USC Digital Folklore Archives / Gestation, birth, and infancy
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Pregnant Women Shouldn’t Walk in Graveyards

A, the informant, heard this from her grandmother as well as it just being a common belief of her Jewish culture and religion. Her mother made sure never to go to a graveyard when she was pregnant with her, but she really had no reason to go to a cemetery anyways at that time.

This is a Jewish superstition that applies to pregnant women. However, I know common beliefs  about this are held in various cultures concerning women not going into cemeteries when they’re pregnant.

“Pregnant women aren’t supposed to go to graveyards because apparently at the stage they’re in, they’re open to receiving demons. So if they walk through a graveyard…well…the souls are thought to enter them. Them, meaning both the baby and the mother. Then once you have the baby, it will be cursed and so will you. So…just avoid cemeteries when you’re pregnant.”

I feel like I’ve heard this before or something similar. As far as most superstitions, this one makes some sense to me. For those who really believe in a graveyard as a very spiritual place filled with ghosts, it makes sense that they would not want to expose a baby to those potentially harmful spirits. Graveyards already kind of creep me out and I do believe in ghosts, so I could see myself believing in this superstition.

Gestation, birth, and infancy

Mexican Pregnancy and Menstruation Beliefs

LP’s (the informant) family is originally from Mexico. She learned this superstition from her mother who advised her not to eat certain foods when she was menstruating. I remember when I was roommates with LP my freshman year, and her mom would bring her certain foods that she believed would help reduce the pain of menstrual cramps. For the pregnancy part, she said her entire family believed in the tradition and that her mother used this method to determine the sex of a baby, and has never been wrong.

Both of these things apply to women, either pregnant or menstruating women specifically. Therefore, the following needle test is used on a pregnant woman, usually within the home.

“During your period, don’t eat spicy stuff because those make cramps worse. Don’t eat watermelon because that makes it worse too, or any watery fruit will hurt you. It’s bad to eat these when you’re menstruating. Also, when you’re pregnant don’t eat watery foods because they’re afraid the baby will slip out. Ha, it’s so strange….Oh also! When you’re pregnant there’s a test to see if you will have a boy or girl baby. Someone will put a needle on a red string and dangle it over the mother’s stomach when she’s lying down. If the needle starts swinging back and forth it means it’s a boy, and if it goes in a circle, it’s a girl. My mom has done this and has always gotten it right. Also if your pregnant stomach is bulging out, it’s a boy, if it’s round and droopy it’s a girl.”

I’m very curious as to how this needle test came about. Is there some sort of reasoning behind it? LP did not know how it came about, so she wasn’t able to answer me. I’d like to know where they got the idea about the direction of the needle swinging indicating the sex of the baby.  Additionally, LP tried to explain the reasoning behind eating certain foods during menstruation and while it seemed plausible, I don’t think it’s scientifically accurate. 

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Narrative

Mother’s Psychic Dream

The informant told me of a dream her mother had before marrying her father, which has deeply influenced her way of looking at the world:

“Okay so, one of  the earliest stories I remember hearing was my mom, after a few first dates with my dad, came home super worried and didn’t think that she’d get married or have kids or do anything with her life, and then that night, she had a dream, with her college roommates, who’s name is Laura, which is dangerously close to Lauren, but she hated Laura, like hated her a lot, and Laura was driving a car and my mom was in the passenger seat and Laura turned, and Luara was talking to her and “you’re going to be fine, everything’s going to turn out okay” and she like pointed to the back seat and she says that she saw a little girl and a little boy in a carseat, and the girl was older which would be me, and the little boy which would be my brother. i also have a little sister but she wasn’t there. I heard it, I think, when I was younger, oh I’m not, in similar moments, i’m not going to be able to do this and my mom was like “i’m not so sure” but i remember going to bed and thinking I’m going to have a dream like that’d I never have but yeah.”

 

The informant also told me that her family, especially through her mother’s matriarchal line is supposedly psychic, so this dream continues that pattern in her mother. She hopes to someday to have a psychic moment although she is not sure that will happen.

