Updated: Jul 6

Partly inspired and transmitted by Jana Mládek Rajniaková and Soňa Jány


Photo by Ksenia Yakovleva on Unsplash

Slovakia, just like other Slavic countries, used to introduce magical practices in their everyday life. Some rituals and spells are born from pagan traditions and have been adapted to christianity. Lots of other countries share similar beliefs.

Nowadays, with hospital and modern medicine, science and evidence based remedies are widespread in Slovakia. Though, some superstitions have persisted and magic practices are not dead.



Let's note that each region of Slovakia observes different traditions and practices.

Some protection spells and rituals are both rational and irrational.

These rituals come from a time when mortality at birth was high. Individuals used to pick big and strong partners who would resist pregnancy and birth.

A second or third child was considered unpleasant regarding the inheritance. That is why people resorted to hire a wise woman, a witch, a babica (pronounced "babitsa").


The role of the babica

In some slavic languages, "babica", or "bábica" (diminutive of baba) means "midwife" (for home birth, especially) or "grandmother".

In Poland, babica has a witchy connotation. We can think of the famous figure of Baba Yaga. It is true that in Slavic languages "midwife" and "witch" are connected. They both are medicine women.


This person knows all about birth control and is also an "angel maker". She uses herbs and other methods to provoke abortion.

She performs magic rituals, especially for birth and all rites of passage, when a person is vulnerable to the power of bad spirits.

The babica is a wise woman who possesses the knowledge of nature.

She practices both black and white magic.

The babica is respected and feared at the same time. She works in close contact with the most vulnerable people.

She is hired for different situations but mostly during pregnancy, labour and postpartum.

She might bathe the baby, bless them and escort the parent who gave birth to the church for their purification ritual (vádzka) performed six weeks after birth. She supports them to be reintegrated in the community.

The first courses for midwives in Slovakia began to be organized in 1770 at the University of Trnava, in the 19th century in Bratislava, Košice and Uzhhorod. At the end of the 19th century, it was possible to obtain such training on a six-week course with county physicians.

In the 1950s, when it was ordered to give birth in the maternity ward, the babica's ceremonial functions gradually disappeared in the cities but survived in some villages.


Pregnancy


If the pregnancy is wanted, everything will be done to have a healthy and happy birth.



Seasonal worker in Stara Dala, by M. Bourke-White, 1938
  • Hiding pregnancy from strangers

  • Avoiding to look at ugly things (not to have a ugly baby)

  • Avoiding to look at rabbits (to avoid a cleft palate)

  • Avoiding to look at fire (to avoid a birth mark)

  • Being careful not to fall (to avoid black spots on baby)

  • Avoiding to eat twin-shaped fruits and vegetables (to avoid twins, considered in the old times as an abnormality and a riskier pregnancy)

  • Big cravings should be followed, fulfilled. These cravings reflect the baby's needs to develop properly.

  • If the pregnant person is pretty, they expect a boy.

  • If they are ugly, they expect a girl.

  • Hard work (physical work in the fields) is still done during pregnancy. It is thought to facilitate birth.

  • First-timers have to be more careful though and they are allowed to give birth at home (vs in the fields of potatoes).


Labour

  • Knots need to be open.

  • Hair needs to be open and free.

  • Windows and doors should be open.

  • If the labour is slow, we pour some oil and herbs on the belly or some coal to scare the bad spirit.

  • Back should be massaged.

  • Back should be arched towards the fireplace (oven) where good spirits live.

  • In the old times, the pregnant person would wear trousers (stereotypical male clothes) to trick the evil spirit.

  • Kuváda (couvade): The partner pretends to be the person giving birth, lies in bed, screams, etc, to confuse the evil spirit and become the target.


The newborn

  • The attention now goes to the newborn

  • The baby is washed in a warm bath with herbs and symbolic items given by witches that will impact the future of the baby: - Scissors (so the baby becomes a tailor) - Hammer (so the baby becomes a builder) - Money (so the baby becomes rich) - Honey (so the baby becomes sweet and kind)

It is believed that if the baby has a tooth at birth they will:

1) become a prophet, a wise person

2) die young

Prophecies depend on the region.


If the baby is weak, they need to be baptised as soon as possible so if they die they are allowed to be buried by the church and not separately.

If the parent who gave birth dies but the baby survives, the first one becomes a ghost who might still their baby. The child would be put on their chest, rubbed on them, put under their arms...to let the baby go (thinking that the chances are few for the baby to survive).


Once the baby is washed and swaddled, they are placed in the other parent's arms. Symbolically it is the partner acknowledging their parental responsibility.


It is recommended for the birthing person to blow in a bottle to expulse the placenta. Parents have to keep an eye on the babica so she doesn't steal the placenta to do black magic.


The umbilical cord is dried and saved. It is given to the child when starting school to untangle their brain.


The newborn dyad sleeps by a corner blanket decorated with symbols:

  • Knives and sharp objects: For protection.

  • A rooster: Sings to scare the devil and announces a new morning each day.

  • An apple: For a good health.

The new parent keeps an eye on the baby at all times so the baby is not abducted and swapped by a witch or some small spirits. In hot Summer days, the baby will sleep always indoors to avoid an encounter with Lady Midday or Lady of the Rye (Poludnica, pronounced Poludnitsa) who would either cut adults heads or make children disappear. In Slavic countries, this lady is the personification of a sun-stroke. In Slavic mythology, she is a Noon Demon.

Baby's robe for their baptism

It is always preferable not to wander or work in the fields at midday during a hot Summer day. Peasant wisdom.


The baby is protected by red details (clothes, baby sleeping bag or a pillow in their cot and protective symbols taken for example from the wedding dress.)









