Birth from a Spicy Indian Perspective
As a doula, I know that I can not truly support a laboring mom without walking in their shoes a little. So, I decided to talk with my neighbor who is from India and a Muslim. Here is the wisdom she shared with me and I hope that it helps you better support a woman from India.
Meet Ishradh Sujjah from Hyderabad, India. She has been in the US for 13 years and is a Muslim. Her name means happiness in Urdu. What a beautiful name! Her region of India and her religion makes her different from other parts of India.
She believes in chastity before marriage and prays 5 times a day. She reads the Koran and is a happy woman. Her religion loves kids no matter if they are boys or girls, unlike Hindus who only want boys and feel that girls are a burden. Muslims don't believe in abortion and treasure all pregnancies.
Pregnancy is a precious time. A mom who is pregnant should never eat papaya or it will cause her to miscarry, her culture believes. When you are pregnant you are not supposed to pick up heavy things, sleep on your back, cry, or be sad. You need to read the Koran, see good things, pray often, smell good things, and eat good things. If a mom is nauseous she needs to eat tamarin and lemon juice to help her. The also have a strict diet when pregnant of eating vegetables, dried fruits, beans, fish, goat meat, chicken, only a little beef, lots of buffalo milk, yogurt, bread, and fruits. Eating oranges will give your baby pale white skin and pink lips. The pregnant women eat Laddu every morning which is a spicy ball of dried fruits and nuts mixed with butter and brown sugar. This is believed to make an easy birth. Eating pomegranate will make good skin for the mother. Some families still have a superstition that "seeing pregnant women will cause baby to......" A couple foods they can not eat is rice or pork (bacon, ham, sausage) of any kind. If a mom is pregnant during Ramadan she should remember that she can make a wish on the last day of Ramadan and it will come true. This might be helpful to a mom who wants labor to start soon or is in labor and wants baby to be born soon. This special wish day is something the women believe, not the men.
Preparing for birth is also important in their culture. During the 8th and 9th month a pregnant woman is to sit on the floor. She also needs to clean her house while squatting. She gets massages on her back with the warming herbs cinnamon and turmeric during that month.
When a woman is in labor and lives in the city, she goes to the hospital and is dropped off. If a woman lives in the country, they just deliver at home. The men stay out of the birthing room. Generally justthe doctor and the pregnant mom is in the birth room. The hospitals there are similar to America in that they support vaginal births and breastfeeding. Tradition frowns upon a woman who decides to bottle feed so no woman in India wants to do it. I was fascinated to learn about the Flower of Maryam. It is a dried flower that they put in water when labor starts. It will make your labor be easier and when it opens your delivery will be soon. Read more about it here.
After birth, her husband comes in to see the baby. The oldest person says a set prayer into the newborn's ear. The baby is also given honey on an adult's finger to help them develop sucking. Once the mother is taken home, she is treated very royally. She can't leave the house for 40 days while she rests and nurses baby. During the time that mom is recovering, she can not clean, cook, pray, read the Koran, or touch holy things. She gets massages every other day with warming herbs. They do belly binding to help with the healing process. The mom must stay warm and wear socks and sweaters in the house no matter what the season. She can not use a hand fan nor have a fan blow directly on her and can not have ice applied to any part of her body.
She can have nothing cold on her or to eat for 3 months. She can not eat chilis, rice, juice, sugar, or any food that is cold or even room temperature. All foods and drinks must be hot. If she wants water it can only be a few small sips. Mom is given warm broth to drink along with whole wheat bread, noodles, spinach, Fenugreek leaves, dill seed, special veggies, beans, lentils and soups. Everything must be warm. She can't even wash her hands in cool water. Baby also gets massages with herbs that they crush & rub into the top pf the head. There is a special pattern they follow and baby sleeps 3-4 hours after the head massage.
Food is constantly offered to mom by all family and guests. For breakfast mom gets a dried fruit ball with milk every morning before eating anything else. She also gets a glass of warm milk with a pinch of turmeric and 1 boiled egg with butter. For lunch she is given broth with veggies and meat, Chapati with lots of butter, and a glass of warm milk. For dinner she gets more meat and vegetables along with more Chapati. She is offered snacks and food constantly while she recovers.
On day 6 baby gets a special event. The dad cuts off all of baby's hair as a cleansing ritual and has the baby circumcised by someone.
After 40 days, she can go out of the house and pray and read the Koran again. First she must take a shower, say a prayer, and then stand over a bowl of burning sage for the smoke to cleanse her. When she goes out, she must still wear a head scarf no matter the season or she will get stiff muscles, they believe, until she is 3 months postpartum.
In the sad event that her baby dies before or after birth, it is believed that you should not touch a dead body. If you do, it will make you unclean. Only the priest can touch and cleanse the body. They then perform the sacred ritual of wrapping the body in a white cloth, praying, and burying the baby.
I learned so much talking to her that day and understand better about her pregnancy and postpartum beliefs. This information is crucial to a doula so that she can better support the family from birth to postpartum. We do things very differently in America and our patterns can cause hurt in these Muslim women. For example, as a loss doula, we often encourage a mom to hold her baby after death. To a Muslim family that would be offensive and hurtful to force that idea on them. I have ignorantly done that before and feel deeply sad about the harm I ignorantly caused. Now, I feel like I had a small glimpse into their world and am better equipped to serve.