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Psychic Grandma

The informant told me this story about her family when I asked about her influences in her writing. She told me that her family has always been interested in psychics as they believe that many of the female members of the family have psychic powers. This stems from the fact that her great-grandmother was psychic – as detailed below:

“So in the light of women in my family having psychic dreams, my great-grandma who was widely tough to be psychic, so this is in my mom’s line,  so it’s in that line still, like the matriarchy, she like, could see ghosts, and people like my aunt has claimed to see her ghost, that like she’s like a spooky figure, and i never met, and she had a dream before when my mom was born and I don’t think she had a sister yet, and my great-grandma was like staying with my grandma because she was having trouble with the pregnancy. and my great grandmother had this dream of a baby carriage rolling down this hill, and like chasing after it and not being able to stop it. And then, she told this to my grandma and she told her that she thinks that there’s something wrong with the baby and my grandma’s like no, it’s fine, and she didn’t want to worry her too much about it, but she ended up giving birth to a stillborn baby! I know, it’s that creepy? And i guess now people see her ghost and stuff”

Analysis:

The dream confirms the psychic ability of the Great-grandmother to the rest of her family. Another post that investigates dream in the informant family is “Mother’s Psychic Dream.” This shows that dreams in the female line are very important to the informant.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Gestation, birth, and infancy

Delivering a Baby Using a Vacuum

Background: E.N. is a 58-year-old obstetrician gynecologist who was born in Boston, Massachusetts to two attorney parents. She stumbled upon medicine in college as a psychology major when she took a biology class and became aware that she had an affinity for science. E.N. currently practices full time in the Chicagoland area delivering babies and performing gynecological surgery.

 

Main piece: So when I deliver a baby and we get towards the end of the labor and she’s about to deliver, sometimes I will have to think about assisting the patient with delivery with an instrument called a vacuum. So if the fetal heart tones are down or the mom can’t push or is running out of steam or something like that, I will take the vacuum out and put it on the side of the delivery table and I will say out loud “I’m putting this here to ward off evil spirits.” Which I suppose is kind of silly but we’re also superstitious that if we feel we can take this out and put it on the side and the patient actually won’t ever need it but we have it just in case she does need it.

 

Q: Do you say this phrase out loud?

 

E.N.: Yes – absolutely. Out loud so EVERYONE in the room can hear it.

 

Performance Context: E.N. would do this when she feels that there is a possible chance that she would have to use the vacuum to help with the delivery of the baby.

 

My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how medicine and superstitions tie into each other, though in the western world and in western medicine, superstitions are frowned upon as they are not always based in actual fact. Though medicine is not typically based on luck or on the speaking of certain things, I think it is curious that superstition and what you say is believed to help in some western medical scenarios, even by the doctors thoroughly trained in western medicine.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Magic

Hilots in Filipino Culture

Background: Y.G.M. is a 49-year-old Filipino woman who works at Nye Partners in Women’s Health as the office manager. She was born and raised in Quezon City in the Philippines, and lived there until she was 25 years old. Y.G.M. self-identifies as Filipino, and as a result of her upbringing, Filipino culture is very engrained into her personal beliefs. She attended college at Mirian College, and received a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts. Y.G.M. then immigrated to Chicago, Illinois with her family in 1997, and got her first job working at Citibank in River Forest, Illinois. She now lives with her husband in a suburb of Chicago.

 

Main piece:

Y.G.M.: So Filipinos also have superstitious beliefs like um a person called Hilot [hee-loht] which is an expert woman who can deliver um deliver a mother in labor so they are supposed to have supernatural powers to just deliver a woman without any problems and they are blessed you know to be in to help women in labor without any problems – kinda like midwives.  So it’s like they have supernatural powers to do that instead of taking women to the hospital.

 

Q: How are the Hilots chosen?

 

Y.G.M.: They say, like “oh I have that special gift from above to perform such a miracle,” like a special gift from God.

 

Q: Is it from a specific God or just all the gods?

 

Y.G.M.: All the gods. And up to this moment, they still believe in that.

 

Q: So they just self-proclaim themselves as Hilots?

 

Y.G.M.: Yes yes – uh huh.

 

Performance Context: Hilots would be used to help women during childbirth in the Philippines.

