In today's society we have tons of "rituals" for all sorts of occasions, such as taking a picture of your food and posting it to a social media platform before digging in. I am proud to say I am not guilty of this ritual, but when it comes to pregnancy there are a slew of rituals most women participate in, including myself.
Baby showers, gender reveals, birth announcements, pregnancy photos, and so much more. Then there are the ones that have gone by the wayside and faded into history, because of advances in medicine, changes in beliefs, changes in societal norms, the reasons could be endless. For that, us women should be thankful.
Some moms today might sidestep certain "rituals" of pregnancy and not think twice. Unfortunately for any pregnant woman living 100 or more years ago, and even as recently as 70 years ago, these rituals were not to be ignored. There were many "sound" reasons for these rituals that I am sure in their day made total sense to people, and even if they didn't it wasn't our place to question it.
Today women are lucky enough to be able to research and question whatever we want about our bodies and pregnancies. If you're told something about the baby growing inside you that you don't agree with you can seek out second, third, fourth (you get the idea) opinions.
When it comes to giving birth you have complete say in where and how, although, that doesn't always mean that if a complication arises things will stay on course with your birth plan, but at least you get the option of putting in your choice and having people go along with it.
Looking back on how things used to be might give you a new appreciation on just how good you have it.
The birthing room can feel a bit crowded at times, depending on who you have allowed in with you. Usually you have two nurses, a doctor, your spouse and anyone else you felt should share this wonderful moment with you. This is all of course assuming you have a hospital birth, I cannot speak for the attendees of a home birth, but I am guessing it is a similar situation.
My first child was born to the usual audience of two nurses and a doctor with my DH right by my side, that is until the slew of nursing students trooped in and asked if they could observe. Since they had a banner view from where they were I just sighed and agreed, I was too tired to argue or ask them to leave.
If you think that is bad, be grateful you're not European royalty from the ye olden days. Royal ladies, especially those birthing the next in line for the throne, were expected to give birth in front of their courtiers. This meant that about 70 people would be present to watch you as you grunted and groaned the future prince or princess out of your nether regions.
Why, you may ask? Well to make sure you were not pulling any wool over their eyes with their future king or queen. Such as playing the old baby switcheroo.
As many of you may know, the birthing process is not entirely a quiet one. If you chose to go all natural for your birth, you can expect a lot of screaming and deep grunting, along with the encouragement and support of those who surround you as you give birth.
Unless you belong to the Church of Scientology, then your goal would be to give birth as quietly as possible, as well as having everyone else around you be quiet. Sounds a bit crazy right?
Sounds to me like Mr. Hubbard was not the first to institute the idea of a silent birth practice. In the late 1800's the Zuni Indians encouraged a birthing mother to remain silent too. Female family members of the birthing mother were, however, allowed to cry and groan during the baby's emergence for the mother who could not do such things herself.
In order to quicken the delivery for the mother, the woman's doctress and mother would help by kneading her belly, a practice that is still performed by some midwives today.
Are you superstitious? Do you avoid black cats, ladders, and Friday the 13th? If so, this ancient practice might intrigue you. Back in early Greece, I'm talking late BC to early AD, women in early labor were surrounded by local midwives who would put her to bed to rest until it was time to push.
While the mother rested the midwives would inspect the room to make sure there were no knots anywhere. Knots were seen as a malevolent item during birth and might cause complications.
Once the mother was ready to push she was made to stand up and squat over a stool or a chair, made specifically for birthing a baby as they had special holes in them to help catch baby through. A lucky midwife would get to lay below the mother to catch the baby, while the others massaged the mother's belly. Apparently massaging and kneading the belly is an ongoing theme from very olden times.
You wouldn't think twice about letting your kids go and roll around in some leaves right? How about your infant child, that you just gave birth to? No. Me either, but this is what many Native American women did well before modern medicine came around.
As with many other cultures, the Native American women would be attended by family and midwives of a sort to help the mother through birth. Unfortunately for mom, she wasn't aloud to lay down at all during labor. Her options were to sit or stand. When mom was finally ready to push she was to sit or stand over a pile of leave and push baby out onto them. No one caught the baby. Talk about letting nature help you nurture.
I think it is safe to assume we all remember, in great detail, our birthing experiences. The good and the bad, though with time the good stands out far better for most than the bad parts. Personally I am glad I have such a memory, I feel it just adds to who I am as a person and my accomplishments in life. Hopefully you all feel this way too. Sadly for the women of the early 1900's they didn't have much choice in whether or not they remember their labor and birth experience.
The belief was that us women were too fragile to handle the experiences of birth and a new concoction was introduced to help induce what they called "twilight sleep." A heady one-two punch of morphine, to help with pain, and a drug called scopolamine, to wipe away memory of what's going on, was considered a great breakthrough.
That is until the adverse affects were made public and it was found to be worse than just letting us women deal with birth like we've been doing since the dawn of time. With lots of screaming, grunting, and not so veiled threats to our spouses for "doing this to" us.
We all know that movement during pregnancy is good for you, and baby, unless of course you are on mandatory bed rest. As your due date approaches, you might even find yourself doing anything you can to quicken the arrival of your little one. I enjoyed dancing to fun tunes. While many moms do dance to help encourage baby to get a move on, did you ever consider belly dancing?
Most women consider belly dancing to be a sensual act they do for their man, and who's to say the guy doesn't enjoy it? Did you know though that in ancient Egypt belly dancing, or something similar to it, was actually done in honor of the Great Mother. Someone they believed to be the giver of life, and as a pregnant mother danced her hip movements prepared her body for birth and helped guaranteed births for future generations. Or so they believed.
