Photo © Bread for the World on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Photo © Bread for the World on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

CAMEROON: Standing Up For My Needs as a Mother

After giving birth, Geraldine Sinyuy refused to let a long-held tribal custom keep her apart from her family and support system.

I did not think [marriage] should bring such untold traumatizing experiences to women.

 

When my kid brother was born, my maternal family members were forbidden from entering my family’s compound and visiting the baby. My mother was also forbidden from stopping and greeting any of her relations should she see them outside our home. Any gifts they sent us, my father dumped into a latrine.

I was just a child at the time, so these rules did not bother me much, though I did not understand them. On one occasion, I followed my father secretly. From behind the bush where I stood, I watched him dump large containers of Vaseline and other baby things into the latrine.

This baffled me and until today I have never told this story to anyone. I was about six then, but some sixth sense told me to hide so that my father would not see me. What was happening was part of a custom and tradition that I would only learn about much later in life.

The things my father dumped that day were gifts from my maternal uncle. He was trying to break the tradition that prevents women from interacting with their families after childbirth.

Many years later, my maternal aunt got married and the same custom was repeated when she had her first son.

One day, my aunt saw her first cousin on the road, and she immediately started running away with her baby. This first cousin was a Christian nun and did not understand why this drama was taking place. She hastened on behind my aunt in order to find out why she was running away from her.

My aunt explained through tears, “None of my family is supposed to see the baby until the baby is one year old. If any of you do, something evil will befall me.”

I did not witness this event, but the nun, who was also now my foster mother, told me the story. Little did I know that this terrible tradition was a custom in my tribe and was eventually going to land on me when my turn came to marry and have children.

When I had my first baby, my parents-in-law paid me a visit in the hospital maternity room and named him. Upon leaving, my father-in-law ordered me to bring the baby to his home in the village—which is at least 50 km away from the urban area where my husband and I live—as soon as we were discharged from the hospital.

As their son’s wife, I had to take the child to them. This is custom and I am okay with it, but I believe it should be at one’s convenience and not an obligation. Women should be given time to recover from birth stress before making such journeys.

As soon as we were discharged from the hospital, however, we left for my in-laws’ village as instructed in spite of the fact that the baby was not in good health and needed special medical attention from the pediatrician at the hospital where he was born.

When we arrived at the village, my husband spent only two nights there with me and then left for another African country where he works. He instructed me to spend at least three weeks with his parents. During those weeks, the family force-fed me because they believed that young women need to eat a lot in order to produce enough milk for the baby. I became constipated and nearly developed piles due to too much food intake. The days went by like this, and after three weeks, finally the baby and I were able to leave.

On the eve of our departure, my parents-in-law summoned me for a meeting late in the night. My father-in-law told me not to go back to my parents’ home. He told me that I could only go there in the case that there was an emergency. He warned that my husband should not visit my parents’ home either unless somebody died; and should this happen, we were not to share a room, let alone a bed. He insisted that if my husband should visit my family home, he must sleep in the guest house.

I listened patiently and struggled to suppress the tears that welled up in my eyes. In Africa, marriage is supposed to unite two families. I did not think it should bring such untold traumatizing experiences to women. I did not see myself silently bearing that humiliating, dehumanizing custom that my mum, aunt, and thousands of other women had endured without a word.

I had to break the rule.

At the end of the meeting, I told my parents-in-law that I had heard everything they said, but deep inside, I told myself that I would never obey such an evil custom and tradition.

As a Christian, I did not believe that something evil would befall me should I visit my family, and as a PhD researcher in Commonwealth literature and feminism, I was grounded in feminism thought. I shared feminism’s goal of ending cultural practices that impede human development. I have seen the untold pain women suffer in patriarchal cultures, and I abhor the subjugation and relegation of women.

When I left the village, I headed for my foster mother’s home—now considered a taboo place for me.

I acted silently, knowing that I was not doing anything wrong to any human being. I was simply protecting myself, and my husband stood by me.

I have not cut links with my people. My husband and I spend time with my family when we want to and during the holidays I go to my foster parents’ home with my kids. It was there that I stayed until I had my second baby.

This cultural practice is an impediment to human progress and women’s wellbeing. I hope that other women will stand up with me against this tradition that prevents women from the support of their families after childbirth—a time when they need it most .


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe everyone has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

 

How to Get Involved

Geraldine Sinyuy invites you to share her story with your peers in an effort to help spread awareness about how this cultural practice harms women. If you live in a community that practices this tradition or similar customs, Geraldine recommends encouraging elders and promoters of such customs to work to put an end to them.

