Oftentimes, the women in our lives who have experienced motherhood almost, always glorify the journey focusing on all the cute bump pictures and when the baby arrives, dressing them up in all the fabulous outfits. However, the fourth trimester can be challenging for mothers. The fourth trimester is “the 12-week period immediately after you have had your baby. Not everyone has heard of it, but every mother and their newborn baby will go through it”. Adjusting to a newborn, learning how to care for this tiny human while also, trying to care for yourself can be mentally, emotionally and physically draining.
When we speak of mental health, is it important that we cater to the needs of mothers as they experience the multifaceted and occasionally, demanding layers of motherhood. Although, mental health is still a stigma in our communities thus, most of us will not speak on our experiences; we applaud the courageous, brave and beautiful Elizabeth Njie-Senghore for sharing her motherhood journey with us. Her vulnerability is appreciated and oh, so relatable I think I dropped a gangster tear while reading her responses.
Meet Elizabeth Njie-Senghore mother, wife and business owner. Read her journey as a #AfricanBoyMom!
Tell us your story. Who is Elizabeth Njie-Senghore?
I am a mom to two awesome little boys aged 4 and 3-months that have truly stolen my heart. I am very reserved, hard to get to know, socially awkward and generally don’t seek social engagement which if I do, sometimes find draining. Ironically, I am married to a free spirit and the biggest ‘people person’ I have ever known. But, once you get to know me, you find a goofball who enjoys dance parties in front of the mirror with my 4-year-old. Those closest to me say, I have a wicked sense of humor, can hang, ‘wahtan’ and fun to be around.
I am a small business owner of the recently rebranded ‘aada eats’ (previously known as ‘eats & treats’) that specializes in catering both savory meals and sweet treats. For as long as I can remember, I have had a love affair with all thing’s food. In 2016, I turned this passion into a career and have never looked back. I have so many special memories watching and learning from my grandma, and all the women in my life who have inspired this journey of sharing my love of food and feeding others.
Around 7-years-old, I fell in love with basketball. We had a mini court in our backyard for my brother and his friends. I remember not being as tall as the older boys so, when they would let me join the game, my brother’s friend Scottie would have someone alley-oop the ball to me, and he would lift me up mid play so I could dunk. Growing up as a tomboy in The Gambia with the gender stereotypes, I never really fit in with the ‘girls’ and spent a lot of time on my own. As a result, I found comfort in my own company, my books and journals. I have carried this into adulthood with my small circle of friends and family that I love spending my free time with. When I am in need of a recharge after a tough week, you will find me curled up on the sofa with a good book or on social media looking at food.
What does motherhood mean to you?
Motherhood to me is a fierce unconditional love! It is strength that you never thought you were capable of; it is letting go of the notion of perfection and control; it is accepting mistakes and failures; and it is learning to control that indescribable urge to protect and shower your little one with love and affection, and balancing it all with discipline and life lessons.
My journey with motherhood has been nothing like I expected. As a type A personality, who likes to be in charge and control of her environment, motherhood handed me my biggest life lesson. It is the one thing in life you can never really plan for and I learnt the hard way to just ‘let go and let God’. My 4yr old son was born with severe life-threatening food allergies and it is something the medical system in The Gambia is ill-equipped to deal with. It was a learning process for the entire family and living where this is so rare and unheard of, I spent my waking hours hovered over him, terrified and overprotective. Incidents where you have to turn down food offered to him from strangers, friends and family alike, became the norm for us.
Unfortunately, most had never heard about this or couldn’t comprehend how something like a biscuit would be dangerous to someone. I saw the looks and I heard the whispers. I lived in a constant state of panic and fear, and kept my son at home unless, it was necessary. We were blessed to have Moonflower Montessori school, and Naceesay Marenah for providing a safe space where he could share meals with his friends and be a normal kid. Today, he is doing allergy immunotherapy and can list all his allergies and will ask to make sure any food handed to him is allergen free. He knows which meds are for any reactions, his asthma and his eczema. Seeing him so grown up and mature at such a young age makes me so proud and racked with guilt at the same time. Sometimes, I wish he could just be a normal little boy going to birthday parties and eating cake.
Motherhood forced me to accept that as women we can’t really have it all. As ambitious as I, I had to make peace with the fact that I couldn’t raise my son and cater to his ‘special needs’ and successfully, run a start up on my own. There were times, I felt like I was failing at one or the other or both. As I look back, I see the unanswered calls and messages from customers I did not get to return, the ideas and expansion plans that did not come to fruition, and the toll on my wellbeing, physically and psychologically. I see the cost of all those hospital visits, late nights, hours trying to work and watch my son in the most dangerous environment for him. I am wiser now. I am accepting. I have learnt to not be resentful of his father, and other fathers who don’t have to make these sacrifices. But, when it’s all said and done, I look at him and my heart is full. There is a perfection and completeness in my love for him that sometimes rattles me to my core. Was it ever really a choice? I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Until a couple of months ago, I was my 4yr old son’s primary caregiver from birth as my husband worked in another country. Raising him alone and running a food business from our home full of allergens took its toll. I always saw myself as extremely tough and resilient, as I have overcome many personal battles that earned me the nickname ‘Super Peh’. I remember a few years before I had kids, during a conversation with family and friends about postpartum depression, someone(male) said to me, you look like someone who would have post-partum. I did not realize that stuck with me until I had postpartum depression. I felt weak, ashamed and angry at myself for not being stronger, not being Super Peh. I spent 2 years as a psych major in University. I knew it was real. I knew It wasn’t my fault. I knew I had no reason to be ashamed. But PPD is a beast of a disease that takes away all reason. It sucks you into an abyss of darkness and hopelessness and takes away all your joy and zeal for life. I didn’t know how to help myself and a part of me did not want to admit he was right. I did not seek out help. I knew better but a part of me wanted to prove him wrong. I am grateful I was able to overcome but not getting help was one of my biggest regrets. I am forever changed by that experience, and some parts of it I will carry with me for a very long time.
