I will share with you today my culture background around pregnancy, birth and post-birth.
My family is from Jamaica, my culture is inherited from Jamaica, I was born in the UK, which is why some of my ways are very British. My mums knowledge in Jamaican cultural practices around birth is quiet washed out as she had all her 5 children over here in the UK, just like me. I sat down with my mum a few months back to ask her about what cultural traditions or practices she remembered around pregnancy and birth, she couldn’t really tell me much, she seemed very closed off about it, because it’s not something she ever had to talk about before. You know the saying, as long as your baby is alright, what is there to worry about. Never did my mother ever get to debrief what she went though, giving birth to her 5 babies including me, no one familiar in the room with her but Drs and nurses, no family members, just her and strangers, which one said “why are you acting like you’re in pain, when you have already had 4 children”, I guess that nurse/midwife never had children of her own, never learnt that each birth is different and never learnt about compassion. Is it true that the older generation went through the most trauma whilst giving birth, does the trauma still remain the same for mothers today?
I am going to give you a reflection of my experiences and what I have learnt along my way.
When I was pregnant, my Dad said I must wear a frock and not squeeze my baby, I thought, where did he get that from (another Jamaican saying), I’m not squeezing my baby and I’m not sure about wearing a frock/dress every day, I said to myself, but funny enough the only trousers that I could wear was elasticated and even then it still was uncomfortable for me. Now as I type this, I wanted to learn if there were reasons why my Jamaican Dad said this, and this is what I found: Negative Effects of Tight Clothes on Pregnant Women. Wearing tight clothing whiles pregnant can cause or contribute to;
- Acid Reflux
- Yeast Infection
- Pain and discomfort
- Reduce blood circulation
The other sayings I heard through my pregnancy was keep warm, make sure your wrapped up (said my grandma), don’t walk on the floor bare footed (to prevent me getting sick), don’t cross your legs, don’t make people rub your belly unless you know they are good people (because they may wish things onto me and my baby). I can’t find much evidence supporting the idea to keep wrapped up during pregnancy, my knowledge is that colds/flus are viral infections and viruses are passed from contact between people. Being pregnant lowers your immune system which makes it more the reason to avoid people who are sick and to keeps germs at bay.
My partners Dad makes a lovely Jamaican soup every Saturday, I remember when I drank that soup, it felt like the vitamins went straight to my blood stream, you know when you feel that tingling through your vein’s, I’m not sure if this was a sign that I needed the extra vitamins, but I do know my body was singing.
I was told by my mum that our family always have boys first so I should be expecting a boy, from my knowledge I learnt that it’s not the women but the man’s sperm which determines which sex my baby will be. You know what, my mum was right, I had a boy and the boy first pattern continues.
My birth was a little different in comparison to others, as the hospital was actually like my second home, I worked 37.5 hours per week on the maternity unit, I knew everyone and felt very comfortable. I had my partner, my mum and my sister with me, the lights was low and they rubbed my back, my legs and my feet as much and as little as I needed them too, until my beautiful baby boy was born. I can say I was well looked after. After birth and staying in hospital for 1 week, yes 1 week! (as our baby had breathing difficulties) me and my baby went home. I know my mum expected that I would go back to hers but I thought that I would be fine in the comfort of my own home with my partner and our baby and I felt very confident in doing so and yes I got on fine in my eyes, tired but fine.
Second time round, I stayed at my mums and my partner’s mums, 1 week at each of their houses where we was looked after soo well and was able to recover, bond with our baby and have help with our two year old son, stopping him from feeling overwhelmed with the change of having a baby sister. Good Caribbean food was cooked for us daily and we never had to worry about maintaining the house. The support and care is not far from what I do with women in my role as a Doula but this is what I could have missed out on as in the UK, we are so keen about doing it ourselves, we don’t realise we are cutting ourselves short at times and yes, it does take a village. You know, my mum always say that we shouldn’t take our baby out until 6weeks after birth, also not to have too many people around our baby within this time frame, especially if they are sick (another Jamaican saying). As a Doula, I have learnt about the 40days traditional post-partum recovery and have realized this is what my parents also wanted for me and this is something which we naturally do within my culture.
I also learnt that my aunty used to follow her grandma around when she went to help and support women to give birth just like the granny midwifes. I still have to find a date for me to meet with my aunt and pick her brains about what she remembers, as my glorious grandma and great grandma are no longer here with us to tell their story. I also spoke with my partner’s dad about what he remembers about birth when he lived in Jamaica, he told me a few things that he remembered. He said that he remembered his aunty going around supporting women through birth (another granny midwife). He said there was times when he would be with her but he wasn’t allowed in the same room. No men were allowed to be around birthing women in those days, but he was only a kid himself so that wasn’t an option for him. He mentioned: that drinking okra before birth was to help mother and baby have a healthier pregnancy and birth, that home births was the norm and if baby was pre-term they fed the baby bush tea to help the baby to grow, goat’s or cow’s milk was also offered to babies to help them to grow fast, the milk was sometimes boiled with bush. Lanterns were used for light and a fire would be made to cook food. After birth, mothers will band their belly for a couple months, sometimes 3months, there was a bark they used to help suck the fat from the belly which released heat, makes the belly muscles tight and helps muscles to contract, this reminded me of the Bengkung Belly Binding, a traditional practice I have learnt and offer to my clients post-birth.
I did some research and managed to find 2 interesting articles about traditional practices around birth in Jamaica and a detailed birth story with good links on birth workers in Jamaica:
- A time to live Jamaican birth rituals
- Jamaican tradition birth and death practices
- A home birth in Jamaica
Do you know your family’s cultural birth traditions and practices?… if you do, please feel free to share, because my story, your story, your parent’s and grandparent’s story will help keep your family’s birth culture and traditions alive.