely 24 weeks—and how she has survived.

“I had twins, the first did not make it,” says the hijabi woman who has to get rid of her hijab every time she comes into the ward. She wears it back in the dressing room before she heads home.

“My child did not cry when he was born,” another woman says, narrating how she ended up spending days and days at the hospital, and how she looks forward to going back to her trade, to being normal. As they speak, I think of how a woman’s body is seen as a life-giving thing, always giving and giving. Yet, I wonder: what happens when that same giving body births a half-formed thing that takes and takes, drains and drains her until she is all but an empty hole? What happens when the body refuses to hold the living thing inside? How does the world hold such women? Many times, it turns around and calls the woman a witch for something that she has no control over as though she willingly decided to squeeze her own womb together, cause herself pain, until the child arrived, dead or alive. It seems as though by sharing the stories, pain becomes easier to bear. It is as if with each passing tale, two burdens are lifted–one off the tale teller, the other off the listener.

These stories also make me ponder on my mother’s question: how womanhood is measured by how a woman carries her pain. Was it the same reason some nurses were unkind to other women during labour? It is assumed that a woman should carry pain well, without wincing. This same thought flows into the depictions of womanhood, of how the best women are thought of as the ones who bear it all in silence. In my mind, I see that popular image of a woman with multiple hands, doing so much at once, bearing a lot of burdens on her back too. I doubt if that is the ideal image every woman must aspire to. I think about how many women die trying to be that ideal.

Here, in this room of women, I remove the cotton wool and methylated spirit from my bag and clean my operation wound. Here, when your cotton wool finishes, another woman offers you hers. We are all bound together in our pain, broomsticks held together by a thin rope, wincing as it sweeps us everywhere. Here, we do not care to be ideal women, we are real with our pains.

There is a way that listening to women who stare death in the face, who yank their children out of its jaws drains and strengthens. It is like a jar being emptied and filled at the same time. It seems that by sharing, stories and resources, by holding our hands together, patting one another on the back, we become more alive.

I learn that motherhood is not just about having a child, it transcends seeing yourself through your child, it is a journey where you choose daily, to see and be yourself. It is hard, for the world wants us to be lost, to be swallowed, to be unseen. In that room, I join other women, acknowledging my pain, seeing myself.

***

One by one, our children are discharged. One by one, we leave the room, the hospital. As you leave, you share whatever medical supplies you have left in your child’s bag with those you leave behind. They share their smiles with you.

I am leaving, lost in the support of these acquaintances who are now my sisters, cradling my child in my arm, tears welling up in my eyes, threatening to break my eyelids.

“It is well,” one of the newly-come women says, patting me on the back.

“Thank you!” I respond but what I really want to say is this: “This pain did not swallow me, it will not swallow you.” It is an acknowledgement of myself, of the other women, of our pains, of finding joys through pain. I turn around to leave.

The tears come down.

(Previously published in The Village Square Journal)

Temitayo Olofinlua is a creative writer, editor, and communications specialist with a series of awards to her credit. She has completed writing assignments for various national and international organizations such as Facebook, Global Press Journal, Mania Magazine, One Global Economy, BudgIT, to mention a few.

She studied Literature-in-English at Obafemi Awolowo University. Her essays have won several awards including the Peter Drucker Challenge (2012 and 2014) and the 2019 Paula Chinwe Okafor Prize for Creative Non-fiction. She has also completed various ghost-writing projects. 

She is currently finishing a Ph.D. programme in African Studies at the University of Ibadan.

(c) Featured image courtesy of Femi Amogunla

Episode 1: The Body Conversation Podcast

In this first episode, Ukamaka Olisakwe chats with Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, Ujuaku Akukwe, Nneka Nwogu, Megan Ross, Temitayo Olofinlua, and Marie-Ange Rukundo, about the cultural and religious norms that make it difficult for women to talk about their experiences with pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum complications.

Nsofor is the CEO of EpiAFRIC and the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Nigeria Health Watch; Akukwe, an international award-winning documentary filmmaker, is the CEO of Frances-Ashley Media and the co-founder of Leaps and Bounds Entertainment ltd; Nwogu is an Oil and Gas practitioner specialising in Social Performance with almost 25 years of office and field experience; Olofinlua is a creative writer, editor, and communications specialist with a series of awards to her credit; and Rukundo advises university students in career matters.

This episode is moderated by Noni Salma, a film-maker, writer and avid film enthusiast; and Ruth Amara Okolo, the author of the novel Black Sparkle Romance(2014) and the story collection Son of Man(2016).

