In Sierra Leone, the entire concept of birth, pregnancy and delivery, is one of the most private topics among society. There are many cultural practices that go along with pregnancy and birthing rituals, as well as after the baby is born. It is controversial, however, which practices are safe for the mother and baby, which hinder maternal and infant health, and which just end up contributing to the country’s high maternal and child mortality rate. My post will focus mainly on the customs surrounding the practices during pregnancy and the actual birthing process, rather than focus mainly on what happens after birth.
Pregnancy, for women, is taken as a very private matter. Women would give birth in places that were very far away from the men. Although now, many women are more likely to give birth in hospitals with a doctor present. But for the most part, especially in the rural societies and villages. The women give birth alone. On custom is actually that if the woman isn’t surrounded by the sande women, they are alone through the birthing process. Women often have little or no control over if they are able to see a medical professional to help them with the birthing process or not. When the woman is in labor, even if she wants to go to the hospital to give birth, the decision is ultimately up to the man. She must ask if she is able to go, and then he will respond with either yes or no. Many times when the answer is no, it’s because the family can not afford a visit to the hospital. Also, in many rural societies, the women are barred from receiving pre natal care because they can not interact with anyone other than their spouse or any female members of her family (voanews).
Women are also under the impact of how many children they have. Tradition dictates that the male head of the family decides how many children the woman will have, regardless of health restrictions or having the funds to do so. UNICEF actually reports that children in large families are less likely to live to adulthood.
When women are in labor, they are expected to not cry out in pain, because that symbolizes strength. And in the case of difficult pregnancies, it is the woman to blame. Saying that they have done something bad to deserve a difficult pregnancy, and when the woman isn’t “strong” enough to overcome child birth, and is victim to maternal mortality, it is said that it brings shame upon the family. After the child is born, he or she is presented to the community approximately one week after they are born. Gifts are usually bough after the child is born to make sure that both the mother and baby survive child birth. The naming process of the child differs between different religions. For muslim families, the guests write suggestions for baby names, and the mother chooses one. In Christian families, the child is named by both of the parents (cause.ca).
“Sierra Leone Birthing Customs | CAUSE Canada.” Sierra Leone Birthing Customs | CAUSE Canada. Web. 25 July 2015.
“Some Traditional Practices May Affect Maternal Health in Sierra Leone.” VOA. Web. 25 July 2015.
“Sierra Leonean Americans.” Sierra Leonean Americans. Web. 25 July 2015.