Dear Diary,

My name is Samantha Mangali–pronounced Mahn-gah-lee, and I am a South African mom-to-be.

No matter where you live, having a baby is a big blessing. But here in Cape Town, the journey isn’t as smooth. From what I see, having a baby in the United States is fairly simple. Tell whoever needs to be told, figure out who will be paying for what, and start adjusting to what your new life will be like with a baby. Married or not, it seems simple. In South Africa, it’s not so cut and dry if you’re single and pregnant.

Let’s take me for example. I’m not married, and as a half Xhosa (Black) woman, certain cultural traditions are observed. My long-term boyfriend, a Xhosa man, must inform the elders in his family, usually male, about my pregnancy, and I will have to do the same.

My boyfriend’s family will then send a letter to my family, requesting a meeting. At this meeting, the elders will ask my boyfriend if  he is my unborn child’s father. Then, our families will discuss how much his family should pay my family for damages.

Years ago, society viewed single mothers as damaged goods and undesirable to men. Perceptions may have changed since then, but the term still exists. By paying damages, his family shows their respect to my family and acknowledges the child–after all he should have married me first. The tradition, called intlawulo–or payment in English, is practiced when a couple has their first child and do not intend to marry in the immediate future. If there is intent to marry, then lobola (dowry) negotiations will take place. Additionally, the father has to pay a maintenance, also known as child support. My family meeting has yet to take place.

With the exception of my boyfriend’s cousin and my grandmother, who knew just by looking at me that I was pregnant before I even realized it, no one knows I’m with child! We’re waiting to announce the news when I graduate from college in two months.

Growing up, I never felt pressured to get married before getting pregnant. I learned about the proper order of doing things at church, however my mother just wanted to ensure I was educated and employed before becoming a mother. How single moms are viewed depends on the community they live in and the family they come from. In the townships, or ghettoes, teenage pregnancy and single parenthood are regular occurrences. I grew up in the suburbs, so the notion raises eyebrows here. But every family feels differently about the issue; my family doesn’t condone it if you’re under  21, in school or unemployed. My sister had her first child at 19 and was still in high school, so our main concern was making sure she finished school. Almost ten years later, she’s engaged, a mother of three and a preschool teacher. So, the family is happy with where motherhood has led her. On the other hand, I have a 27-year-old unemployed cousin who also had a baby at 19. She now has three children, but she dropped out of school and lives off of government assistance.  This disappoints the elders in my family, since she didn’t finish her education. Another cousin is a single, working mom of two, living in a big house in the suburbs with a swimming pool. Last year, she went to London, Mauritius, Maputo and she’s on a two-week cruise as I type. Her being a single parent isn’t seen as negative, because unlike my other cousin, she’s independent. All in all, whether or not you are looked down upon as a single parent in this country depends on how dependent you are on your family or government. I’m just over 21–21st birthdays are a big deal here, because that’s the age your parents finally see you as an adult. So, they’ll want to know what my plans are in terms of education, work and my relationship. And they’ll want to name my baby.

After all is said and done, the baby is born,  can you believe that culturally I’m not allowed to pick the name? As an unmarried woman, the child belongs to the family, so the naming rights go to the grandmothers and aunts.

My family threw a fit when my eldest sister named her eldest daughter. They only calmed down when she agreed to let them select the second name. I will have to fight tooth and nail to get permission to name my baby. But out of respect, I will choose something that makes everyone happy, or else my mother will give me the silent treatment!

The third South African ritual is called imbeleko. The elders slaughter a goat to introduce the newborn child to his ancestors. The elders ask the ancestors to accept, guide and protect the child. This ritual is not unique to Xhosa culture, and it isn’t uncommon for it to be performed later in the child’s life. It’s not a sacrifice to the gods! We believe our ancestors watch over us like guardian angels. The ceremony is to introduce the child to them. The goat is cooked and eaten. We practice Christianity, and the traditions are observed are completely up to the family. As a mixed race child, my family is fairly flexible. So it should be smooth sailing on all fronts. Still, wish me luck!

Hey DFTM Fam–What cultural traditions did you observe when you found out you were pregnant?

About The Author

Vlog Mom/DFTM Creator

Not long ago, Heather Hopson hosted a television show in the Cayman Islands. Today, she's back home writing a different kind of story as a new mom. In her 15 years working as a professional journalist, this by far is her best assignment! Growing up, she dreamed of becoming Oprah Winfrey. She was the features editor for her school’s newspaper and a teen talk show host for her city’s most popular radio station. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Michigan State University. After graduation, she worked as a television producer and reporter at CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates throughout the U.S. Instead of heading to Chicago to join Ms. Winfrey on her set, she bought a plane ticket to the Cayman Islands instead. She arrived five days before a category five hurricane! She lived in paradise for seven years, hosted an award-winning television show and traveled the globe with a government delegation. She also served on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters and spearheaded a Send a Kid to Camp campaign. Then, she relocated to Washington, D.C. to obtain a teaching certification and instruct 8th grade reading at a high needs middle school. She later returned to her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA to raise her daughter Caitlynn, now 4-years-old. During her 10-month-stint as a stay-at-home mom, Caitlynn inspired her to create this blog, and Diary of a First Time Mom was born on Mother’s Day 2012. Two years later, she expanded the family to include 20+ writers. Currently, Heather serves as the communications director at Allies for Children. In addition, she is the owner of Motor Mouth Multimedia, which ranked #49 in Startup Nation’s Home-Based 100 Competition sponsored by Discover Card and Sam’s Club. Recently, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments selected Heather to receive an Emerging Black Artist award to develop Diary of a First Time Mom.

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