9 Birthing Rituals of the Past

France, China, North America, Greenland

Feeling Royal?

France in the 1700s. Birth for royalty was quite an elaborate affair (a bit like birth for some celebrities in modern times!). After feeling labor pains, the royal lady would call upon her attendants and be laid on a special couch. Some 18th-century remedies that were placed near the mom-to-be included: sneezing powder to aid in birth, almond oil to cleanse the hands of doctor and head midwife, and boxes of powdered cumin and myrrh to dust the infant's umbilical cord. After the birth, the cord was cut and the baby was washed in oil, red roses, and red wine.

Birthing Whisperers

China in the late 1800s. For women of the Chinese merchant class, labor pains would come accompanied by the prayers of the mother and mother-in-law for an easy delivery. A Taoist priest would arrive by the bedside and whisper prayers into the birthing mother's ears. With the onset of birth, she would squat on the bed. Once the baby was born, the midwife would cut and bind the umbilical cord, and then try to encourage the placenta to be born. The baby would not be washed for three days, until the influences of evil were less imminent.

The Sound of Silence

Zuni Indians in the 1890s. When labor pains started, the birthing mother would lie on a soft bed made of animal skins and her mother would gather the elder women of the family to aid in the birth. As the pains increased she was encouraged to remain silent; who knew silent birth was not just a ritual of the Church of Scientology! To speed up delivery the laboring woman's mother and birthing doctress would knead her pregnant belly. As the baby made its descent, the women of the family would cry and groan, out of sympathy, for the birthing mother who could not express her pain. As the baby emerged, the doctress would rest below the woman to catch the baby. After the placenta was delivered, the grandmother of the new mother would throw it in the river to be washed downstream. Six days following the birth, the new baby would be introduced to the Zuni gods and be made an official member of the Zuni people.

Husband's Birthing Role

Polar Eskimos in the 1920s. To prepare for birth, the birthing woman's husband would create a bed in a shallow hole covered by animal skin -- this is where the delivery would occur. When pain began, the woman would rest in the prepared bed and her husband would lean behind her. He would then press down on her abdomen to encourage the baby to be born. Upon birth, the father would cut the umbilical cord with a knife and the new mother would tie a knot to stop the bleeding. The placenta would be wrapped in animal skin and then left outside for animals to feast on. The baby would be named with three names to protect it from evil spirits in the wind and sleep with his or her parents.

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