The Body Conversation Podcast is edited and mixed by Ukamaka Olisakwe. Comments or suggestions? E-mail thebodyconvo@gmail.com.

After Three Children, Reclaiming My Body and My Mind

Nurse Ruth’s face was set in tense lines of seriousness as she probed my cervix with a metal instrument. I knew this procedure by heart, having been through it five times in the past 17 years: dilate the cervix, measure the uterine cavity, insert the intrauterine device.

But Ruth was frowning. The last time, another nurse said the depth of my uterine cavity was too short. Twelve years ago, after the birth of my third child, I learned that my retroverted uterus had yet to properly settle itself nicely inside my pelvis and that my cervix had partially descended into my vagina.

Now as Ruth brought out the instrument and gazed at the blood smear on the tip, I trained my eyes on the crumple of her brow and tried to decipher what she wasn’t saying. In another life, I would not set my foot within a 10-mile radius of this place. But here I was, 36 and frightened, and I willing her to say something positive; I willed her to say that childbirth hadn’t ruined me that much.

But she didn’t say those words. Instead, she worked until I could no longer endure the discomfort of metal scraping against the soft of my womb. Because my cavity was still so short, Ruth suggested an alternative contraceptive — a progestin implant. She feared my uterus would expel an IUD if she went ahead and inserted it.

True, the last IUD had snapped and poked at my insides all night until the following morning when I found a doctor, who pried open my cervix and got it out. The one before that, my body began to act strangely and I experienced unexplainable vaginal bleeding whenever sex was vigorous.

“I have heard terrible things about the implant,” I told Ruth. “I hear it can reduce me to the biblical woman with the issue of bleeding who was healed by Jesus.” She laughed, despite the seriousness of the moment, but then she had positive and convincing things to say. She invited me to the clinic’s family planning seminar scheduled for that week. She gave me an emergency oral contraceptive for the time being, and we agreed to have the contraceptive inserted into my arm at my next visit.

I smiled and thanked her. Then I cried all the way home, ignoring the curious looks of concerned passersby, some of whom paused, as Nigerians are wont to do, to ask what made me cry.

***

My husband G was waiting at home when I got back. He looked pensive but tried to act cool until I had kicked off my shoes and changed into a house dress.

“How did the procedure go?” G asked. He wanted to know if I was fine. By “fine” he meant if my uterus had behaved and accepted another IUD.

“I am fine,” I said.

He tried to have a conversation but I just couldn’t. I went through the motions of my day; tried to keep my mind off things. I wrote pages of a story and deleted them. I picked up a book but the words kept bleeding into each other. I watched our son watch cartoons. In the middle of the night, when the world had fallen asleep and only the chirps of crickets and rustlings of night animals sifted in from our open window, G woke up and found me loitering by the shelves.

“Something is bothering you,” he said.

“Do I look like something is bothering me?” I said, as I rearranged the books which I had arranged the week before.

He begged me to come to bed. He held me. I coiled into his embrace, and then I wanted to fuck. But as he slid inside me, I held my breath and tightened my vagina muscles, willing my cervix to behave and not leak drops of blood as it had done sometimes in the past. After he rolled off my body, I hurried into the bathroom, slipped a finger into my vagina, and inspected the wetness for blood stain. I saw none. I crouched over on the floor and wept into the cup of my palms.

This was not my first panic attack, and it was not the worst.

***

I can easily recall when I found out the possible name for this ailment that ate at the seams of my mind, but I can’t put a finger on when my Postpartum Depression actually began.

Perhaps it all started that the day after I gave birth to my first child, my daughter Chi, in September 2002, when I got home and found the small wooden stool my mother-in-law had brought for me. A new mother is required to sit on this stool, to press her legs together and make herself small. The belief was that this posture would keep the pelvis region clenched, to help restore vaginal muscle tone. There was also the wild belief that women who suffer postpartum complications, like uterine prolapse and pelvis floor problems, were those who did not strictly perform this old ritual and the many others.

That was the year when I learned that our society also manufactures ready-made excuses for terrible men, that new mothers must work hard to make their bodies sexy again or they will be blamed if their husbands philander or become terrible partners. Add that to the fact that many new mothers struggle to comprehend the harm wreaked on their bodies by childbirth. But they do not speak about it for fear that they will be dismissed as weak. They do not have support groups. The pregnancy literature accessible to them is always about how to “snap back” and become sexy again. At church, they are endlessly taught how to please their men and make them comfortable. No one really cares about how the women feel, if they are still haunted by the memories of childbirth, how they are coping with the immense bodily changes, if they are emotionally ready to have sex, if they even want to go through pregnancy ever again. They are expected to perform their roles as virtuous wives and good mothers, or they’ll fall short of societal expectations, of which the consequences are grave.

