There is a common thread in the conversation surrounding the use of certain medical products in the black Africa context. It has a lot to do with spirituality and how our parents and grandparents feel like we have lost our way. Pregnancy and childbirth is a very sacred thing in our culture.
We are told not to tell people that we are expecting. This, according to the general belief, is because not everyone will be pleased that you are expecting. So in order to ensure that you and the baby are kept safe and not fall victim to any dark practices, you don’t tell of your pregnancy.
We are then told not to inform people how far we are according to the gestation period. It is said that people can bind you and you will not be able to deliver around your expected delivery date. Because of this, you dare not tell people when that date is. I have often heard of people who are 42 weeks pregnant and are adamant that there is a force at play.
After the birth of your child, no one who is not related to you is allowed visitation. None family members are believed to possess an energy that is unhealthy for the baby, and the mom who is still recovering. A day after my daughter’s birth, my two friends came to visit. I was then given a talk that same day about how that is prohibited. Did I know before they visited that they are not allowed? Definitely. That still did not stop me. Such a rebel.
Mom and baby are then not allowed to leave the house before the child is 3-months-old because of that very reason. The parents aren’t even allowed to share pictures of the baby on social media. What if the picture gets into the wrong hands?
Those first three months of the child’s life are very crucial. The mom would be assisted by their mother, mother-in-law or an elder female family member. The conflict then arises when their beliefs and parenting decisions differ. In most cases, they tend to.
The world back then was not what it is today.
I have engaged with so many mothers who have all expressed the same sentiment. They feel as though their parents think they are incapable of raising their own children.
Our parents would purchase and expect us to use medicines that we would not administer to our own children.
Take Lennon products for instance. They are said to help kids sleep better. How? By putting a few drops on their foreheads, in their bath water, in the palm of their hands, under their nose or underneath their feet. This, though, is not only meant for sleep quality. It also serves the purpose of protecting the child from evil spirits that lurk in the dark.
See, for me, there is a fine line between spiritual beliefs and superstitious beliefs.
We are the generation of parents I would like to call ”Google Moms” The generation that would ask Dr Google how to relieve gas pains, before using Umuthi we nyoni. What is ‘inyoni’ anyway? Okay, fair enough, Umuthi we nyoni is a traditional antacid administered to children from birth that have issues with reflux and indigestion. I was encouraged to use this after my daughter started having reflux. It never helped me, although I read reviews that it helped some babies. My only resort was to take her to the paediatrician who prescribed a course of medicine that helped her as we concluded its usage.
Our parents do not really believe in modern medicine. A lot of these methods are generational practices that were most likely tried out on us. Our parent’s argument: “You turned out okay?”. Our argument: “This isn’t 1940!”. Granted, most of these medications are either home or natural remedies they put together, and remedies they have trusted for years.
I took a step back and researched a lot of the products we are asked to use on our children.
Most are not meant for infants, let alone a new born baby. It is marked on the box that children between the ages of 0-12 years of age should not use these products. For instance, let’s take a look at the famous Lennon Haarlemensis. These drops are meant for the treatment of kidney and bladder issues. According to Lennon, one should administer 15 drops (1 mL) in milk or wine at bedtime. So how do we know what dosage works for a three-month-old baby? Haarlemesis drops smell very awful to start with, and they tend to wind a child down after you have applied it on them, or it was contained in their bath water. I was mostly curious as to why the use of Haarlemensis drops helped children sleep. I am not going to lie. In desperate times, I used this on my daughter and the quality of her sleep was enhanced.
I am no Doctor, but with proper research, I was able to figure out why. One of the elements contained in these drops is Arachis Oil which is said to have a sedative effect. So, basically, it is a sedative, we are drugging our kids to sleep.
One of the other elements contained in the drops is Balsam Sulphuris which also acts as a laxative. Yes. Laxative. The drug that helps stimulate bowel movement.
The world back then was not what is is today. Our parents and their parents never had access to modern medicines or non-traditional medicines. Our parents had to rely on what the soil provided, and depend on cheaper alternatives. Today, Haarlemensis is priced at less than R30.
I’m not tearing down years and years of practices that practically raised us up. All I am trying to do is open up honest conversation. Just because you strongly believe in something doesn’t make it right.
A lot of the moms I spoke to felt bullied into giving their children these medicines. And while some had the willpower and/or support from their partner to buck the tradition and say “no”. Unfortunately, most do not, most fall in line and do as they are told. And so many children are given traditional remedies despite their parent’s misgivings. This tug of war leaves parents feeling uncertain and the sense of being bulldozed leaves parents feeling insecure and defeated. This is especially true for new parents.
Luckily for me, I had an awesome mother-in-law that gave me room to make the decision that I felt were right for my child. She had recommendations, and we would discuss them, and if I am not happy with them, I could just simply say so and we move along. Some family members encouraged me to use some products, and due to the desperation of sleep deprivation and a sickly child, I would.
One of the worst things to experience is an “I told you so” from your mother or auntie when you refused to use something she recommended, and the baby does not sleep or is clearly in pain.
It takes a lot for any parent to develop the confidence to say no to their own parents. This, though, is the confidence we need to consistently feel good about our parenting journeys.
Karabo Motsiri is a first-time mom, over-sharer, lover of life, chronic napper and married to her best friend. She loves a good party because the dance floor is her happy place. She enjoys good food, good conversations, laughs a little too hard, and cries during every episode of Grey’s Anatomy. She started her blogging journey because she wanted to share all the ups and downs of being a young modern mama in South Africa. Her blog Black Mom Chronicles has been featured on Ayana Magazine & SA Mom Blog. She has enjoyed airtime on Power FM and frequently writes for the parenting section of Saturday Citizen She also works with MamaMagic on their Product Awards, Milestones Magazine, Heart to Heart blog, and the Baby Expo, which is South Africa’s biggest parenting expo.