The Advice of Grandma‑Midwife
Children are the joy and the sense of our lives. “A house with no children—let it be the prey of fire”, were saying ancient Bulgarians and, fearful of evil stalking from everywhere but also with much imagination and inspiration, they deducted the hidden sense of anything that could help them. On January 8, Bulgarians pay homage to their grandmas-midwives who once were the only obstetrics care available and assisted not only at the moment of childbirth but also at any prior and subsequent moments. They alone knew how to give birth to a healthy and handsome infant, how to determine his gender, how to guard him against bad luck.
In our universe, no miracles happen. Or, perhaps, only sometimes before Christmas. In our ancestor’s world, miracles were an element of life. The gate between the worlds is gaping slightly: from the hereafter, from “world’s end”, invisible breathings were stepping out, giving instructions, doing sometimes good, sometimes harm. Our compatriot was frightened of them yet expected them, knew how to confront them, how to obtain their clemency, to trick them, at times to threat them. He knew how to plead love, joy, luck, health, and long life from their hereafter world. The more did he request them for his children and applied himself to instigate them by any magical means. He was putting a cup with honey and with a golden coin near the newborn’s head for the prophetesses – in order when they come, to foretell him a good life. He spilled a heap of grain at the doorstep hoping that visitors who came with evil intentions would start counting the grains, would be diverted, and would forget where they were heading. Time elapsed and after the first cock’s call, the guests had to leave. On the other hand, near the mother’s and the infant’s heads a poker, an axe or a hatchet were placed, or a fire was kept burning – all things that evil was afraid of.
Taking care of children’s good looks and health started early. A particularly propitious to witchcraft day, in that sense, was the wedding day. Smudging the face of the bridegroom with flour from the festive bread and pronouncing “let’s children be as white as the flour”, so will it be. If the bride wants her children to have the looks of her clan, she only has to turn her head back at her paternal home while leaving it. And the wizardry is done! Then, if she pokes the glowing embers in the fireplace in her new home, children will be rose-faced and healthy.
Pregnancy is also a period for magical marvels. The advices of grandma-midwife during it are invaluable. Her unwritten but extremely detailed medical handbook imposed many a proscription and ritual. One should not do or even hint at anything that could impede delivery or harm the child. And, of course, one might show the mystical powers what’s expected from them, to “tip” them what to do. And young women were giving them signs without reserve and with much zeal. In that time’s world of transfigurations, anything might have happened.
Some of these advices could be heard from today’s midwives, too, quietly, like that, “just in case”.
To prevent a difficult delivery
A pregnant woman should neither stay at the doorstep nor see guests off, should not cross her fingers, and should not make knots on the threads with which she prepares the diapers in order to prevent the delivery from getting “tied”. She should not jump over stakes, because “if a foe woman sees her, she’d weave the poles in a wattle, and delivery will be difficult”. She must not get in contact with yarn or anything that could be threaded. She must not overstep a rope, a reeling rod, tongs, or a harness to prevent the strangulation of the newborn by the umbilical cord. She must not haul up heavy weights. She must not walk barefooted on the ground. She must not light up a fire, to prevent premature birth. She must not comb herself at sunset. She should also not measure her height – to avoid that the baby stretches and cries.
A magical protective device is the white girdle, of which pregnant women were once fond. They believed that it’s the one of the Holy Mother herself. They also revered the holidays of Ste. Anna (July 25), the Assumption of Mary (August 15), St. Simeon (September 1), Ste. Barbara (December 4), and Ignazhden (St. Ignatius, December 20). When entering the ninth month, they were going to church and lighting a candle to the Virgin Mary.
When the child moves for the first time in the womb, the woman kneads a white, “clean” loaf and distributes pieces of it with honey to kith and kin. And from that day on, she distributes every Wednesday and Friday until the delivery something to the poor. In her ninth month, the woman has always with her some sweet donuts to be ready to give one to every kid she meets. She makes no other giving out, “in order not to give away her luck” and have a difficult delivery.
To preclude child defects
The paramount concern is about the toddler, to have it healthy, without deficiencies, without impairments. The woman must not jump over a broom, a poker or cutting tools, in order to avoid some part of the child being “cut”. She must not sit with crossed legs to preclude the child from having bent legs or to prevent miscarriage. She must not sit in a place where a cat or a dog was lying, to avoid having a hirsute child. She won’t sit on a rock, for not having it anxious. She must not walk over spilled water or rubbish, to prevent the baby from having poor skin. She shouldn’t be beheading animals. She must not sew on buttons, to preclude speechlessness – not to sew on the child’s tongue. She must not be chopping wood. She does not make fun of the flaws of others, because her child would suffer from the same ones.
Lying and stealing are prohibited. It was believed that if the pregnant woman is startled from a scare and touches her body somewhere, the place would bear a mark for life.
She must not look at a wedding banner, because it has ivy ‑ which is a “fairies’ flower” ‑ wrapped around. By no means is she participating to weddings.
To have a handsome child
For the child to be handsome, it’s recommended that the pregnant woman look at herself in limpid water’s mirror. Alternatively, she should stand some evening under an apple tree in the orchard. If it’s in winter, she should look at the tree, if it’s in summer—at the fruits. This way the kid’s cheeks will be white and red.
If, at the time of delivery, the woman were gripping a poplar tree, the child would be tall and slender. If she was looking at the Sun or chatted with the Moon, he would be handsome and presentable. In some villages in spite of the prohibition of theft, stealing milk with which the pregnant woman would wash her face was justifiable. This way, her child’s face would be white like milk. Stealing a straight piece of wood was, on the other hand, a magic for an upright and slender child.