Any day now, I am going. To pop! And I could not be more excited to have another baby boy join the family soon! I actually had a moment this week while texting my husband about summer plans where I started to type, “Oh, the boys will love that.” And I just loved the way “the boys” sounded so much that I totally teared up. Really, what could be sweeter than two little brothers exploring and wrestling and growing up almost exactly two years apart?! Probably two sleeping brothers, is what you’re chuckling to yourselves right now, but I’ll get there when I get there.
In honor of the upcoming chaos, and to kick start today, I think I’m going to try to start a new trend of saying, “it takes a village to raise a mom.” Because, let’s be real, mom’s need lots of help to keep from going crazy most days. The more I’ve studied different cultures birthing traditions, the more reassured I stand in driving this movement for a new saying.
I really believe that having a better understanding of the variety of traditions that exist has helped me have a better vision of what a supported pregnancy and motherhood SHOULD be like. Not just for myself, but especially for others around me that I can do a better job of reaching out to. Whether you’re pregnant, a pregnant woman’s partner, hoping to get pregnant, a new mother, or just know someone that is expecting, you’re going to find ways you can better be a part of the “village” and really raise up the women around you. At least, that’s what I found.
What are some birthing traditions around the world?
I interviewed a few amazing women about what they have seen as midwifes, doulas, and childbirth educators, and many of these are traditions they introduced to me, mixed with a few I found or knew on my own.
Congo: “The woman from the Congo I worked with recently had virtually her whole family visit her in the hours following birth (despite it being a cesarean section), she was notably exhausted, but it was too culturally rude for her to tell people not to come. She tied a woolen bracelet around her baby’s hand as her belief was that birth was an impure event and she shouldn’t be exposing herself or her baby to her loved ones without this band around the baby’s wrist to rid him of the impurities of birth.” -Amy Vacarro
Philippines: “Another woman I worked with recently was from the Philippines. She had married an Australian man and didn’t want him at the birth as in the Philippines, birth is the realm of women and husbands aren’t allowed in. He wasn’t particularly happy about this mind you!” -Amy Vacarro
Australia (Aboriginal Tribes): “Traditionally Aboriginal Australian women have some interesting cultural ceremonies around birth, such as smoking the baby (passing the baby through smoke that is emanating from a fire with Eucalyptus branches and leaves) and burying the placenta within their traditional homelands so that baby always has a connection to country and knows where they belong. ” – Amy Vacarro
Native American Tribes (Navajo): Blessingways. “It is traditionally a Native American ceremony, particularly from the Navajo tribe. It is a sacred pre-birth ceremony celebrating a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood. It is steeped in rich culture and tradition for natives and is a glorious honoring of a woman. As Christians have used it, I have found it to also be a beautiful gift to the soon-to-be mother. Prayers and blessings offered, words of affirmation and encouragement, filling the mother-to-be’s cup with love and confidence. It is an intimate time of nurturing and caring for the woman while she awaits the impending birth of her child”. – Doula Nolleen
Bosnia: “The mother-to-be can’t be cold. It is more of a superstition I feel like than a practice and more lived out by the older generation. But nonetheless, it doesn’t matter if it is 80 degrees and hot outside, they will put blankets on you, sweaters, slippers, and feed you hot soups and hot teas! Well, there’s typically no AC in Bosnia, so the last thing you want is more articles of clothing on you, but the elderly women get very concerned if you aren’t ‘warm’. ” – Doula Nolleen
Russia (Chukchi people): Pregnant women leave their house every morning after waking up, look at the rising sun, and then circle their home in the direction of the sun’s movement.
Russia (Nenets people): Because these people migrate multiple times a year across the Siberian Arctic, timing a pregnancy can be vital to their productivity and survival. While it’s not an exact science, husbands and wives certainly make this a conversation and goal to try to have babies at certain times of the year. Women are essential laborers in this type of community, and want to be as present as possible during seasons of heavier labor and herding. And in case you’re imagining cattle herds – you’re a little off. They migrate with their herds of REINDEER! How cool is that?!
**The following examples are taken from lecture notes of part of an amazing course taught in Phoenix by Matrescence, and focused more on traditions for healing and well-being during the fourth trimester, or post-partum period. You can learn more about Matrescence at https://www.4thtrimesterplan.com/ **
China: Zuo yuezi, or “to sit the month,” is a month of postpartum rest where mom’s only responsibility is to feed and be with her baby. One or more female relatives, usually mom or mother-in-law, take over all of the house chores for the time period.
