May 3, 2015

International Birth Impressions – Senegal

Welcome back to the International Birth Stories series.   If you’re just joining us, make sure you check out the other testimonies in the seriesSpain, Switzerland, Japan, England, Djibouti, Northern Ireland, Brazil. This week we have Joy, with a birth story from Senegal.

International Birth Stories

Joy delivered under a private OB in a private clinic.

International Birth Stories

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.


International Birth Stories

 Stay tuned next week for another international birth story!


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Iulia is a former educator turned stay-at-home mama of a spunky toddler and a squishy infant. With a touch of sass and a good dose of self-deprecating humor, she has an ever-expanding repertoire of bloopers, insights, stories, and impassioned opinions to share. Iulia likes to think she has this parenting gig figured out, but her littles remind her daily just how far from the truth that is.

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    Reply Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom May 4, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    How fascinating!!!

    This statement really made me think: “I wondered if my other deliveries would have been easier/quicker if I had been allowed to go late.” Interesting contemplation. I went into labour naturally with both of my girls (17 hours and 12 hours of labour) but I felt those times weren’t necessarily that “long”.

    The amulet thing is very interesting and complimenting the baby – wow! I think I would have been taken aback if someone had said, “She’s not ugly” about my baby.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing.
    Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom recently posted…How to Encourage Independence in Young ChildrenMy Profile

    • Reply Bestofbaby May 14, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      Hahaha right?! It’s like “meh, she’s not ugly…she’s ok” But as someone else mentioned, it’s done with the best intentions towards the baby. And 17 and 12 hours is plenty long! Though I guess it’s all relative. My friends first labor was 40+ hours (all natural), so when she had her second, her comment was “oh it was only 24 hours this time!” Only.

    Reply Emily May 6, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    Less than one hour! Yikes! My second was 2.5 hours and I thought that was quick. I fear that if I have more kiddos I will have one of the hour long labors…

    When will your guest arrive?? Interesting. 🙂

    Wow. Some of the experiences in the public hospitals seem terribly bad and insensitive. It makes me thankful for the experiences I have had!
    Emily recently posted…Handmade Gift for Mom – My Mom Printable PageMy Profile

    • Reply Bestofbaby May 14, 2015 at 8:56 pm

      Oh my gosh Emily…2.5 hours…that’s so fast!! I thought my second was going to be a quicker labor since they say subsequent births tend to go faster…25 hours later, not so much.

    Reply Daffny May 7, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    Wow. The superstitions around children are so interesting. It must be a lot of work to keep up with. But it seems to be an extension of how loved children are. I think that is a very rare thing, almost.

    • Reply Bestofbaby May 14, 2015 at 8:50 pm

      Yes, I found the superstitions fascinating too! While I don’t generally agree with superstitions, you make a very good point…they demonstrate how valued, loved, and wanted these children are!

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