My mother told me so many stories when I was under 10 years many decades ago. I cannot remember most of them, just a few. I did not make much meaning out of them at the time, especially if they were not fairy tales children love.
Now as I look back, I usually have a good laugh at the stories, as I wonder about the intent. How has such non-fairy tales, especially about sex, helped children to get along with life as they grew up? Were they to enlighten us, deceive, confuse, discipline, check us with fear, or chastise us?
Can adults today go away with such stories with children of the digital era? I doubt it. Parents in Africa hardly told children the truth about dating, sex, and pregnancy and child bearing in the 60s and 70s. It has changed now.
As I look decades back, I remember one of such stories my mother told me. It resulted from my inquiries about how women get pregnant and bear children. I was about six years old then and curious about pregnancy and child delivery. I remember asking her one day:
“Mama, how does a woman ‘born’ a baby?” (Children of that era called their mothers, Mama, not mummy).
My mother pulled up her blouse and showed the long line running from under her neck down her tummy. I saw the line. She explained.
“When a woman wants to ‘born’ a baby, she goes to the hospital. The Doctors there cut open her stomach to bring out the baby. She did not tell me about the womb. Till I was 18, I thought a baby stays and grows in a woman’s stomach.
Somehow, she was correct as I later learnt about caesarian operation in my teens.
“Was that how you ‘born’ us (her children)?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“So how does a baby enter a woman’s stomach,” I asked again. She had a ready reply.
“When a woman wants a baby, she tells God in prayer, and God will put a baby in her stomach.”
“Why are other women here not having babies like you,” I asked again. “Is it because they have not told God,” I asked again.
“No, God cannot put a child in the stomach of a woman who is not married. It is only married woman who get babies from God. Once you marry and tell God, He will give you a baby, boy or girl. God gives you what you ask for.”
“Mama, what do you mean by marry,” I asked again.
I cannot remember her answer. She must have been at pains trying to make me understand what she thought was above my age.
“Can a man ‘born’ a baby? Its only women I see with big stomach,” I pressed on.
“No, a man cannot ‘born’ a baby. It is only women that can ‘born’ babies,” she replied. I can’t remember if we discussed this aspect further.
“But a baby in a stomach cannot play or talk. Can it breathe? Won’t it die? How does it eat food? If I tell you her reply or explanations, I would be lying.
Now as an adult, I wonder why Mama, now of blessed memory, told me half-truths about sex and pregnancy. An African child dare not discuss such topics with adults then.
We grew up learning about sex the hard from life experiences and friends and making mistakes along the way. Did I do same with my children? No way. I have tried to educate them know at an early age.
My only daughter, who was 10 on Feb. 17, has been taught about menstruation and all. I made sure my wife did it. What kids see in movies these days make grow mentally faster than their physical age. As a young boy in the 60s, we saw no movies. Technology had not advanced then.
This is one of the stories my mother told me. Each time I remember it, I usually have a good laugh. Thanks, mother for your stories. Rest peacefully in the bosom of the Lord. She passed on, on December 2003 at 76.
(12 February 2014)
Eric Okeke is a CSR specialist and strategist in brand marketing and mobilizing support for corporate and social issues. He is the brand storyteller, writer, speaker, author and media consultant, with training in chemistry, marketing and business journalism. As a business writer and speaker, he has recorded a good career in media consulting and journalism which he started at The Guardian, Lagos.
Eric’s communications niche is storytelling which he is now using to empower professionals and improve business returns in Nigeria. Email him at, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Tel +234 803 301 4609; +234 817 301 4609.