To carry a pregnancy full term is to have a child grow in your belly for nine months. It is to come full circle, round about and back, with occasional ticks of exasperation, anxiety and joy. It is to watch your belly go from wash board and bikini ready to a tiny mould, such that if your friend’s wondered why you had a tiny bump, you could still possibly lie and say “Oh, I just ate fufu and soup”
But then it grows, unapologetically, to yet another bigger mould. At this point, the colourful adire boubou your great aunt gave you on your wedding day to signify you are now a married woman and you have to dress as such is the nicest thing in your wardrobe.
It is the pie chart story of a nine month circle. One third insanely ill and vomitting, one third feeling fluttery kicks and actually realising there’s a creature hiccupping in your belly and one third desperately wanting the creature to come out.
It is about throwing up right in front of your favourite restaurant in Lagos, after a sumptuous meal of pounded yam and ogbona soup. The reason you have chosen ogbona is so that the pounded yam is easy to swallow, as you have had a hard time keeping anything down in the last three months. Unfortunately they choose to apply fresh paint coat on their door same day you walk in there.
Your strange vomit leaves your driver wondering in sarcasm, whether you reacted to “something” in the food. You know he knows that you don get belle, but you answer him and say yes, something in the food…
It is having to tell a lazy Arik Air staff who wants to close boarding gate before time that you are pregnant. Ofcourse you are not late, it is her way of getting money off you. She proceeds to tell you she’s letting you check in because of God, and because she wants to do you a favour as you are pregnant and flying without a safe to fly note from the doctor. You know you don’t need a doctors note to fly at 3 months, you know that she wouldn’t even have guessed you are pregnant if you didn’t tell her, but you give her a tip still. You get on board and hold your breath the moment you start to hear the hostesses ask in a forced nice way; cake or sandwich? You are trying hard not to vomit on this plane.
It is to have to drink what you have always considered your worst meal. Ogi. For days on end, at least till you can escape your sister who insists on making it for you daily. It is to shove 3 unappealing spoons of rice down your throat quickly so you can tell her not to bother with ogi as you have eaten.
Your 4th month comes with the realisation that there’s something in your belly. You don’t see her, but you love her. She hiccups mostly at midnight. So you often can’t sleep through the kicks. You talk to her to please be calm, as though she can hear you. You are shocked when the kicking stops. WOW, she heard you.
It is to travel in your 6th month and get the awesome privilege of boarding first and getting help at airports and train stations, especially since your bump is now really protruding.
It is to be given a baby on board badge in the city of London so that people can give up their seats for you on buses and trains. It is to never wear the badge but still expect people to get up.
It is strangers seeing your big belly and assuming oh dear she must be about to faint and offering to assist you.
Truth is, even on the days you feel strong and joyful, those curteous acts go a long way, except of course hormones can kick in any bloody time, and you literally start crying because you think people are helping you because you look like a huge whale that just swallowed a huge elephant. Can whales even swallow elephants? Oh well whatever…
It is to be asked every single time at a till by a smiling woman or man; when are you due my dear?, what are you having darling;boy or girl?. Have you decided names yet my dear?
It is to think in your true Nigerian mind whether or not to tell, but every time tell still, because after all, this is oyinbo land, no body will go and tie your baby’s destiny to a tree. Most times, you answer because you’ve never seen the point of hiding your due date or the sex of the one in your belly.
It is to try and get a 3D photo of the one in your belly at 7 months. Every week they try, but she’s camera shy apparently. Hand over her face this week, leg the next, head the complete opposite direction another week. You see her movements on a screen. They remind you of Atilogwu dancers. The acrobatics are out of this world.
You are told the weight and height and head circumference, and asked if you have tall genes in your family because apparently the one in your belly has long limbs. They tell you she has lots of hair too. You marvel at how they can see that from inside computer kwa? You imagine all of these bits of information in your head, try to piece them all together, but still never get a clear picture of what the one in your belly looks like.
They tell you what position she currently is in, leg here, head there. You touch your belly and wonder how. You wonder where your bladder is, if her head is there, or where your lungs are if her leg is here.
It is to be extremely bored in your 8th month and decide to lazily go for a photoshoot so you can remember what you looked like bringing another human into the world. Your friend who follows you tells you you look awesome and that you are glowing. All you see is your fat nose. Still bored you go for a short course. Ofcourse you are the only pregnant one in class, getting up to pee every 30 minutes, and snacking every hour. You look the most unserious, but your head is actually very correct.
At 36 weeks they tell you because of your small frame, you should consider early delivery. It’s not sad news, but you start to cry. The cry comes from no where. Weird funny feelings floating in your head. The doctor stays by you for the 30 minutes it takes to pull yourself together. He tells you to let out whatever you are feeling, brings you a box of tissue, holds your hands. You look up and realise oh yea he’s not Nigerian. He even gives you Fererro Roche because apparently chocolate makes everything better.
It is to sleep everyday, knowing something will come forth from your belly on a certain day but still not know what to expect even as you walk into the delivery room.
On the day before your 40th week begins, one day before your due date actually, you find yourself on a bed, spread out and monitored like a specimen in a lab.
Hours before the one in your belly comes out, they make you drink cold water many times, because they don’t see her atilogwu moves anymore. You are in pain, worried too. So you take large gulps. The one in your belly is tired apparently, so she stays in a corner of your belly. Takes her time. The make up you used in the morning so you can at least look presentable in your birth photos is now all ruined. You scream, yell, make faces. Your husband rubs your back, your mother speaks in tongues.
At night time, sometime before 10pm, you hear a cry. You’ve never heard it before, but it sounds familiar. You hear the doctor say to the father of the one in your belly; would you like to cut the cord? He holds the clamp, without fear, very boldly, like the Engineer that he is. Snap. He detaches the one in your belly from you. She is now on her own. You cry. No, you wail. They bring her to you but you keep crying. You see yourself in her squinted eyes, she’s real, a whole human. In that moment, you know you have never loved anyone like this tiny human. You cry more…
On a hospital bed in Westminster, you come full circle after a massive bowl of ice-cream and indescribable pain… And no, unlike they always say, the pain does not just disappear once the one in your belly comes out. Big lie. You know this because today, 9months after, you remember exactly how it went down