Welcome back to the International Birth Stories series. If you’re just joining us, make sure you check out the other testimonies in the series: Spain, Switzerland, Japan, England, Djibouti, Northern Ireland, Brazil. This week we have Joy, with a birth story from Senegal.
Joy delivered under a private OB in a private clinic.
Intro: What brought you to Senegal?
My husband and I are missionaries here.
1.) What surprised you about prenatal care in Senegal?
Prenatal care is not considered widely necessary, at least in the more rural areas. Generally, only women with a history of difficult pregnancies see a doctor regularly. I went to the capital city as I was able to see my OB and the care was similar to what I received in the States.
2) What surprised you about giving birth in Senegal?
My labor was so very quick (less than an hour) with my fifth child, that I didn’t have much time to observe the actual birthing differences. I was glad that they were not quick to induce labor…I went nearly two weeks late without even the mention of induction. I wondered if my other deliveries would have been easier/quicker if I had been allowed to go late. Right after he was born, they wrapped him up in this huge awful plastic like green sheet.
I am sure that delivering in a private hospital makes a difference in the experience. Some of the things that happen in the public hospitals in Senegal are horrific. For example, I have heard of instances where 3 women share one mattress on the floor. Or those who have delivered stillborn babies right next to those with newborns next to those still in labor. After birth, they basically do a d&c and then rinse the women out with bleach water!
3) What surprised you about post-natal care in Senegal?
They thought I should only drink hot beverages for a while after delivery. They wanted me to lie flat on my back for 24 hrs…no pillow even! Someone came in every couple of hours to massage my stomach and help with the shrinking of the uterus.
4) Overall impression of pregnancy/birth culture
Children are highly valued…the more the merrier! This was evident in every aspect of prenatal care, birth, and postnatal care. Everyone was just so happy that I was having a child. My status as mother and woman became more obvious than that of “foreigner”. I felt having a baby in this context helped me connect to the other women.
Pregnancy is not talked about openly or asked about directly for fear of the spirits. There are code words for these discussions though.
To acknowledge that someone is pregnant (once they are obviously showing) you can say:
You sure are eating a lot of rice lately.
Your feet are getting heavy.
Your dress is beautiful, won’t you give it to me when you are done with it?
To ask about their health…
How is your body?
How are your feet?
To ask when they are due…you still wouldn’t ask this at all unless it is a very close friend. But you could ask:
When will your guest arrive?
To ask how many kids someone has..
You ask how many pieces of wood they have.
There is in general fear of evil spirits attacking bringing sickness or death, but babies and children are thought to be especially vulnerable. Most children have amulets tied to them at birth to protect them. One of the most common fears is of complementing the child – This might make the spirits jealous so one of the most common amulets is intended to trap all the complements in the amulet itself so they are not associated with the child. For this reason you never say that a baby is beautiful. Instead you could say they are not ugly or that they look like one of the parents. They often try to trick the spirits into not wanting the child, especially if the mother has had several miscarriages or infant deaths. They might name the following child “no one wants it” or something along those lines.
Stay tuned next week for another international birth story!