IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD: (seventh in the breastfeeding series) In these photos, Fati feeds her newborn, Salim. Her daughter, Raichatou, and my sons, Fassely and Soriya, observe in adoration. For those of you who have followed Fati’s story, Raichatou and Salim are Fati’s fourth and fifth children. Last month she gave birth to her sixth, a son. Her first three have passed away.
In these photos, Fati is sitting in her home, and will not move until 40 days after Salim’s birth, as is customary among the Touaregs. Her sisters do all her household chores such as cooking, shopping, washing the laundry, and caring for older children. For those forty days, Fati will do nothing except eat illewa (millet porridge) to “fatten up”, rest, and tend to her baby’s needs.
I had not yet given birth when I first heard of this forty day resting tradition. It seemed to be a constrictive, almost tortuous custom; I can hardly sit still, and I certainly couldn’t imagine being stuck at home without moving for 40 days straight. But after having my own children, I completely agree with a practice that allows a mother 40 full days to heal from physical wear of childbirth, rest, and devote herself entirely to her newborn.
Fati’s family’s total support is in stark contrast to my own experience. I grew up in Africa, amongst communities where the responsibilities of child rearing were shared. When my first child, Fassely, was born in France, I expected a community of women to miraculously appear to support me. I was baffled to find myself alone raising my child. I was so tired from difficult labor, and sleepless nights, that my milk supply ran low and I felt gloomy. If only I had had the support of a community, I would have rested, healed, and devoted all my time to Fassely.