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Fanya South: The Hebrew Woman Syndrome



A Hebrew woman according to the Bible is a woman of Jewish origin who was strong and gave birth so quickly and safely that they did not even need the help of the midwives. The midwives would show up when it was too late, and therefore could not harm the male babies. A Hebrew woman is a woman that a Nigerian mother aspires to be- to give birth quickly and safely with the least assistance.

For a lot of women especially in Nigeria, we take the term “Hebrew woman” too seriously. It is drummed into our heads right from our first ante natal class, and up to the day we go into labor. From the pastor’s prayers, our mothers’ proclamations, and our friends’ good wishes, it is all we are able to focus on. We are made to believe that you have fully passed the rites of motherhood when you pant, grunt, scream and push a baby into existence. A woman can only beat her chest in pride after she must have suffered the pain of Eve, with the strength of the Hebrew woman.

I am a firm believer that this ideology of Hebrew woman is the biggest cause of maternal and infant mortality in Nigeria. There goes a  pregnant woman. The baby is obviously too big, she waddles and can barely walk with the weight. But she firmly believes that she can and must push out the baby by all means. So that when they ask, you can proudly say “I push am”.

I remember a conversation I had with a Jewish colleague some time ago. His wife had a baby just before he returned from Israel and he was showing us pictures of the baby. He was telling us how his wife had written up her birth plan when she was 7 months pregnant and included that she wanted to have an epidural (an epidural is an injection given to women in labor to minimize  pain during childbirth). She had also indicated that if at anytime it seemed the baby was at risk or in distress, the doctor was permitted to carry out a Caesarean section. I was a little taken aback. Hebrew women not behaving like “hebrew women”? Quelle horreur!

Are we now holding ourselves to these ridiculously high standards that even the present day Hebrew women do not really bother with?

A woman has a baby and people ask  “ so how did you/she have it? Natural or CS?” When she says she did not push the baby out naturally, you can almost taste the anticlimax ,the shame that she did not meet up to standards. But does it really even matter? Why must this question be asked in the first place?

When you see children playing together, in the neighborhood or in their schools, there’s no way to tell who was born via CS or natural delivery, who was breastfed and who wasn’t. By the time they are 4, they all look the same, and genetics determines if your kids will be tall or short or fat or slim.

Why then do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our women? Shouldn’t it be more important to just have a healthy baby?
Women are constantly shamed for even trying to go against society’s perceived notion. We shame women for not being married. We shame women for not having a baby within the first 2 years of marriage. We shame women for having the baby via caesarean section instead of so called “natural”. We shame women for not doing 6 months exclusive breastfeeding and God forbid if she decides that she doesn’t want to breastfeed her baby. We shame women for going back to work and leaving the baby at the daycare or with nannies. We shame women for not having a male child. We shame them if they say they don’t want more than 2 kids. We shame them for just making a choice about their own bodies and lives. SHAME! SHAME!! SHAME!!!

This is just a call to women to protect each other. As Maya Angelou rightly said “….. I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side……”
Women need to be allowed to make the right choices for themselves without being afraid of what society would say.
The rights of women are the rights of humanity.

Photo Credit: © Carlosphotos |

Fanya South is a working mom who has always had a love for writing. My guilty pleasures are dance hall music and cake. I am finally designing my own website/blog, so look out for that.


  1. chima

    March 6, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    Beautiful write up. We also shame women for having more than 4 children. Bottom line, DO YOU!

  2. Michy

    March 6, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    Women shaming and Hebrew woman syndrome is deeply ingrained in our culture and beliefs, since most Nigerians don’t like doing anything that will upset the status quo – this problem will persist for a very long time.

    I think people should live for themselves and not for others. Works for me.

  3. Ama

    March 6, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    Hahahaha I am sure if epidural and CS were available during those days, some Hebrew women who could afford would have opted out of natural delivery. Natural delivery, natural delivery with epidural, CS etc— be open to all so that both you and baby come out alive. Me dier I swerved both natural delivery and breastfeeding; still enjoying my baby boo though. Kisses and hugs to all mummys and daddys out there; you rock.

