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On being Mothered and Mothering – Fefe’s Story

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Mother, Mama, Ma, Mom

Early this month we celebrated Mother’s Day. This has been a time to reflect on my own motherhood journey and to acknowledge my two mothers.

When I was 9 months old my mother took me to the Eastern Cape to be raised by my late grandmother “umama” because at the time it was difficult for her to manage as a domestic worker. I spent my first 1000 days between two provinces and two mothers. I came to live with my parents at the beginning of Primary school and I believe I share a similar story with many others who were raised by family and often have more than one mother.

I was the youngest grandchild, so mama would pour warm tea on a sauce for me to drink, I would sit on her lap when she went to village gatherings and she carried me on her back most of the time. I don’t remember ever getting a hiding from my grandmother, I was too precious to do any wrong at that time.

Life in the rural areas was carefree and safe, as a child I enjoyed free play along with the livestock and chickens. The role that grandmothers play is undeniably important and sometimes substitutes the role of an absent mother or even parents. When I came to live with my biological mother in Khayelitsha it felt like I was losing a part of myself. Things drastically changed and I had to adapt to a completely new environment and mothering style. Life in a township was rough with crime and the realities of poverty – as a result, my mother was very strict and protective but love was always present.

My motherhood journey has been filled with lonely and challenging situations.

I once had to make a decision to start a new job when my son was just 2 months old. I agree with the statement, “desperate times call for desperate measures!” In my desperation for employment, I only had a month of maternity leave while the other was spent in the hospital as my son had a serious bladder infection. I woke up from a hospital chair which I had gotten used to and prepared for work. I felt guilty for leaving my son in the hospital and also felt a bit of excitement for a progressing career. In my mind, I knew I had no choice, but my heart would break each morning I left him in someone else’s care (there was a roster between my mother and my partner). I now realise that this the way my own mother felt when she separated from me.

There are heartwarming, and very joyful moments too, like the unconditional love I receive from my little boy and watching him grow on an intellectual, physical and emotional level.

Having an involved partner, family and my circle of friends is a treasure. I have connected with other mothers at every opportunity- clinic visits, play dates, or shopping for baby things.

I gain a lot from the advice, assurance, and the platform to be heard and know I am not alone. As mothers, we often want to do it all on our own, which is often possible but it does not mean we don’t need help. We need to allow and enable people around us to care and help us raise our children, this includes fathers who want to be part of the journey as well.

Motherhood has connected me with my own mother on a deeper level and has also seen me lose my grandmother whom I remember for the warmest embrace. Being raised by these two incredible women has influenced the type of mother I have become and I see myself reverting between the two personalities.

As we imagine a society with children who thrive, we also need to imagine one which supports and nurtures mothers in all that they do. Communities need to protect women and children from abuse and provide a safe environment for all mothers and their children. Information needs to be easily accessible to mothers concerning their pregnancy and wellbeing. Our clinics and other social service offices need to be welcoming and open.

Above all, we need to honour the grandmothers, aunts, foster and adoptive mothers, and all caregivers out there who mother a child (often more than one child) because it truly does take “a village to raise a child”.

For additional ideas and resources on how to support a mother during the first 1000 days see
By Fefekazi Mavuso

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