Motherhood's vexing seclusion

(Graphic: John McCann)

(Graphic: John McCann)

BODY LANGUAGE

Simply put, botsetsi is the cultural practice of placing a newborn baby and its mother into seclusion for a period ranging from three months to a year, depending on a particular family’s values.

This is done for many reasons but mainly to allow the mother and child time to bond and heal — and to protect them from “all kinds of nonsense” (read: evil spirits and other such things people either don’t believe in or never want to discuss).

During this period, the woman is taken care of and taught how to be a mother and how to take care of herself by older women in her family.

That’s all good and lovely but slowly but surely it dawns on you how this whole experience isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When I had my first child, my daughter, my mother told me I would have to do this for three months. For me, it was as close to a vacation as one could get.

Wrong.

“You won’t be able to cook for yourself. It’s not allowed,” she said one evening. “Your friends can’t visit. You can’t go anywhere. You can only eat certain foods and …”

“Ee! You should also set aside the pots and dishes and utensils she’ll use because she can’t use the ones we use,” added my father.

I should have known then it would be bullshit.

For the first month or so, they stuck to making sure I did nothing other than breastfeed, eat and shower. I began to feel myself withering away. I had no direct contact with my friends, spent most of the day staring at someone who couldn’t communicate with me other than to cry and my room might as well have been a passage given the way everyone walked in and out.

I wasn’t in control of anything. I was told when to shower, shit and eat. I couldn’t even go into the kitchen without my family going ballistic because I might make myself a sandwich and violate cultural rules.

Being waited on hand and foot sounded a lot better than it was. I looked forward to getting back to work but when I brought that up with my mother she freaked out — you would have thought I told her I was giving up my baby for adoption to become a full-time groupie to an underground rapper or something.

When my daughter was about six weeks old, I cracked. I had an episode that resulted in me finding myself in my psychiatrist’s chair.

It wasn’t just about having a semblance of control over something but I began to feel guilty — having to depend on others when you are an adult can leave one feeling pathetic.

You start to rot when you don’t experience life. Inactivity was frustrating me and I hadn’t had a stimulating conversation with another adult since my daughter’s birth. I needed to share my thoughts and catch someone staring at my ass and all the little things that make life fun but also weird — things that remind me that I’m alive.

Mooching around isn’t appealing and, to be frank, being broke is degrading. You can’t do anything without money. Who can really afford to do nothing? Babies are expensive. Life in general is expensive but babies are like that a thousand times — paediatrician fees, nappies, clothing, bum ointment, random shit. We probably spent more than 60 000 pula (nearly R75 000) in the months just before and just after my daughter was born, and we didn’t even get anything that oozes baby swag (no Jordans, nothing) — just everyday baby essentials. I was obviously not able to contribute meaningfully at that scale but I definitely was not okay with not contributing at all.

I made the baby. I brought her here. She’s mine and I should do my level best to take care of her to the best of my abilities.

“Taking care of” means not just making her feel loved but providing for her. Farts aren’t a form of currency, hey. It seems really silly to fear displeasing the gods or whatever while you suffer financially because of culture. And even if you aren’t suffering, you can never have too much money. Something always needs to be paid off/bought because the illuminati are thorough with their shit.

When DJ Zinhle went back to work three weeks after giving birth, I recall people being all up in arms wondering, “OMG, what about the baby?” and I thought it was silly as hell.

It couldn’t have been an easy decision to make but it’s a necessary one.

There’s a sacrifice that has to be made and that’s just us being “woke” about things. There’s no way to get around it and I’m sure the ancestors will understand. But even if they do, the living don’t seem to and, since they have appointed themselves the ancestors’ spokespeople, you’ll have to get through to them first, which requires you to learn how to stand up for yourself like a bad mommy bitch.

Bakang Akoonyatse is a writer based in Botswana who regularly shames and fames her family name on the internet, as all writers do

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