When “Omugwo” goes horribly wrong!!!

For those who might not know, Omugwo is the word that defines the period when a mother, mother-in-law, aunt, or other older female relative, comes to help a new mother after she has given birth. It is considered a thing of pride to most, especially Moms, and daughters also dream of such a time when they will get some relief. In an ideal world, it is the most beautiful process of, not only giving much needed assistance and support, but also passing on vital parenting knowledge or information. But alas, we live in anything but an ideal world. As beautiful and symbolic as this process is, sometimes, it can disastrously wrong!

Let’s start with the typical scenario of mothers and daughters who do get along. Yes, the teenage years are extremely precarious for this duo, but the odds are high that by the time the daughters are married and/or are of child bearing age, all daggers would have been sheathed, relationships mended, and deep bonds formed. So yes, we are talking of the mother and daughter who have a great relationship. So, Mom arrives a few days or weeks before, or after, the birth of the baby. At first, it is all peaches and cream. Daughter relishes being spoilt by the person who knows her best, and enjoys being able to catch some precious sleep while Mom watches the baby, and supervises other domestic activities. Mom, on the other hand, is loving bonding with her new grandchild, and, of course, attending to her original baby. Everything is fine in their world…till the criticisms starts. “You need to hold the baby’s head like this” “Please enough of the feeding bottle! What she needs is breast milk!!!” “Why are you drinking cold water??! Don’t you want your stomach to go down??!” “What do you mean you don’t want to drink ogi?! You want your breast milk to dry up, abi?!!” From experience, I can tell you that this nagging is enough to drive one CRAZY, and almost always leads to at least one shouting match between mother and daughter. But this is quite normal, and after a few hours, days at the worst, mother and daughter are back to loving each other again. This is the good case of omugwo.

However, when the mother and daughter do not have a good relationship history, this is where it can get tricky! You’re already tiptoeing around each other on any given day, and when you throw in the new baby, it can sometimes further fray an already weak thread. For as long as I’ve known a friend of mine, Chinwe*, she always talked about the fact that she wasn’t close to her Mother. Everyone who knew her knew that. Her parents had divorced when she was a teenager, and she and her siblings had been raised by their Dad and Stepmother, whilst their Mom moved to the UK to work as a nurse. Some of her younger siblings had been able to maintain a good relationship with their mother, but Chinwe just couldn’t connect with this stranger she only got to see once a year. When she moved to the UK to pursue a postgraduate degree, she lived with her Mother briefly, but their personalities clashed so often that she quickly raised enough cash to secure hostel accommodation. Fast forward a few years later, when she got married and had a baby. Without even asking questions, her Mother had shown up, bags in tow, for the expected omugwo. Truth be told, they both gave it their best shot. They tried to keep their strong personalities in check, and did everything they could not to get into disagreements or altercations. But the sad truth was that they were stark strangers. They were constantly moving around each other awkwardly, and just never seemed to be in synch. When the baby was asleep, instead of catching up on gist and those wonderful mother-daughter chats, they would sit in cold silence. You could cut the tension with a knife! After an unbearable first month, much to her relief, her Mom finally left. When she had her second baby, after the perfunctionary telephone greeting, her Mom had not bothered this time around. Instead, it was her Step Mother, whom she considered more of a mother, that performed the omugwo function.

As sad as that situation was, for me, the worst case of omugwo happens when there is already friction in the home, before Mom gets there. When things are awry between husband and wife, the presence of a not-so-neutral party can throw conditions into a tailspin! Ruth* and Diran* had an understanding. They had been married for 4 years before their son came, and Ruth had gotten used to Diran’s sometimes domineering and bossy attitude. He was a fantastic man in general, but was very used to having his own way. She had learnt how to ignore him when he got difficult, and knew exactly how to calm him afterwards. A few weeks after their baby was born, Ruth was catching a nap in their living room, after hours of trying to put the baby to sleep. She was awoken by a hungry Diran, asking for his dinner. As he got increasingly cranky and edgy, Ruth called out for the house help, and shut her eyes to blank out his tantrum. She knew him well enough to know he would calm down soon. Alas, Mama Ruth didn’t know that. The next thing they knew, the older woman had charged into the living room, throwing all sorts of insults at Diran, for daring to boss her daughter around in her condition. Before Ruth knew what was happening, Diran had thrown back some choice words at her Mom, and soon, a full scale verbal battle was raging. Ruth tried in vain to diffuse the situation, to no avail. As quick as lightning, her Mother grabbed Diran’s shirt by the collar, and in his struggle to pull away, the shirt had torn. To cut a long story short, a few hours later, Ruth’s Dad and Diran’s parents were in their house, trying to resolve the sticky situation…but this wasn’t to be, as soon both fathers were also exchanging words. Ruth and her baby were bundled out of the house that night, and it took months for any reconciliation to be reached.