As such, the women relive their traumatic experiences. They walk around with shoulders hunched by these burdens. They put on a smile and perform these roles, ignorant of the symptoms of their hormonally-triggered mental illnesses, until they buckle under the weight of it all.

It would take many years before I learned that there is such a thing as Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or even Postpartum Depression.

***

While my body went to pieces after the birth of my first child, I still submitted myself to the process again and again. That is what I was taught marriage is all about — giving birth to children who will carry forward the man’s torch after you all are dead and gone, no matter the emotional and physical cost.

On our wedding day, families showered me with prayers: I would give birth to seven sons and two daughters, they would all gather again in exactly nine months to celebrate the arrival of our first child. I hefted those sacks of expectation on my frail shoulders like my mother had done and the mothers before us all.

***

My first labor stretched for three days. I was just 19. Because I had become too weak by the third day, the doctor took a scalpel to my perineum, fused a suction to my daughter’s head, and pulled her out. The suction cap left a huge red swelling on her scalp. After I was wheeled back to my hospital ward, my first inclination was to feel the floor with my toes to be sure I had truly survived this. Then I wanted to sleep for a whole week, the very idea of standing or walking turning my knees to mush.

My daughter was asleep in her cot when a sister-in-law scooped her up and began to inspect her body. She saw the swelling and gasped. “You must never let anyone see this or they will call you weak,” she told me, and drew a hat over my daughter’s head.

She was a middle-aged woman who herself had had three children, a girl and two sons, the second of which had put her through a traumatic birthing experience that left her immobile for nearly two months.

I shrank but nodded in agreement, believing she knew better and was speaking from experience. It sounded so right; relatives roamed around us, hugging and thumping my husband’s hand, praising him for marrying a woman who in the end conquered childbirth and brought him a daughter. I sat on my bed and smiled and laughed, even though my stomach felt gorged out and I became dizzy whenever I tried to sit up straight. I pretended to be strong. A strong woman was a husband’s pride, was what I was expected to be, what I would be.

I kept my daughter’s hat on and performed my role of a strong wife. My episiotomy was stitched so tightly that I cried when I bent to pee or defecate. My inverted nipples had blistered and bled each time my daughter latched on to suckle. Pregnancy had messed with my lower intestine and I would sit on the toilet bowl for hours, crying as I passed constipated shit because my bowel had forgotten how to regulate the usual flow of feces. I moved through each day in pants, dizzy with fatigue, and my husband counted down the days until we could start having sex again. My stitches would take weeks until they really stopped itching, leaving a jagged dark scar that travelled from my vagina, past my perineum, and into my anus.

On the first day we resumed sex, I clamped my mouth shut and moaned sensually, but not too much, to aid my husband as he galloped toward orgasm. Then I spent maybe 20 or so minutes sitting my butt in a bowl of salted warm water to soothe the ache that had begun to throb where my stitches had supposedly healed.

I was happy that I had given birth to a child, but I do not mean “happy” in the mindless joyful way of one who had achieved what she had always yearned for. My happiness was the kind of relief that washes over your body when you have passed a difficult test and proved to your family that your education wasn’t really a waste of money. I would often stay up at night, gazing down at my daughter as she slept in her cot, fascinated by the fact that this chubby, beautiful human being who’d weighed 3.7 kilograms, or 8.15 pounds, had popped out of my body. I remember obsessing over her breathing pattern, rearranging her blanket and pillows, afraid they would smother her in her sleep. I was tenaciously protective of her. But while having my sitz bath later, I would lock myself inside the bathroom for a long time, listening to the chatter of the children in the neighborhood, the passing cars, and laughter of passersby on the street below. I would breathe in the spicy deliciousness cooking in the restaurant beside our house. Until my daughter woke with her usual cry. I knew I should go to her, but when you are 19 and your body has undergone an unbelievable trauma and you are sore all over, you will wish to shape-shift into a fly and wing your way out of the window. I had none of such extraterrestrial powers, so I simply cried and cried until someone heard and banged on the door and asked if everything was alright.

This became a routine. Sitting in warm baths. Weeping when no one was looking. Performing my role as the strong wife. To family members, I was a capable mother, but my hands shook all the time. I drifted through hazy days inside this altered body, unsure of how to wear it, what to do with it. I no longer knew myself.

