Monday, September 30, 2013

Birth and Beyond: Welcoming Your Bundle Of Joy

Now that you've spent nine months avoiding the eclipse and not crossing rivers at night, and you've welcomed your bouncing bundle of joy, what's next? Well, just as there are a lot of beliefs surrounding how to get pregnant and what to do (or not do) during your pregnancy, you can imagine there are many that come into play once your baby arrives. Here is a list to get you started from birth and beyond.

Post Delivery Confinement:  Originally introduced to keep the mother and child safe from infection and evil spirits, as well as allow time for the mother to recover from the delivery, the post delivery confinement period lasts for approximately 40 days. This also aids in protecting the child from nazar, or Evil Eye, which we'll learn more about later. Confinement may take place in the wife's parent's home or at her in-laws place. It's common for the parents of the wife to pay for the birth of the first born. Often, the woman will travel to her parent's home for the last few months of her pregnancy, and stay there through the confinement period only return home to her husbands place around the 2nd or 3rd month following birth.

Mama Massage: During confinement, new mothers are often given maalish, or a full body massage once a day. Believed to help with circulation and of course, relaxation.

Baby Massage: Baby massage, either given by the mother, grandmother, or dai is also very common. Normally, the child will have a bath once a day, followed by a massage with oil, a head to toe covering of baby powder, then application of the nazar battu, which is the intentional blemishes drawn on to ward off Evil Eye.  Unfortunately, even if a trained dai, or nursemaid, is employed for the massage, many times due to too rigorous of a massage, this practice leads to dislocation of the joints and a trip for the new-born to the hospital.

Food: As we learned in Food Myths and Mysteries, there are many beliefs surrounding food in India. For the new mom, here are a few guidelines:
  • Gourds such as lauki and tori are believed to increase your supply of milk.
  • Paan (betel leaves) after every meal is thought to help with digestion.
  • Increased intake of ghee (clarified butter) is believed to help regain strength and aid muscle repair.
  • Fruits, fizzy drinks and juices are believed to be cooling.
  • Green and red chillies might be difficult to digest so you might be told to replace them with black pepper for some spice.
  • Foods believed to produce gas for your baby through your milk will be discouraged. Some examples include onions and jackfruit.
  •  Garlic may be consumed in large quantities as it's believed to aid in the contraction of the uterus.
Evil Eye: It is believed that new-borns are highly susceptible to nazar or 'Evil Eye.' To protect the new-born from Evil Eye, there are many practices that can be used:
  • If your child has an evil eye cast upon him/her, wave some salt over her/his head and toss it into the fire or water.
  • Another common widely followed way is to wave red whole chillies over the affected child and throwing them in the fire. People are usually heard of saying that if the smoke smells of chillies, then the child was not affected by an evil eye or buri nazar. But, if the smoke does not smell of chillies, it is said that the child was indeed troubled by the evil eye and it has been warded off.
  • Babies are usually adorned with kajal (kohl) under their eyes or on their foreheads. There is a common belief that this actually mars their beauty and makes them look unappealing to those casting an Evil Eye.  It's also common to see them with drawn on eyebrows.
  • A small pocket knife, an iron piece or religious charms are kept by the baby’s side to protect him/her.
  • Bits of pottery from a burial ground, tooth of a crocodile or a tiger’s claw at one’s homes are popular charms said to ward off the Evil Eye.
  • Small mirrors are also sewn or braided together and are said to reflect back bad energy.
  • The child may also be adorned with an amulet such as a taviz. Taviz is generally in the form of a black string and can be tied around the neck, wrist, or ankle, and less commonly, the upper arm (between the shoulder and the elbow).
  • Families will also sometimes dress their little boys up as little girls when taking them out, so as to curb the likelihood of someone feeling jealous over the birth of a boy and hence cast an Evil Eye on the child.
Jewellery: Seeing babies wearing jewellery is quite common. Apart from the taviz, seeing small children with anklets, bangles, and earrings is a normal site. Many Hindus will have an ear piercing ceremony for their child, regardless of gender, on their first birthday. These can be as offerings to the Gods, or to keep away evil spirits, or to welcome the good spirits that will watch over the child, offering health, happiness and prosperity.

Birth Defects: Using the term "defect" might be a bit harsh here, but I'm talking about small abnormalities that could be easily corrected with surgery. Many of these things are believed to be auspicious. Those include, skin tags, extra fingers or toes, or, God forbid, tails. It seems these things are good luck and will ensure your health and prosperity.
I remember watching an episode of Ripley's Believe It Or Not several years ago and there was as story of an Indian child that was born with a tail, who, rather than having it corrected, was worshipped for it.

I'll admit it, I'm not a fan of many of the customs and feel that a lot of them stem from outdated superstitions. I also worry that some of them might cause harm to the child, such as the fear of post-natal check-ups due to worry over the Evil Eye, massages resulting in dislocation of the joints, blindness caused by a bacteria infested kohl pencil, or the risk of the child getting a taviz which is tied around their wrist, ankle, or neck caught on something and choking.
What do you think about these customs? Any you'd like to add or learn more about? Feel free to leave a note in the comments.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hot State: Pregnancy Beliefs in India

As the second instalment of my Pregnancy in India series, where I first told you about how I was instructed to get pregnant (none of steps involving actual being with my husband), I'll share with you now some of the pregnancy beliefs in India. This is just a partial list of things that I find most interesting. If you have heard any others, please share them in the comments below.

