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Thursday, October 7, 2010

West African Adventures in Pregnancy, Guest Post

Sunshine Sundays is bringing you its very first guest post today from a very good gal pal of mine, Ricci from Riccimedia.  When I discovered that Ricci and I were pregnant at the same time I was thrilled to share this experience with her and many Skype dates between the two of us followed.  You see, although Ricci and I met right here in Florida, Ricci now lives in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa.  She has become an international photojournalist whom I admire very much (and always have).

I still remember many “work break” conversations between the two of us in the ally way next to our office that went something like this,

Ricci: “Liz, I really want to travel and see the world”

ME: “Ricci just go for it, you are young with no husband or mortgage tying you down- NOW IS THE TIME”.

So, she did it!  And I just feel so happy for her that she has followed her dreams and the universe responded with placing amazing opportunities, good fortune and love at her feet.  Now here she is, nearly 3 years later, married and about to embark on motherhood.  I have so enjoyed our conversations; we laughed so hard and compared so much throughout the past 9 months! For this reason I have asked Ricci to share some of her perspectives on West African health care, baby names and maternity fashion (Read: can you even get maternity clothes in Senegal?) here. 

So without further ado here is the fabulous Ricci at 38 weeks pregnant to share some of her observations on pregnancy in Senegal with all of you.
Ricci & Mbaye


Liz asked me to guest post on Sunshine Sundays, and I jumped at the chance to share my ‘West African Adventures in Pregnancy’ with her new audience. Liz and I met while working at the same magazine in Florida a few years ago, and in 2008 when I told her that I wanted to travel to West Africa to do photojournalism work, she was one of the most encouraging people to support my crazy plan and basically is somewhat responsible for what ensued.

What ensued is that besides getting to photograph for The New York Times, the United Nations, Marie Claire and more, I have also met my most-amazing husband, Mbaye and almost three years after my departure from Sarasota, my hubbie and I are currently expecting a little girl any day now!  This is my first baby, so I’m not sure exactly what it’s like to be pregnant in the United States, but I can tell you what it’s like FOR ME in West Africa.

One of the reasons I love Dakar so much is because of its cultural diversity. My doctor is Lebanese, we speak French, my husband is Senegalese/Guinean, and most of my friends are British and American. So when it comes to maternity fashion and medical advice, so many cultures can lead to clashing ideas—and especially clashing wardrobes.


Medical differences abound when it comes to stories I’ve heard from my friends in the US and what my experience has been here. My doctor is trained in the French school of thought (Senegal is a former French colony), and among other things, that basically means that they scold you if you gain weight during pregnancy! Do you want to know why French women are all skinny?, because THEY ARE SCARED OF THEIR DOCTORS. The first appointment I went to, the doctor informed me that I was already overweight (pound wise I technically am, but I workout, and I wear a size 6-10, so I really wouldn’t classify myself as overweight. Sturdy? Yes). Anyways, he said that I should not gain any weight until the second trimester. In fact, he asked, “would it be possible for me to lose a few kilos in the next month?” (This actually turned out to be what happened, but that was only because I had some extreme morning sickness disease that involved me vomiting all day, every day. Not a recommended diet method let me tell you).

I’m not sure if it’s because I was scared of him, because it was so hot here or what, but as of today, I’m more than 38 weeks, and I’ve only gained about 10 pounds. I think this is probably more due to the fact that pregnancies are weird and unique for everyone, and my body only needed 10 pounds to grow this little baby of mine. I certainly did not really watch what I ate (what I ate was mostly ice cream), though I was sick much of the time, so I didn’t really feel like eating that much. But I digress….

Like I said, my husband is from West Africa, so his aunts and extended relatives have dozens of ideas on how to prepare for the baby and take care of the little fetus. Some of these tips are awesome and helpful—for instance, they insist I rubdown with Karate butter (basically REALLY pure Shea butter – straight from the tree) every day. This will keep skin nice and pretty during and after baby. So far, no stretch marks (though I’ve heard these arrive afterwards in some cases?). Anyways, my skin feels good and looks the same as before, so I’m counting this as a winning cultural clash. Another great advantage to the West African heat is that it’s kind of bad luck to talk about an unborn baby, so no West Africans in the streets here would EVER walk up to me and touch my belly or even ask me when I’m due or tell me.. “Oh, you look like you’re about to pop!” (Why do people think pregnant women—any women—would ever want to be told she looks like she’s about to ‘pop?’ WHY?!).