Omugwo can be really tricky indeed! But there are some ways in which it can work! My Mother spent a whole year with me, and, despite the inevitable bickering and irritation once in a while, I loved having her, and was saddened when she left. We were able to make a success of our situation by ensuring that, regardless of how irritated one person made the other feel, there was always mutual respect, love, and appreciation! At any given time, I made her know much I appreciated having her help me, and she, in turn, was always full of praise for me for every triumph I had, or milestone I reached. And, very critically, we had boundaries! Despite how much we told her to sit down and chat, after a few minutes of hanging out with my husband and I, my Mom would always retreat to her bedroom to give us some alone time. Whenever my husband and I got into an argument, and she happened to be within earshot, she would literally sneak away like a mouse, so she could be far away from any such incident. She never interfered in any disagreements or arguments we had, and the one time he tried to pull her into one (by reporting something I had done), she had found a way to diplomatically wriggle out of it. And lastly, even though she came to my house with her own wealth of experience, she respected the fact that it was my home, and didn’t try to change any of my processes or routines. And that way, we were able to have a wonderful arrangement for the entire year that she spent with me, and beyond!

My advice to all Mothers-to-be is to be patient with your Mom (or any other person who comes in her place), and appreciate the time she is dedicating to help you. In turn, Mothers (or their proxies) should keep in mind the primary purpose for which they are there, without veering off course into areas that are of no concern to them!

I hope this helps! Good luck everyone!

 

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Comments

  1. Adeife

    I am thankful I stumbled on your page @thefertilechick. God bless all the contributors for being so real addressing issues in out society,things you can relate with not just pen on paper write ups. Keep up the good work .God bless you more.
    *I hope to share my story one day.

    1. Profile gravatar of Nicole
      Nicole Post author

      Thanks dear Adeife! We really appreciate it! God bless you :hugs:

      And we also look forward to you sharing your story :cloud9: :hug:

  2. Utchay

    I’m not married yet but I often worry about having my mum visit for “omugwo” cos we’ve never been friends. I’ve witnessed my sisters’ experiences with her and I get pretty scared cos they have a stronger bond with her than I do yet they generate some strong friction on occasions. I really pray we handle it well when it gets to me. #pensive#

    1. Profile gravatar of Nicole
      Nicole Post author

      Utchay dear, it is indeed really tricky! Even though one needs the help, the friction (especially if you don’t have a close relationship) can be much! My Mom and I are very close, but at a point we were like cat and mouse :dohh:

      When the time comes, if you can’t get another female relative to assist instead, you’ll just pray for the grace to manage the situation. A friend of mine told me how she always had to say a prayer to restrain herself from reacting, whenever her Mom (whom she has no relationship with) acted up, during omugwo. You never know…maybe God will even use that opportunity to heal your relationship :cloud9: :hug:

  3. Cynthia

    I love this writeup. I have three kids and my mum has always been the shoulder on which I lean during these times. and just like you said, it worked out for us because we were both tolerant of each other. She knew her boundaries and I knew mine. It was unspoken rule, she never interfered in any issues or arguments I have with my husband. I always accept her corrections and when need be, I gently but firmly let her know that I would want to do otherwise. I think her educational background also played a part in the success of our Omugwo, she was a midwife and so was not too vexed in all those myths and superstition. That did not mean we did not have our moments and disagreements. But I always kept in mind that she was not going to stay with me forever so why fight during this time. Believe this period can really bring mother and daughter together and make you very appreciative of your mum. It is worth giving a try.

    1. Profile gravatar of Nicole
      Nicole Post author

      You’re so correct, Cynthia! We really have to try to find a way to find middle ground with our Mothers. As much as we love them, and as close to them as we might be, we are 2 grown women, with very individual thought processes. So, differences are bound to arise, but we need the wisdom to manage it properly. Thanks for sharing, hun :hugs:

  4. Inyang

    Hello!
    Whilst I enjoyed the omugwo article above U didn’t mention the the Mother In Law angle… That’s another TRICKY situation….

  5. Chiwi

    This is not your usual everyday post… This was very real and interesting. I enjoyed it. Thank you so much for sharing… God bless you! ??

  6. Gist

    I know someone who ended up with a stroke after her MIL came for omugwo. My mom is waiting for my delivery in a few weeks and while we havent always been best of friends, she isnt a forceful personality and takes whatever instructions she is given. She isnt the most baby friendly person so i am not expecting baby baths or much feeding – but organisation and cleaning and cooking she is ever willing to do

    1. Profile gravatar of Nicole
      Nicole Post author

      A stroke???!! Haaa! That omugwo must have been toxic indeed! Congrats on your impending birth hun. It will surprise you that this could bring you and Mom closer :heart:

  7. Cee

    Hmm… I really appreciate all the help that comes with Omugwo but can’t one have an Omugwo by day? That way everyone stays happy. My mom has my baby brother to take care of and I don’t think she’ll be around. As much as I’ll appreciate my mom in-law even considering coming, I don’t think it’s a great idea. I don’t like wahala. I’d rather crawl under a rock than have toxic arguments that’ll bounce back and against me. Which is why I think everyone will do just fine welcoming the new baby with short visits that don’t require staying the night. Especially if they’re all in the same town.
    Come and visit during the day and leave.
    That ought to do the trick.

