On pregnancy

I first noticed it in 2008, when I went to Nigeria for the first time as an adult. There I observed that when a blogger is silent, it usually means something big is going on, and among the Nigerian bloggers who’ve gone (temporarily) silent over the years, it’s usually because they’re getting married or having a baby (or both!). This is when I started thinking about different attitudes concerning pregnancy in Nigeria and Canada.

In 2008, a tenant of my grandma’s loved being photographed—she was always photobombing pictures I was taking of others, or asking for her or her children to be photographed. However, two years later when she was about halfway through her pregnancy with her third child, she hurried away whenever I brought out my camera and wouldn’t discuss anything related to her pregnancy (I remember asking her how far along she was and asking if she knew the sex of her baby). Two and a half years later, she was happy to be photographed again. A cousin similarly won’t share news about being pregnant and even when she knows her mom has told us that she’s pregnant, she won’t discuss it, to the point of ignoring any references in the conversation, however slight, to the baby. She’s not rude about it and she’s a reserved person so maybe that’s why she prefers not to discuss it.

Disclaimer: these are just my observations, nothing scientific or all-encompassing about them!

I find that Nigerians tend to keep quiet about pregnancy far longer than their Canadian counterparts, but there are lots of other factors to consider in both cases, including their personality, whether it’s a first pregnancy, whether there are concerns with the pregnancy, how long the couple has been trying to conceive (and if they’ve had disappointments in the past)—these and other things affect how willing someone is to shout their good news from the rooftops.

I think people keep things like this quiet in Nigeria because aside from being somewhat more reserved when it comes to personal matters, superstitions exist and there’s a fear that someone who knows your happy news may wish you ill—the need to keep wedding details quiet came up each of the last three times I was in Nigeria: there’s the feeling that if people know your good news they will try and destroy it. So even if you know something is happening, you may not want to show too much interest or ask a lot of questions lest someone think you want to use the information against them. This is a contrast to Canada where it would be odd to interact with a woman who is clearly pregnant and not refer to her pregnancy at all, either by sharing your congratulations, asking how far along she is, or inquiring about the sex of her baby.

At the beginning, most people (regardless of nationality) are quiet or keep the info within the family or very close friends. But later on:

End of first trimester (about 3.5 months pregnant)

After the first trimester, it’s accepted that the most dangerous period is behind the woman and most people feel comfortable letting their family and close friends know (if they haven’t already). Many also make a public announcement on Facebook about the pregnancy, complete with a picture of the ultrasound. I’ve never seen a post on Facebook by a Nigerian about a pregnancy (and certainly haven’t seen any ultrasound pictures!); I only see postings after the baby is born. The exception is Nigerians who were raised outside of Nigeria—they may be influenced by how things are done by the general population where they live. I haven’t seen a Nigeria-based (or raised) woman share her pregnancy on Facebook, while I can name many non-Nigerians who made public announcements.

Clearly pregnant

Once you can’t hide it, strangers on a bus will offer you their seat because of your pregnancy, and the chattier ones may ask the basic questions (due date and sex of the baby). In Nigeria it’s the elephant in the room (haha): I remember trying that small-talk move with my grandma’s tenant and she just ignored (not rudely) any reference to being pregnant. But maybe in that case she didn’t feel she knew me well enough or maybe married women don’t like to discuss things like that with unmarried women—if anyone knows, tell me! But in Canada those questions wouldn’t be seen as prying and in fact strangers will sometimes go so far as to touch a pregnant woman’s belly, even if they don’t know her..

Baby has arrived!

A lot of people I know have had babies over the last two years and if they’re on Facebook they announce the birth within a day or two of the baby’s arrival. Nigerians wait longer than that (if they announce it at all).

Naming the baby

So the huge difference between Canadians and (most?) Nigerians is that Nigerian babies don’t get their name right away—Yoruba babies get their name a week after they’re born. Not so with Canadian babies, who are often named well before their arrival.

When it comes to sharing the name of the baby before birth, most people tend to keep it quiet because they want to surprise people and some don’t want someone else to use the name they’ve spent time choosing.

Talks of baby’s sex

I don’t think finding out the sex of the baby is as big deal in Nigeria as it is here (is it?), but I could be wrong since my experience is limited. It’s so common here to ask a pregnant woman if she knows the sex of her baby and while not everyone opts to find out ahead of time, I suspect the majority does.

