One of those things I experienced with the Masai, is witnessing childbirth.
|The wive of my husband's brother who gave birth recently.|
As generous, warm and welcoming the Masai are, I was first invited to watch a Masai lady give birth in February 2012, when I had only been living with them for a month.
Masai women traditionally have their babies at home, aided by a traditional midwife and many many of their female relatives.
The hut in which a woman is labouring is swarmed with her sisters, neighbours, mother and even grandmother. Any woman who is around is invited to watch and to support her.
However, there are rules regarding age and respect for your elders. No woman younger than the lady in labour is allowed to watch. Also, pregnant ladies are not allowed into the hut until the child is born and mothers with babies who have not yet teeth are not allowed unless they leave their children to be watched by someone outside of the hut.
|Myself with two of my sisters-in-law during a ceremony.|
The traditional midwive and older ladies sit on the bed with the woman in labour, holding her, rubbing her back and checking her dilation every so often. They are all naked from the waist down. This, they believe, helps the woman relax and open herself for childbirth.
After the baby is born, the traditional midwive also oversees the passing of the placenta. To help this along, a boy (or the husband of the new mother) is called to climb the roof of the house with a stick and tap it repeatedly saying 'Quack' over and over again until the placenta is out.
It is then wrapped in leaves and taken outside by two women holding a machete. The machete is used to fend of wild animals as well as men while they complete their task of burrying the placenta in the bush.
|Masai women dancing at a ceremony after the birth of a child.|
The day after the birth a sheep is slaughtered and people are invited to celebrate. The new mother is given as much as a litre of liquid sheep's fat to drink (I tried it, and yes, it is just as disgusting as it sounds). This is thought to help her heal.
The new mother will stay inside of her hut with her baby for roughly two months and her mother and mother-in-law do all the work for her, cooking, washing, looking after the goats and much more. They also help her with the baby at night.
Her husband does not stay in the same hut as the new mother for up to three months.
|Masai women from our boma receiving reusable sanitary kits through one of my projects.|
Women call each other to witness each other's birth even in the middle of the night. The sense of community and love is inspiring. I have witnessed five births so far and have yet to succeed in keeping a dry eye.
Only recently my sister-in-law had her second son and I was called to her hut at 1 am. For a second I thought about just continuing to sleep but the feeling of responsibility and of showing my support to my fellow women, made me get up.
I sat in her hut, watching her labour with many other women for over 2 hours, until she gave birth just after 3 am and I held her tiny baby for the first time not long afterwards. During the birth of her first child, she was in labour for nearly 48 hours and all without any kind of pain relief.
|Myself with women from my family and a friend from Colombia|
The strength, kindness and generosity of Masai women (as well as men) is something that I will never cease to admire and be grateful for.
This is why I am currently running a women empowerment project in our community, teaching Masai women how to sew their own reusable sanitary kits. If you would like to support us in this endeavour, please click on this link: 'Stephanie's Masai Women Enterprise'.