Motherhood is different from womanhood. Motherhood is not a natural condition; it is an institution that presents itself as a natural outcome of biologically given differences as a natural consequence of heterosexual activity and as a natural manifestation of an innate female characteristic, namely the maternal instinct. Motherhood has been seen as a source of women’s strength and uniqueness, a site of being entirely feminine and that draws upon women’s special qualities and knowledge (Carol 1996: 38). Feminists in Africa such as Molara Ogundipe-Leslie, Aduke Adebayo, Chinyere G. Okafor, while conceding that motherhood may at times operate in an oppressive manner, have tried to read other meanings to motherhood, which are empowering for women. Within these meanings, they agree that giving birth bestows a certain status on women even mystical powers. African traditions point to this fact.
Society frames women to occupy different positions- a mother, a wife, a daughter, a priestess, a prophetess, a witch, or a possessed entity and these positions inform the way they are interacted with in society. In Africa, motherhood is given a premium space in society; the highest value is given to a woman who has gone through the stages of motherhood- childbearing to nurturing a child. The Yoruba culture believes so much in motherhood because motherhood itself is spiritual and beyond human reasoning and not every woman can successfully go through the stages of motherhood. Those who passed through the stages successfully are given appraisal through songs, proverbs, and art.
According to Akujobi (2011), among the Yoruba, motherhood is said to confer privileges that give credence to the very foundations of society and women’s presumed roles in it and thus symbolize fertility, fecundity, and fruitfulness. The Yoruba saying, (‘mother is gold, the father is a mirror’) goes a long way in showing the importance of motherhood in African society. Mothers are gold: strong, valuable, true, and central to a child’s existence. Motherhood is not always as smooth as it seems it is also self-denying. Adrienne Rich (1996: 45) posits that although the reality of motherhood is experienced by women, the institution is ably controlled by men because the experience is being interpreted by men and the structure they control.
A woman is viewed as a source or necessity for procreation. She is also seen as a necessary evil in which that society cannot do without. She is promoted to an esteemed position- a golden figure. In the Yoruba culture, a child is seen as a coral bead, silver, and any woman who has not possessed a child has not lived a fulfilled life. Buchi Emecheta dwells on the concept of motherhood in most of her books, especially in ‘Joys of Motherhood’ (1979) and ‘Second Class Citizen (1974). Also, Flora Nwapa mirrors this concept in her ‘Efuru’ (1966), where childlessness and failed marriages mandate a literary criticism that mirrors the importance of children in the African family. Mbiti (1970) recognizes the concept of ‘motherhood’ when he says that, it is central to African philosophy and spirituality. Motherhood is a joyful and privileged state for the woman because, in pregnancy, the woman is said to ‘glow and shine’ and she receives special treatment, especially from her husband and her mother-in-law (Akujobi 2011:3). He also said that no matter the skills, desires, and talents of a woman, her primary function is that of motherhood, at least in Africa. Unlike the West where reproduction is subject to agreement between couples whether or not to have children is well spelled out before marriage, but this is not so in Africa where every woman aspires to be a mother someday. Motherhood in Africa is seen as a God-giving role and for this reason, it is sacred. Some argue that there is a superior maternal instinct which is part of a woman’s biology that is connected to her child.
Motherhood whether blood mother, another mother or a community mother is seen as a symbol of power. According to Littlefield (2007: 54), ‘motherhood is a unique relationship between mother and child, one which is seen as the basic requirement for child development. Mothers nurse their children, provide love, affection, and guidance and shape primary development.’ mothers are therefore at the prime center of societal development. Motherhood is seen as an experience and an institution which can be seen from its different definitions by different writers both male and female in our contemporary times. This concept is profoundly shaped by our social context and culture which has informed or influenced our ideology.
The figure of a mother is seen as a deity, Yoruba believes there is no deity like a mother and it is the mother that is worthy of being worshipped. Motherhood is said to possess some spiritual power and that is why some symbols are used to represent a woman which is being worshipped (Makinde2004). Motherhood is germane in the Yoruba culture because the preservation of humans depends on the role of mothers in society ( Lawal 1996). The preservation of a child’s life also depends on the mother- the vagina and the breast. The breast, (omÃº) is to keep and strengthen the child with the inexhaustible flow of milk and the vagina, (path from heaven) is a source of power where life and death lies. Therefore, the existence of a child is solely in the hands of a mother.
Despite the multiple roles played by the woman – wife, homemaker, grandmother, and mother, many mothers still play the role of caregiver. The term caregiving is widely used and has been studied from, a variety of scientific perspectives including in nursing, sociology, and psychology (Connell 2003; Mendez luck, Kennedy, and Wallace 2009).
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2021 defines a caregiver as a person who provides direct care for children, elderly people, or the chronically ill. Drentea (2007) refers to caregiving as ‘the act of providing unpaid assistance and support to family members or acquaintances that have physical, psychological or developmental needs.’ Caregiving is also the process of helping another person who is unable to do things for themselves in a holistic (physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially) manner. Caregiving is facilitated by certain character traits, emotions, skills, knowledge, time, and emotional connection with the recipient.
Caregiving is not just a role; it also entails building a relationship with the individual which involves emotional care and commitment to the relationship. Caregiving is being responsible for someone other than oneself. Caregivers exert their energy on their recipient’s interests and feelings, putting aside their own problems or feelings and paying maximum attention to the recipient. Caregiving involves the emotional connection between the caregiver and the recipient. Holistic care in caregiving is supported by the works of (Pearlin, L. K., Mullan, J. T., Semple, S. J., & Skaff, M. M. (1990), who explicitly stated that one must possess the affective component of caring to provide caregiving. Emotional connection and holistic care are closely related, both extending beyond attending to the ‘Physical’ being. It refers to relating to and caring for a person on an emotional level, being able to share their feelings with the caregiver, being open-minded, vulnerable and trusting the caregiver not to hurt them emotionally.