I think I’ll lean more toward the Canadian way of dealing with pregnancy, though I can only speak for myself at this stage and not my future husband! Watching my sister go through labour allowed me to see what a sacred and personal experience entering into motherhood is. I can see how the experience would affect what you decide to share with the world, but beforehand, anything is fair game!

Ok, if you live in Nigeria or know how things are, how accurate this is? I’m not talking about your close friends who will share details with you long before they’re ready for it to be public; think about it generally, like if a colleague you’re not close to or someone in your church was pregnant.

30 thoughts on “On pregnancy

  1. It’s funny how you know so much more about how “things are done” by Nigerians in Nigeria, while I don’t know too much about REAL Hong Kongers (basically people who have only gone to other parts of the world for vacation). Every HK person I know (in my age range) has lived abroad (either through immigration (but may have returned for work reasons), to go to school or both), so their “culture” and way of life is a mix between HK Chinese (already different and more “western” than China, proper) and non-HK Chinese. I know that most my age have posted ultrasound pics and many had baby showers (okay, if they’re Chinese Canadian, they pretty much DEFINITELY would have had one. Showers aren’t traditional in Chinese culture, though and I know older, non-Chinese people (especially non-Anglo Canadians (e.g. Italian-Canadian, Jewish, Greeks, etc…) are often surprised that Chinese Canadians have them. Ummm, maybe because they were RAISED HERE? Not everyone keeps old country/old world traditions, even if you do. In fact, for many Chinese Canadians, it’s best to “default” Anglo if one is unsure…at least for weddings (i.e. registry vs. cash gifts)). Anyway…

    Question (and coming from a prospective adoptive mother): How do Nigerians view adoption? Is taking care of a non-relative’s child, especially a non-relative’s child who is from a different neighbourhood even done? Is the child recognized/raised as family or just someone to take care of? And are they TOLD that they’re adopted?

    • I think it helps that I’ve been going back to Nigeria more regularly, Cynthia: I was there in 2008, 2010, 2013 and I’m hoping to go back this year as well. Because of these recent trips back I also have been able to keep in better contact with my cousins who are there, so I get a great idea of what Nigerians are like from regular chats on Viber, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. I have a couple of close Nigerian friends, one of whom just moved from Nigeria a few years ago, and she still has that perspective.

      Great questions regarding adoption, and it’s a topic that I’d love to explore! Generally speaking adoption is something that’s still kept very much hush-hush when it’s done (and it’s not done often!). Having biological children is very important in our culture, but I’d like to think that people are more open minded to adoption or to those who decide not to have kids—can’t say for sure though and I don’t know any Nigerians who are childless by choice. Getting someone to open up about adopting a child would not be easy—they may do it if they could remain anonymous though.

      When someone takes care of a non-relative’s child it’s usually not because the parents have given the child up for adoption. What usually happens is that the child is brought into a household (sometimes from a more remote location) to help with small house chores (typical chores you’d give your own child) and in return their basic needs are taken care of. The parents (or parent, as I suspect it’s usually a single mother who’s put in this situation) usually do this because they want to give their child a better life (because the caretaker will pay for the child’s school fees too). My grandmother had a boy who was about 11-13 years old come to live with her in 2010 and she provided for him as I described. His mom would come and visit him and while she was there she would do some odd jobs for my grandmother to earn a bit of extra money. When I saw the guy last year he had grown so big and strong from his part time job working in a cement factory—I was really happy to see him looking so grown up and independent.

      • I’m not surprised about the view of adoption. It’s like that in many more “traditional” cultures. My family members were extremely surprised when we told them that we definitely will tell our child that he/she is adopted and will immerse him/her in whatever heritage his/her biological parents are (e.g. if we adopt a child of Vietnamese heritage, he/she will have exposure to Vietnamese culture). Relatives in my age range, however, don’t bat an eye about us being open regarding adoption – not even one of my cousins who, at 36, thinks more like a 56 year old (she is NOT on social media and doesn’t even UNDERSTAND social media all that well, for example). Also, I think your relatives in Nigeria not having studied/lived abroad gives you a “purer” Nigerian culture than my Hong Kong relatives and friends. Let me tell you, three or four years in Canada, the US or the UK will definitely give you a more “mixed” perspective on life. Of course, that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I think it opens your eyes a bit.

