God bless whoever invented the concept of Omugwo. For those who have been blessed to enjoy it, omugwo is quite simply an awesome experience. I am pretty sure almost every culture in Nigeria has a semblance of omugwo albeit with variants.
Omugwo refers to the period when a close motherly relative takes care of the needs of a newborn baby and its mother. In Yoruba culture, it is usually the mother-in-law who goes to take care of the new mother/baby, while in some northern cultures, the new mother and baby move back to her parents’ for the very much needed TLC.
I recently had a baby and got to enjoy omugwo and it was truly delightful. My mum definitely pulled out all the stops to ensure that it was a rewarding experience. She was right by my side pre and post-delivery, most especially immediately after the birthing process when everything was sort of a blur. The first night baby spent in the room with us, I was fast asleep when I heard one shrill unrecognisable cry from nowhere. Before I could stir myself awake and acknowledge the cry, mum was already there cradling the baby and this became the norm for weeks to come. After our discharge from the hospital, my mum became the chef, housekeeper, baby minder and new mum-carer; wearing every cap with ease as the situation arose. Now, my mum is a busy bee (I wrote a tribute to her on her birthday here) so it was not so easy for her to stay home for weeks on end tending to baby, mummy and daddy, but she did it all the same.
Of course it wasn’t all fun and games, we had our areas of disagreement, but these could never overshadow the very good times we had.
I had a wonderful omugwo experience, but not all women are so lucky. A woman is very vulnerable and needy post-partum and she needs a lot of affectionate care. However, that memo seems to bypass some mums/mums-in-law. I have heard some horror stories where the new mum is turned into a modern day slave: cooking, cleaning and catering to every whim of those meant to take care of her.
My neighbour resumed full market duties two days after giving birth. Without a car, that meant biking to the market, all to cater for her dear mother in law’s special dietary needs. She had to wash clothes, clean the house and cook for the guests that just happened to drop by to greet mama.
I have also heard of demands for the new mom to pound yam, wash piles of laundry and do all manner of chores for the mum/mum-in-law. And of course the inevitable disputes over archaic ideas mama might wish to apply over the baby such as using kerosene to clean the umbilical cord; female circumcision and yes, grandma attempting to breastfeed the baby. Seriously.
For my friend who had a caesarean section, since her mother-in-law was unable to come for omugwo, the married sister in law was deployed to help out. However, said SIL had other ideas. Not only did she not cook, she didn’t clean and barely carried the baby. In fact, she expected to be waited on hand and foot. True life story.
There is also the blatant disrespect and lack of boundaries that accompany some omugwo visits. Some grandmas believe that since they have come to take care of your baby they also have the right to know what is going on in your relationship/bedroom and offer their unsolicited two cents.
After 9 months of carrying another human inside her and finally bridging the gap between life and death to bring forth that child, a woman needs to be pampered and coddled. Issues like post-partum depression, sleeplessness, weight gain and feelings of alienation from baby after the birth are serious enough for anyone to deal with without compounding the situation with omugwo worries. Omugwo should be a period of comfort and relaxation for the new mother while she gradually eases into her new role as mummy, any distraction from the above should neither be accommodated nor tolerated from any quarter whatsoever.
Photo Credit: © Noriko Cooper | Dreamstime