Eme woke up with
a start, with bewildered eyes and pajamas hair. Then it hit her, a sharp pain
in her lower back. She screamed at the top of her lungs, more out of fear than
pain. Somebody help! She screamed loudly again which got Edem, her husband of
one year running in half clad from the bathroom.
No no no no,
don’t shout babe; don’t shout. Remember what your mom said, please don’t shout.
Let me get the car keys so we could go to the hospital, please babe, be strong
and give me a moment Edem blabbed as he took off, obviously scared.
Eme was the
first daughter of her parents, Mr and Mrs Etim. She was an indigene of Akai
Effa Village in Calabar Municipality, Cross River State of Nigeria. As she lay confused and curled up in pain, her
mind quickly ran through what her mother, Mrs. Utta Etim taught her about puberty,
pregnancy and childbirth.
Utta started putting
Eme through on what to expect as a woman before and after pregnancy and
childbirth when she turned thirteen. A natural incident has led to the sermon. Eme,
who attended an all girls’ school, remembered how shocked and scared she was
when she was told by her classmates that her immaculate white uniform was stained.
The alarmed girl
had quickly glanced back and seen a reddish brown patch almost at the helm of
her skirt. Curious as to what it could be, she turned the skirt backside foward
and it suddenly dawned on her that she was finally a ‘woman’. The much talked
about menstruation had arrived without notice.
She had been
expecting some sort of pain, nausea and headache as she had been told by her
classmates but didn’t experience any of these hence her surprise. Eme was immediately flanked by her classmate,
all talking at once with each one trying to tell her what she knew about the
situation. Poor Eme burst into tears which made the girls tease her, calling
her a cry baby.
She was marched
to the staffroom to see her class teacher, the ever gorgeous Mrs. Asukwo. Mrs Asukwo,
who was obviously used to such situations gave a wide smile, hugged her and put
her through twenty minutes of what you
need to know about menstruation.
Dear girl, she began
with kindness in her voice. Congratulations, you are now a woman. What just
happened is the arrival of your menstruation, which will be a regular monthly
visitor from now henceforth. It shows you are normal and healthy and producing
baby making eggs.
As you were
taught in Biology, menstruation occurs once in a month when there is no
conception. The period from one menstrual flow to the other ranges from 23-28
days and is called your circle; the period between one flow to the other. My dear, if any boy touches you from now on,
you will get pregnant. You have to avoid boys like a plague now until when you
get married, do you understand me? Yes ma! Eme answered although she was more
confused than when she first got there.
Good girl said Mrs.
A, as she was fondly called by her students. Now go get your skirt cleaned up then
go and see the nurse at the sickbay so she will give you sanitary pads. Thank
you ma! said Eme as she rushed off to the sick bay, absolutely confused.
Eme got to the
sick bay and knocked timidly on the nurse’s cubicle. Who is that and what do
you want? The nurse asked not raising her head from her notebook where she was writing
her daily report. Its Eme Etim ma, I am here to get sanitary pads. Ok, hold on
she replied as she reluctantly dragged herself up and threw a pack of sanitary
pads at Eme.
What are you
still waiting for? Nurse scolded when she noticed Eme had not moved an inch
after picking up the pack of sanitary pads from the floor. Don’t you have any
more lectures for the day? Why are you looking at the pad like that? Do you
think it is biscuits? I don’t know how
to use it Nurse, the startled Eme whispered shyly.
I am so sorry
dear, Nurse said feeling sorry for the little girl. Come and take a seat let me
tell you a story while we do a demo of how to use sanitary pads. I wonder what
story she has for me now, Eme thought. I have had enough for one day; I just
need to go home to mom and the comfort of my bed. She walked over to the chair
Nurse indicated and sat down.
In my days as a
teenager, nurse began, in the village of Akpabuyo where I grew up; we all
belonged to age grades. Age grades were made up of people born within a period
of two to three years of each other. We met to play games, help each other with
chores, care for the elderly in the community and also cultivate our parent’s
elders taught us about our bodies from very tender ages and from ten we were
told to begin to expect our monthly visitors. Older siblings reiterated what
older women taught us. They taught us that menstruation signified we were ripe
for womanhood which in traditional parlance means marriage and childbearing.
