Sunday, July 10, 2011

Being a Mom in Guinea-Bissau

For the past week, my little 8 month-old Savannah has been saying “mom”. She doesn't know what it means, but it still melts my heart! Hearing her say my name got me thinking about the adventure of motherhood that started about a year and a half ago.

When I got pregnant with Savannah people asked me if I was nervous because I was going to be pregnant so long without going to the doctor. People asked me if I was worried about flying so much while I was pregnant. People asked me if I was scared about giving birth. People asked me if I was worried about bringing such a small baby back to Africa. People asked me all kinds of things, and much to their surprise the answer to pretty much all of their questions was no. As soon as we found out that we were having a baby I had a tremendous peace about the pregnancy and about her health and safety growing up in Africa.

Maybe I should've been a little nervous. Guinea-Bissau is one of the 5 poorest countries in the world, and because of that, disease and malnutrition run rampant. It was recently listed as the worst place in the world to be a mother, in part because of the high infant and child mortality. In Guinea-Bissau 10% of children die before their first birthday and 20% die before they reach the age of 5. In the US, those stats are 0.6% and 0.8%.

The thing is, I knew that God called Jason and I here. I knew that God gave us this baby. I knew that God loves her more I ever could. I knew that God could take care of my baby just as well here as He could in the US. And, I knew that if all that was true then God had a plan for this little girl that involved this time in Guinea-Bissau.

Sweet baby fresh out of the bath :-)

The thing that no one asked me was if I thought that I would be a good mom in Africa. That was the thing I wondered about. I knew that God could take care of my baby, what I didn't know is if I would be able to adjust to all that goes along with being a missionary in a third world country and being a mom.

Going from a family of two to a family of three is a huge step anywhere. Making the change from consulting only each other when making plans, to planning the whole day (and night) around a tiny unpredictable thing that can't even talk and changes every day, is a big adjustment! Add to that cloth diapers that dry on a line, cooking from scratch for all of our and her meals, no pediatrician around to answer all of my questions, and all of the work it takes just living in west africa, and that's a lot. Add to that the fact that we live so far away from our family so we don't have them around to babysit for, help with, or generally love on our baby girl. Add to that living in a culture that raises their children completely differently than my own and the stress of constantly having to decide when I'm going to be African and when I'm going to be American; and how in the world to be American in the middle of Africa. Roll all of that up into a big ball and plunk it in the lap of someone who likes to do things right and who doesn't thrive on surprises and uncertainty, and you see my dilemma.

Drying diapers on the line

Weighing Savannah with a luggage scale, Sydney's leash, and a bucket

Baby girl LOVES to eat!!!

Savannah will be nine months old this week, and since she came over to Guinea-Bissau when she was three months old she has now spent almost twice as much of her life in Africa as in America. I guess now's as good a time as any to ask myself how I'm doing.

I had to develop a little thicker skin when I was chastised for not feeding my five month old every two hours all night, or for bringing my non-walking baby outside in the 90 degree weather without socks and shoes on. I had to relax a little bit about Savannah's schedule when one of our neighbors passed away and women were wailing outside of our house for 48 hours. I had to offend some of my students when they come over two hours late to pick up their assignments and I couldn't see them because I was giving my baby a bath and then going to read her a story and nurse her and put her down for the night and I wasn't willing to be interrupted just because they didn't come on time.

Grading papers with my assistant on my knee and our faithful dog, Sydney

But, even with all of that, I'd say it's going really well. Savannah is growing like a weed, adapting like a pro to every little thing that comes along, and I am happy and confident. Is that because I, all of a sudden, discovered that I have amazing, previously untapped, mothering super powers? No, I don't think so. Partially I think it's because Jason and I both grew up with such amazing, dedicated mothers that set wonderful examples of mothering with grace and joy. And for the rest of it, I'm convinced that just like God had a purpose for Savannah growing up in Africa, He also had a purpose for me being a mom here. Even with all of things that I was uncertain about, everything is just working, and even going smoothly. God truly does give us grace for every situation exactly when we need it (and not a moment too soon!) and I'm so grateful to Him for the blessing of my little family here in Guinea-Bissau!

Savannah wants to touch EVERYTHING that mommy touches! Here she's learning a valuable lesson about reading labels :-)

Story time with Mommy, before Savannah was old enough to sit up.

Wow, knitting is confusing! Don't worry, Savannah, you'll get it!