I’m an American who will be having her second baby in Senegal, which has a medical system that is very influenced by the French. So what does this kind of cross-cultural pregnancy look like?

Men's shirt from fegg jaay market = maternity top.
Men’s shirt from fegg jaay market = maternity top.

Packing on the pounds/kilos.
I remember showing up for one of my prenatal visits with my first and expecting nothing short of a medal for having gained only a few pounds. Even better than the medal, I was sure the doctor would tell me I needed to start eating more (chocolate). I couldn’t wait. But instead, she said my weight gain was ‘fine’ and ‘appropriate’. What?! My pregnancy app (made in America) said I should gain 25 to 35lbs, and I was nowhere near that track. But apparently (for once in my life), I was on the French track, which recommends weight gain during pregnancy of 9 to 12 kilos (19 to 26lbs).

If you’ve got it, flaunt it! Or not.
Baby bumps are a prized accessory in American culture. We proudly wear empire-waist tops or cinch a belt up under the bulge to show it off. Random strangers ask about the due date and some even want a feel.

In Senegal, the polite thing to do when you notice that a woman is pregnant is to ignore it. Completely. In fact, women traditionally go out of their way to hide their baby bumps in looser dresses and often with a scarf worn over one shoulder like a modified toga. I asked a Senegalese friend about this practice and she said that part of it is a modesty issue, but the larger part is avoiding the evil eye, curses put on the mother and baby. As in many places around the world, the mentality in the big city is different, so I’ve been told that in Dakar it’s not offensive or shocking for me to wear US-style maternity clothes.

Gotta’ love the maternity boubou/tent.

About a month ago I was walking in our neighborhood and ran into a young Senegalese guy we know. He’s studied abroad, speaks great English and is exactly what you’d picture when you think of a modern Dakarois. He greeted me in Wolof, asked about the family, etc… Then he switched to English and said, “You know, in my culture we don’t ask a pregnant woman about the baby. But I know in yours you do, so I will ask… How are you and the baby?” I think I was equal parts shocked and touched!

To C or not to C?
My understanding is that the prevailing thought in the US towards C-sections is once a C, always a C. Not so in Senegal.

BYO… everything.
I’ve never been hospitalized in the US, but I have done my research (Pinterest articles) and the suggested packing lists for moms-to-be going into American hospitals are quite a bit shorter than the one I was given by a very kind woman here who has assisted many Americans with deliveries. For example, I will be packing a towel, Tylenol, diapers and wipes and a bandage for the umbilical cord.

This is a sample maternity ensemble from my ‘Dakar winter’ collection. Flip-flops and a scarf are in.

Picking up the tab.
A C-section and five-day hospital stay at a private clinic in Dakar came to about $3000 before insurance. All you Americans reading this can collectively pick your jaws up off the floor now. Although this is about one tenth the cost in the US, you should know that there is a 5000cfa ($10) deposit required for the TV remote control in your room.

Wrap it up.
In Senegal, after a woman gives birth she gets special massages from her female family members to help with recovery and often her stomach is wrapped to help give support as she heals. Another effect of the wrapping is supposed to be that it helps the stomach shrink back to pre-baby size. After Pape was born, a Senegalese friend asked if I was wrapping my stomach. When I said no, she kind of raised one eyebrow with a, “You’re going to regret that…” look. And she was right. I am so wrapping after this next one!

Finally, just for the record, I wouldn’t mind adopting the French way of doing a three day (or more!) spa retreat after childbirth.