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.
RW: “If you were ever working during a full moon or a stormy night, you knew it was going to be a busy shift.”
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.”
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.
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.
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…”
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.
(Similar Proverb: Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.)
My informant, who is bilingual, remembers hearing this proverb from her grandmother, born in 1915, and who moved to the United States from Cuba in 1976. (My informant’s mother came to the United States at the same time in 1976).
My informant said that her grandmother would say this to her while she was growing up in reference to her sleeping habits most of all and how they differed from her grandmother’s sleeping habits. (My informant said that she usually goes to bed at 2 AM and sleeps in until 12 noon).
The use of “Dios,” or God in the proverb might imply the influence of the religion and belief of my informant, although of all the proverbs my informant provided me, numbering at around 14 or so, this is only one that references God. And when my informant translated, she referenced the similar proverb noted above, not a direct translation. The influence of her American upbringing explains why she would not use a direct translation and the proverb variant in America seems to be the product of capitalism by mentioning wealth, whereas the Spanish proverb does not mention wealth as a reward for rising early.
My father remembers learning about the legend of Joe Magarac in school. Although he doesn’t remember the exact grade he learned about Magarac, he remembers it was in elementary school, and he does remember learning it from one of his teachers as part of a lesson that included other tall tales like that of Paul Bunyan.
The story of Joe Magarac that my father remembers is that he was a hero to steelworkers in Pittsburgh, and a local legend. Legend has it that Magarac often performed near impossible tasks protecting other steel workers. My father remembers the particular story about Magarac’s death, which as I have learned is one version of the legend, there is another version where Magarac lives. The version that my father told describes how Magarac sacrificed himself by jumping into a Bessemer furnace in order to melt with the steel and make the steel, which was being used to make a new mill, stronger.
My father grew up when the steel mills were still a prominent force in Pittsburgh, and even worked in the mills himself in the 1970s. The area where my father grew up, Munhall, PA, is just outside the city and close to many steel mills, some historical landmarks in the neighboring town, Homestead, PA.
Annotation: Mention of Joe Magarac and his Pittsburgh Origins were mentioned in an article by Jennifer Gilley and Stephen Burnett in The Journal of American Folklore Vol. 111, No. 442. (Autumn, 1998), pp. 392-408.
My mom told me this wise saying when I was young, and had trouble getting my chores done. They always seemed like they took so long that I would just not do them until I had to be forcibly told. My mother explained to me that all chores are boring and tedious and the hardest part is getting started. In other words, once you’ve started a job you’ve nearly finished because the hardest part is getting over.