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Pregnancy in other cultures

Pregnancy is celebrated in many parts of the world. In African cultures, because of many superstitious beliefs, many families will perform different rituals to safeguard the pregnancy Pregnancy is acknowledged but not celebrated. It is believed that witches and evil spirits are capable of stealing the pregnancy or interfering with it. So the pregnant woman is not allowed to mix with the known witches in the neighborhood or allow strangers to rub her stomach. Furthermore, the woman is not allowed to attend some social functions, or perform some social tasks. For instance the woman may not be allowed to go to some funerals or involve with any morbid social issues.

Unlike the western countries, there are no baby showers. The pregnant woman will not accept any gifts, or celebrate the infant until the birth of the infant. It is believed that to accept gifts and to celebrate the infant before the birth will incur the angers of the gods and the ancestors. As a result, the child will either be born dead or deformed.

In African countries, pregnancy can be a wonderful experience depending on the status of the mother-to-be. The whole family is included in the pregnancy period. The best outcome of the pregnancy is the goal of every family member. Pregnancy is a time of joy and pampering for the married women. It is a time of rest for the mother-to-be, and anticipation and preparation for the new addition to the family. As for the unmarried woman, it could be nightmare.

In African culture, pregnancy is not only seen as procreation of future generations, but also a sign of reincarnation of ancestors. Africans believe that ancestors return to their loved ones through the birth of new infants. It is also seen as a way that men and women prove their masculinity and femininity. Childless couples are seen as selfish. In some cases, they are ridiculed and insulted by their peers and families.

During the pregnancy, the best foods are reserved for the woman. She is encouraged to rest as often as possible. It is believed that the woman needs to eat for two. The woman is usually assisted with housework and day to day activities by her mother, mother in law or family members. The pregnant woman will receive special attention from the husband especially if it is a polygamous marriage. The husband will ensure that all her wants and needs are met first before the other wives. Additionally, strangers tend to do favors for the pregnant woman. It is believed that the womans strength is like an old persons, and that helping the pregnant woman will bring blessings hence the assistance with anything strenuous or otherwise.

As for the non-married pregnant woman, life can be unbearable. These pregnancies are not celebrated. There is a repulsive stigma attached to unmarried pregnancies. Since, pregnancy before marriage is considered a taboo; these women are taunted not only by strangers, but by their own families and friends. Sometimes, to avoid the stigma associated with these pregnancies, the families may disown the pregnant woman

The products of these pregnancies are considered bastards. The unmarried woman is seen as a prostitute and a loose woman. The lucky ones are either forced to marry the father of the fetus ( if known); get married into a polygamous marriage; forced to marry very old men; or are sent away to distant relatives for the duration of the pregnancy. The babies are either raised by the grandparents or by other relatives. Most women will illegally abort the pregnancy (abortion is illegal in some African countries). Some of these abortions end with disastrous effects such as infections and even deaths.

With the infiltration and adoption of western cultures, some of these beliefs are no longer widely practiced or hold true today. Most families will support their unmarried relatives. Whats more, Africans are now beginning to celebrate their pregnancies before the birth of their babies by having baby showers.

In our Western, modern culture, childbirth is often viewed as a highly medical event. Many women, be they educated or not, have little understanding of the process of pregnancy and delivery and tend to regard it in fear. When a Western woman finds herself expecting, she often has mixed thoughts of joy concerning childbirth. In total contrast, the rest of the world has a surprisingly different take on childbirth. Even in equally civilized countries such as Holland and Sweden, childbirth is considered a natural, coming-of-age occurrence and is rarely interfered-with medically. Interventions are done on an emergency basis, and things such as elective cesareans are unheard of.

Lets take a look at how different cultures traditionally treat pregnancy and birth, and compare it to our own understandings.

The home is the primary place of birth worldwide. The second most common place is the birthing hut, or center. 80% of the newborns worldwide are delivered with midwives, and 98% of the people alive today were born at home! In Sweden, birth is seen as a womans accomplishment. Pain medication is available, but not encouraged. The instance of epidural is lower in Sweden, most likely due to the fact that even hospital births are managed by highly trained midwives, not doctors. Prenatal care is free and the absence of it is unheard of. Women in Mexicos Yucatan Peninsula still regularly use midwives. In fact, they traditionally deliver in the matrimonial hammock, which they receive when they are married.

In Holland, pain relief during childbirth is managed entirely through breathing and relaxation techniques. Medication is strongly discouraged in the hospital, but the majority of women in Holland still give birth at home with midwives. In Mayan communities, those attending a birth will often talk to a laboring woman to help her relax, and to encourage and reassure her. If she seems to be tiring, attendants cheer her on with a repetitive chant. According to tradition, women sleep with their newborns in their arms and will not be separated from them after delivering for a period of twenty days, which is when they resume their normal activities. To the Jarara of South America, childbirth is such a normal event that it traditionally takes place in a location that is easily viewed by everyone in the village!

Many cultures consider fasting during pregnancy tradition, including the Pawnee Indians of North America. Still, many others keep laboring women fed so that they are strong. Ideally, it should be up to the woman whether she wants to eat or not. The women of the traditional Navajo of the American Southwest, music is played throughout the labor to calm the mother. In the United States, most women lie with their shoulders propped up and on their backs during labor and delivery. However, most women in other cultures give birth in vertical positions such as kneeling, squatting, sitting, standing or even hanging. Being upright has the advantage of working with the force of gravity, thus speeding labor and reducing the pain on the sacrum.

An expectant mother in the Ainu tribe of Japan will exercise during pregnancy, because she knows that her reward will be a shorter labor. The Chagga of Tanzania having a saying, which is Pay attention to the pregnant woman, for there is no one more important than she. In America, women are usually given about six weeks of rest postpartum. The amount of recuperation time varies considerably among different cultures. A well-to-do Gaojiro Indian woman of Colombia is given a month of bed rest after delivery. But among the Yaghan of Tierra del Fuego, a new mother is expected to be back gathering shellfish by the end of the day she gave birth. The Alor women of Indonesia traditionally return to the fields after ten days. They leave their babies in the care of relatives and come home to sleep with them, allowing them to suckle all night. In most cultures, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their babies immediately after birth. America is one of the only countries in which it isnt readily encouraged, and often is discouraged by the handing out of formula samples.