Tag Archives: birth

Don’t be Born on Eclipses

Background: The informant is a 50 year old man. He was born in Tecate, Mexico, moving to California when he was young. He grew up with his four siblings and two parents, moving from location to location across California. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California. 

Context: The context was when watching an astronomy show together on a streaming platform. They made a mention of an eclipse.

Text:

UI: Now, one superstition that I grew up with, that I was very well aware of and it’s going to sound completely strange, is that pregnant women should not go outside when there’s an eclipse. If a pregnant woman is outside during the time of an eclipse like that somehow or other, because of the eclipse, that the baby will be born deformed. Now, the thing with the eclipse is that, in actual fact, I don’t really know how it works. I don’t know if it’s because, you know, maybe the rays of the sun get distorted or, you know, I mean look in aztec culture they would look at it [eclipses] when they occurred. During the times of the Aztecs it was sort of like,  the moon is fighting with the sun and and the sun is overcoming the moon, It’s just something I’ve always remembered as a kid.

Me: Who did you hear it from?

UI: I had heard it from my mom. I had heard it from friends.

Me: What about when your wife was pregnant?

UI: There was an eclipse, and after explaining it to her, she understood and stayed inside.

Analysis:

Informant: The informant understands that the superstition may be considered strange by many people, self-aware that the superstition may not be well spread throughout his family. However, it is clear that the informant still believes in superstition to a strong degree.

Mine: The superstition was something new to me. It reveals a few things about Mexican culture. The first is the protective nature over pregnant women and the baby they are carrying. Since women are treated very delicately by this superstition, it would be interesting to see how it compares with other Mexican folkloric ideas. Second, not wanting the women to be exposed during an eclipse so that the baby will not be deformed shows a societal, not just Mexican, belief against children who are not born healthy. It has some negative connotations that a baby with defects is not wanted. However, that is a more modern interpretation of the superstition, and placing it into a past time period, many women used to die during childhood or their children would die when extremely young. Anything would want to be done to protect the child and the mother. If a baby does have deformities, it could ned up hurting the mother or the child might not live for long, which was extremely concerning.

Full moons, storms, and women in labor

Context: 

My informant, RW, is my mother. She was a labor and delivery nurse in a Dallas hospital in the 1990s. I asked her to tell me if there were any superstitions or rituals she learned working as a nurse. This piece was collected during an informal interview at home. I refer to myself as SW in the text.

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Main Text:

RW: “If you were ever working during a full moon or a stormy night, you knew it was going to be a busy shift.”

SW: “Why?”

RW: “I don’t know why the full moon. The thunderstorms was probably because of barometric pressure. I don’t know… And you never, ever, EVER say ‘it’s slow tonight’. If anyone started to say it was slow everyone starts screaming at them going ‘Ah noooo! Why?’ And it always happened, there’d be a giant influx after that.”

SW: “Who was the first person who told you about the full moon thing, or the thunderstorm thing?”

RW: “My nurse preceptor at Parkland. They thought it was something to do with the gravitational pull or something I don’t know.”

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Analysis:

The fact that saying something can make it come true is an example of performative speech. It’s interesting that even in as scientific of a job as working as a nurse, folklore is still very prevalent and spreads. Despite everything they know pointing to the lack of influence of full moons on how many women go into labor, the belief still persists. This probably is a very old belief having to do with lunar cycles and how they have been tied to menstruation and fertility for many cultures. There is also still an element of labor that is uncontrollable despite all the scientific knowledge we have, so folklore fills the gaps in what science can’t explain.

Ways to Induce Labor

Context: 

My informant, RW, is my mother. She was a labor and delivery nurse in a Dallas hospital in the 1990s. I asked her to tell me if there were any superstitions or rituals she learned working as a nurse. She told me there were lots of different ideas about how to induce labor. This piece was collected during an informal interview at home.

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Main Text:

RW: “I learned a lot of this during my nursing residency at Parkland hospital. And there’s a whole giant hispanic population there, and there’s lots of things they do to induce labor. Well the midwives will tell you that perineal massage with olive oil, or any kind of essential oil will help. Um… you know rose hips, drinking tea with rose hips will induce labor. Um… of course, any time on a full moon, if you’re lucky enough to do that, will help. You know, walking obviously helps. Sex helps. Um… oh nipple massage or stimulation, that helps. And because that actually does make your body produce pitocin, on that one. There’s some things that the hispanic women would do… weird things like laying metal spoons across their belly. Not sure why they thought that would help, but…”

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Analysis:

Working in a labor and delivery unit, it’s not surprising that my mom picked up lots of folk medicine surrounding how to induce labor. As she mentioned, some of it has been scientifically proven. However, there’s also probably an element of wanting to do what you know culturally, or what has been repeated by your own mother. Childbirth can be stressful, and having rituals that your family has said would help may help women to relax and calm down more than any medical effect it may have. This can be shown because, as RW said, many of this practices are associated with a specific culture.

