The cultures of pregnancy: Part III

Guest columnistAugust 21, 2014 

In Part I of this series, we related the cultural divide that exists when a woman from the U.S. innocently announces her pregnancy to a male friend from another culture. The man takes the “good news” as an accusation, and is ready to defend himself to the fullest including in court. Part II explained the cultural rationale and legal fears that may lead an outsider to take reactive actions, including court procedures, to the innocent announcements of a pregnancy.

The one thing that is ubiquitous in all cultures is that most pregnancies start the same way and end with the same product, a child. But nothing can vary more in its interpretations and process than pregnancy. Across cultures, pregnancies are surrounded by all types of superstitions. We do not have the room and the time to bring up here all the beliefs various societies have developed around pregnancies. These traditions vary greatly from what the expecting mother should or should not eat; what color clothes she should not wear; what she must not see, how she must lay in bed, who she must not talk to, people she should not meet, and the lists of dos and don’ts during pregnancy go on and on.

In most South Saharan Africa , discussing pregnancies is considered taboo, especially when it comes to one’s own pregnancy. As we discussed in part I, women don’t move around sharing their state of gestation with others and brag about being pregnant, except with the very people who have direct take on the pregnancy.

Pregnancy and child delivery are the most intimate things in the life of any woman. This is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of women. In this culture, it is believed that the woman is so close to God that she is the one “thing” it pleased God to pick, out of many other options available to Him, to bring humans to life. Women are extremely valuable in the sight of society. Not only do they bear life, but they nurse, they nurture, they cherish, they give warmth. In short they care for the entire human life since all human life passes through their own bodies.

Pregnancy leads to the coming of the most precious thing nature has to offer humans, the baby. Out of respect for the woman and the baby, these cultures believe that pregnancies are not anything to joke around about. It deserves tranquility from the universe, the pleasure of the ancestors, and the good moral standing of the parents. For that matter, the parents must observe strict discipline, during the period when the mother is expecting; and they must be in good moral standing if the birth is to take place smoothly.

Most of the beliefs and traditions surrounding pregnancy have to do with the safety of the expecting mother and the child she carries. The delivery of a child is regarded as a complicated, dangerous and life threatening process that should be kept as secret as possible to protect the child and the mother from bad spirits. That is why, even when known, the due date is never shared with anyone, not even with some close family members. One more reason not to throw baby showers!

To preserve the life of a baby, many taboos and rituals surround the whole period from conception to the birth of the new baby. An African states, “If conception is an occasion of joy, a good, uncomplicated birth of a healthy child is lifelong happiness.”


Emmanuel Ngomsi, President of All World Languages and Cultures, Inc. He educates and coaches on issues of cultures and diversity. He can be reached at info@universalhighways.

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