baby

Three women, three cultures, three different birth stories.

Every year in Australia more than 300,000 babies are welcomed into the world.

If you’re an anglo Australian, unless you have close friends from different cultural or religious backgrounds, your experience with birth probably looks pretty similar to what we might see on mainstream TV.

The Quicky explored different birth experiences. Post continues after podcast.

We’re aware of waterbirths, natural births, home births, births where mums choose to go pain free, caesarians, epidurals, forceps deliveries, the public system, the private system, midwife support – the list goes on.

But the experience of giving birth can be a very different ballgame if you add in the customs and cultures of your birth country or faith.

Muslim birth

Mona is Muslim Lebanese, while her husband is Aboriginal African.

As she explained to Mamamia’s daily podcast The Quicky, her faith allows her to only have women in the birthing room.

“If we have to have a doctor, if it was really essential and there were only male doctors I would accept that, and we’re allowed to accept that. But if we have the option of a female doctor we take that,” she explained.

Mona admits that when she gave birth three weeks ago she was naked, but Islamically speaking they are supposed to try and stay modest.

“But you’re not going to be judged for not being modest, obviously what you’re going through is hard and our creator knows that, he created the process,” she said.

In the Muslim faith, regular prayer is a big part of the religion, but as Mona told The Quicky host Claire Murphy, “There’s mercy in everything”.

“When my water broke I stopped praying, but I was actually screaming at my husband, ‘go pray for me’,” she said.

As part of their religious traditions, it’s a father’s role once a baby is born to perform the call to prayer or Adhaan into the right ear of the child.

“It’s the first thing the baby should be hearing,” explained Mona.

The baby’s first taste should be something sweet, so parents often put the taste of date on their baby’s gums. It’s believed to help tiny digestive systems to kick in.

“It’s got vitamin K in it, which is really great for you,” said Mona.

On the seventh day a number of events take place, including shaving the baby’s head.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We weigh the amount [of hair] and give that amount in silver to charity and we sacrifice a lamb and we give that in charity as well. Through these customs we’re always reminded to be giving,” Mona explained.

Ideally a Muslim baby boy is also circumcised on the seventh day and a name is also chosen on this day.

“For 40 days we [the mother] don’t have to pray, and obviously we can’t have sex or things like that. That’s Islamic… our creator knows we aren’t able to do those things and he’s given us a break. That’s where the mercy and the kindness comes in,” Mona told The Quicky.

Questions about childbirth (answered by mums and non-mums). Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

Hindu birth

Arti and her husband are Hindu, and she explained that in the first few months of pregnancy the mum wears green bangles, there is a small function with family and at the seventh month they have a bigger baby shower with friends and family.

“A lot of things happen, there are a lot of flowers involved which is called fullah, there’s a big crescent moon [as a decoration] and a swing for the mum to swing along with the baby,” said Arti.

“Everyone brings home made sweets and it’s all about being happy and welcoming the baby that’s on the way,” she added.

When a child enters the world, it is their faith to put some honey in the child’s mouth and whisper the name of God in their ear.

To ward off evil, a small “dot” often in the shape of “Om” is drawn behind the baby’s ear using Kajal, a carbon based eye makeup.

“It’s for if people come and visit your child and are jealous, it’s believed if someone is jealous, the baby will cry in the night and won’t feel well,” explained Arti.

ADVERTISEMENT

On the sixth day after a child is born, a white cotton thread is ceremoniously tied around the wrist, ankle or neck of the baby. It usually spontaneously falls off after a few days.

On this day, the female goddess of learning also charts the baby’s future.

The parents leave a pen and blank piece of paper in the baby’s cot in the evening once the sun goes down. “You keep the baby in your hands, not in the cradle,” said Arti.

“It’s a fun evening. It’s dancing, singing songs and playing instruments,” she said.

Head shaving is also involved in Hindu birth rituals and is connected to the removal of impurities.

Indigenous birth

Kristika Kumar Williams is a proud Wodi Wodi woman from the Yuin nation on the New South Wales east coast.

Her daughter Ahri is named after her totem – the sea eagle.

“Personally for me when I found out I was pregnant I took myself back on to country, put my feet on the water and went and visited my ancestors and connected with them through meditation and mindfulness. I painted myself with ocre to connect myself and the new experience that was coming,” she told The Quicky.

In a perfect world, Kristika would have preferred to give birth in the same place her nan did – under a Lilly Pilly tree in her community near Jervis Bay. This is called birthing “on country”.

Instead she went through the hospital system with an Indigenous midwife who helped her to incorporate Aboriginal practices into her birthing experience.

“She helped me understand the mainstream process with a cultural spin on it – she understood our need to have family around and our connection to the land and the earth.”

It’s tradition to perform a smoking ceremony to welcome the child into life, and women also often bury their placenta in the earth.

“I used an essence of [boab flower] which I believe were used back in the day when women were giving birth. Wattle brush is also great for mother and child bonding,” explained Kristika.

“I took land pieces into the [birthing] room, I also used crystals and was allowed to have as many people in there as I wanted [it’s tradition to be surrounded by family],” she told The Quicky.

00:00 / ???