I grew up in a family dominated by authoritative and assertive women. I remember my grandmother, a no-nonsense woman, who would bathe you, feed you, or love and hug you with one arm, and spank you with the other if you misbehaved. Women like my grandmother were never afraid to speak their mind. She was our culture-bearer, a great storyteller, and was always ready to teach us her grandchildren how to act and behave and conform to an ever-changing society, where our cultural norms were beginning to take backseat.
Now as a woman, I live with my mother-in-law, the matriarch of my husband’s family, a mother herself to one daughter and seven sons and my own cultural bearer. The other day I came across an article written by Judi Aubel about grandmothers and how they are truly a neglected resource for saving newborn lives.
I tweeted about the article and added, not only newborn lives, but women’s lives, global health women researcher’s lives, in fact, my life. That I am able to have a career in global health, I shared with four children under 8 years of age, is because my mother-in law has been living with me since my first child was six months old. At that time I was living and working in Paris, France with my daughter. My husband was in the US working and preparing for his transition to residency programs as a physician. Ours was truly a long-distance family. I had a baby sister in Paris. A Nigerian woman to be exact. I was lucky to have found her and I believe that together we would provide the necessary needs my daughter needed at the time so that I could continue my work. That dream only lasted for five weeks with a disastrous experience that made me take sometime off from work to watch my daughter until other arrangements were made. Enter my mother-in-law.
My job at that time was extremely understanding and worked with me to help relocate my mother-in-law from Nigeria to France. This would be her first experience not only leaving Nigeria but also flying on an airplane. It was also my first time meeting her. Yes. The first time I met my mother-in-law was at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris with my then 6month old daughter. We were both clueless what to do. Mama barely spoke English and my Igbo was horrible. I understood the language perfectly but had no idea how to communicate it perfectly. 8 years later, my Igbo is much better thanks to Mama. I have also given birth to three additional children, all boys with mama by my side. Because of mama, there is a sense of security, not just with work but also with my family, with life. With work, I am able to continue my career in global health, with travel to places as far as Kathmandu Nepal, or Dar es Salam, Tanzania. With mama, my children have access to another mother, a full one, that readily prepares their meals or gives them bath whether I am around or not. With mama, there is a sense of oneness, a kind of comfort that comes from the warm embrace of knowing you are at the centre of a tight web of relations who will always have your back, your children’s back, your family’s back in a deep way. Like my grandmother did for me, mama is now the cultural-bearer in my household, a link for myself and my children, like a chain, connecting past to future, creating a sense of continuity, a real sense of meaning and security. I share all this to say keep grandmas in mind. Love them and show gratitude always. They are indeed life givers.