A WEEK before and nearly two weeks after Mother's Day 2006, the term 'babymother', and by extension 'babyfather', are still on my mind.
Many years ago, I was taught by Merle Roper in first or second form at Munro College that 'widow' is one of the few (or was it only?) English words in which the masculine is derived from the feminine, as in 'widower' comes from 'widow'. She explained that it was because women generally outlived men, hence widows would be much more common than widowers.
(I wonder, then, if a drug is developed to boost flagging sex drive after menopause, it would be appropriate to call it 'Viagraess'? But I digress.)
Only Jamaica, I believe, could coin a word like babymother, a word which my STAR colleague, C, who is friends with P and writes a column on Fridays, absolutely hates. In four syllables it conveys so much: the fact of procreation, the single status and gender of parenthood, the full input of the father stopping with the fact of birth and the permanent reduction of the woman from being all she could be.
She is a babymother for life, her capacity for self-fulfilment permanently reduced and her stress limits tested as she is tied to the nappy strings of her young one (or ones). And, her status is defined by what she is not; not a wife of the common or capital (punishment? Just kidding) law kind.
With reputedly the highest proportion of children born out of wedlock in the world and a rate of male abandonment of their offspring, which is staggering and nauseating, babymother is a term that fits Jamaica like Dancehall Queen Carlene's outfits used to fit her body 10 years ago. It clings.
Of course, babymother is putting it nicely. In reality 'babymadda' is much more commonly used, the patois locating the single, abandoned mother squarely below the tertiary education and more than likely under the secondary education line. Above those advanced level and degreed border lines, it is much more common and certainly more polite to refer to "the mother of my child" or "my child's mother".
Which is why it caused a large enough hurricane in a small enough 'cawfee mug' some years ago when Beverly Manley referred to her then ex-husband, Michael Manley, as her 'babyfather' (it would be nice to know if she had actually called him her 'babyfaada'). The word simply was not applicable in the more rarefied social circles and by a woman who had got to that prized, elusive 'I do' (and to a certified browning with pedigree, at that!).
I do wonder if those of us who are uncomfortable with 'babymodda' are more uneasy about the supposedly coarse connotations than the actual relationship (or lack thereof) the name implies. It could be the same as when THE STAR runs a picture of a dancehall donnette in skimpy wear and a very irate and self-righteous person calls in to say they saw a pubic hair (never mind that you would need a magnifying glass and very close scrutiny to even imagine one), yet for the last 10 years we have seen the flash, flab and flesh of the carnivorous ones on television on the Sunday after Easter.
'Babymodda' is not always a negative term, in that there are sometimes as good a relationship as there can be on a visiting basis between the parents. And certainly many a babyfaada has to contend with a woman who makes him regret the blood rush south and corresponding blood drain north on that particular day of misconception. However, I long for the day when the situation can change enough for us leap to a slight change in terms and coin 'babyparents'.
(And somebody says 'dream on'.)
Mel Cooke is a freelance writer.