This is second book I read this year. The first one was The Things you Can See Only When You Slow Down by the Korean monk Haemin Sunim. I chose to continue my 2021 reading adventure with Motherhood 101: A memoir of my experience as a newlywed juggling pregnancy/motherhood, marriage, work and a social life because a dear friend from college wrote it: Awura Amma Agyeman Prempeh. We lived together for one semester during our years at Calvin College.
We couldn’t have been more different, me from Bandung, Indonesia, and Amma as I call her from Accra, Ghana. But I had a blast that semester, and will always cherish the memories. Oh and, the shito (Ghanaian spicy pepper sauce). I hope to visit Accra when international travel opens up again and eat up on it!
On to the book…
I always enjoy learning about another culture, and Amma had plenty of cultural perspectives in her writing. For example, when she got pregnant some people would call her Abrewa, which means “Old Lady” in the Twi language. Even though she was a young pregnant woman, people called her old. Connecting pregnancy with old age is something completely new to me. Another example is when some people called her Obolo, which means “fat” in a negative way. In Chinese-Indonesian culture, older people use “fat” as a compliment, because they used to to be so poor in their generation. So “fat” is a sign of wealth and happiness. Of course, I have my own issues with this (read my article about my bulimia struggles).
I also enjoyed Amma’s sharp with and humor, something I remembered even from her younger years. She has funny terms like “pregnant vigilantes” for people who comment too much during her pregnancy, and “mummy police” for other people who commented (even more) while she was nursing her baby Nana Yaw.
The tight knit society of the Ghanaian culture showed in the many ways that the women around Amma came to support her, especially her mother and sister. At one point her sister called the local pre-school on her behalf and asked the headteacher to admit Nana Yaw earlier. She saw Amma needed the break, even if it was only for a few hours every morning.
Honestly Voicing Her Pain
There is endless literature about the joy of having children. But there is not enough literature or research about how painful and dangerous it really is, even to this day. Amma was raw and honest about her physical pains and emotional struggles. And did she have her share of physical pain! Oh my goodness. I was opened to the immense risks and consequences that young women all over the world put themselves through everyday by being pregnant and giving birth.
I mean, a recent 2017 study by WHO records that 810 women die everyday due to pregnancy and childbirth complications. After the baby is born, all attention is towards the baby, very few towards the mother who is doing fulltime childcare duties unpaid. In Amma’s case, she was doing this while also having to go back to her job, and handling other household duties. She eventually had a breakdown, realizing that as much as she tried, it was simply impossible.
I agree wholeheartedly with her. I lament the existing beliefs worldwide that pressure young women to be perfect in childbearing and childrearing.
It seems very few women in Ghana and Africa speak openly about the challenges and difficulties of motherhood, so I applaud Awura Amma’s courage to voice and write her story. In the introduction she writes that Motherhood 101 is the first of its kind in Ghana and Africa. I hope there will be many more, not just in Africa but also in my area of the world-Southeast Asia.