I work with a beautiful woman named Jacque. Her son was born in the same month as my son — and her daughter, the same month as my daughter.
Jacque is from Ethiopia and has shared several stories with me of the differences in American culture and Ethiopian culture – especially in regards to pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Her stories of strong, supportive women, rich traditions, unshakeable faith and the rich fabric of family relationships has enlightened me.
It is in these discussions that I have begun to ponder our cultural value systems – and where we place our priorities.
Though America has incredible medical technology, facilities and wealth – we often lack the simple support system found in Ethiopia (a third world country) that can make the most profound differences.
And like with anything, our best qualities are often our worst — we have more education, wealth and opportunity; therefore, less of us live in tight knit communities with family nearby.
We have more opportunities for women, yet fewer maternity benefits in the workplace.
We have more access to incredible medical care that supports the pregnant woman — but very few rituals that uplift the postpartum mom.
Some food for thought:
* According to the New York Daily News, “Of the 190 countries studied in the report [on parental leave], 178 guaranteed paid leave for new mothers and nine were unclear about their maternity policies. Just three countries clearly offer no legal guarantee of paid maternity leave — Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the United States.”
* In Ethiopia, the mother is expected to rest in her house for 40 days postpartum if it is a boy (80 days if it is a girl). During this period, the women family members flock to her side, feed her, take care of the daily chores, and give her this special time of pampering to rest, heal and bond with her young one. All a new mother is responsible for is feeding her new baby.
* According to a report by the University of Washington Medical Center on Ethiopian culture, “On either the seventh or the twelfth day, depending on the region, the mother and child go outside to be in the sun. This is done for the baby’s health. Neighbors come on this day to clean the house. In preparation for this day, the mother is pampered. She is given beautiful clothes, is decorated with henna, is fed special food, and is seated in a special chair. Her husband may bring her gifts.”
*As part of Ethiopian culture, new mothers are taught by elders how to care for their babies. They are never left alone during this 40 to 80 day period.
Sure, Ethiopian women have their own unique set of challenges — and, of course, you can find a good family and a good support system here in the US as well.
However, the way a culture views life, pregnancy and childbirth greatly impacts the success of our families.
If businesses see working moms as wasted resources, if women see motherhood as something they have to just “do on their own,” if families see business success as more important than success in their relationships, if babies are seen as burdens, if sex is seen as recreational, if human life is seen as disposable, then we will fail.
What I love about Jacque’s story is a culture that celebrates, protects and supports not only babies — but the mothers that carried them. It takes a village to raise a child.
We are all part of that village.
“The woman is the heart of the home. Let us pray that we women realize the reason for our existence: to love and be loved and through this love become instruments of peace in the world.” – Mother Teresa