Not long ago I visited my friend Lizzy and her 6 week old baby at her home. I only found out she has been pregnant when she sent me a message to tell me that she had had a baby girl! This is a woman I had seen just about every week for the semester and yet I had no idea.
Tanzanians don’t talk about pregnancy much and it’s pretty well taboo to mention a current pregnancy. I’m not sure what the underlying reason is but people don’t announce a pregnancy and only very close friends or family will know that you’re pregnant, mainly so they can offer you comfort if you’re sick. Women wear flowy clothing (often the only tip off!) but that’s not just to hide their tummy; it’s also because they say it’s more comfortable, and they’re worried that tight clothes will be bad for the baby.
During Lizzy’s pregnancy, she was finishing off her full time study of her business degree, working part time in banking, involved in the leadership of USCF (one of the student fellowships), helping to teach at the St John’s seminars, co-ordinating and teaching at Binti Sayuni, as well as having a husband and two other children. She told me she found sitting for her exams quite painful and that it was difficult to lean over her pregnant tummy to reach the desk. She also said she was quite tired — little wonder!
She was very open that she had to have an operation to deliver the baby (a caesarean because the baby was in breech) but she told me she’s well recovered, which I was relieved to hear. I have another friend who 2 years on from her caesarean is still suffering.
Lizzy’s maternity leave from her job at a bank is about to finish. Tanzanian women get 3 months and then it’s back to work, though allowances are legislated for them to return home to breastfeed twice a day and she thinks she might use a pump to expess as well. Binti Sayuni started up again on Sunday, though she asked me to do the teaching so she could come a bit late.
While I was visiting, the baby was largely being cared for by a younger girl (a binti) who lives with them. The baby was brought to Lizzy for cuddles and breastfeeding. It’s very collaborative; Lizzy was still definitely the one in charge and giving instructions to the binti, but the burden of caring for a baby alone was not there in the same way.
Lizzy happily breastfed in front of me. There was no shame about exposing either her nipple or her tummy and I was reminded how much of covering up for breastfeeding in Australia, at least in my experience, is about body-shaming more than so-called modesty.
She asked me what foods post-natal women eat in Australia and was surprised when I tell her we don’t really have special foods. She tells me what post-natal women in her tribe eat – all smooth foods like uji and vegetable or meat soups. I told her about how chocolate can help the hormonal tears and she laughed and said she’d educate her husband on that particular matter! When I visited her last week (the baby’s now 2 months old), I brought her a small block which she thought was hilarious.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.