Those days, the memories of my first labor often came, without warning, in debilitating flashes. Sometimes I wished I could reach into my head and twist something so I wouldn’t be haunted by such unfair vividness. This continued as my baby grew, as I got pregnant again just a year later, as I neared my due date. Many months had passed but I still could not shake that sense of horror that filled my very bones when I thought of childbirth. I began to wonder if I was trapped in some kind of capsule — had the sense that everything else had seized and this fear was the only thing real. I would often wake up in the middle of the night, sweating.

My husband found me staring at the wall one night, a few weeks before our second daughter Som was born. Outside our window, the world was dark and still, the air filled with the symphony of generator noises in the neighborhood. He asked why I was awake and staring. I looked at him. Our lamp sat by the door, casting orange shadows on the wall. I remember how worried he looked, how he shifted closer and held my shoulders.

“What if all of this is just a dream?” I asked him.

“What do you mean,” he said.

“What if I didn’t really wake up that day in 2002 when I went to give birth to Chi? What if I am in a sort of purgatory or a dream and none of this is real?”

He shook my shoulders and said I must stop talking rubbish. Then he said we must pray. We knelt by the side of the bed, him clasping my hands tightly in his. He shut his eyes in piety, his face squeezed in intense sorrow. He told God to keep me safe. He was so downcast.

I muttered, “Amen,” and smiled and said I was finally fine. He hugged me. He believed me.

***

Where I come from, if a woman so much as reveals she is depressed — an affliction that is still associated with evil spirits and demonic attacks — she is taken to the church for exorcism. She is considered tainted, bad luck to her husband, a threat to her children. And so knowing the repercussions for speaking one’s truth, knowing it can bring your harm, what is the point of speaking it?

In June, 2007, three months after our son Chu, our third child, was born, I visited the clinic to have an IUD inserted and learned that my uterus had yet to nicely anchor itself within my pelvis. I had leaked drops of blood the week before, after I had sex with my husband, and had thought it was the remnant of my postnatal shedding. We were going through a period of financial crisis. In all my imaginations about my future, I had not anticipated becoming a permanently mutilated thing. I was a mess.

In the following weeks, I still could not shake that feeling of bereavement. I began to mourn what I had lost, the sense that I would never again regain who I used to be, that I would have to make do with what childbirth had left me with. I took to walking, from Faulks Road to Okigwe Road to Brass, on sunny days. And when I got home, I would not remember what I saw during those walks, or who I had talked to.

My detachment from reality soon began to worsen. I trailed off in the middle of conversations. I struggled to suppress the truth about my body. The legacy of patriarchy had taught me that I must appear perfect for my husband, for the community, or I would be considered weak. This struggle ate at the seams of my mind. When I finally accepted that I was depressed, I did not know what to do with that information.

What do you do when your egusi soup shows signs of turning? My mother taught me to add a bit of potash, to boil the spoilage away and scoop the froth out, to add some pepper and crayfish and salt, and the soup would return almost as new. But when the soup fully sours, you throw it away; there was no remedy for that kind of rot.

I was frothing over and there were no therapists in my area of Nigeria whom I could talk to. My husband could not understand my mood swings, why I kept fading out of simple conversations. I kept the truth of my depression and mutilation from him because I feared he would consider me weak, that he would be repulsed and no longer find me sexually appealing. It would take a very long time before I stopped believing in those patriarchal myths, began to put myself and my health first, and charted a path to true relief. But before this, before I began my journey to redemption, I tortured myself with my silence. I could smell the rot of my corrosion, the unravelling of my mind’s seams. How quickly I was disappearing inside my altered body. My clothes became sizes larger. My hairline began to recede, my hair grew ashy and fell off in clumps.

What do you do when you turn like soup and there are no remedies for what ails you? Do you throw yourself away?

Being a Christian means casting your burdens upon Jesus. Whether religion solves the problem or not, it doesn’t really matter because that act of spiritual supplication slaps a temporary Band-Aid on your affliction, so you can breathe, even for a minute, before your wound erupts again. And you return to Jesus again.

***

It was difficult to convince my aunt, a bible-thumping Christian, that I was depressed. It was difficult to find the right language for my affliction, and so I went along with her conclusion that I was being haunted by evil spirits. She made appointments with a spiritual healer to intervene in my case. We went for the exorcism with the items the healer demanded: two bars of soap, two bottles of olive oil, a packet of salt, a white kerchief.