 

My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how the Filipinos relate childbirth to a religious and magical process with the use of Hilots’ god-given powers to help women in labor. Instead of using “medicine” in the general sense to help with childbirth, this practice shows that Filipino culture believes more in religion and magic to assist with everyday life.

Folk Beliefs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Pine-needle in the Rice Cake

Main piece:

On Korean thanksgiving, it’s called Chuseok, and this is the holiday where families will meet up at the oldest relative’s house- like oldest one alive. And one of the most important dishes served at Chuseok are called songpyeon, which are rice cakes. They’re filled with pine nuts, and some brown sugar, they’re like dessert rice cakes, and really good. You can generally get rice cakes any time, but these rice cakes are special for this time. It’s kind of like a yule log, you wouldn’t make a yule log in the middle of the summer. When you make these rice cakes, you will get a pine needle- oh, by the way, when you’re making these rice cakes, they’re steamed on a bed of pine needles- so you’ll put a pine needle in one or a couple of the rice cakes and if you pick a rice cake and eat it and find a pine needle in it, it means you’re either going to get pregnant or married. Like, soon.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

A long time ago, my mom made these with me and she told me about it. But I was also taught about it in Korean school, when the holiday came around. They made us make them too. I think it’s every Korean child’s rite of passage to learn how to make rice cakes. That and dumplings. I’ve gotten the needle but it’s because I wanted a needle. I made my mom find one for me, which meant she ripped some open until she found one. But like not enough that like the whole thing is ripped apart. Just enough so that she could peek inside it… and I could have the pleasure of ripping it open!

The rice cakes are so good, they’re so yummy. Korean’s love predicting things, and like family values. The faster you get married, the faster you have grandchildren, the better. I didn’t get pregnant. I know it’s a pine needle- if I had chosen it on my own, I wouldn’t be scared of getting pregnant. What, the pine needle is going to impregnate me? (I wish.)

 

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

You’d only eat the rice cakes on Korean thanksgiving. I don’t actually celebrate it as much as I used to, but i think it’s in september or november. Oh— just kidding, it’s august on the lunar calendar, which means it’s in september! The day changes depending on the lunar new year.

 

Personal Analysis:

This piece reflects the importance the Korean culture places on family. The pine needle is representative of two predictions, marriage and pregnancy. After the interview, the informant revealed that men who chose a rice cake with a needle in it would only retain the prediction for marriage, while women held both predictions. Besides the obvious, men cannot get pregnant, the prediction does not extend to the man in the sense that he will get someone pregnant. If a woman chooses a needle and is single, her prediction would be marriage before pregnancy. This comments on the taboo of children out of wedlock in the Korean culture, as well.

Customs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Korean Birthday Count

Main piece:

In Korean, the new year counts as a year. So I’m technically nineteen or twenty in Korea.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

My mom- when I was younger, I would ask my mom’s age. This was when I was really young. And my answer would always change. And when I realized they were always changing… I asked why. She explained that she gets mixed up about her age because America doesn’t count new years as a birthyear. It’s almost like a communal birthday for everyone. It has to do with renewal, and rebirth, um… like a new year. New year is one of the biggest holidays in Korea. It’s like Christmas and thanksgiving combined. And I think since it follows the lunar calendar, It follows the idea that we change on the same day as well. Like against our will. I don’t identify as twenty years old. To me, it doesn’t make sense, and I guess that’s my american side. I feel 18, if not younger. So, it’s not very particularly special to me other than the fact that it represents how much Korea loves new year. My mom is technically 50, but I think in Korea she’s 53 or 54, I don’t even know. I think Korean’s just love being older than people. It’s so hierarchy based. Even if you’re months older, the younger one has to respect you. If an older person hits you on the train, no one can save you. They’re allowed to because they’re old.

 

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

This is performed every new year. When you’re born, you know how in america you’re 0 years old? You’re already a year old in Korea, they count in the womb. And you get another birthday on New years, and then another on your actual birthday. So you’re always one or two years older than your biological age. So my mom would be like “I’m forty!” “I’m forty two!” “I’m forty one!” and I’d be like mom what are you…?

