Wednesday, 19 October 2011

#6 NOT announcing the good news of pregnancy

FACT OF THE DAY: Some Gusii women go through their whole pregnancy without taking about it to anyone 

In today’s post I am going back to the Gusii, who live in Kenya, that I talked about in my first post #1. The Gusii are the culture who, as I put it, are pregnant or breastfeeding for 30 years, and who prize large families.

Given how important it is to get pregnant regularly and have lots of children, you would think that each time a Gusii woman found she was pregnant she would be excited and happy, and proudly announcing her news. I was very surprised to read that this is not the case.

Gusii women rarely even tell their husband or children about their pregnancy, and never announce their pregnancy to anyone outside of their home. Apparently ‘to volunteer news would be regarded as crazy behaviour’.

If anyone asks them if they are pregnant they don’t answer, and the researchers who lived with the Gusii tell us of ‘several cases of women who went through their entire pregnancy without speaking of it to anyone’.

A Gusii woman would not be able to express 
her delight at being pregnant like this woman.

Can you imagine not being able to talk about your pregnancy to anyone? Throughout my three pregnancies, it was on my mind most of the time. And, not that I was a pregnancy bore (!), but many of my thoughts and conversations were either about the pregnancy or about making plans for the birth or  after the baby was born. I just can’t imagine how different an experience it would be if you couldn’t share these thoughts with anyone. This would also mean no discussion about the birth to come, certainly no NCT type of support, and apparently first time mothers go into labour knowing virtually nothing.

Not telling anyone would also mean no special treatment during pregnancy. We probably could all admit playing the ‘but I’m pregnant’ card a few times to get out of tiring or exhausting work. This is not an option for these women, who have to carry on as normal - and from the sounds of it this involves a lot of heavy physical work.

The Gusii women talked to the researchers about different negative emotions they associated with pregnancy. Most of them we can empathise with, such as fear of the delivery, anxiety about miscarriage or the baby having abnormalities, and how to provide for and look after another child. I’m sure not being able to refer to your pregnancy, and therefore not be able to share your worries with your mother and girlfriends would make it much worse.

One other negative emotion mentioned was shame, which I don’t find less easy to understand or empathise with. I am going to see if I can find out more about this for my next post.

Once the pregnancy progresses and its existence is obvious, the woman may end up acknowledging her condition, but without pleasure. She denies being pleased, and instead complains a lot about her aches and pains and suffering. By doing this she hopes that she will be pitied, rather than envied by the other women in the village.

While some of their complaints may be genuine, the reason why women keep quiet, and then complain about the pregnancy, is because of deep superstitions. The Gusii strongly believe that pregnant women will be targeted and cursed by jealous women who are less fortunate or less fertile.  Although some of this research was done a few years ago, the belief in witchcraft especially cast by barren women, is still widespread in parts of Africa.

The researchers found that this fear of jealousy, as well as it being socially unacceptable to tell anyone about pregnancy, made the women have pretty negative experiences of pregnancies. It makes me feel sorry for the women, especially as so many of them have up to ten pregnancies.

It seems strange that this very fertile population who take pleasure in their large families, are not able take pleasure in pregnancy, the necessary precursor to these large families.

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If you want to read more yourself, have a look at:

LeVine, R., Dixon, S (1996) Childcare and Culture; Lessons from Africa New York: Cambridge University Press

1 comment:

  1. That reminds me of the first 3months when you feel absolutely dreadful but you can't tell anybody. That's quite a nice secret to keep though. I can't imagine keeping it to myself for any longer - sounds so sad and lonely.