The healer was a small light-skinned woman who wore a white scarf tightly over her head. She received us with curiosity. She asked if I was married to my husband, and I showed her my wedding ring. She washed her hands with the soap we had brought, and wiped them dry with the kerchief. Then she called me to the middle of the room, muttered incantations, sang Christian songs, and danced and clapped her hands.

For a long time she prayed and sang and danced. I sang along, clapping. My aunt, too. The room was dimly lit, lazy rays casting hazy shadows on the carpeted floor. From the open window, I heard the thumps of pestles into mortars and the clang of spoons into pots. I heard the cries of children playing in the field nearby. The neighborhood was awake and bustling, and I wondered what it would feel like to join the kids and yell at the top of my voice, to play with such reckless abandon. To be somebody else again.

“She was attacked by an evil spirit during her first pregnancy,” the healer paused amid singing to tell my aunt. She swayed. She muttered more incantations. She yelled at the supposed spirit to flee from my body.

“Her husband is facing financial difficulties, is it not true?” she asked my aunt again. My aunt bobbed her head furiously. “The spirit is ruining everything she touches.”

I was dizzy with confusion and irritation. My stomach gurgled. My last meal had been the scoops of spicy jollof rice I had the afternoon before, and I had stayed awake most of the night, gazing at the ceiling. Now I was dizzy, fatigued. Darkness hovered before my eyes and I slipped into it. When I opened my eyes briefly, I was crouched over on the floor.

The healer sang victorious songs. My aunt thumped her hands heartily. They danced.

“The spirit is gone,” said the healer. “She is free in Jesus’ name!”

My aunt yelled, “Amen!”

I had an explanation for that fainting spell, for our financial situation, but I held my tongue because I knew it would be dismissed as rubbish, or that they could subject me to more prayers. On our way home, my aunt held my hand in hers, her eyes bright with happiness.

“You are free in Jesus’ name,” she said.

I nodded and said something in the affirmative, and she was pleased that I had accepted my healing. It was a hot afternoon and sweat pooled under my arms. My scalped itched. She talked all through the ride home. She reminded me of the prayers and fasting I must perform daily for two weeks, and the bible passages I must read; it would be a serious time of piety — that’s what the healer called it — and this fasting stretched from six in the morning until six in the evening, every day, to keep the evil spirit permanently away.

My husband was in the sitting room when I walked in. He took one look at my face and asked if everything was alright.

“I have a headache,” I said. “I want you to do something for me.”

I got a pair of scissors, sat by his feet and told him to cut my hair, all of it, down to the scalp. My hair had suddenly become an itchy, heavy burden, an unwanted thing I must remove from my body or I feared I would never be able to breathe again.

“Why?” he asked, giving me an incredulous look.

“Please,” I said. “Or I will cut it myself.”

He began to say something but stopped. Maybe it was the look in my eyes. Maybe he understood that I wouldn’t be fine until the hair was gone. So he took the scissors.

***

When I first moved to Aba, I had recently turned 19 and the air was mildly hazy with the harmattan dust that coated everything with a film of brown. People walked around swaddled in thick sweaters and wool stockings and complained about how cold every day was, which I thought was hilarious because the temperatures were consistently in the 60s, nowhere near the dire situation in the city of my birth, Kano, in northern Nigeria, where the harmattan was so severe that it sucked all the liquid from your body, cracked your lips, broke your heels, flaked your skin, caked your hair and eyebrows and eyelids with dust, and the cold winds howled outside your windows like an old Volvo with a really bad engine. I was enthusiastic about my marriage and was excited when neighbors addressed me as Nwunye Olisakwe — Olisakwe’s wife, never my name, because, as programmed by my socialization and all the years of the Sunday School classes and church sermons, bearing my husband’s name was an honor every girl must aspire to, the prerequisite to attaining that prestigious status of the Virtuous Woman. I was desperate to get pregnant.

On Mother’s Day that year, we sang the famous old song that went, “Sweet mother, I no go forget you, for the suffer wey you suffer for me,” and I was pregnant with Chi. I danced and sang along with the other women, happy to be performing this rite of passage, this celebration of suffering that would guarantee my continuous membership in this pantheon of Virtuous Women.

But then childbirth happened, and my postpartum complications followed. Everything soon became bleak.

My husband is beautiful in a laid back, unassuming kind of way. He’s average height, sturdy and white-goateed — 16 years older than me. He remains bright-eyed, despite all the financial turmoils he’s endured, and speaks about his future business plans as though he’ll pluck the start-up funding from the guava trees in our yard. He’s refused to be subdued even in the face of intense hardship. He’s the most optimistic man I’ve ever met.