What has been your proudest moment as a #AfricanBoyMom?
I remember being exhausted and stressed, and just having a bad day and I got very short with my husband with my son around. My son very calmly got my attention and asked me why I was shouting at his dad. I denied it. His response was “that’s not a nice way to talk to people mommy. We don’t talk to our friends, mommies and daddies like that. It’s not nice. You should apologize”. I was stunned into silence. I went through the different emotions. Did this three-year-old child of mine just speak to me like that? These new generation kids are bold! How dare he speak to me like that! Then I realized he was right. I was not being nice. And, omg my three-year-old knows about tone and body language. Over the last year or two, I have seen him stand up for different people in a similar way and I couldn’t be prouder. He has empathy and is bold enough to stand up to people if, he sees someone being treated wrong. I pray he never loses that.
We raise our girls to fight stereotypes but usually not our boys. What stereotypes do you want to dispel about African boys as you raise your son?
Our society, which is rooted in culture and religion, and the occasional blurring of those lines has a set of ideas about how we expect men and women to behave, dress, speak and present themselves. Over the last two years, we have challenged these stereotypes by pointing them out to our four-year-old, being living examples and speaking up when he behaves in a manner that reinforces these stereotypes. The idea that women belong in the kitchen and are obligated to be of service to men, and all their needs was the most important for me. Luckily, my son loves to bake and cook so this was an easier task. Over the last few months, I have been away from him, I have noticed a trend of him demanding only ‘boy movies and shows’, or him throwing a tantrum because he doesn’t want to grow his hair out and look like a girl. We hope, going forward, to teach him that there are no absolutes when it comes to behavior, what we watch, the colors we wear etc. We want him to understand individuality, and to respect the choices of people who stray from the ‘norm.’
As a #AfricanBoyMom, what are the three things you want to teach your son on how to treat girls/women?
I think some of the most important qualities a person can have is the ability to treat people with dignity, respect, kindness and compassion. Looking around the world today, we as a race have forgotten the importance of empathy and being kind to one another. As my boys are growing up in a social media age of bullying, I find it imperative to instill these values in them. Kids, today, are prematurely exposed to sexualization on tv and the internet, and it has never been more prudent to teach them about boundaries and consent. One thing, I love about my firstborn’s time at the Moonflower Montessori school was being taught very early on, the word no. Back then it was something that frustrated me because every request was met with no. But, with time I got to see the value of it. He was taught to respect personal space, speak up for himself and say no, thank you. He is a very overprotective big brother/cousin, and I hope to nurture and build on this as he gets older.
Gambian society is traditionally male dominated, it teaches boys to believe that a penis confers privilege. How can young mothers like yourself raise boys to understand and believe in equality?
I want my sons to know that what men can do, women can do as well, if not better. And, to see equality between men and women, starting in the home. It is important to me that they see us as equal partners in raising and taking care of them, from drop off to homework, bath time and meals, late nights up with them when they are unwell and everything, in between. It is also very important to see us as individuals with careers, my ambition and drive to succeed. When I am unable to work because I have to take care of the baby as I am doing right now, I want him to understand the sacrifice of women who put their careers on hold to have and raise children. I want him to respect the sacrifice of those women who are stay at home moms, and to understand the hard work it takes. I, along with my husband, hope to teach them by coaching considerate behaviors, modeling and encouraging affection and creating a safe environment for them to express their feelings. We believe it is vital they know the importance of having a full range of emotions.
What’s the biggest lesson your son has taught you thus far?
The biggest lesson has been letting go of my need to control what happens to me and my environment by extension. When I was pregnant with my first born, I did everything right. From the healthy diet, to exercise, prenatal vitamins, iron tablets, you name it. I was constantly on baby center reading and educating myself. Nothing went according to plan. He came two weeks overdue via emergency c-section. With my second pregnancy, in the middle of a pandemic, I made no plans. Zero expectations. So, when I developed preeclampsia and thrombocytopenia, I rolled with the punches. After months of doing everything right so, I could have a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean), my condition became life threatening and I had to deliver via emergency c-section at 36-weeks. My 3-month-old now has more severe allergies than his brother that requires me to have a vegan, egg-free, nut-free, gluten free and casein-free diet so, I can breastfeed him. What has all this taught me? Having children is anything but simple.
The Our Stories, Our Way Fast Three!
1. What’s your favorite book to read to your son?
Ginger the giraffe by T. Albert
2. If you and your son could have lunch with anyone who would it be and why?
Chimamanda Adichie. My boys would benefit from hearing her views on the social, political and economic equality of sexes and her experiences of growing up with sexism in Nigeria. When they are old enough, her book “We should all be feminists” will be a must read in our home.
3. What’s your advice to other young moms raising boys?
Get as much rest as you can. You will need it! My advice is to teach them to be kind and respectful of all people but especially women. Get the dads involved and hands on, and where that is not possible, have a male figure in their life. Teach them compassion, empathy and that it’s ok to show emotion.