This is my second installment of Hmong Superstitions, with this one focusing specifically on after the baby is born.
- Hmong Superstitions – Pregnancy
- Hmong Superstitions – Postpartum
It’s interesting how traditions start out as superstitions after generation upon generation of passed down folktales. Many of the topics I will be discussing will seem like second nature to those who are Hmong and I hope to further discuss their role in an Americanized society.
The Chicken Diet
Hmong people traditionally take the postpartum recovery extremely seriously with two traditions that largely happen for the first month (30 days) after the baby is born. The first being that it was extremely important to maintain a high protein and iron diet to make for a faster recovery.
In addition to the herbal chicken soup diet, the women is only allowed to drink warm water as it is believed that cold water will slow the blood flow and prolong postpartum bleeding.
The Hmong are also herbalists and rely on the medicinal benefits that the different plants provide to help with promoting milk production, replenishing energy as well as fluids.
I did the Chicken diet for 3 weeks before I stopped eating the chicken soup, while also supplementing it with fresh fruits and sometimes cheating and having a different meal every couple of days, but mostly ate it. Many other young Hmong mothers cannot endure it for very long and will only eat it for a little while before giving up.
Truth be told, I was starving from the extremely taxing experience that the first thing I could get my mother-in-law to deliver I ate which was a cheeseburger from Mel’s Diner.
I will be making a follow up post analyzing each herb and their medicinal benefits. Stay tuned!
No Visitors for 30-Days
The second tradition that focuses on the health and well being of the mother is the tradition of no visitors who are not the immediate family (on the men’s side) can come by and visit for the first 30-days.
This is so that the baby’s spirit does not accidentally get lost or stolen. Each Hmong clan is protected by their clan’s spirits and other clan spirits can interfere or steal the spirit from the baby.
When one of my cousins had her daughter, I wasn’t allowed to enter their house. I was Hmong Ya and they were Hmong Xiong. They were extra cautious and when they entered or left the house, they would go through the backyard.
Of course, this isn’t practical in the US especially with the added strain of families needing to go back to work almost immediately after a birth, so this is not as observed today.
The Vest Burial
When the Hmong had their babies at home, after the baby was born, they would save the placenta and bury it. As detailed in the The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, it is noted that if a daughter is born, they will bury the placenta under the bed, while, if a son is born, they will bury the placenta near the center post.
It was believed that the placenta was the clothing that brought them into this world. In fact, the word that is used to describe the placenta means “shirt.”
Nowadays, with Hmong women giving birth in hospitals in the US, they do not allow you to take the placenta home with you, and thus this tradition has greatly diminished.
Calling the Baby’s Spirit on the 3rd Day
A ceremony called “Hu Plig” meaning “Soul Calling” is typically done 3 days after the child is born. As the Hmong people are largely hilltribe people, they would not go to hospitals and so stillbirth occurred among them, as it was not able to be anticipated until after delivery.
As the Hmong are animists they would also kill a small animal to offer up to their ancestors to protect the new spirit. It was believed that babies did not have a soul until three days after the birth in which they would then put a silver necklace around the babies neck to secure the baby’s soul.
Do Not Compliment Babies
Spirits are naturally jealous wanting things for themselves, and baby’s spirits are always something that they love to take. It may be off-putting for non-Hmong families to hear relatives say affectionately, “You’re so ugly,” to even the most gorgeous of babies, but it is done so with love to ensure that spirits will stay away.
I have many times over heard relatives call their babies, “noisy,” “ugly,” “bad,” and it has become normal in our families.
However, many people can take this to offense. As I grew older, I became very self-conscious about my appearance. Often times hearing my mother call me “fat” even when I was quite thin.
Later on, after confronting her about it, after years of self-doubt, she had admitted that she didn’t really mean it but that she would say it because she loved me.
I will never quite understand this tradition.
Decorating Baby Hat and Carrier with Flowers
The Hmong people are natural farmers, and so when the women would go back to tending to their gardens, their babies would go with them.
As the baby would sleep soundly on their mother’s backs, the spirits would fly overhead and upon looking down would not see an exposed baby but rather a beautiful patch of flowers and then would continue on.
With the Hmong who managed to immigrate to the USA, many are no longer farmers. However, I can still recall, as a child, I loved carrying my younger brother and would beg my mom to help me tie him onto me. This feeling of carrying my a child on me would continue onto my own.
With babywearing an ever-growing and popular trend in the United States, there almost feels like there is pressure to constantly hold your child. With more studies noting that you cannot spoil your child, I couldn’t agree more that picking up your baby heals more than harms.
In fact, I cherish the times that my little one needs me to hold her because these moments are few and fleeting and I shouldn’t take them for granted.
Upon further reflection, though many of the superstitions are just that, overly paranoid thoughts. I don’t necessarily feel that there are spirit-stealing monsters coming to take your babies! Other items, such as burying the placenta are more for sentimental rather than “spirit calling” purposes.
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