But one morning in August 2017, he looked defeated as he watched me dress up to go grocery shopping.

“The wig looks nice,” he said after I had donned the lush afro that swallowed half my face, swallowed even the desolation that had dulled my skin, and shrank my cheeks. When I looked into the mirror, I thought, I look elegant.

I was going through another phase of depression and was no longer optimistic about anything. I could not bear socializing with family friends and had shaved my hair, for the second time since my marriage, down to the scalp, with a pair of scissors and then a blunt razor that left red markings on the edges and the back of my neck.

“Have you had anything to eat this morning,” he asked me, and I said no. “You should eat something,” he said. “You are getting thinner.”

For an instant I saw myself through his eyes, how tired I possibly looked, how quickly I had begun to disappear again inside my dress. How unappealing. Something shrank inside my stomach. I muttered excuses about not being hungry, and quickly grabbed my bag and left.

Down the street, I met a neighbor who had known my family throughout my marriage. She stopped to say greetings. She called me “Nwunye Olisakwe” and asked if my family was all well. I began to respond as I usually would, but instead asked if she knew my first name. She frowned, then laughed incredulously and asked, quite simply, if everything was alright with me.

“What is the matter with you,” she asked, her eyes bearing concern. I said something incoherent and ended the conversation.

I walked to the junction to board a bus and tried to brush the encounter away from mind. I felt as if I had not only sacrificed my body and mind to marriage and childbirth, but had also lost my name. I had thought, I should ignore this; it was the way things are, how it always had been. But I was still upset, and made even more so because of the expression on the woman’s face; she had looked at me with concern, as if I had lost my mind, as if she could not believe that an Igbo woman like me would reject the prestige that came with bearing a man’s name.

I stopped at the junction but did not board the buses that rolled to a stop before me. It was getting hard to keep denying how thoroughly unhappy I was. I felt as if I had reached the end point in my situation. I could feel the anxiety clawing at my insides, the desolation nibbling at the seams of my mind, the sweat pooling under my arms. I knew that I was hurting my family with my moodiness, my husband especially, because I had walled myself away from him. I no longer felt any sense of joy in our city, in our life. I was anxious, triggered by even the simplest things, but unable to explain my anxiety to others. I knew I needed to heal, to find myself. I knew it was time to leave home.

That evening, I told my husband that I wanted to apply for an MFA; it had been three years since a friend suggested I apply to schools in the United States. We both sat in the room after our children had gone to bed, and I stared at a spot on his forehead because I could not look into his eyes. I did not want to see if they carried the mix of emotions I felt, the confusion and desperation and fear rumbling inside me, all at once.

“So, you will be gone for two years,” he said quietly. “But you will come home every holiday to be with us, right?”

Inside my head, I told him how unhappy I was and that I blamed him for the trauma my body and mind had been put through. I blamed him for marrying me when I was merely a teenager and changing the course of my life. But I could never have said those words to him.

“I will come home every holiday,” I said instead, fervently. I told him about the advantages to getting an MFA, why I must get better at writing, this thing I loved to do. I promised to always come home.

For a moment, he watched me, saying nothing, and I felt uncomfortable under his stare and also felt the need to reassure him that I was not running away forever. Then he said, “You will do well in America. I trust you.”

I wrapped my arms around his waist, pressed my lips against his, fumbled with his shirt buttons. He held me tightly, then pushed his arms under my blouse, under my bra cups. His fingers were warm and callused. “The children might walk in,” he said, and quickly stood up.

In the bedroom, we undressed silently, pressing against each other in the dimly lit room. I mounted him, my movements slow. His face was oily, his features firm, but there was a sheen in his eyes and I could not tell if it was from excitement, or if it was something else, before he turned his face away from the faint light sifting in from the window. Later, I waited until he had fallen asleep, before I returned to the sitting room to switch on my laptop and look up schools in the United States.