We learnt that
we could get pregnant upon meeting with boys and were advised not to go near
boys. It was at this stage that we were secluded and circumcised to ensure that
we didn’t give place to sexual promiscuity.
girls? What do you mean nurse and how was it done? I thought only male children
were circumcised at eight day’s old? Eme asked with deep curiosity.
Dear girl, Nurse
answered. Female circumcision is what is today called Female Genital
Mutilation. It is a complete or partial removal of the outer part (external
female genitalia) of the vagina, especially the clitoris for non-medical
reasons. In my own case, it was complete.
It was a ritual
initiation right into womanhood which every young girl in my community had to
go through. We all looked forward to it with dread. Families participated by
ensuring that their daughters were circumcised with great pride. At the onset
of my first menstrual flow, my parents began preparing for my coming of age
initiation right or circumcision. I was just twelve years old then.
Most of my
friends also faced the same fate as we were in the same age grade. Circumcision
was mostly seen as an age-grade ceremony which spanned a period of three years
for each age grade. What I mean here is that since we were in the same age
bracket, most of us begun menstruating at the same time, therefore, we were
secluded for and circumcised on the same day.
An outing ceremony
was organized for every new initiate a month after the exercise when we would
all have healed. This party was held jointly as a group. We were made to parade
the village half dresses. Our parents beamed with pride, showering gifts on us.
It was conducted at least two times in a year for a period of three years till
every member of the age grade had been initiated.
As I said
earlier, nurse continued, I was 12 years old and in Form One in secondary
school. I returned for the mid-year break and was secluded for two months from
late July until late September. I was confined to my room and nobody was
allowed to visit, except elderly relatives and very close, circumcised friends.
seclusion, I was taught how to take care of my body. The traditional surgeon
also came in once in a while to teach me what to expect and the importance of
circumcision. I was made to understand that women who were not circumcised
ended up as prostitutes or nymphomaniacs as they couldn’t be sexually satisfied
by one man. I was also told that the
female genital looked unkempt if not circumcised. I was made to believe that my
future husband would be put off at the sight of my genitalia if it was not
trimmed and kept clean. They made us believe circumcision made childbirth
easier. We were very naive and couldn’t raise an eyebrow to avoid being termed
Mma mbobi (literarily meaning circumcision
woman) as we called the old woman who did the surgery, usually arrived very
early in the morning depending on how many people she had to circumcise in a
day. In my case, on the day of the deed she came at about 4.am with her popular
shoulder sling bag hung loosely on her frail shoulders.
old woman had been around for ages (as I thought then). She it was who
circumcised my mother, aunties, and cousins. Mother greeted her warmly on
arrival. She answered and teased me, to ensure I was at ease before she asked
if the water had been prepared and was answered in the affirmative.
An old wrapper was
tied around my chest, long enough to cover my backside and I was made to sit
down, legs apart on the bare mud floor of my seclusion room. I watched as mma mbobi carefully washed her hands with
native black soap. She brought out some things from her bag which I could not
see clearly and laid them accordingly on a piece of white cloth on the floor
beside her, right in front of me. At this point, she called for hot water. It
was brought straight from the fire in a covered earthen ware pot.
The old woman approached
me and spread my legs further apart. That was when real fear gripped me. I
remembered stories of girls who did not survive the ordeal. Their death was
attributed to promiscuity which consoled me as I was still yet untouched. It
was a great shame to discover on the day of circumcision that the girl to be
circumcised had been violated. She was immediately ostracized by the entire
My virginity was
tested by mma mbobi by inserting a finger into my vagina. I gasped out of fear
and was immediately pinned down by two matured women, one to each leg. Two
others held me down by my shoulders. She proceeded to dab my vagina with very hot
water held in a piece of cloth, supposedly to soften the clitoris and numb the
pain. I screamed as a very sharp pain pierced through my being. As quietly as
she started, she was through with the cutting.
Till this day, I
can’t remember how it happened, only that sharp pain. She applied the hot cloth
once more and this time held it for a bit longer to stop the flow of blood.
Then she applied a blackish, powdery substance and left some with my mom for
daily application until I healed. I was very lucky to have healed without serious
complications, except that the process left me frigid.
Eme cringed in
fear and disbelief as she listened. She silently thanked God that she did not
have to go through Female Genital Mutilation. Your generation is lucky, Nurse
continued, cutting into her thoughts. Female Genital Mutilation is hardly
practiced anymore. States are advocating against it and also provide protection
to those who are at risk.