Korea: Samchilil, which literally means “twenty-one days”, decrees a period of at least twenty-one days, and ideally thirty days, of specialized maternal care dedicated to keeping mom warm, snug and well-fed.
Vietnam – Nam lua, which has also been called “mother roasting”, is postpartum tradition of laying in a bed over hot coals, and giving new moms nourishing food, warmth, rest, and special care in order to fully recover from birth. Personally, this mother could go for a hot bed of coals and roasting right about now!
India: The new mother often returns to her parents’ home with her newborn for up to three months of focused care by family and the greater community. Ayurvedic postpartum care practice the five- thousand-year-old healing art of postpartum care over 42 days. It focuses specifically on balancing doshas. The vata dosha is characterized by dry, cold, light, minute, and movement, and childbirth is said to be a “vata-provoking experience (Sweet Blessings).”
Malaysia: Pantang protocol involves seclusion, hot stone massages, full-body exfoliation, herbal baths, and hot compresses to care for the life forces that are sourced in her womb.
Japan: Traditionally, the Ubugoya (the childbirth hut) was like a community of new and expecting mothers to live, learn and teach motherly skills together outside the village. The first-comers taught the later-comers how to take care of babies. In modern day, it is common practice for a woman to go back to her parents’ house before the birth and be cared for from one to three months.
Somalia – Afantanbah is another postpartum confinement tradition of giving mothers 40 days of nourishing food, warmth, rest, and special care in order to fully recover from birth.
Ivory Coast: Female relatives gather at the house right after birth and the mother is bathed in shea butter by her own mom while other relatives take over the chore of cooking. The shea butter bath is a rite loaded with healing properties.
Hmong culture (Australia): The first 30 days after birth a mom rests. Husbands and other family members take care of household chores and other work. If the mother needs to perform her own duties, or wants to work, she may do light chores after 10 days as long as they don’t include lifting things.
Germany: Wochenbett, or the “week’s bed.” to eat chicken soup and focus on recovering for the first two weeks. In the first 10 days after delivery, the midwife visits the new mother at home every day, then every 2-3 days until the end of the 8th postpartum week.
Native American tribes: 20 days of rest after birth culminates in ceremonies of ritualistic bathing, a baby-naming ceremony and going to a sweat lodge to boost circulation and help mom’s body eliminate any toxins.
Latin America: La cuarentena, which you’ll notice sounds like “quarantine”, is a forty-day period of rest and rehabilitation while family takes on household chores.
France: At two months postpartum, moms are prescribed 10 to 20 sessions of la rééducation périnéale, a kind of physical therapy designed to retrain the muscles of the pelvic floor, including the vagina, and is one of the cornerstones of French postnatal care.
The Common Denominator?
So, what do most of these traditions have in common that we could learn from? I hope you caught it.
The mother receives ESSENTIAL social support.
Which brings us back to why I think we should start a new saying. Instead of clinging to “it takes a village to raise a child,” we ought to say that “it takes a village to raise a mom.”
I mean, come on. Babies are made cute so that adults will want to take care of them and get them everything they need. That’s scientifically proven (or it should be, if it hasn’t been yet). A baby can get all the love and support it needs from its mom. It’s the mother who needs raising and lifting up. She needs extreme physical, emotional, and every other type of support and coaching as she adapts to a hundred new roles for her baby.
Maybe one of the most interesting things that I read about birthing traditions around the world is a belief about women’s “golden opportunities”. These opportunities include the beginning of the menstrual cycle, post-partum, and menopause. It has long been believed by Chinese medicine that these milestones in a woman’s life can make or break her health until the next opportunity comes around. Beliefs go so far as to say that these are opportunities for allergies and other physical/medical problems to be lessened, or even reversed. This is why social support in these times is not just convenient, but essential! Part of an article on this topic from the Journal of Chinese Medicine can be easily found HERE.
Now, I know that “a village raising a child” has this important implication that parents don’t actually know everything and must rely on others to help their children with different struggles, skills and lessons. But I think that another social bonus of reaching out to mothers more is that those influential people in a child’s life will also happen to be mom’s friends. They won’t be someone a child only sees at school or extracurricular activities. These influencers might instead be there in the home with the family occasionally. After all, it’s the nearness and tight overlap of relationships that make villages so unique, isn’t it?
Midwives, Childbirth Educators, Doulas, and More!
Look for my post about “Midwives, Childbirth Educators, Doulas and More” to learn about “Doula Noleen“, Amy Vaccaro, Elizabeth Wood, and other extraordinary professionals like them, who help women around the world have the best birthing experience and knowledge possible. I honestly wouldn’t have discovered half of these particular traditions without their help and resources!
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