But as far as fashion goes, it’s quite limited here. I bought a few $10 flowey long Old Navy dresses when I was home in the States this summer, and that’s about what I wear everyday. I have not bought one piece of official maternity clothes. I am oddly proud of this fact and will repeat it to anyone within earshot. One of the bigget upsides though to living in Senegal is that we have tailors make clothes we want for really cheap. You go to the fabric store, buy some cloth, and then show him a photo or describe to him what you want. I only did this for one linen dress, but it cost $12, I wear it at least once a week, and I’ll be able to wear it after the baby arrives. It’s also very hot, so hot that I feel very little pressure to dress up nicely in heels or something along those lines. Add to that I am a freelance photojournalist, and I can basically dress however I want, and I realize that my ‘fashion’ situation is a bit unique. Yesterday as a new low (or high?), I actually wore my husband’s cargo shorts as Capri pants. He thought I was the ‘plus mignon’ pregnant lady ever, but that’s his job to think that.


Baby names were one of the other major cultural topics to arise. Senegalese almost always name someone after someone else in the family and it's a very big deal who gets the name. We had always said we would name our daughter Aminata (pronounced Ah me Nah Tah), after my husband’s sister and aunt (and one of my favorite neices). But for some reason, after I got pregnant, Aminata just wasn’t feeling right to me. A common nickname for Aminata is Mimi though, and I really did love that. Finally, I realized that I liked the name Amelia Aminata Ndaw, so that’s what we’re going with, though this has caused my husband to worry about what his family will think. I told him we can just call her Mimi all the time, and she can be Aminata when she is in Senegal. (She will also have her daddy's last name, which means I need to change my last name on my passport ( though I will stays Ricci Shryock professionally). A friend who has a different last name than her kids warned me that international travel can be tricky if you have a different last name than your kid—especially if that kid has a different skin color.


To sum it up—as with anything there are perks and pitfalls to my “West African Adventures in Pregnancy.” As I type this, my 38 week and 4 days belly is bare and I am sweating profusely We are in the middle of the fourth power cut in 24 hours, which means no air conditioning and no fan. And … well.. It’s REALLY hot. As anyone can imagine, when you have a mini furnace inside of you, the heat can reach infernal proportions. The scorching heat aside, being here has taught me that pregnancy is just like life—it’s completely unpredictable and different for every single one of us. The West African mentality of doing whatever is in your realm of possibility and then relaxing and giving the power over to something bigger than yourself can serve every pregnant woman well. The career-driven American woman in me wants to control this process, but my experiences here have taught me that controlling pregnancy is just not possible, and letting that get me down will only make matters worse.

But what I’ve probably learned the most about being pregnant in a foreign land is that the mom club is the same all around the world—we love our babies, and we are rock stars for growing them for nine months inside our bodies. I never knew I would be so excited to feel the little thing kick around and dance inside my belly. I appreciate my own mother ten times more, and I have much more respect for mothers everywhere. These days, I get looks from women as I walk down the street now, knowing looks that say… “Don’t worry, honey. It’s hard, but man. It’s worth it.” We might speak a few different languages, but I’m pretty sure the language of motherhood is universal.

Right now I’m a minimalist Mama, and we don’t have a nursery for the baby, because we are pretty darn transient in our lives. BUT if and when we do, I want to put this photo that I took up in Baby Amelia’s room. 


  1. So cool!! I loved the bit at the end, how motherhood is universal.. And I never would have thought that it's bad luck to speak about your unborn child! Crazy


    Ricci: Even though you're continents away, you continue to inspire and delight me every day. I'm so proud of your adventures in love, journalism, photography and motherhood. I can't stop thinking about Mimi!

    Liz: Your blog is fantastic. Keep up the great work. I'm so glad you asked Ricci to guest post! I've been dying to read her take on pregnancy.

  3. This is so cool! Pregnancy is so different for every one but it is even more so in different countries! Wow, thanks for sharing this. :)

  4. Ricci, you are amazing. I miss you :(


  5. So great to read about your pregnancy experience, Ricci! I'd been wondering how it all went and congrats on the baby girl. You've hit the nail on the head about it being so hard but being so worth it. I'm glad you're living in a culture that doesn't shove all this baby consumerism down your throat. In the States, if you don't have a decked-out nursery with a diaper genie and a wiper warmer, people treat you like you're depriving your child. We keep things super simple around here with new baby Avery, and everybody's happier for it.

    Can't wait to read more about your adventures in parenthood!

    Love to you and your family from Austin...