    • Ajala & Foodie

      March 6, 2018 at 6:56 pm

      @ Ama, but you see, labels like the ones you used are what gives “shammers” a voice. The truth is medically aided delivery or not. None are unnatural. Labelling one natural, insinuates the others are not. The truth is in most cases, many people that have CS or emergency surgery have to for their safety/the babies/both. Not sure anything is unnatural about trying to protect your young or yourself. Be it epidural (which i personally believe is one of God’s greatest gift to humanity), the idea of trying to eliminate the source of pain is a very natural instinct. So we need to stop labelling a process as natural because that insinuates that the other ways are fake?

  4. Adeola Adenodi

    March 6, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    You are right … And even they forget that the Hebrew women thing was a lie told to the king , the mid wives said so to the king cos they were not going to kill the babies … Its amazing how backward we are in this country , I don’t know if its a curse to have a c section … Save your baby and you no ! They will say thier pastor said this and that …

    • cherie

      March 6, 2018 at 5:49 pm

      where in the bible is it written that it was a lie. i wanna go read it.

    • Manny

      March 6, 2018 at 10:23 pm

      The midwives were tasked to kill male babies but were instead saving the male babies after delivery. When questioned, they lied that the Hebrew women usually delivered before they (the midwives) arrived. Exodus 1:15 … it yourself.

    • Lola Olojede

      March 7, 2018 at 9:52 am

      It wasn’t a lie. At least the Bible did not record it as so.

      Manny, Exodus 1:19 says ‘ And the midwives said unto Pharaoh because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them’ KJV.

      All other versions also did not use the word ‘lie’. Please be careful how you quote or paraphrase the Bible. Even Exodus 1:15 which you referred to is also wrong.


    • Manny

      March 7, 2018 at 6:37 pm

      So because the bible did not explicitly use the word lie, it can’t be a lie. I don’t mean to be insulting but you’re rather … in your thought process.
      Let’s use your logic. Can you read Gen 37: 28+. Is the word “LIE” used anywhere there? Open as many versions as you like. But we do know that Joseph’s brothers lied because we know what really happened. We do not go by what was said in verses 32 & 33. Are those verses facts simply because they are recorded in the bible?
      Same thing in Exodus 1:15+, we know that the midwives were saving the children because they feared God (vs 17). If what the midwives said to Pharaoh in vs 19 was true, then how can vs 17 which says that they were the ones saving the babies be true?

  5. Mysteeq

    March 6, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    its really upsetting…and like you rightly said, people have died because God forbid they give birth by CS. it has gotten to a stage where you tell people you had a baby and after the normal naija “boy or girl”? you are swiftly asked “normal or cs”? tell me when birth by cesarean became “abnormal”. like its now a competition, who pushed and who didnt. ours is a nation that derives joy in shaming women for not giving birth like “hebrew women” forgetting that the midwives told pharaoh that so that they did not have to kill the hebrew boys. please let us be kind to one another.

    • cherie

      March 6, 2018 at 5:47 pm

      pls which religion says God forbid you use CS? Since when does hebrew women phrase make women not to go ahead and get CS even when they need it? Am i missing something?

    • Jummy

      March 6, 2018 at 6:47 pm

      Cherie, sarcasm sis. Sarcasm.

  6. Miss Anoni Moss

    March 6, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    I agree with some of what you said except this “I am a firm believer that this ideology of Hebrew woman is the biggest cause of maternal and infant mortality in Nigeria” sorry but the biggest cause of maternal mortality rate is lack of skilled care during pregnancy and after delivery, most women die as a result of postpartum bleeding which is very common in third world countries, this can be avoided if we have the necessary medical equipment/facility and skilled medical personnel.

  7. Engoz

    March 6, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Lmao,See the childish, unrewarding, petty standards females are competing over, lmao. Lack of knowledge and common sense + bible is a very toxic combination. Anyway Nigeria, I believe has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. All factors should be taken into consideration like poverty, lack of information, inadequate services etc. Some people don’t have the funds to opt for CS or other measures to ease their pregnancy and maybe they live in rural areas and are not privy to information and that is understandable. It’s the ones with the funds, claim to be educated, but giving birth by ‘faith’ or whatever colloquialism they use and end up endangering the child or just dying in the hospitals because of their beliefs. The church needs to be called into question about this. Nevertheless, even if society is crazy, you owe it to yourself to take care of you first. You have to be a practical female. Be realistic and pragmatic to your situation. Stop holding yourself to petty childish standards. Address every issue independently and tweak to what is best for your situation. Use your common sense. Weigh the risks versus the benefits, list your pros and cons. You say you went to school, use your head.

