Let's Have a Baby- Kuwaiti Style (part one)
Mia Ponzo (Um Sa'ud)
November 2002 KTM
All over the world, in every culture and every walk of life, young couples look forward to having their first baby, and starting a new life as parents. Here in Kuwait, this could never be more true. In the West there is a tendency, after getting married, to wait a while to have a baby, but here in Kuwait, the goal is to have one right away, as fast as possible, getting pregnant on the wedding night is the ultimate success. This first child is called the "bakar", in bedouin accent, or "bachar", in the "hathar" (city folk) accent. This first child is a very important one to the young family, especially the mother. In the old days this "bakar" would prove the new wife's worth as a woman, prove whether her progeny were worth their weight in gold or not. Both boys and girls were greeted with great joy, but usually the boy baby was greeted with slightly more happiness. This was not only bias against women, although in the ancient times, before Islam, the Arabian people used to kill their girl babies by burying them alive until Islam came along and abolished such abominations, but also, this was a practical view, since the son would help the father, take care of the family in his absence and contribute to the income. Now, in this day and age in Kuwait, basically the only difference between the boy and girl baby, is that the boy has two lambs slaughtered for him, and the girl only one. This is not to honor the boy baby more, but to humble the parents of the boy baby, in order to prevent them from being too proud, and also, to share the joy of this addition to the breadwinners of the family by sharing wealth, and feeding the poor.
Throughout the entire pregancy, in the Arabian culture, the woman's every whim is taken care of.not always out of love, but sometimes out of fear! How so? Well, there is an old wive's tale here in Kuwait, that if the woman has a craving for something, she must have it. If she doesn't something will happen to the baby. For example, if the woman was craving strawberries and didn't get them, the baby would be born with a birth mark in the shape of a strawberry. (This old wive's tale is also common in other Asian cultures as well). So, the father spends a good portion of his time during the pregnancy running around trying to placate his wife's need for whatever strikes her fancy. Of course, as you can well imagine, many ladies take advantage of this little unwritten law! Otherwise the pregnant woman basically goes about her business as usual, and nowadays, often works right up until almost the due date.
Throughout the pregnancy, friends and family will constantly give advice, what with the very extended family units here in Kuwait, and everyone, will offer their opinion of what sex the child will be. This will be based on everything from "if the stomach is sticking straight out it must be a boy" to "if the stomach is sticking straight out it must be a girl", and you get the drift. Some people do something reminiscent of divining (with a string and a pencil, pin or another similar item) to try and predict the sex. This is not allowed in Islam, but many people still do it anyway.
It is thought that a pregnant woman should also not exert herself, so she is constantly being pampered, and many women play this up to the hilt, although, nowadays, women here in Kuwait are active in sports and similar activities, and they don't give them up during the pregnancy, opting to continue their exercise right up until the delivery. In the old days, they were active too, in fact, probably a lot more active than these days, considering that they used to bake fresh bread every day, go out for water, wash the clothes outside (often in the sea, which required a lot of walking too), keep the house tidy, sew and cook. There were no servants around in those days, except for the very rich, who had slaves. But because they usually lived in the extended family house, there was always a lot of help around, and the pregnant woman would usually be considered the princess of the house at that time, right up to and after the birth of the baby. In some families there is also some dietary advice, for example, to eat certain things and not to eat certain things during pregnancy. Also, there are some Arabian herbs that are recommended for taking in order to combat some of the inevitible symptoms of pregnancy like "murra" and fennel seed for indigestion, for example, although most of the herbs are reserved for use after the baby is born. That is when the Kuwaitis get into their serious herbal treatments!
Since Kuwait is a melange of many subtly different cultures, including bedouins, who are the tribal people of the Arabian peninsula, Iraqis, who were generally merchants, Iranians, who were also merchants, and city folk, who came from various cities and areas in Saudi Arabia, often as merchants as well, in addition to a minute percentage of other backgrounds, you will find there are as many different customs with regard to pregnancy and birth as there are people from different cultural backgrounds. Kuwait is very much like the United States of America in this regard, with its melting pot culture. You can accurately say that Kuwait is one of the most successful melting pot cultures in the Middle East. So, each different ancestral culture has an impact on local customs, birthing included. And over the years it is only natural that some of these ancestral customs would be adopted by those who don't share the same ancestry. Like the tradition of "turaddad", meaning literally "returning back", (this being the custom of doing special massage to return the bones and uterus of the newly delivered mother to their original place, a custom unheard of in the West), which is done by some bedouin women, and also some Iranian women. When the other locals heard that such a treatment existed, they began to employ this oriental method (among others) of holistic post-partum health themselves!
Next month we will go into the customs of birthing the post-partum period of recovery and all the customs that go along with that time. See you then!