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?