Did you lose anyone to this barbaric practice?
Eme asked. Well, replied Nurse, about a few that I know of. Those who died were
said to have been killed by the gods for being promiscuous. Most of us grew up
with several complications, especially during childbirth. We also do not enjoy
intimacy with our husbands. I have learned to move on but will always advocate
Now run along, I
will be glad to answer any questions you have about your new status. Welcome to
the club, Nurse added mischievously. Thank you very much for telling me your
story ma, I never knew such practices existed. I will definitely come around again
What a day! Eme
exclaimed as she threw herself on her bed. It started uneventfully and now see
where we are. She eagerly awaited her mother’s return from work so she could
ask her all the questions she had in mind until she drifted off into a troubled
sleep. Mrs. Etim was a strict
disciplinarian who worked with the State Ministry of Health as an Assistant
Senior Health Facility Inspector. As strict as she was, she had soft spots for
her only daughter, Eme. She could not bring herself to discipline her the same
way she did her boys. Eme was a very calm, beautiful and obedient child who was
easily corrected. These qualities endeared her to her mother. They related more
like sisters than parent-daughter.
She woke up with
a start as she heard her mother drive into the compound. As she sat up to clear
her head, she heard her mom reprimand the brother who had opened the gate for
her. Oops! So typical of Nigerian parents, to return home with a quarrel. Eme
skipped into the sitting room, welcomed her mom excitedly in her characteristic
way. Mrs. Etim was pleased to see her only daughter and replied her with a wide
smile and a warm hug. I hope you had a good day at school? Yes, Mom, Eme
Both went into
the kitchen to prepare dinner for the whole family where they chatted away
gaily. After dinner, Eme told her mom she would love to see her privately for
something really important. I hope all is well with my baby; her mood has been
a bit too gay today her mom thought. Ok dear, your room or mine? She asked
aloud. Mine, of course, replied Eme and they headed into her room.
Close your eyes
mom, Eme told her mom softly. I have a surprise for you. Hmmm, it had better be
a pleasant one her mom said as she closed her eyes, smiling. When she was sure
she had her eyes firmly shut, Eme held out the pack of sanitary pads before
her. Taadaa, open your eyes now! Mrs. Etim gingerly opened her eyes and gave
out a large squeal when she saw what the surprise was. She hugged her daughter
tightly for about a minute, too long for Eme’s comfort. Congratulations darling, welcome to the club
Now, tell me, when
and how did this happen? You were fine when you left home this morning. Yes,
mom, I was Eme said and recounted the events of the day. But mom, she concluded, everyone keeps saying
I will get pregnant if a boy touches me. How could that be? I’ve been holed up
here since I got back because I don’t want my brothers to touch me. Her mom
could not hold back the laughter. She laughed until tears rolled down her
recovered from the bout of laughter, she dried up her face with tissue which
her daughter held up to her. Now, before I answer that, do you have any more
questions? Is there anything else you need clarifications about? Mrs. Etim
asked. Yes, mom, I need to know everything about having a period. Ok dear, now
you have a bedtime story.
period, or just period, is the shedding/melting away of the lining of the
uterus or womb which comes out in form of blood from the vagina. It starts
during puberty between the ages of 12-14. It could be sooner or later than
this. You know, your body starts getting set for reproduction at puberty,
therefore, the womb is lined up with soft tissue and blood waiting for the ova
(egg) to be released (ovulation), fertilized by male spermatozoa and implanted
there, the beginning of a baby. When there is no fertilization, the egg dies
off and the lining of the womb melts away and comes out of your vagina as
menstrual blood. It typically lasts for 3-5 days after which it stops and your
body starts getting ready for ovulation and either pregnancy or another
On the issue of
getting pregnant when touched by boys. As I said earlier, you release an egg
once every month which should be fertilized by male spermatozoa. The sperm is
released into the vagina when a man has sex with a woman. That is when there is
penis-vagina penetration without protection or contraception. That penis-vagina
penetration, or sex, is what is referred to as “touching”.
regarded as a more decent form of saying sex. It literally means that now you
have started seeing your period, there is a high likelihood of you getting
pregnant if you have unprotected sex with a man. It is not when a boy touches
your hand or face. Do you understand me so far dear? Yes mom, said Eme, heaving
a sigh of relief. Please go on mom, I’m all ears she said. Ok dear.
