Tag Archives: ikunle abiyamo

“Mother is Worthy to be Praised”

This Memorial Day Weekend I went to see Dance Africa at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  As usual, the dances were amazing.  What stood out to me most, though, wasn’t the dancing at all.  Through the clapping, shouting and audience participation, I noticed the stretchmarks on one of the dancer’s bellies.  Things suddenly began to move in slow motion for me, almost like when Maria and Tony see each other at the dance in West Side Story.

I realized that I was watching a mother, and suddently felt some cosmic connection to her.  I began to wonder whether her children were in the audience, how old they were, or if any were possibly sharing the stage.  I wondered how she was able to find time to do something so magnificent with herself while conducting a family.  I wondered whether or not she raised her children, or if they knew how talented their mother is.

At the end of the show I stood in applause. Of course, the round was for all of the dancers, musicians and singers who graced the stage.  There was, however, a special beat in my heart in praise of the woman I had identified as a mother.  I’m sure she wasn’t the only mother on the stage.  In fact, the audienced was sprinkled with mothers holding small – and not so small – children.  If I was surrounded by mothers, what made this one so different?

During a time where it’s almost impossible to watch television for an hour without a cocoa butter or other stretch creme commercial promising to help women either prevent or erase their stretch marks, I found it amazing that this mother proudly bore the marks of her birth(s).  Just as waist beads, hair style, or jewelry denote status and rites of passage for women in traditional African cultures, so, too, do stretch marks. 

Watching this mother’s belly flap to and fro across the stage brought me back to the precious moments immediately following birth where a woman bonds with her baby face to face for the first time, and took me to the moment that I observe in so many women when they realize their bodies have undergone an amazing change; she not only birthed her baby, but she birthed her motherhood as well.  So, I stood and clapped that Monday afternoon in praise of motherhood.

These last few days I’ve been in reflection mode.  In reviewing both business and personal goals, the one thing that keeps coming back is the Yoruba proverb that’s the inspiration for my doula practice:

Oria bi iya ko si, iya la ba ma a bo

There is no Orisha like mother, it is mother who is worthy to be praised.

Praise mothers.  Praise them for the weeks they carry and nurture their children in waiting.  Praise them for the sleepness nights they endure for so many years of their lives.  Praise them for the decisions they make that often leave them holding the shortest stick in the bunch.  Praise mothers, simply because they are worthy to be praised.


Preconception Planning II – spiritual understanding

As soon as I completed the previous article, “Preconception Planning,” I remembered a great story that a sister doula – Amadoma Bediako – shared at a Health Conference. She recounted:

There are a people in West Africa where a baby’s birthday isn’t the day she’s born, but rather the day she became a thought in her mother’s mind.

The story continues:

Very Early Parenting: An African Model
A Child’s Song

There is a tribe in Africa where the birth date of a child is counted not from when they’ve been born, nor from when they are conceived but from the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind.

And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him. And then, when they make love to physically conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invite it.

And then, when the mother is pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or hurts its knee, someone picks it up and sings its song to it. Or perhaps the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song.

And it goes this way through their life. In marriage, the songs are sung, together. And finally, when this child is lying in bed, ready to die, all the villagers know his or her song, and they sing–for the last time–the song to that person.

You can read more about the author, Sobonfu Somé, here.  I thought this was so amazingly beautiful, and made perfect sense to me.  The moment we begin thinking about TTC, a connection is made.

As she told this story, it made me think of traditional Yoruba concepts of preconception.  Two key principles of Yoruba traditional religion are the beliefs in reincarnation and destiny.  It’s believed that, before we are born, our souls reside in heaven with a spiritual twin.  When we are born, so enters our soul into the world with the first breath we take.  The spiritual twin, however, remains in heaven awaiting our return (death).  During gestation, our souls are in heaven completing specific tasks and rituals to seal our destinies before taking the journey to earth.  You can read more about this process here.

What does this have to do with preconception planning?  For those following the Yoruba spiritual path, it’s important to remember that our pregnancies are joint journeys.  Understand that your baby chose to reincarnate into your family, and is experiencing spiritual development throughout your pregnancy.

I often tell moms that I believe birth is spiritual.  No matter what your spiritual or religious tradition is, wouldn’t it be cool to know the beliefs around pregnancy while you’re TTC?  We watch our health to prepare our bodies to house, protect and nourish our babies, but it’s equally important to watch our spirits.


The Importance of Breastfeeding: a Traditional Yoruba POV

In planning my childbirth education classes, I’ve been reading every book that I can get my hands on.  One of the few books I’m reading at the moment is Ikunle Abiyamo by Ṣ. Ṣolagbade Popoọla and Fakunle Oyesanya.

When it comes to traditional African practices, we often get the “what” but not the “why.”  The what, in this instance, is breastfeeding.  We know that many African mothers breastfeed until their children are toddlers.  We know that the research and recommendations tell us to exclusively breastfeed our babies for their first six months of life, and to continue to at least their first birthday when possible.  We know about the developmental and nutritional benefits to babies who are breastfed.  What better arguments could be made?

…Ifá says that a child who fails to suck the mother’s breastmilk will find it extremely difficult, if not totally impossible, to have the type of spiritual elevations comparable to those of his/her colleagues who had the benefit of sucking their mothers’ breastmilk – 172

This is written negatively, so let’s flip it and make it plain and simple: Ifá says that a child who is fed breast milk will find spiritual elevation with ease.  I think that’s amazing!

So what?  For starters, families raising their children following Yoruba traditional religion (and variants, Lukumi, Candomble, etc…) take the spiritual lives of their children very seriously from the moment they are born.  Mothers may undergo rituals to ensure the well being of the baby while still in the womb.  Some families will whisper prayers into the baby’s ear welcoming her into the world for having traversed a safe passage (from Orun to Aye, Heaven to Earth).  Some families will consult with a priest through divination to have a better understanding of the child’s destiny and to choose a name that befits the child.  We want the best for our children, and that includes what’s best for them spiritually.

It’s no mistake that sexual intercourse is discouraged in Yorubaland (and probably elsewhere) for as long as a mother nurses; we don’t engage in sexual activity when we’re involved in spiritual work.  Our vital life force energy (aṣè) changes, it shifts and divides when we share intimacy, so the aṣè must be preserved and enhanced to be effective.

Yoruba traditionalists (and variants) have quite the challenge maintaining an ancient lifestyle in our modern world.  After all, Yoruba traditional religion isn’t just “what you do on Sunday,” it’s how we live everyday.  Sometimes we forget that our bodies truly are our temples, and how important our spiritual energy is in everything we say and do.

Now what? Formula boasts of being able to be nutritionally just as good as mother’s milk.  Until they can figure out the chemical makeup of spiritual enhancement, I’m not convinced.