Last week, a family member had a new baby. Hubby and I, of course, immediately started making preparations to go and visit the new born. Well, we may say we are visiting the baby, but really, the baby has no idea you were there and will have no memory of the event. However, it is politically incorrect not to visit the new baby – in fact in some African cultures you’re considered a witch if you don’t show up during births, deaths and weddings.
I have been a young mother a couple times and feel entitled to speak on what visitors, especially relatives, should know when visiting a new mother. First of all, she is exhausted from several hours of a traumatic act, which culminated in squeezing a ‘breathing bundle’ through her body. Alternatively, she could have been sliced open, had the baby yanked out and sewn shut. I cannot say it any other way: she needs rest.
Not to smile at you and respond to your questions about how long she sat with her legs apart while random nurses shouted at her to push. Or whether she woke up and felt pain on the operating table. She is tired and needs to rest, period.
Secondly, all babies look the same in the first 48 hours, believe me or not. Apart from differentiating male from female and arranging them in sizes, they are all squishy-faced, smell like Johnson’s baby products and mostly likely asleep. You may pretend that they have their father’s ears or their great grandma’s nose, but all parents know that children grow and change and become themselves.
Except, of course, for a former neighbour, whose child came out looking like the mzungu at whose house his wife did laundry. He declared it mzungu at birth and it has since grown to resemble its true father. Therefore, apart from identifying obvious discrepancies, comments on the baby’s looks in the first days of life are more or less useless.
Once again, people, she is tired and needs not find you refreshments just because you have come to see the baby. Not to mention that she’s also probably broke from the entire last-minute baby shopping she did and from paying for hospital stay. It should, therefore, be an unspoken rule that if you’re visiting the baby, you do not expect to be fed. Furthermore, baby is also tired and working hard on building immunity. So if you carry along your u- laden children to visit a new born, you are not doing any favours.
In Uganda, we may carry gifts for the child, but it is always expected that we will also offer the new baby some money. However, arguably the filthiest thing in East Africa is the Ugandan currency note. On a bad day you can encounter money which is filthy, damp, covered in charcoal and smelling of fish. This, dear visitor, is not what I want you to thrust into the tiny clenched fist of an infant, especially when the fist usually rests close to baby’s mouth.
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Every well-meaning visit by loved one is in order. But it would be prudent if you held o your visit for a fortnight or so. Let the mother rest, the baby develop immunity then go figure out what the baby looks like.