In 2018, I went ahead with my plan, and moved to Montpelier, Vermont to attend the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

***

I am now living the first chapter of the new part of my life. Before attending the first day of classes, I gazed at my family photos, thinking. I could almost read the expression in my husband’s eyes. His face is stretched in a smile, his eyes are mild. He’s become the primary caregiver to our three children — Chi, Som, and Chu. He has eight siblings and one living parent; he’s burdened with other responsibilities, too, and there I was, so far away from him, so far away from home. I felt crushed with guilt. I cried as I prepared for class. I cried when class was over. I cried when I spoke with them later over the phone. I cried because I was again putting everyone’s feelings first before my mental health. I cried myself to sleep in my room, the first place I could call my own in my 36 years. I thought moving away from home would give me the opportunity to heal, to find myself, but I isolated myself in my room, pummeled myself with guilt, could hardly handle hanging out with the new friends I’d made, and would stare at my computer, paralyzed, until my friend Rebecca knocked on the door and asked, gently, if I’d like to join her at the Three Penny Taproom Bar, or on a trip to Burlington.

Then one morning, during a class with the poet Bianca Stone, she asked us to make a list of the things we’d rather write about, the things we were afraid to write about, no matter the forms we primarily write in. I made notes about my postpartum complications and the cultural myths surrounding childbirth and motherhood in my community. After that class, I broke into tears. I cried all night. I coiled in my bed and wept, and all of the following morning. During subsequent classes, the conversations burrowed holes into my carefully stacked traumas, and I wrote a poem about childbirth.

I wrote that poem four months ago, and I returned home to spend the summer with my family in Nigeria, during which my agent sold my novel to a publisher in the United Kingdom. Many of our relatives think my decision to attend school abroad is a shocking anomaly, and always tell me this. They believe it is an abomination for an Igbo woman to leave her children in her husband’s care, for a wife to live so far away from home. I initially tried to explain the importance of my education, but then I learned to assuage their concerns with typical responses: I tell them that our children are almost all teenagers. I tell them that Chi is already 16 and has graduated from secondary school. I tell them that my husband is doing just fine. And sometimes my husband throws in the clincher, perhaps to taunt them: “They will soon join their mum at school in America,” he’d say. And this always ends the conversation.

I have since found a new rhythm and I am no longer as anxious as I used to be.

***

Speaking out is like lancing a boil; the body will not return to its prior state, but you are filled with relief once the poison had seeped out.

It is now 17 years since the birth of my first child, and my altered body has finally begun to feel right. I have learned to wear it. I have slipped easily into a new life, one occasionally wracked with the memories of my experiences, but I am no longer afraid because I now know my affliction.

Previously published in Longreads

Ukamaka Olisakwe is the author of Ogadinma

Feature Image by AntoineLanz from Pixabay

Shattering the Silence Surrounding Childbirth and Postpartum Complications

We are so excited to announce that the inaugural webinar for #TheBodyConversation will be held virtually on Zoom, on June 20.

Participants can register for the episode by sending an email to thebodyconvo@gmail.com to get a Zoom invite.

Meet our special guest and panelists:

Nneka Nwogu is an Oil and Gas practitioner specialising in Social Performance with almost 25 years of office and field experience. She is an educator, an entrepreneur, a wife, mom, trainer and an analytical strategist.

With a first degree in Engineering, a post-graduate degree, several certificates and diplomas from various universities, including the Warwick Business School UK,  Nneka clearly loves the walls of teaching and learning.

She is the initiator of the award-winning Safe Motherhood intervention for Rivers State women, in collaboration with The Adolescent Project (TAP), a pet project of the then-Wife of the Executive Governor of Rivers State, Justice Mary Odili. This project was recognised at the International Conference of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood in Washington DC, USA.

Nneka, the founder of New Mums Lounge is very passionate about Motherhood, Children and Education, having scaled through more than 10 years of infertility.

Ujuaku Akukwe is an international award-winning documentary filmmaker, entrepreneur,  author and mother of three. She is the CEO of Frances-Ashley Media and the co-founder of Leaps and Bounds Entertainment ltd.

Her extensive experience and practice cut across media consultancy, content design and social works. She is a recipient of a Certificate of Recognition from the California Legislature Assembly for her use of film for community engagement and won the Nigeria Women Entrepreneurship Award for her contribution to positive parenting. Her films have won several nominations and awards globally, including the winner, best documentary Silicon Valley African Film Festival, United States. Winner, Woman Producer of the Year and Award of Excellence both from the International Film Festival, Zero discrimination and Social justice Indonesia, amongst others. 

She is an alumna of the New York Film Academy, University of Nigeria and Pan Atlantic University, with certificates in Entrepreneurial management, Strategic management, Documentation strategy, Digital marketing, and communications.

Megan Ross is the author of Milk Fever (uHlanga Press, 2018) a collection of poetry, and several short stories and essays that have gone on to achieve critical acclaim.