  8. cherie

    March 6, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    and who is ‘hebrew woman ‘ stopping from opting for cs? everyone is free o make their choices. that some wonen use the term hebrew women to decsribe a swift and successful delivery doesnt mean that no one shold go ahead and use CS? How does the phrase stop you from getting CS? unless yiu just dont have confidence in your choices from the get go…hebrew woman no do anybody any thing o. get CS if u want no one will stop u. stop blaming the poor phrase

    • Jummy

      March 6, 2018 at 6:48 pm

      You missed the entire message…

  9. ij

    March 6, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    After drafting birth plan, touring the birthing suites, choosing water birth, when the pain came i didn’t even remember W in Water.
    For me i have never overestimated my abilities oh, i know as my power reach so when the time came and i had started crying and shouting for them to put on the heating (till today i am not even sure i know what that was about)
    My husband knew it was time to do the needful so he quickly signed the form and the anesthesiologist was brought in.
    Hebrew woman syndrome can never be me even in my dreams.

  10. BlueEyed

    March 6, 2018 at 6:22 pm

    You are bringing life into this world, CS or natural birth, you created life and are a vessel to which they come, that alone is enough reason for you to give yourself credit. Infact, more and more mothers should kill the line of questioning from that boy or girl thing, I had a baby, I brought forth a child! Period! End of story! You don’t owe anybody any further explanation.

  11. zzzzzzzzzzz

    March 6, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    Never heard of the Hebrew woman. However you want to give birth is up to you. But please do not shame those who want to act out their faith, it is not for every one. There are other factors that leads to high infant mortality rate in Nigeria and I can assure you that Hebrew woman is the least of them. Have you thought of those who do not have access to good health care, no adequate vaccination for the mother, or those who cannot afford to eat healthy during pregnancy in the harsh economy we live in.what of those who give birth in the bush in the villages with little or no health assistance and where there is no one to perform a C-section? Please leave the Hebrew matter out as there are more serious underlying issues than that

  12. Bumble bee

    March 6, 2018 at 7:44 pm

    Honestly God bless this writer, I remember having a discussion with some of my friends who by the way are married(I’m not) and telling them first things first I’m having an epidural If there’s a way I can even get it before labor starts I will.. and some gave me this look like stop acting all classy and I’m like please I need to know who amongst you got an award for having the most painful labor, you guys act like you should wear it like a badge of honor.. my point is women have been shaming women since time immemorial, you want to go to work after you give birth you’re a bad mother, you want to hang out with friends after having kids, how dare you leave the kids at home and the worst part is you hardly get this from men but women.. it’s crazy I swear.. as for me I live my life to please no one, keep judging, I’ll keep giving you things to judge about

  13. Uberhaute_Looks

    March 7, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    After a doc botched my birthing plan and amniotic sac broke over 24 hours, I joyfully signed the papers.
    Someone asked me the stupid question ‘sé o ba légbèé e ni’ (did you wake up and saw the child beside you meaning C-section), I simply replied; thanks ma!
    Hebrew women nonsense people peddle up and down is as a result of the male children being killed by King Pharaoh and the midwives were instructed by God (with their own moral conscience too) to lie to the King that the women were strong therefore needed no assistance in birthing.
    (Most) Nigerian women love bringing down each other and this is one of those ways they try to judge you and sentence you to their own jail.
    I say do what is right for you and your baby. Life doesn’t have photocopy.

  14. larz

    March 7, 2018 at 5:58 pm

    Yes Nigerians have a way of trying to impose “Hebrew birth” on their women. The focus is rarely on a healthy baby

    However, those in the west have also been accused of being to medicated. Apparently, the availability of modern medicines and surgery has meant that people aren’t investing proper time and resources to help empower women with skills required to birth naturally. as a result they are unprepared and end up with medical interventions.

    So there is a balance. If you want to birth naturally, research programs (not from your doctors or standard plan but certified books and training materials) that are tailored to help achieve that. However, be flexible enough that if things don’t go naturally, you can seek medical intervention.

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