Belly dancing makes the muscles in a woman's abdomen stronger which helps to make the delivery easier.
Most women groom themselves in one way or another, shaving their legs or underarm hair, and even sprucing up their lady area. That however all gets harder, except the underarm hair part, as one's pregnancy progresses. We learn from our doctors and midwifes that how we look below doesn't phase them, they've seen it all. It's ok if we can't get things cleaned up the way we like, it's just part of life.
Not, however, if you were pregnant in the 50's in England. Women who were pregnant in England in the 50's had their lady area shaved, and were given an enema early on in labor. The was to prevent us ladies from pooing ourselves and having the embarrassment that followed that. It was also seen as more sanitary.
Apparently the enema part of things stuck around many countries as good practice. That is until a review of the whole thing came out trying to point out the benefits of having an enema during early labor. Spoiler alert, there aren't any.
You've heard of hot stone massages, yeah? Well this is not like that at all. If you were a pregnant woman living in Hawaii during ancient times you were considered no different than anyone else. That is, of course, unless you were pregnant with a potential big wig. If that was the case, then you get all the pomp and circumstance bestowed upon those who carry future chieftains.
Women who were pregnant with royalty would travel to a place between the towns of Wahiawa and Haleiwa, to give birth amongst the Kukaniloko, or birthing stones. Doesn't sound entirely comfortable or as relaxing as a hot stone massage, huh? It is said that the stones helped ease the pains of labor for the woman.
48 chiefs would gather around, as the baby made it's way out, and beat drums to announce the future chiefs arrival into this world. I think I'll take the hot stone massage instead.
Peace and relative quiet are always a nice thing to have, especially if you are catching some much needed rest. When it comes to giving birth however, one might expect a bit of noise and hullabaloo. Unless, of course, you are a Chinese woman, of middle class status or higher living during the late 1800's. Then you would be expected to send for a Taoist priest at the onset of labor pains.
Your mother and mother-in-law would stay by your side and pray for an easy delivery. Once the priest arrives, he would go to you and whisper prayers by your ear at your bedside. If it were me, the whispering would drive me nuts. Though, thankfully, this ritual has gone by the wayside.
Once ready to push, the mother would squat on the bed. The midwife would cut the umbilical cord and help the mom birth the placenta. Superstitious fears of evil influences would keep anyone from washing baby for three days after being born. Or if you're me then you secretly wash baby and tell no one. Superstitious shmuperstitious.
Eskimo men had a role to play in their wife's labor during the early 1900's. How often have you asked your husband to make the bed in the morning? Never, if you're like me and either make it later in the day or not at all. Not so for expectant husbands of the Polar Eskimos, these men were tasked with making a bed for their wife before she went into labor so that once the pains started she could lay in the bed with her husband resting behind her.
What kind of bed was it you ask? It was a shallow hole covered in animal skins. The husband would help labor along by pushing on his wife's belly. Once the baby is born, the father would cut the umbilical cord and the mom would tie it off.
I am sure many of you know what a wet nurse is and some even might know why there was such a thing. If not, then let me explain, a wet nurse was a woman who would nurse your child for you. Usually a wet nurse would be a woman who has either recently given birth herself and was able to breastfeed without issue or she has been a wet nurse for others and so her supply has not diminished.
Why would anyone want someone else to nurse their child, you might ask? Well formula was not an option back in the olden days, as it has really only been around since the late 1800's. Even then it wasn't nearly as good as breast milk, though with today's advances in science and medicine we have all kinds of formula for baby's every need.
Women would use a wet nurse largely if they had trouble nursing themselves. Sound familiar anyone? Breastfeeding problems have been around as long as breastfeeding itself. Later on as societies changed only women who were well-to-do would use a wet nurse, as nursing a child themselves would cramp their posh lifestyle.
Some of you may be blanching at the thought of another woman feeding your child from her breast, as it is clearly not the common thing to do today, but back when wet nurses were a normal part of society it was the best way to ensure baby was healthy and well fed.
We have all heard of relatives and friends bringing a new momma prepared meals, to help her ease into her new life with a baby. This practice of bringing food has apparently been around a while, but it doesn't mean they just brought the food over in a silly old basket or in their bare hands.
No, back in renaissance times women who had given birth would receive what was called a birth tray, and on said tray would be delicious foods for her to enjoy. I'm sure you're thinking, "Oh, kind of like a push present right?" Wrong.
Push presents can be given either before or after the baby has been born, and even in the delivery room. Birth trays were given strictly after the mother had given birth and survived. You see, during the renaissance times giving birth was risky business. Especially for the majority of women, young women I should say, whom were the ones giving birth as they were usually between the age of 15 and 19.
Royalty always seems to get the most treatment when it comes to pregnancy and labor. In France during the late 1700's, royal women giving birth were fretted over much like we do today to anyone famous or royal *Cough*William and Kate*Cough*.
Once labor started the lady would be lain on a special couch and someone would send for her servants. She was provided with some popular remedies of that time to help aid the process such as Sneezing powder to help her push, almond oil for the doctor/midwife to wash their hands in, and cumin and myrrh to dust the baby's umbilical cord with.
After the baby was born, it would be washed in a mixture of oil, red roses, as well as red wine. Sounds pretty fancy to me.
Wouldn't you love to be able to have your baby and then just spend time with them, laying around and bonding? Most of us today don't get that luxury, most of us have to jump right back into the fray. In China, it used to be the rule of thumb for mothers to be stuck in their homes for 30 days after baby is born.
During that time they had to adhere to specific rules concerning their diet and activity. This trend even seems to be coming back in China but only for the wealthy.