She is also an editor, journalist and graphic designer, working on both the copy & art aspects of book production for publishers across the African continent. She is a recipient of the Brittle Paper Award for Fiction (2017) and an Alumni Award for the Iceland Writers Retreat in Reykjavik (2016), as well as a finalist for the Gerald Kraak, Miles Morland, Short Story Day Africa and Short. Sharp Awards.

Megan lives on the South African Wild Coast with her partner and four-year-old son.

Marie-Ange Rukundo is a dynamic Rwandan, mom to the cutest boy in the world and married to one exceptional man. She is at her best when connecting with fellow humans on topics that speak to her heart, including motherhood, identity, food, the mystery of life, and God.

She advises university students in career matters during the day and when she is off the clock, you can find her at home with her family. She keeps her schedule busy with playdates, books, podcasts, a blog and trying out new recipes.  She is an extroverted libra on an unending quest for balance. 

Temitayo Olofinlua is a creative writer, editor, and communications specialist with a series of awards to her credit. Temitayo has completed writing assignments for various national and international organizations such as Facebook, Global Press Journal, Mania Magazine, One Global Economy, BudgIT, to mention a few.

She studied Literature-in-English at Obafemi Awolowo University. Her essays have won several awards including the Peter Drucker Challenge (2012 and 2014) and the 2019 Paula Chinwe Okafor Prize for Creative Non-fiction. She has also completed various ghost-writing projects.

She is currently finishing a Ph.D. programme in African Studies at the University of Ibadan.

Dr. Ifeanyi McWilliams Nsofor is a graduate of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Medical School and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He is a Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity at George Washington University. He is the CEO of EpiAFRIC and the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Nigeria Health Watch. He is a leading advocate for universal health care.  

Ifeanyi’s health communications and health advocacy efforts are hinged on the University of Global Health Equity’s mantra, to achieve equity in healthcare, there must be equity in health education. Ifeanyi is a Thought Leader in Global Health. He has written over 55 opinion pieces for different publishers including, The Hill, BioMed Central’s Bugbitten Blog, Scientific American, Project Syndicate, Devex, Inter Press Service, African Arguments, AllAfrica, The Globe Post, Nigeria Health Watch and Vanguard Nigeria. One of his opinion pieces is titled, “Let’s Prevent Post-partum Depression and Provide Care to Those in Need”. 

Ifeanyi is a TEDx Speaker – his 2018 TEDxOguiRoad Talk is titled, “Without Health, We Have Nothing”. In March 2020, Ifeanyi spoke at “Exploring Media Ecosystems Conference” at the Samberg Center of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Title of his talk was “Forward this to 10 People: The epidemic of health misinformation in Nigeria”. The Conference was organized by Media Cloud – a joint project by the MIT Center for Civic Media & the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

In March 2020, Ifeanyi was also recognized among the Coronavirus Top 100 healthcare professionals globally. Ifeanyi is married to Omegie and they have 2 daughters (Yagazie and Chimamanda) and a dog, Simba. 

#thebodyconversation

Feature Image by Guilherme Reis from Pixabay

Why The Body Conversation?

Hi Everyone!

My name is Ukamaka Olisakwe and I am here to talk about what happens to the woman’s body before, during and after childbirth.

I was encouraged to tell my story by friends and family with whom I’d shared my experiences with. You see, no one prepared me for what would happen to my mind and body after childbirth. The literature available to me back then were often about how to take care of my pregnancy, what to eat to stay healthy, what to do when labour begins, that sort of thing. None dwelled on what was going on in my mind: how I was dealing with it all, how I felt. And after I gave birth to each of my three children, the later conversations were often about how to take care of my episiotomy and my vagina muscles, and when I can resume having sex again with my husband. None, of the conversations and literature cared about how I was mentally dealing with having a child, or what was happening in my body after having that child.

And childbirth, I must say, did wreak havoc on my mind and body. There is so much silence wrapped around this conversation, which was why it took me 17 years to come forward with my story.

Now, I have two teenage daughters who may want to have children in the future. I have my lovely sister who is actively looking to get pregnant. I have relatives who want to go on this journey. And I feel that we, especially women who have had children, should tell our stories, because we matter. Because our bodies matter. Because our mental health matter.

And this is why I am launching this initiative—the Body Conversation. I am hoping that this will be a safe space for women like me to share their stories. I hope that this will become the kind of community I needed when I was still having children.

These webinar will be structured in episodes, and for each one, we will have a group of women and hopefully, a medical professional, join us to talk about what happens to the woman’s body when she decides to have a baby.

Thank you all!

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#thebodyconversation