A Bala Blessing for Mother’s Day
It’s Mother’s Day, but no matter how many gifts and thanks we give on this day, few things can measure up to the strength and love that mothers give from the time their children are born. Mothers endure impossible pains, make incredible sacrifices and raise families during the most chaotic events of life while still managing to look anywhere from decent to absolutely stunning on a daily basis. As a non-parent who looks half-decent on an average day, these are my thoughts after speaking to Jennifer Bala, who, at 43, is expecting her third child along with her long-time husband and musician Loyiso Bala.
She appears on my Zoom screen dressed in black, her lightly-beaten face beaming and framed by a halo of her curly free-flowing fro. At 43, the mommy-of-three-to-be is a seasoned parent who shows no signs of what we know today as ‘mommy brain’. She’s stored with lots of information about health, self-care and enough general knowledge to beat out anyone at a 30-seconds game. She claims that her ability to store information is very connected to her maternal instinct to care.
“I think that’s just the part of me that always wants to help you know. I’m very detail-oriented and If you’re going through a problem or struggling with something I probably have something stored up in my brain that I know can probably help you. It works really well when you’re a mom too”, she says.
She affirms that she can also be a stern mommy, who knows how to lay down the law with her children. Like the typical mommy, her stern disciplinarian side seems to exist easily alongside her maternal and nurturing side. Kenzie and Tori, her children, prove this when they hug and hover over their mother after coming home from school, almost as if they are asking for the mean journalist who is taking their precious time away from their mother to go away.
One day, Kenzie and Tori will come to know the ordeals that their mother has experienced in her desire to have them. Some of us are lucky enough to know our parents better and what they’ve gone through as we become adults, and even then, it’s hard to fully empathise. Certainly, for Jennifer, reaching this wholesome image of motherhood and family was not all roses and sunshine. Her first two pregnancies were plagued with physical health problems and multiple deaths within her family.
For the first time, I understood that stress can kill you and that it wasn’t just a sayingJennifer Bala
“Between my first pregnancy and my second pregnancy there’s a five-and-half-year gap because I lost both my parents during that time. When I was three months pregnant with Kenzie, (my firstborn) my mom was diagnosed with cancer and I had to nurse her throughout her illness. Kenzie only turned one when my mom passed away two weeks later. That experience was so harrowing, I personally can’t tell you how I got through that. It was only by God’s grace”, says Jennifer.
Barely two years later Jennifer’s father passed away in his birthplace of Ghana. This extended period of mourning and grief prevented their initial plan to have a three-year gap between the children and a while later, Jennifer had to go through surgery to treat her endometriosis.
As a society, we don’t really talk about how dangerous pregnancy is. We take it for granted and see it as something that’s just supposed to happen, a necessary part of a package deal that comes with choosing a life companion and living happily ever after. What it actually is, is a period in your life where you surrender your body’s organs to work and save the life of a new human being.
During pregnancy, babies essentially take over the uterus, blood and vital organs of a person who’s only ever used those parts of the body for herself. The body commits itself to another human being at the expense of the pregnant woman’s life. At best, a woman will only experience exhaustion and serious psychological impairment when she’s carrying and at worst her life is threatened by the various illnesses that may appear or become aggravated during pregnancy. According to estimates by WHO, UNICEF, World Bank Group and other organisations, about 295 000 women died from maternal deaths in 2017.
Jennifer was not spared the very many tribulations that come with carrying a child. After the emotional heartbreak of losing her parents, Jennifer’s second pregnancy was marred by symptoms of brain fluid build-up, which caused extreme pressure on the brain, optic nerve swelling, extreme fatigue and frequent dizziness. Her low blood pressure compounded the effects of these symptoms along with the sicknesses that come with pregnancy. Jennifer’s neurologist initially diagnosed her with Idiopathic intracranial hypertension, a condition that has no known cause and has symptoms that mimic a brain tumour.
After going through the exhausting process of consulting with different medical specialists and going through medical procedures which included two lumbar punctures and an MRI, Jennifer was diagnosed with mitochondrial burnout and found out that stress played a huge role in contributing to the condition.
“For the first time, I understood that stress can kill you and that it wasn’t just a saying. My physician was like “listen, take a holiday, focus on your mental well-being, relax” and I had to start practising a lot more self-care. I had to ask myself what I needed to do in order to make sure I was creating a space for my well-being to flourish”.
