Sunday, April 27, 2008

Not-So-Popular Wisdom

Of course, with a new baby in the house, all sorts of folk knowledge has begun to come out, which creates a conflict for my sister and me. On the one hand, we respect people's beliefs and traditions and don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I know that when I had my son, I let things that I believed were harmless slide out of respect. I let my mom fix "onion tea" for my son when he had "hives." I didn't cut his hair until he was one--not because I believed it would cause him to stutter, as some say--but because of tradition and because I wasn't eager to have clippers buzz across his "soft spot." I didn't take him out in the "night air" much because my mom worried it'd give him "colic."

But on the other hand, I think some of this popular wisdom is rooted in sexism and I have a problem with that. Around here, women on their periods do not hold anyone else's baby until that baby is six weeks old for fear of negative effects on the baby. Because I know so many people believe that, I wouldn't hold anyone's newborn on my period. But I am troubled by that because I know it stems from a belief that your period somehow makes you "unclean" or threatening. No matter how much you ask, "Do you think women obstetricians or nurses avoid work while they're menstruating?" people cling to that belief.

Another problematic tradition is the whole idea of confinement. My mom wanted us to stay in the house (as in, not go anywhere) for the traditional six weeks. I made it two. My sister is stir crazy right now. I do think, of course, that you do need time to recuperate and heal, but this idea of shutting yourself off for weeks makes it seem that birth is somehow "unnatural."* I mean, it's not staying at home solely to be with your baby--I hear over and over, "It's okay for the baby to go out; it's the mama!" Plus, my sister and I were talking earlier and we were trying to figure out, when have poor women been able to take off that much time if they work? And hell, "motherwork" with a new baby is hard on your mind and body--much moreso, I think, than going out to the local grocery store.

So I find myself walking a thin line between respect and the desire to ask people what they think is at the source of these beliefs?

7 comments:

JustMe said...

i know what you mean about the respect/tradition line, but i agree with you on the second ones. i had never heard of the period one, or the mom stay inside one, though i have heard the kid should stay inside. good luck to your sister with all this!

Brian said...

I have to admit, a lot of those are new to me as well. If it were me, I'd just ask where the tradition comes from, and I'll bet the answer will be "that's just the way it's always been" or something similar. Isn't that basically the way something becomes a tradition, after all?

Mommy to Ander and Wife to Box said...

For me, the tradition was that you bury your baby's cord stump in the backyard. At the time, my backyard was an apartment complexes yard. An apartment complex, BTW, that I was moving away from in a month. I thought it was stupid, and I threw the stump away. My mom was appalled.

I can imagine the source of the tradition. It probably had something to do with cleanliness. But I just couldn't do it.

elle said...

Kristy, relatedly, my mom emphasizes to my sister that once the stump falls off, you cannot let it touch the ground.

Kimberly said...

Oooooh - I think BOTH my babies' stumps fell to the ground! Maybe that explains some things! LOL!

I understand too. My family actually isn't quite that "superstitious". My mom's only real off input was the miracles of chamomile tea. She always tells me to get the baby to drink some when he's congested, or put the tea bag on his ear when he has an ear infection. Now, my husband's mother is another story. I try to be respectful....you see I haven't cut Jaren's big ole head of hair yet. The one thing of hers that we won't respect is telling my husband he can't kiss the baby or he'll make him gay. That one just can't be ignored.

watercat said...

Tell your in-law this, Kimberly. Our baby used to kiss his mom and then turn to me, but back then I bought into that 'manly' idea, and wouldn't kiss him. Well, at age three he died, and the memory of my turning away from him is still fresh over thirty years later. It's too late for us, but make certain your husband kisses your baby, please!

Kimberly said...

Oh - of-course! My husband kisses them both....in front of her! And his 3 brothers who have sons do the same. It's one thing to respect her thoughts that rubbing oil on the babies knee will help his "knee slip" so he can walk. It's another to say my sons will turn gay for having a father that shows affection towards them. It's a ridiculous notion in so, so many ways. And if they do turn out to be gay, a loving father will make them all the more secure in this hateful world!

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...