Tag Archives: pregnancy

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.

Rings predicts the gender of a baby

Background: The informant has a daughter.

LR: There is some belief that if you put a ring on a piece of string and you hold it over a pregnant woman’s belly, it spins or swings, and if it swings it’s a girl and if it spins it’s a boy. We did it because our baby wasn’t cooperative in the ultrasound.

Me: Where did you do this?

LR: Just in our apartment or wherever we were living.

Me: Just for fun? Like it wasn’t for a baby shower or anything?

LR: Yeah, it was just kind of like oh I wonder if we could actually, like, find out because we really wanted to know and so I think we tried it and I don’t remember if it worked or not.

Me: Do you know if many people do this?

LR: Back when I was pregnant, you only got one ultrasound, I feel like now people have multiple ultrasounds so it’s probably a little bit less likely to happen now, but back when I was having a baby, it was as frequent so a lot of people actually used to do it. This is actually a tradition people would try, to see, especially if they couldn’t have an ultrasound to see what the baby’s sex was, a lot of people tried to do this.

Me: And you said it’s a ring, is it any specific ring?

LR: I feel like it’s usually your wedding band, and I think it’s the mother’s band. We tried it because we’d heard about it.

Context of performance: This was told to me over a Zoom call.

Thoughts: I think this is a really interesting belief given that it is a fully 50/50 chance that has no bearing or knowledge on the sex of the baby. It’s also notable that it is so tied to the development of technology and that it was very common before pregnant women started getting more ultrasounds. I wonder if the use of the wedding band has any sort of significance of a promise to the baby since it represents devotion and eternity in a marriage.

Ghost Story: Cursed Tomb

Main Piece: 

“If there’s a woman and she’s pregnant with a kid, if she dies and gets buried, there’s a possibility that the kid is still alive. The tomb will be cursed and the kid will still live and grow and live in the tomb. And the village where the tomb is won’t receive any rain for many years.”

Background:

My informant said that this was a folk belief that he had heard, like a ghost story, growing up in China. The informant had little personal relationship to this story, but had heard it repeatedly from a variety of ages. It seemed more region-specific than specific to another group. He offered interpretations of the story both as a regular “spooky story” to tell and as a folk belief in farmers to help avoid or explain away destitute lands. 

Thoughts:

Ghosts are often reflections of what a culture considers unfinished business or a scar from the past. It’s likely that in this case, we’re seeing part of a natural grieving process for the loss of both the pregnant woman and the unborn child. Because there is a feeling of doubled loss, a supernatural consequence may feel necessary. Additionally, there’s a strong sense in this story that the natural order is being disrupted. Pregnancy is supposed to lead to new life, but it is disrupted here and ends in death. As a consequence, the natural order of the weather is equally negatively disrupted. The curse on the tomb is a curse of no rain and thus no crops. 

Taboo of Discussing the Baby during Pregnancy

Main piece: The idea that you don’t talk about it (the baby). You don’t talk about it, you don’t bring the furniture in the house, buy the furniture but can’t open it, or put it together until the baby’s born. You come home from the hospital and have to put the crib together. In the day, when your father was born, you stayed in the hospital after you gave birth for a couple of days. So you (or the husband) had time. People that weren’t you, giving birth. So probably a month before I was due to have the baby, we went to Hutzler’s, which at the time was a very lovely department store, and we bought everything that we needed. Furniture, clothes, everything. And when the baby was born, Z [her husband] called Hutzler’s and told them to deliver tomorrow or whatever, and that’s why we did. Because you just want to make sure everything is alright. 

Background: My informant is a seventy-nine year old Jewish woman living in Baltimore, Maryland. She is also my grandmother. She describes herself as a follower of “bubbe-meise” (Yiddish), translated to “grandmother’s fable”, or a more serious version of old wive’s tales that are often accompanied by superstitions. The baby she is discussing was her first child (of three), my father, who was born in May 1965. 

Context: This practice is customary for Jewish couples. During a celebration for my father’s birthday, my mother brought up a (non-Jewish) co-worker, whose wife didn’t want to know anything about the gender of the baby, or even talk about her pregnancy before the baby was born. My mom then told the co-worker, “how Jewish of her”. When I asked for an explanation, my grandmother interjected with this story about her pregnancy with my father. She takes this superstition incredibly seriously, having heard it from her mother, who heard it from her mother.

Analysis: This custom seems to exist to protect the emotional and well-being of couples who may end up losing their baby. As there is a high risk in giving birth, especially prior to the invention of modern birthing practices, having the room set up/furniture ready for a baby that may not end up coming home could be emotionally and financially taxing on expectant parents. With this practice, not talking about the baby or preparing for its arrival home until after its birth creates the illusion of low to no expectations in the liminal and risky space of pregnancy. Over time, this has almost become a superstition like a jinx, that talking about the baby will result in bad luck and potentially riskier birth. 

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.