In 2019 Jennifer was weaning off her second-born and her physical health was at its peak. She had lost 7 kilograms through ketosis and an exercise bootcamp regime. She had never felt better. At this point, she and Loyiso were confronted with a lot of questions about whether or not they were going to extend their family.
“We kept getting asked if we were done having kids and I thought I was done because I’m a bit older, but at the same time I wasn’t sure and I didn’t wanna rush that decision. But then, right in the middle of my health journey, I unexpectedly fell pregnant”, she says. “ It was crazy because it’s not very easy for me to fall pregnant. My past pregnancies were planned quite well and I got a lot of help, but this one just happened suddenly. We were very surprised and we went through the scans and everything but around 8 weeks into the pregnancy I lost the baby. That’s when we realised that we kinda do want a third child because we got really excited to fall pregnant.”
Jennifer was devastated but found strength with the help of Loyiso, who she calls “her best friend”. She also survived by giving it to God, as she puts it. “We just gave it to God at that point and told ourselves that if it’s meant to be, then it’s meant to be. We hoped it would happen within a year, because I’m turning 44 this year and I don’t obviously wanna have to give birth when I’m 50, because of all the health complications I’ve had in the past”.
Her next pregnancy arrived in divine fashion with sure signs that they were meant to have another baby in their life. “It was part of God’s plan. I knew it for sure”, she says. “The baby I lost was due on the 4th of July and my birthday is on the 3rd of July, This baby might be due around the same time. For me, that’s definitely not a coincidence. This baby clearly is meant to happen. Despite the loss we experienced with the third pregnancy, we’re elated to be welcoming our rainbow baby on the day our previous baby was supposed to be born. It’s definitely a blessing from God.”
The spiritual connections between a mother and her child cannot be found with words that we express. They are more profound than we can possibly imagine. Even when it comes to her own mother and her untimely passing, Jennifer continues to be in awe of the power of her love and the sacrifices she’s made to make her the woman she is today. The picture that she paints of her mother is a clear reflection of her own personality, which is someone who is steadfast, caring and independent.
“My mom led by example and I just watched her be a very strong and independent individual. As a white woman living in Ghana, it wasn’t very easy for her. Food was very scarce at that time, but we had our own garden where she did a lot of subsistence farming and she provided all the food. I’m talking chillies, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumbers and a lot more. You name it, we had it. She passed down her knowledge and taught me how to do all that as well. She kept bees too and was incredibly handy. I’m the same way as well, and I couldn’t be more grateful to her for teaching me to be so self-sufficient”.
Jennifer states that people expected that the strong and independent side of her would fade away once she married Loyiso, but she continues to be the pillar of strength within her family today. She managed much of Loyiso’s career and continued to maintain the household while Loyiso was out doing performances and traveling.
“He doesn’t have any issues with my independence”, she says. “He used to travel a lot while I managed the business side of things. Once kids started happening, I continued to do the admin while also taking care of the kids. I would imagine from his perspective that would be a bonus because I’m not a needy person who always needs help. I’m very comfortable with leading in that way”.
To us, Loyiso Bala, is the multiple SAMA award-winning musical sensation who won the hearts of South Africans with his angelic voice. To Jennifer, Loyiso is the ever-supportive husband who she describes as her “bestie”, and a loving girl dad who’s also really bad at cooking.
“He is my support system, my original bestie and he’s there for me whenever I need him. Whenever he’s around, it’s half the battle. I’m able to rest more because he’s very hands-on with kids. He’s not so great in the kitchen but we’re working on that. It’s a work in progress”, she says, laughing mischievously.
On Instagram, the #BalaFamilyMoments hashtag gives fans precious glimpses into the world that the Bala parents have worked so hard to create and sustain. The images and videos consist of the family quartet impressively singing in four-part harmony, wedding throwbacks, and playtime with the kids, leaving viewers with the impression of a family that is nothing short of wholesome and magical.
“I really wish that my mother was here to see all this. If she was here, I’d tell her that there isn’t a day where I don’t think about her and that I hope I make her proud with everything that I am today. I appreciate her for teaching me all that I know, and for showing me how to persevere and always operate in excellence and never give up. That’s so important to me, because would I really have all these blessings and my family without my mother’s example? I’ll always remember her saying “nothing lasts forever!”