As I was saying,
mom continued, menstruation happens once in every lunar month (twenty-eight
days) except in cases of pregnancy, birth control, drug usage or ill health-related
issues. This once in every month occurrence is known as your monthly menstrual
circle. The length of the circle varies from person to person and could be between
21-35 days. It is counted from the first day of the last period to the first
day of the next period.
Monthly periods come with signs and symptoms, which
could be painful, discomforting or not.
These signs include nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness, cramps, dizziness,
headaches, general feelings of discomfort and so forth.
Cramps are the
most common signs. It could be mild discomfort or severe pains in the lower
abdomen. If the pain is too strong, it could be a sign of endometriosis.
Period pains are managed by mild pain relief drugs, applying hot water bottle
to the crotch, avoiding food triggers like sugary foods and drinks shortly
before and during a period. It typically goes away at the onset of the
Do you have
further questions darling? No, mom. Ahaa, that reply was really fast mom said.
Are you sure you are okay with this conversation? Yes, mom, I am. It’s just the
bit about sex that was uncomfortable but I guess I can ask you anything mom. You
go right on ladybug; I am yours for a few more minutes. Eme laughed out loud and urged her mom to go
on back to bed as she was satisfied with the conversation. You are the best mom
in the whole wide world, I absolutely adore you. Thanks a bunch, you sweet thing
her mom replied, hugging her tightly. Good night baby.
Eme Etim had a
good night rest and woke up bright and alert to blood-stained bed sheets. She
quickly cleaned it, tidied herself up and was ready for school in no time
before she remembered she had no sanitary pad on. She quickly went back into
her bedroom, pulled out a piece of sanitary pad from the pack that lay on her
bedside table. She peeled off the cellophane wrap, exposing the pad. With a
fresh sanitary panty, she gingerly peeled off the gummy tape guard and placed
the pad on her panty. Then she spread out the pad wings, took off the sticky
tape and stuck them under the pants on opposite sides. Then she put on the
sanitary pants and ran off to join her brothers who were already waiting in the
car. School was really fun as she had an answer to all her friends had to say
about having a period.
finished high school and was admitted into one of the most prestigious colleges
in the country, where she studied Social Works. Her choice of profession was informed
by what Nurse had told her in high school about female genital mutilation. She
wanted to help girl children who didn’t have access to equitable life and
second year in college, she met, fell in love with and married her husband, Edem,
amidst a very elaborate four days ceremony comprising of her maiden outing
ceremony, traditional marriage, church wedding, and thanksgiving service.
Cross River State of Nigeria which is Eme’s home of origin, marriages are taken
seriously between the two families. Both sides try to ensure that their
children are perfect matches for each other; the families were good which
traditionally meant no history of madness, stealing, divorce, or other ill
health and behavioral patterns that were believed to run in the family
bloodline. The marriage ceremony was conducted upon the satisfaction of both
Efik society, culmination of marriages commenced with the seclusion of the
bride to be for fattening, induction into womanhood via circumcision and home
management training. Here she was taught all about how to care for herself,
babies, husband and the home. She was also taught what to expect from her
husband, in-laws, and pregnancy, childbirth and care.
In modern times,
seclusion is no longer widely practiced. Mothers, older and more experienced
relatives still talk to their daughters about what to expect in marriage. Eme
was particularly interested in pregnancy and childbirth so she requested that
her mom and immediate female family members share their experiences with her.
Mrs. Etim took
the lead in explaining to her daughter what to expect during pregnancy and
childbirth. She said pregnancy is the period of nine calendar months or ten
lunar months when a woman carries a baby in her womb until delivery. It starts
when you have sex with your husband and his sperm fertilizes your ova.
Remember, it is not every sexual intercourse that will lead to pregnancy. For
it to lead to pregnancy, a lot of factors are involved but majorly, you as a
woman should be ovulating, free from
infections and blockage. The man also must have healthy sperm with good count
and morbidity. All things being okay, pregnancy is sure to happen when you have
sex around when you are ovulating, and not on contraceptives.
dear, interrupted an aunt who was a medical personnel. Pregnancy could also
occur without sex through a process known as artificial insemination. It is . .