    1. Profile gravatar of Nicole
      Nicole Post author

      If only it were that simple. Cee. It might be different for different people. For me, it was night time I needed the most help sef. Good luck hun! :hugs:

  8. Dee

    My mom and MIL had a serious clash during the omugwo period of my 1st child . She also had issues with hubby and I. Though,3 years down the line,we all good now.I’m hoping her visit again for omugwo season two in the next 2 months would be a pleasant one this time around.

    1. Profile gravatar of Nicole
      Nicole Post author

      I’m sure it will be better this time, Dee! The first time around, the new dynamic of a baby around can make everyone extra sensitive and cranky. Hopefully, this time, everyone would have settled into their roles. Good luck hun! Wishing you a smooth and safe delivery :heart: :hug:

  9. Profile gravatar of Beauty4Ashes
    Beauty4Ashes

    Nice Writeup but we didn’t get to read from the mother-in-law’s perspective.
    My first experience taught me a whole lot about tolerance and I know better how to handle issues when the second comes.

  10. Taiwo Amure
    Taiwo Amure

    I had a wonderful relationship with my mother- in-law when she was helping to nurse my babies years ago. Now my daughters are also blessed with mothers-in -law who are caring and wonderful. I hv a sister-like relationship with my daughters mothers-in-law. Am so blessed

  11. Mandira

    Nice writeup. Please I have a question: who is to come for omugwo, the mother of the woman who has given birth or the mother in law. I’m in a fix right now. My husband does not want my mother to come because they don’t really get along. He wants his own mother to come. But I want my mother to come because I’m closer to her than my mother in law and I know she will help me much more. But its just my husband that is making things seem difficult. And his mother is putting ideas in his head about she being the one to come according to her culture(she is Yoruba). Please what do I do?

    1. Profile gravatar of Nicole
      Nicole Post author

      Hmmm…my dear. That’s a tricky one. My first instinct would be to say your own mother…because you are closer to her, and possibly more in sync. But if she doesn’t get along with your husband, that could cause a really tense situation that really won’t pay you. In the interest of peace, I would have said your MIL, but if you aren’t close to her, that could also cause another dicey situation. Could you and your hubby reach some kind if a compromise? Maybe your mother will come for the first month, and his own month the next 2? Because that first month is truly the hardest month. Do you think he’ll agree to this?

      cc: @oluwakemine @bosa @adaoraa @pearl @bibi

      1. Profile gravatar of Oluwakemi
        Oluwakemi

        Hi Mandira,
        This is a dicey situation and compromise is the only way to go. If culture is brought into it, then it’s the wife’s mother, who is entitled to come for “omugwu” at least, before the MIL can put in some presence. But essentially, it’s her turf. Your MIL has that same privilege, when her daughters give birth.

        Still talk it over with your husband and if he insists, it’s his mom, no worries, you will survive the phase and the hard work, it will bring. But please get help, an extra pair of hands will make a difference in your life.

        1. Profile gravatar of Bos
          Bos

          Seconded @oluwakemine..you will survive this phase. Just insist its only for a month, then get your mom in after then. If you are strong enough, none needs to come until you have developed your routine…..
          I worked better alone, i actually felt more stressed when my mom arrived for example a bath that would take me 10mins became a 30mins routine…..May God give you wisdom.

          1. Profile gravatar of Pearl
            Pearl

            I would have suggested @bosa second plan. ”If you are strong enough, none needs to come…” I agree with this 100%.

      2. Profile gravatar of Bibi
        Bibi

        Mandira dearie, traditionally, its your mother that should come over. But if your hubby insists that his mum should come, then let it be. its for a while. Make this sacrifice for your hubby, its difficult for him to be torn between his mum and spouse.
        I know it will be hard cos a woman is most vulnerable after giving birth. May God give you the wisdom and patience to deal with the situation

    2. Profile gravatar of Adaora
      Adaora

      My dear my answer might be biased because I can’t go through a lot of things without my mum so it has to be my mum. If I were in your shoes I would prep both parties involved so they don’t get in each other’s way. In my experience mum in law omugwo is and would never be the same. I hope you guys resolve it amicable. xx

  12. Mandira

    Thanks a lot everyone for all your suggestions. I will try to convince my husband to let my mum come. If he doesn’t agree, then I’ll just let his mum come for a few weeks and my mum will come afterwards. It’s only for a while, that’s my consolation.

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