How to avoid miscarriage:
  • Avoid dead bodies: No matter how tight your relationship was with the deceased, the pregnant woman is not to get close to the body.
  • Don't cross a river, especially in the dark. Doing so, you're at risk of the water spirit giving you bad energy.
  • Don't visit any woman who has recently had a child. This too is believed to cause some bad spirit influence over the unborn.
  • Keep your arms down: Raising your arms over your head or resting your hands on your head. This may result in strangling the child with the umbilical cord.
  • Avoid egg, pineapple and, papaya. Some doctors will agree that un-ripened papaya can result in contractions but overall the medical industry considers the three to be safe as long as they are consumed in moderation.
  • Hot Foods: Apply the list I shared with you in Food Myths and Mysteries and don't eat those things during pregnancy.

  • Don't do it!: Pregnant women are discouraged from bathing. Considering we don't have hot water here, I'm not sure it's a temperature thing, which I've heard about even in the US.
  • Washing your hair: Some believe women should not wash their hair for the first 7 months of pregnancy until they have a special religious ceremony. Not adhering to this could stop reincarnation, which happens through the head.

How to prevent birth defects:
  • Avoid the eclipse: The wife should remain in bed and not even glimpse in the direction of the moon. 
    Courtesy of
  • Avoid eye makeup: If the pregnant woman applies eye makeup, there's a chance her child could be born with the same look.
  • The husband should not apply a talik to his wife (that's the smudge between the eyebrows), otherwise the child might be born with the same mark.
  • Parting of the hair: The husband, should however, part his wife's hair three times from front to back during a religious ceremony to ensure "ripening" of the embryo.
  • Locking and Unlocking: If during pregnancy, the wife has to lock and unlock things frequently (think doors) the child may be born with bent, weak fingers.
  • Chopping wood: If the wife chops wood with an axe or breaks a wooden object, the child will be born with "marked" hands.
  • Stamping or Printing: If any stamping or printing is done during the eclipse, the child will be born with an impression on their body.
  • Sewing or stitching: These will cause birth defects.
  • Lay Still: Moving or shifting too much from side to side while trying to find a comfortable sleeping position later in pregnancy may result in suffocation of the unborn.
  • Do not travel in the even months of your pregnancy (i.e. 4th month, 6th month, 8th month).
Courtesy of
How to ensure a good lookin' baby (by Indian standards):
  • Saffron and milk: Drinking this mixture will ensure a fair skinned baby.
  • Oranges: Eating these while pregnant will also ensure a fair complexion in the unborn.
  • Coconut is also consumed (basically any white colour food) to ensure a light skinned baby.
  • Avoid Spinach: It will result in excessive hair growth for the baby.

How to predict the gender: In India, gender determining ultrasounds are against the law due to infanticide rates for female children. A few indicators relied upon to determine the gender of the unborn, subsequently are:
  • Pimples: If you have a lot of pimples while pregnant, you're having a girl.
  • Sweets: Eating more sweet food rather than sour food during pregnancy will increase your chances of having a boy.
  • Carrying Low: You're having a boy.
  • Small, round belly: You're having a boy.
  • A glowing face: You're having a girl.

Ensure a smooth delivery:
  • The mother should eat ghee (clarified butter) while pregnant to ensure a smooth delivery. The kid should slip right out.
  • Avoid overeating: It will result in a large sized baby which will be difficult to deliver.
  • Heavy Lifting: Doing a lot of physical labour during pregnancy will decrease the chances of having to deliver via a C-section and increase your opportunity for a natural delivery.
  • Birthing methods are hereditary: If your mom had a C-section, you'll mostly likely have to deliver the same way.  

So there it is, in a nutshell, your basic guide to pregnancy in India. Do you have any other pregnancy beliefs to share? Do so in the comments below!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Biology Makes Babies

While I appreciate the comfort that prayers can bring, and I find value in praying for a lot of things, there's one thing that I have never believed could be answered in prayer. That thing is conception. Conception as in: The sperm meets the egg, the cells divide, the cells divide again, and whammo, nine months later you have a bouncing baby. Granted, once you find out you're pregnant I think it's super natural to pray. To pray for a healthy pregnancy, to pray for a healthy baby, to pray to keep your spouse safe. But prior to that, it's biology.
As the second most populous country in the world with a staggering 1.23 billion people, India certainly seems to have gotten the conception trick down. Lately, however, I have to wonder if many people really understand how it all works. The biology aspect I mean. Many women will bemoan the fact that they've been unable to get pregnant. Of the women that have expressed to me, their disappointment in not being able to get pregnant after marriage, one includes a woman who insisted her husband wear a condom every time they "met," another doesn't live with her husband and might see him for a day or two every few months, and a third gets her period twice a year and has never seen a doctor about it. Do the math. It's not rockets. It's not lack of prayers being answered. It's biology. Perhaps if it did happen for any of those women, it would be a miracle and completely change my mind on the topic.
Well, after being married more than a year, and no babies to show for it, drastic action had to be taken today. I was given very specific instructions. They included:
Fast: This means no food, no drink, no smoke, no sex. What one thing from this list is required to make a baby? Nope, can't do that.
Fruit: When it was time to break my fast, I had a very specific seeded fruit I was to eat, seed and all. It was brought from a dargah, which is a holy shrine. I don't know what kind of fruit it was but it tasted like a prune.
Water: After swallowing the seeded fruit, I was to drink water.
Food: After the water I was to eat a bowl of kheer, which is a sort of milky rice pudding.
Prayer: After the food I was to pray.
Recitation: There was a script that also needed to be recited, but as I don't read Arabic, I was S.O.L.
Doing all of the above is supposed to aid in fertility. Considering not a single act from the above list involves what I learned in my 5th grade Family Studies class, I can't say I'm convinced. Biology has to come into the equation somewhere. Yet it would seem that many here don't make that connection.

Putting all of your faith in the above would seem to me to make pregnancy almost impossible without a little physical contact with your spouse coming into the equation.
Wait until I blog about the superstitions pressed upon women during their pregnancy. It's amazing any babies are born here.