    • I think the issue of adoption in nigeria became a social ill with the advent of child trafficking and child labour. NAPTIP was created in respect to this, to help curb the menace and with it the promulgation of strict conditions for adoption of a child which deter many interested individuals from it. Of a truth, adoption in this part of the world (nigeria to be precise) is not a common practice; however the curent society does not completely frown at it except for the social ills and misgivings that come with it. As a result, people become very careful when goin into adoptin a child be it male or female. They do to avoid adopting a ‘problematic being’ into their family. Several cases exist where the adopted child turns out to be the problem or caterpillar of/in the family. That does not mean there are no adopted children who have brought great joy to the family that adopted them, of course there. The popular super eagles duo of Emmanuel and Celestine Babayaro were ibos by tribe but adopted by a northerner name Alh Babayaro. and today they are successful professional retired from the football scene and many more

      • Very interesting—thank you for sharing this, Oluwaseun! I hadn’t thought about how child trafficking and child labour could put a k leg into adopting but it makes total sense. Even in Canada and the US where adoptions are common, there are also stories where a child who was adopted and raised by loving parents goes on to make the lives of his or her parents a living hell. But thankfully stories like that are fewer than the happy endings.

        Thank you for visiting and commenting!

  2. Lol.. Pregnancy is the real *Elephant in the room*.. I find it very weird too that Nigerians are very very extremely secretive about their pregnancies (and pretty much a lot of things).
    I guess it’s cultural as well as the fear of ‘diabolical interferences’ + superstitious beliefs in many cases.
    Personally, I don’t know what I would do when I’m in that situation because to be honest, sometimes ‘surprise is the best form of defense’ (if you get my drift lol)

    • Yes! Secrecy is the default isn’t it? I always get in trouble (ok, I’m exaggerating) when I’m back home because I ask questions. People who know me know I have no ulterior motive but I definitely see secrecy at play in their responses and evasiveness.

      lol I hear you…looking forward to seeing what you do do one day!

  3. Interesting topic and observation. We Jamaicans are generally open to talk and share about pregnancy much like Canadians/Americans. I like this way too, it just seems so open and free. Who God bless no man can curse……..

  4. I am guilty of all you mentioned about Nigerians GNG. When I was pregger, I went on a silent mode in blogsphere, only to come back after delivery with a new name.

    Hey! I spent 38 new moons on Nigeria soil before I stepped foot on the soil of America 2 years ago, so some beliefs in me are still very strong. Though, some people were curious while I was pregnant for my 5th child, I didn’t give them the actual date of delivery, I simply said end of the year. I never asked for the sex of my children because I wanted it to be a surprise, which is the joy of birthing to me. Moreover, I have heard stories of how some ultra-scan were mis-read which led to disappointment. I talked about it in this post:

    I was in the prayer band during my higher education days, GNG, there are somethings you have to witness to believe, or else, you would wave some tales away as hear-say or outright ridiculous. I know what I am talking about; some manifestation and testimonies would scare you!

    Let me share this story about my maternal Aunt. She was pregnant, but it suddenly disappeared without her having a miscarriage. We thought it was a phantom pregnancy, but we gave her some benefit of doubt because she has other kids. After a while, her cousin living with her since she got married, confessed that it was she and her cohorts that sucked the foetus out of her womb! You see, her cousin was initiated into the world of darkness by her friend through food in school. She wrecked havoc in that home, that my Aunt and her husband looked so gaunt because of the constant fasting and prayer to restore normalcy into their home and deliver her. They won the battle and sent her away.

    I also have my personal experiences, I wish I can share, but blogsville has taught me that there are somethings best left unsaid! Just know that, A woman is vulnerable both physically and spiritually when pregnant. The spirit realm governors the physical realm. And the things of spiritual looks stupid to man’s physical eyes.

    More-over, the advanced society has grown above the level we are presently in Nigeria, but reading their history, it showed they once believed in some superstition. And since they no longer practice the extended or communal family system, but more of the nuclear family and individualism, there is no room for such harm, because it is the person that knows you, that would do you most harm and not a random stranger.

    I hope I am able to convinced you and not confused you with all my reasons above why I am a superstitious Nigerian woman! :D

    p.s me-hn! This is a comment-post o! Sorry GNG. It was a passionate topic to me.