Topic Human Rights
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Comments

Hi Geraldine, thank you for sharing this cultural practice. I could not imagine how you felt at that time. I hope that every women who are open to this will encourage more elders and stand up against this tradition.

Connect with a heart.  Live a life of empowerment. Influence to accomplished.

 

Thanks for sharing your story.  We have many cultural traditions in friction high we need to break before we are broken. As women we need to stand up and fight for our rights. That's a culture that needs to be broken because it brings hatred among the families. Well done and thanks for sharing.

Stay blessed my dear sister. 

Mrs. Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi Head of Legal and Advocacy Centre for Batwa Minorities a.kiddu@gmail.com cfmlegal@gmail.com Skype: mrs_muhanguzi

Dear Sinyuy Geraldine,

Thank you for sharing this impactful story, it is indeed a moving piece. Thank you for standing up and working towards breaking a cycle it was indeed heartening to read that you had the support of your husband. Continue using your voice, continue telling the stories which motivate, inspires and encourages us all.

Sherna Alexander Benjamin

"Whenever the human rights of one is violated the human rights of all are in jeopardy." - Sherna Alexander Benjamin

Dear Geraldine, You are powerful! Thank you for sharing a part of your deep struggle. Keep pouring in your wisdom and learning for others to learn.

Best wishes,

Karuna 

My dear Cameroonian sister, I am so happy you used wisdom in dealing with the issue and did not rebel right away. This is a useless act of tradition that helps no one and as usual the brunt of it falls on the woman. Thank you for raising your voice.

God bless you

Iya

 

"A needlepoint shift today is worth an arc of change in the future"

Sinyuy Geraldine, I applaud you for your courage, strength, and standing up for your family. I was not aware of the cultural practices and thank you for sharing this with all of us. Have other women and families followed your footsteps? Thank you again and best wishes to you and your family!

Thank you for sharing your story!  I am a mother of three and I cannot even imagine parenting without the support of my parents.  You are very brave and I am happy that your husband supports you in your decisions. Good luck to you!

What a strong message to show women that with courage you can start a movement to break this tradition and start the movement for a new one. Stay strong and continue to share your story. 

Dear Geraldine, 

Thank you for standing up for what you believe it. It must have taken a lot of courage, especially as the people who were affected by it, your in-laws, were also family. And yet, change only happens when strong people challenge norms and take a stand. I am so glad that your husband was by your side - that would have been such an important pillar for you!

There are so many taboos for women through all stages of our lives ... but now, as we start talking about these things more openly, it is now a global conversation and I feel confident that future generations will see the benefits of what you and so many others are doing. 

Please keep sharing your journey!

Thank you for sharing your story! I had no idea this stuff had taken place let alone it being a tradition. You're not breaking rules, you're creating a new path and I applaud you for that!

Hi Geraldine,

I read your story with so much interest. I had no idea that this custom existed in different African countries. I learned a lot about it from your various descriptions of the ways it impacted you directly. I think it is so cool and inspiring that you chose to go to your foster mother's house and break the cycle of women not getting the support they need in the weeks after the birth of their babies. It's also great that your husband supported you. Thanks so much for sharing your story!

Best wishes,

Julia

Geraldine, what a wise woman you are.  Although it was hard you compromised - you kept your parent's in law happy but also followed your heart for what you needed.  I have never heard of this practice either like many others.  Some traditions are there for good reason and can be of great benefit to all, others are outdated and often seem nonsensical.  This is one of these - for any new mother, its an incredibly emotional time and not to have your closest family around you is cruel.  I am so pleased for you that you stood up to this in your own way and did what was rigght for you.

 

Hi Geraldine, I am deeply inspired by your courage to stand up for something that is demeaning. Your  courage and decision to break this tradition is going to inspire other women who face similar situations, As a parent myself, I would have been very sad if my own daughter has chosen to follow the tradition so I am sure they are very proud of you. 

my dear sister i feel your struggle and i respect your courage and ability to stand up against this tradition not only in words but in action and in absolute wisdom. you are trully an amazing person and a force to reckon with.

It breaks my heart to hear what you have been through and all that you have endured. As a new mom myself, I am sending you love from the bottom of my heart, strength that you will continue to defy such outdated customs, practices and beliefs, and hope that others will join you and you will bring down what sounds like a horrible impediment to human progress and women’s wellbeing. LOVE.... STRENGTH.... and HOPE... from my corner of the world to yours!

Hello Geraldine, 

thank you for sharing. It was heart breaking yet relieving. Such cultures are not worth standing for. May we in our little corners break these barriers. Congrats