Since announcing that Mr Taiwanxifu and I are expecting our second child, I have discovered all sorts of unusual traditions (and taboos). I find some of them are pretty unusual to my Western way of thinking, although Mr Taiwanxifu tells me that many are just common sense. See what you think!
- No building baby nurseries. Chinese believe it is important for the expectant mother to be relaxed. And this extends to a belief that there should be no banging of nails (or other sharp objects) into walls. Practically, this means that very few parents go all out and renovate elaborate baby nurseries. Back in Australia, it was almost a ritual for expectant fathers to go on a baby nursery renovation spree, perhaps as a way to mentally prepare for the life changes accompanying a new baby. In contast here in Taiwan, nobody seems to build new nurseries to welcome a newborn. For one thing, most apartments are too small and there is no space for a dedicated baby room. And many parents chose to co-sleep or have their baby in the same room anyway (or with grandparents). But also, any major renovation work surrounding a pregnant mother is considered to seriously taboo.
- Beware scissors. There is a Chinese belief that pregnant women should avoid scissors, especially anywhere near the marital bed. The worry is that it will somehow affect the baby in utero and that he or she would be born with something missing or incomplete (e.g. a hare lip). I didn’t know this during my first pregnancy until Mr Taiwanxifu caught me sitting on the edge of our bed sewing a button back on a shirt (a victim of a swelling belly). Let’s just say he was MOST unimpressed about my irresponsible behaviour. And I really had no idea …
- Avoid people touching you on the shoulder. This one is a bit hard to avoid, especially in early pregnancy before you are showing. If someone is going to tap you on the shoulder it is usually to get your attention, in which case you wouldn’t have a clue they are about to touch you. I am not sure about the origin of this taboo, but it is considered extremely unlucky for anyone to tap a pregnant woman on the shoulder.
- Surround yourself with pictures of beautiful children. Being a great believer in the law of attraction, I agree with the general sentiment behind seeking to surround yourself with positive images of cute children and beautiful things when pregnant. While you cannot totally shut out the difficulties of the world, it is important to focus on a happy and stress-free birth. My grandfather died in World War II while my grandmother was carrying my father, and to this day he claims that his propensity to anxiety is linked to his foetal experiences. But some people go too far; recently my mother-in-law tried to forbid me visiting a baby who needed surgery because she didn’t want her grandson to be negatively affected. Still, a few happy snaps of friends and family strategically positioned around the home is not likely to hurt.
- Don’t attend funerals, or if you do wear a red scarf. My father-in-law sadly passed away around the time we found out we were expecting our first child. In Taiwan, funeral rites go on for up to 49 days with major ceremonies every seven days. Usually pregnant women are advised to avoid going to funeral related activities (presumably a reverse application of surrounding yourself with positive images). But in my case, after carefully checking the Chinese almanac, I attended one of the key funeral rituals appropriate for the wife of the eldest son (大嫂 – dàsǎo). To protect my baby, I was advised to wear a red scarf around my belly. And having a lucky talisman on me helped as well.
- Don’t touch the bride. In some households, pregnant women are discouraged from attending weddings. Or if they do go, they are not allowed to go near the bride and certainly not to touch her. There is no suggestion behind this superstition that a pregnant woman would bring the bride or groom bad luck: on the contrary, the usual wish is for Chinese couples to go forth and multiply. The reason is something to do with hierarchy on a bride’s special day. No-one should upstage the bride, and the gods looking after the pregnant woman might rank more highly than the those there to protect the bride. So best to avoid the two from meeting.
- Eat and eat and then eat some more. I don’t think this is universally Chinese (or Taiwanese) but pregnancy brings with it an obsessive by many people to make pregnant women eat. In the first trimester, women are usually encouraged to drink special soups to help protect and strengthen them. The jury is out as to whether fish or chicken soups are best; the main thing is that they are nutritious. Some families encourage pregnant women to eat large portions constantly. But I have noticed that obstetricians here in Taiwan seem much more concerned about weight gain than back in Australia. So there seems to be some sort of double-standard.
Doubtless there are other Chinese pregnancy taboos that I have somehow overlooked. Have you come across any cross-cultural pregnancy practices, and if so what were they? What were your experiences about being pregnant and were there any taboos that you came across?