    • This is such a great comment and very interesting perspective, New Dawn! Thank you for sharing it; I know many people can relate to you and to it, and I love when people leave impassioned comments! xo

      When I read things like what you shared, I do get scared and it makes me understand why some people keep things hush-hush for fear of inviting trouble into their lives. Even though we believe in God evil also exists and we should use that knowledge to guide our actions.

      “Just know that, A woman is vulnerable both physically and spiritually when pregnant. The spirit realm governors the physical realm. And the things of spiritual looks stupid to man’s physical eyes.” really hit me. Great food for thought. I didn’t know much about the history of the “advanced” societies so that was interesting to read too! It’s hard to be Nigerian and not be at least a tiny bit superstitious.

      Congratulations on baby #5, and before 40! If I can manage 3 by 40 despite not having a boyfriend or being married at the moment, I’ll be so happy! You’re an inspiration!

  5. Lemme share from personal experience and observation.
    My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage like three weeks after I found out and it’s was such a hard time ‘un-telling’ the quite a number of people I had told.
    So naturally, my Next pregnancy, I didn’t even tell my closest family till week 14. Then a few more friends as I got more comfortable. I’m also a very private person and found the constant questioning and checking on me close friends quite overwhelming. Lol. I know they had good intentions but that’s how I feel.
    No public announcement still. I intended to make the ‘announcement’ when I started showing by uploading a picture of my bump but I feel so unattractive so I don’t take pictures and that hasn’t happened.
    So I’ve decided… Eventually I will upload a picture. On my birthday. Cuz I will be a good mood, my bridal shower that day and I’ll have loads of pictures. That would be 4 weeks before my due date and it’s going to seem like yet another Nigerian pregnancy kept secret. But In my mind, my delay thus far is justified at every point.

    speaking for others,The delay is mostly because of superstitious beliefs and fear of disappointment (losing the baby at any point. I swear, it’s tough). But I know a lot of people post updates about the births of their babies the same day. Like, finally…we made it.

    • Aww, I’m sorry about your miscarriage and I can definitely understand why that would make you hesitant to share the news the next time, and that’s why I mentioned that there can be factors that would make someone decide to keep the pregnancy quiet for a while. You’re right that losing a baby at any stage is hard and I can only imagine how unpleasant it was to “untell” people—sometimes dealing with all the sympathy is harder than the actual thing that happened!

      What may help when you’re feeling frumpy or not so cute due to pregnancy is thinking about the lovely gift that’s waiting for you at the end of all of this. When your little bundle of joy arrives you’ll never be the same. My sister is very reserved, not so emotional and she’s quite discreet and seeing how she loves her little six-week-old son and how motherhood is changing her brings tears to my eyes.

      I’m very happy for you!

  6. I don’t think we should confuse Canadian culture as the more showy one. I think canadians, in the past, used to be more reserved about pregnancies. It’s only social media and its effect on present day cultures that have made it more commonplace for Canadian women to reveal a lot about their pregnancies. in the old days in canada and the US, it wasn’t even considered “polite” to use the word “pregnant” in public! But in today’s “i just went to the bathroom and thought to post it on facebook world” you’ll see more ultrasounds as profile pics

    As for the Nigerian side. half of that is superstititon. The other half of it is just general reservedness. My theory is simple. If you don’t tell me you’re pregnant, don’t ask me to give your child any gifts. If you want me to pretend your stomach isn’t sticking out then i’ll keep pretending, even after the child is born! Maybe when they’re 18 i’ll acknowledge their existence! :-)

    • I think Canada has “loosened up” in general, and the reputation that Canadians have as being friendly is the reason a Canadian would be likely to strike up conversation with a stranger today and, upon noticing that they’re pregnant, ask a few questions. Social media has only made the ones who would have shouted things from the roof tops do it more easily.

      Lol pretending after the child is born! I was miffed when someone who didn’t tell me they were pregnant or invite me to the baby shower now invited me to the first birthday—I declined.

  7. Don’t let the juju guys catch you, lol. Now onto serious business.

    Culture: Social media has changed the way we eat, drink, love, and of course, express these things. A long time ago, you couldn’t post pictures of yourself on Facebook because some folks would print ’em off and spread juju magic all o’er them. Not saying these things don’t happen—or that I believe/don’t believe them. Just saying that we’ve changed and it is reflected in the way we think and behave. As a nation, a people, and as we change, our culture made room for these changes.