Personal Analysis:

This piece was especially hard to follow- I needed the informant to explain to me time and time again how exactly the years were counted. It reflects an innate belief among Koreans that the elderly should be respected. The older a person is, the more prestige and immediate respect they receive. In American society, women strive to be younger, even going so far as to lie about their age. In Korea, there are traditions put in place to extend the age of a person meanwhile their biological age remains the same. The piece also touches upon the importance placed on the lunar New Year. It is so important that Koreans count it as a year on their own age, and everyone in the country celebrates their birthday with the moon.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Initiations
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

The Choice of a Lifetime

Main piece:

In Korea we have this thing where on the baby’s first birthday, it’s called Dol, what we do is we put various items in front of the baby. Classic items include yarn, pencil, money- and people put other stuff, they cater it so like they’ll put fruit or something, they’ll generally cater it. And you put them in front of the baby, and whatever the baby chooses, it predicts their future. So, each item represents a different future. The yarn represents longevity. The pencil represents academic prowess. Money represents wealth. Sometimes food can represent always being food, or like fulfillment.

 

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

My family. I have siblings, so for my siblings’ first birthday, we did that. I wasn’t alive for my sister’s, but… we did that and we have photos. It’s a huge thing. I’m pretty sure it was the biggest birthday party of my life and I don’t even remember it. I like it the same way that people like horoscopes. I think that having some sort of prophecy is really intimate especially if it’s about yourself. Personally, it feels like our family’s results were pretty correct in the sense that my sister got yarn, and she’s very dedicated to being healthy. She’s the health nut in our family. My brother picked money, mostly because my dad like pushed it towards him, but he’s very frugal. And i picked the pencil, and I really like writing, so I like it because to me, it’s something I share with all my siblings and it’s something that korea has been doing for a very long time. It originates from when korea was really poor, so baby’s wouldn’t make it to their first birthday. So when they did, the whole village came together and everyone provided a dish of some sort. Having a lot of dishes and food is integral to Dol, and for me, growing up, when I look at the photos, there’s not a lot of food, but there’s still a lot in comparison to what I usually had. So it was a very special occasion because it represented a day where i guess my family could go all out. It’s something I want to do with my kids, definitely. It’s a tradition that resonates with my country’s history, my family’s history, and possibly future. It’s a cute celebration of life, and possibility.

 

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

The ritual is done in a home, or now a lot of rich families rent out venues for it. If you know any rich korean families who have a child that is about to turn one, you should know they’re going to have a party and kind of invite yourself to one. Family, really close family, or friends who are as close as family are invited. But oftentimes, some rich families will invite a lot more people, expecting gifts. Some families, they might put something down that represents marriage, and it would be sort of great if a girl picks that one because it means she won’t be a widow or an old maid. I don’t know anyone that’s done that, I think it’s a pretty old one.

 

Personal Analysis:

Korean culture is very much centered around family, both the making of a family and the upkeep of the reputation of the family. From the start, knowing what your baby will become or what interests they may have would readily equip the parents for the future. Parents then could plan around the choice, giving their child a lifestyle catered to the object they chose. I believe it’s rather soon to decide the fate and future of a child, but since I am an outsider to the culture, my values are not aligned to the Korean family dynamic.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Foodways
general
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Gestures
Homeopathic
Kinesthetic
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sunken head remedy

Iliana Cuellar

“When I was a baby, the soft spot on my head caved which I guess just means dehydration. But my mom is very spiritual and she thought that she could take me to a “curandero” which is a spiritual healer (kind of like a witch) who then held me upside down by my ankles, poured honey on my soles, and smacked my feet which is said to be the cure for the sunken head.”

 

Background: This happened in El Salvador, and as many people cannot afford doctors and hospitals, folk remedies and spiritual healing are the most common forms of treating illness.

 

Analysis: This is a ritual combined with folk remedy. It is not so much mixing ingredients together for homeopathic remedies that might work physically, but more a ritualistic healing. Holding the baby upside down might have been a somewhat logical response to a caving of the head- sending more blood to that extremity. However, pouring honey on soles does not seems to have much meaning beyond ritualistic and spiritual, and smacking feet also the same in that respect. Lack of access to formal doctors and medicine drive parents with sick children to witch healers.

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