Indian Child Birth Clothing Belief

Context & Background: 

Indian culture relies heavily on folklore. With so many diverse subcultures within the large country, many examples of folklore can be found getting passed on and creating new oikotypes. The informant, an old lady from Rajasthan (North India) and my late grandfather’s family friend, tells me about childbirth and one of the beliefs. This information got passed down to her from her grandmother. This text is translated from Hindi to English

Performance: (via phone call)

In India, whenever a child is born, for the first few weeks, we make the child wear old, used clothes that have been on the body of other children. We never clothe them in new clothes. The reason for this is because we believe that wearing older clothes gives the child good health, passing on the luck of the previous surviving baby. After the first few weeks, we can go and clothe them however we want, this tradition only goes on for the first few weeks. 

Analysis:

I didn’t really know about this tradition, so I asked my parents if this ever happened to me. They told me that yes, I was given the clothes of my cousin, and my little brother took my clothes. I believe that this tradition and belief exist because child mortality rates were very high in the past. People had a lot of children, there were not any sophisticated medical options for many families, and I know that home births were common with the help of a midwife. The passing on of luck was needed to give hope to the mothers and families, and hence this tradition was probably born.

Confinement for New Mothers

Context

Confinement is still a common practice in Singapore. It is when a woman who had just given birth must do nothing but rest for at least a month. My grandmother often brings up the lack of her confinement period to reference her now unhealthy state. The interview takes place as I get my grandmother to recount my mother’s confinement period.

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Performance

The following is translated and transcribed from a conversation between me, (M), and my grandmother, the interviewee (I).

M: What did you do when my Ma was pregnant with me?

I: Your mother had to stay at home. She couldn’t leave the house and must stay in bed.

M: Why did she have to do that?

I: After you give birth. A lot of your energy is taken away from you. And you lose a lot of important nutrients. So, you must stay at home and drink herbal drink. It is called zuo yue zi. Your mother had to be at home and lie on the bed for one month.

Translation: Zuo Ye Zi literally means Sitting The Moon, or sitting on the moon. Referring to how mothers who had just given birth must do nothing but sit and rest.

M: Did you also have to do confinement when you gave birth to my mom?

I: At that time I was too poor to afford a confinement lady. And I’m not lucky like your mother, my mother has passed away already so I couldn’t do confinement properly. I only did about ten days for each child then I had to go back to work. That’s why I’m so sick now,  I have very bad immune system. So when your mother gave birth, I made sure that she did at least one month, I wanted her to do more but she didn’t want to. I was already quite lenient with her.

M: What would have been a stricter confinement period?

I: I wouldn’t have let her shower if I could. When you shower you take away all the energy that is helping to rebuild your body. But she insisted on getting to shower, so I let her shower with warm water. And she only drank half of the tea I made for her, she didn’t finish it all. She won’t be very healthy when she is older. But I tried my best.

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Analysis

This is an old wives tale of why women must be pampered and taken care of after they had just given birth. This belief comes from Ancient China where women of rich families had the luxury to stay in bed and care for their health, and in many ways flaunt that they did not need to do any work after they had given birth. Today, many Chinese people in Singapore still believe in confinement, though not to the same extreme extend of the woman never being able to leave the bed, but rather that the woman should be able to just rest at home for a month without doing anything. I think that on a personal level for my grandmother, she uses this belief to explain her sickness right now. Though there are many medical explanations such as her old age, and just generally her immune system perhaps is not as strong as other people her age, she uses the fact that she wasn’t given the proper care when she was a young mother for her illness now. I think this gives her a sense of comfort because she can put the blame on something else, and pinpoint a reason for her illness rather than just accept that in a world of chaos, perhaps she was just unlucky in health. I believe that it is also a way in which she shows care for her daughters. Due to traditional beliefs, a lot of the love and care went to my grandmother’s two sons, and not much to her daughters. And it is perhaps through taking care of her daughters through confinement that she is able to show them that she loves and cares for them deeply.