    The next paragraph is highly debatable. Lol

    Tradition: It is not in our tradition to do these things. Announcing pregnancies is not traditional. Tradition just won’t look the other way even if culture evolves with us. Modern day Nigerians are quick to express and acknowledge their cultural identities but with little affiliation with tradition!

    Tradition tends to align itself with heritage, passing down beliefs from the stone age, and cultural practices written in stone. Is it cultural for us to do these things Canadians/Westerners do? You’ll get a plethora of responses with varying degrees of polarity.

    I hope I treaded the fine line btw culture and tradition with caution. Ok, you can bring on the attacks now. Lol :D

    • Lol I like how you didn’t exactly say what you believe…clever, and very cautious!

      I think you’re right that tradition isn’t easy to toss aside even as society changes. I like the idea of being open about things (with reason), but I’d hate for this openness to have a negative affect my loved ones. Like Highly Favored said, God is in control so I must not give that juju stuff another thought!

      Thanks for commenting, Maggie!

  8. Great topic and some really scary/crazy comments too! Its pretty much the same here in the UK too. British people normally wait till after the first trimester to announce anything but some people are more open than others.

    Well, I’m a mummy blogger so it’d be unfair of me to not blog about my pregnancy! But to be honest, this is one of the reasons I don’t post about my blog on facebook! If you find my blog online via twitter or something, fine, but I’m not going to post it to all my ‘friends’ on facebook! I also loved the animosity with my first pregnancy so I was able to just blog and blog! I haven’t quite decided what’s going to happen in the future but as always I will try to be as honest as possible…

    • Thanks for stopping by and sharing your views, especially as someone who’s gone through pregnancy in the social media world!

      You’re right that when people who know you in your day-to-day life know about your blog it’s different, and it can affect the level of information you feel comfortable sharing for sure. I trust you to remain honest and real; you do it well!

  9. Great topic. I have never been pregnant. I live here in the states and that cultural difference seems to exist here as well. I have a close friend who just told me about her pregnancy 5 months in and I was surprised. Started making me wonder if our friendship had drifted apart or something, but your posts and the ensuing comments have made me see things differently. No one knows other people’s experience. Hearing the commenter speak about her miscarriage and having to “untell” people would horrify me. So just reading this, I feel I would want to get over that scary first trimester hump first when it is my turn. Wow newdawn that was a scary story reminded me of boarding house days in Naija and all the scary supernatural stories (probably the reason I am still somewhat scared of the dark and my own shadow at age 33) so yes I can see how superstition is a huge huge factor. Callmemummy, I found your blog last week and I love it!!!

    • I’ve learned from the comments too, mpb, about considering other reasons why someone might hesitate to share their pregnancy news right away.

      On the same train of thought of how you wondered if you and your friend had drifted apart because she didn’t tell you she was pregnant until she was 5 months along, it reminds me that I wondered the same thing after I learned of a friend’s pregnancy on Facebook—I couldn’t help but wonder if we had drifted apart because she had sent me text messages about far less important things, yet this was on Facebook. In that case I realized that we actually had drifted apart.

      Thanks for stopping by, docky!

  10. Had to do an entire post on this http://eziaha.com/2014/07/03/brainwashed/ and one of my ‘commenters’ linked your blog.

    I can soooo relate. Loved this post.

    Mehn, Canadian way any day for me.

    I am pregnant and announced on my birthday. And I got some unwelcome suggestions. Lol. The fear of witches and wizards is som’in in Naija and for more than 70% that is the reason. And ,my goodness, it annoys me.



  11. Funny I stumbled on this article and thought it interesting. I own a concierge service catering to prego moms coming to birth in the United States and was told by a prospective client that the reason she preferred not to fill out the contact/inquiry form on my website is because as she put it” I am Nigerian and you know that as Nigerians, we too dey suspect”. I didn’t quite understand what she meant initially but she later broke it down, explaining that certain things in our Nigerian culture are not openly discussed let alone offered to total strangers, and pregnancy ranks highly on that list. Information such as your estimated due date and last ob/gyn visit are not things that are freely offered, even though, she was aware that in order to find her an appropriate ob/gyn, that information would be critical. Superstition and that nagging feeling that not everyone wishes you well, I guess, are things that are embedded so deeply in our culture that they aren’t so easy to shrug off.

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