restricted access 5. Precarious Trajectories: Managing Reproductive Suffering
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Fertility and motherhood are not simple biological matters; they are contested concepts through which different categories of women strive to attain social status and security. Women’s reproductive practices and discourses are centered mostly around the perception of healthy fertility trajectories to ensure safe pregnancies and births. Bearing live children is not the only viable outcome of fertility, nor is fertility a linear trajectory bound by biological concepts of time. Rather, fertility is a “spatially threatened corporeality” that consists of the precarious episodes of pregnancy, delivery , confinement, breast-feeding, and child rearing, all of which are infused with perceptions of well-timed bodily investments that can affect a woman’s fertility outcome and increase or decrease her chances of achieving the status of responsible motherhood. Since these episodes are inherently precarious, a woman’s ultimate fertility outcome is evaluated by her ability to invest in her health and that of her children in order to transcend the danger embedded in each reproductive stage. Although women’s 144 Chapter 5 Precarious Trajectories Managing Reproductive Suffering And we have charged man concerning his parents—his mother bore him in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning was in two years—be thankful to me, and to thy parents; to me is the homecoming. Qur’an ultimate fertility outcome is determined by God, who assigns them an a priori number of potential children (see Bledsoe, Banja, and Hill 1998), it is also spatially threatened by internal and external forces of danger that work against God’s will to impair women’s fertility and render them marginal. Accordingly, Hadendowa women gauge fertility by their investment in the health and success of each pregnancy and later by the productive and reproductive careers of their children. I first focus on Hadendowa women’s perceptions of reproductive health and their management of bodily traumas . These spatially embodied experiences speak to Hadendowa gender arrangements and to broader concepts of identity and regeneration. I then analyze two case studies to examine women’s fertility strategies and their continuous efforts to attain the status of “proper”fertility and motherhood as expressed through the intertwined constructs of childbearing and child rearing, in a region where maternal and child health are at stake. Threatened Reproductivity The path to “proper” fertility and motherhood begins with the onset of pregnancy within marriage, which is considered the legitimate arena for initiating a woman’s fertility. Fertility, as manifested in pregnancy and its concomitant episodes, is at risk if not carefully managed through good nutrition and protected from the evil eye, dangerous spirits, and mysterious diseases. Therefore, a woman conceals her pregnancy during the first months from distant relatives who may cast the evil eye upon her and cause a miscarriage. The central role of mothers as reproducers of cultural knowledge is reflected in their active role in monitoring their daughter’s pregnancies and providing her with the right food, amulets, and herbal medicine that protect both the daughter and her fetus. Pregnancy Resting the body and strengthening the bones of the pregnant woman and her unborn child are central to Hadendowa ideas of a mother’s and her child’s well-being. Therefore, a pregnant woman is not allowed to do taxing chores that stress her body and may lead to a difficult pregnancy. Meat, milk, ‘ajwa (soft dates), and butter are the basic components of pregnant women’s nutritious diet. Amna (age fifty) commented that before the famine and the current economic situation, husbands used to slaughter sheep for their pregnant wives. She added, “But we still try to do everything we can to nourish a pregnant woman.” Precarious Trajectories 145 While milk and meat, especially spleen and kidneys, are considered important for revitalizing the blood of both the pregnant woman and her fetus, butter is necessary for strengthening their bones during the first four months of pregnancy; it also facilitates delivery. Fatna (age sixty) explained that a child whose mother consumes butter during her pregnancy would be delivered easily, emerging clean with “no blood, no scratches or deformities .” During the last trimester, butter becomes insignificant and must be replaced with soft dates, taken with milk to continue the revitalization of the body. Due to their healing power, soft dates are taken during the last months of pregnancy, when the bones of the child and the mother are said to be stronger. ‘Ajwa are usually imported from Arabia and sold in the market in small packages. A woman’s diet during...


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