Adorable babies are frequently associated with the physical attributes of being large and chubby. Onlookers cannot help but notice these little ones with so much fascination and say words like, “What a healthy baby!” Indeed the mother will most often be congratulated on attaining this healthy baby size for her child with questions or advice on what tips she can share with other mothers whose babies are
I recall such scenarios in the early days of my first daughter. My eldest daughter although having been of average weight expectation at delivery, went on to become quite chubby in the first 9mths of her life. As most new mothers would empathise, she was the most exquiste baby – and often magazine photo shoot offers for baby magazines would be put forth. Then illness struck and this appeared to have affected her interest with food, followed by a drop in weight whereby her chubby cheeks became a distant memory from her earlier photos. Her interest in food waned even further as a toddler when her sister came along. To a larger extent in hindsight, she inherited my eating habits of being a fussy eater.
My second daughter was chubby from delivery and her interest in food was just as healthy, she actually opted to lose the breast-feeding in preference to the bottle at 3mths. The reason behind this method for her I thought at the time was that, she was guaranteed to have her fill…I didn’t seem to have enough milk to satiate her appetite. Somehow also got the feeling my oldest daughter gave up on eating when she mistook her baby’s sister to be in more need of it than her, whilst observing her at meal times. It was her (older daughter) initial expression and action on that made me conclude this.
The public comparisons of the two daughters made about their weight appearances from all corners of our social circles got to me in those early days of motherhood. This can be quite overwhelming especially if you are also trying to bond with your husband’s/partner’s relatives whilst also hoping to win their affection if not favour. It can be made worse also if there happens to be other issues to contend with such as another person who your in-laws may or may not have in favour.
Most positive comments tended to favour the chubbier child – myself included I confess. I had grown up with the perception that babies were to be chubby, that if they were thin or light, they didn’t somehow measure up to be babies. Chubby babies were cuddlier…cute even. It gave you a sense of pride that you had done a good job… Big is seen as healthy overall in Africa.
Ill-informed and possibly silly to note and I now know that, but it was how my take on babies was. (For their privacy, you will excuse me for not posting their photos.) There was a 2.5yr gap between my two daughters then. The pressure to ensure that my oldest daughter ate to be just as chubby as her baby sister was quite overwhelming at worst. It made meal times stressful for both of us and found me constantly checking that she was topped up with all sorts of vitamins to encourage her appetite. I must have relaxed my paranoia at some stage – though I am not sure exactly when.
I remembered being force-fed as a toddler and throwing up straight after; so this memory for me, coupled with my personality for doing things my way, stopped me from putting my daughter through the same path. It meant I had to put up with comments of my older daughter’s weight and comparisons from parents of other toddlers of her age group at social gatherings and even at playgroups. Some of these comments were said innocently but they still had a negative effect at times. For example, some persons would ask if I was feeding her enough and unsolicited suggestions followed for me to try different vitamins for her appetite. Yes, some would even suggest force-feeding her.
It is on this basis that I find the case of Gloria Dwomoh who has been found guilty of causing the death of her child because of force-feeding to be quite tragic for all concerned. She was trying to ensure that her baby was physically adorable to those who saw her. To be able to stand up to years of conditioned perception of what is acceptable practice in the hope of attaining the perceived ideal in your community and the need to belong is not always easy to set aside, no matter what education or setting one may have. True she was working within a medical establishment, but how many persons can we name that we know are nurses or doctors or even within respected professions yet smoke like troopers, use what is socially accepted as social class-A drugs or out-drink any fish there is in the sea? Yet these persons know the complications of their actions and the impacts on others related or otherwise, but still do so… You might argue that their actions are on themselves – which to some extent is true; however their actions or results of their actions impact indirectly or directly to others around. Is this not simply a case of choice of accepting held perceptions of norms to our social or cultural conditioning at the exclusion of all else? What does this have to say about social inclusion society’s complex cultures and beliefs in relation to the law of the land?