. we have heard, taaaaaa, we are not praying for that, please go away with your
bad omen; she was rudely interrupted by almost everyone shouting at the same
time on top of their voices.
How do I know I
am pregnant, mom? Eme asked. I think someone who has not spoken before should
answer her, Mrs. Etim enjoined. The most common first sign of pregnancy is a
missed period replied her Dad’s younger sister, Aunt Ekamma. That means your
menstrual flow will not appear that month. You should take a pregnancy test to
ascertain that you are pregnant. Other signs will follow immediately such as
nausea, vomiting, food abhorrence and craving, breast tenderness, bloated
stomach, headache, dizziness, irritability and so on. This most times goes on
for the first three months, also known as the first trimester.
As for me, her
maternal grandma chipped in, I never had nausea nor did I vomit. I was always
very weak and dizzy. It was during my antenatal visits that it was discovered
that my blood level was low. I was anemic. It is very important that you
register for antenatal care as soon as you discover you are pregnant. Yes grandma,
thank you so much ma. Could you please share your childbirth stories with me?
I’m sure my bridal train would love to hear the stories too. Eme pleaded.
It never ceases
to intrigue me how eager every bride to be I have come across is to hear birth
stories. Grandma said. Ladies I am certain you have loads of stories for the
younger ones. The older ladies all laughed and took turns telling her what to
expect during labor and delivery.
The symptoms of
labor vary amongst women and pregnancies in order of presentation. What I mean
here is that every woman experiences different things at different stages of
labor. Labour presentation also varies with pregnancies. For example, the birth
of your second child might not be like the first. Her aunt started.
For me, labor
starts with lower back pains and cramps similar to menstrual pains. It comes
and goes for a period of about two weeks. This is called false labor or Braxton
hicks. Then I would normally have a show (blood stained mucus). When the
show presents, I know it is the real deal; labor has begun in earnest.
The pain grows
in intensity and I can only describe it as very intense menstrual cramps. It is
usually very painful. It gets more painful as labor progresses. This bloody
show keeps coming out, increasingly until my waters break. By this time I would
already have been in the hospital.
As soon as the
waters break, the pain gets more intense, contractions stronger and more
frequent. Things move really fast until it’s time to push. How do you know when
you have to push? Asked Eme’s Friend, Asari.
Your body will know. You will have a strong urge to bear down as if you
need to use the toilet. It is so strong you cannot control it.
For me, Mrs. Etim chipped in. Labor starts
with mild cramps as well which are manageable. Shortly after I first start
feeling the cramps, let’s say about two hours into it, my water breaks. The
first time I had a baby, I did not notice the mild cramps as I had been dealing
with the discomforts of the final lap of pregnancy for a while. I was taken
unawares when my waters broke as I sat on the toilet seat in the office. I had
a little pop like the smacking of my lips then there was a gush. I sprang up in
fright and more water gushed out. I thought the water will never finish. I was
so scared I let out a scream. Female colleagues rushed in and took me to the
hospital immediately. That labor lasted for more than twenty-four hours and I
was exhausted. Thankfully, your brother was born before other medical
intervention measures were taken. That was my longest labor ever.
could labor be mom? Eme was obviously scared now. Expect the worst pains you can
imagine my dear, grandma said, so that you are not taken unawares.
You know my
dear, as an Efik woman; there are do’s and don’ts of pregnancy and childbirth
grandma continued. You must be brave from the very beginning. Don’t spit out no
matter how nauseous you feel during the first trimester. As soon as you start
you will not be able to control it and you know it is very irritating. Avoid
certain foods like okra, snail, ogbono and other slimy foods so that your baby
will not drool. You must not have sex standing or on all fours while pregnant
so the baby does not behave like an animal. During labor, do not shout.
Shouting makes labor more painful and gets you worn out.
When once you
bring forth your child, you would have completed your life cycle as a
woman….you would have replaced yourself. When you have the next one, you
replace your husband. The entire room burst into laughter.
contraction jolted Eme back to reality. They were getting closer together and
more painful as she had been told. Her husband hurriedly took her to the
hospital and all she could say was get mom on the phone for me, please. Three hours
later, she brought forth an adorable baby girl. As soon as she was able, she
got to talk to her mom. Mommy, she said weakly, tell grandma I have completed
the life cycle of a woman… Really? Mom said. Congratulations my darling,
welcome to the ultimate club of womanhood!