Postpartum

After birth, in the old times, the parent who gave birth was considered impure. They will be impure until they stop bleeding. Before that, they remain unprotected, a threat to the community, a possible source of contamination. They need to rest and take care of the baby.


The family cooks and brings food:

  • Chicken broth

  • Porridge with cumin seeds

Slavic symbol of protection.

Protective snakes (or the soul of a dead ancestor) live under the door step. The new parent and their baby can't leave the house.


Alternatively, the baby can be passed out through windows (vs doors) because evil forces wait for the babies by the door.


To increase milk production, the lactating parent washes themselves in a bath filled with water and cow milk.


They will reintegrate the society and their work 6 Sundays after birth. The babica will stay by their side to attend the purification ceremony (vádzka). This ceremony is also a rite of passage to motherhood/parenthood.


Photo: V. Törey. 1956. (source: Slovak Folk Arts Collective)




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Interview of Anu Lampinen


"Love is the most important thing"
Anu Lampinen
Anu Lampinen

On the occasion of the House of Midwives (aka Kätilötalo) relocating, I wanted to interview Anu Lampinen, a veteran midwife, one of the founding members of Haikaranpesä ward in Kätilöopisto Maternity Hospital. Anu Lampinen and her dear colleague Johanna Sarlio-Nieminen were rewarded in 2016 by the Finnish Midwifery Association and consecrated "Innovator Midwives of the Year".


The legendary Kätilötalo was luckily registered on Friday 13, December 2013 by four experienced midwives: Anu Lampinen, Johanna Sarlio-Nieminen, Katja Strandell and Hanna-Mari Aflatuni. The initial address was in Töölö. Many projects were born there, from Milky Mornings with Johanna, to Midwifery and Doula education, birth preparation for parents in different languages, etc.


Anu is now the one and only "lady of the house" and the house has moved in two different locations: in Kruununhaka (Hello Me) and Kamppi (Manipura).



Map of Helsinki with Manipura Oy and Hello Me Helsinki pinned
You can now find Anu in two places: Manipura (Wednesdays) and Hello Me (Tuesdays, Thurdays).



Anu, everyone knows you as a midwife and breastfeeding counsellor but you are also an acupuncture and moxibustion therapist.

You offer acupuncture treatments during pregnancy, labour (if you are at a birth) and in postpartum.

How does acupuncture support these different stages and what are the common issues that acupuncture can solve? Acupuncture is a safe and gentle way to support these stages with very little side effects. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) philosophy says that needles move the qi, the life energy. Acupuncture help the body to find its own balance. And balance means health.

Most of the pregnant people that come to me have morning sickness, headache, constipation, insomnia, stress, edema, back issues, breech baby, need of induction or breastfeeding problems, like lack of milk.

During labour it can help with the pain and discomfort – even fear and anxiety. Certain points induce and speed up the contractions.


It seems that moxibustion is still confidential to the general public. Can you tell us a bit more about this therapy and its objectives surrounding birth?

Moxibustion belongs to Traditional Chinese Medicine protocol. While needles can move the qi, moxibustion can warm the points and the patient. Lack of warmth somewhere in the body is a disease in TCM diagnosis.

When the baby is not in the optimal position (breech, etc) the idea is that uterus is too cold. So we try to warm up the uterus with moxa. We reach the uterus via the Bladder meridian. So we moxa little toes.

In many other TCM diseases and recipes there is moxa included. Acupuncture and moxibustion: two components of the Traditional Chinese Medicine. How did you fall in love with TCM? Do you have other tools in your TCM bag?

I was a midwife in Kätilöopisto and was really interested in the question "What is a good birth?"

Studies show two things: the more we interfere, the more we need to interfere and the more we interfere, the less the birthing person feels their birth was good.

So how to help with pain and discomfort with less interference? One of my ideas was acupuncture. Off I went to the TCM acupuncture school in 1995.

In my bag there is also a gua sha comb. A tool to open membranes, ligaments and muscles - it even helps with inflammation, coughing and wheezing. A very gentle, yet powerful tool. It is to learn and do by yourself. I teach it also in my birth classes.

Any innovative projects in preparation?

Always. My dream is to start doing acupressure to newborns and teach some tools to parents too.


What is your motto?

"Love is the most important thing"

-it includes safety, good midwifery care, compassion and support when needed.


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  • Chloe Bernard

Doulas cost money. That's a fact. Hairdressers cost money, dentists cost money, cars cost money too. Once you have decided that you want a doula, put all the chances on your side to get it.

Photograph of a piggy bank
Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

These are 7 steps to help you afford a doula:

  1. Noticing that this is a long term investment Your birth experience, just like your postpartum experience has an impact on your wellbeing, the way you see yourself as a parent but also as an individual or a partner. It can effect your health, your energy levels, your self-confidence, your relationships, your sexual life, your bond with your baby. Birth and postpartum matter. In case of perinatal death or miscarriage: because of the toll this takes on your mental health, resilience capacity and bonding in your couple, investing in emotional support, whether by hiring a doula, a therapist or a coach, can make all the difference. Events happen, but it is your experience, what you make of it, that counts. And sometimes it takes vulnerability, courage and external help or support.

  2. Putting price into perspective Think of the money you might have spent in a wedding ceremony: the venue, the flowers, the dress or suit, the rings, the catering, the cake, the photographer maybe... The average budget of weddings in Europe in 2018 was about 15 000€, according to an article by the Insider. This covers one day of celebration. Think also of the money invested into a honeymoon trip. On average, newly-weds spend about 3500€ on their honeymoon, mostly one or two weeks maximum abroad. This type of financial investment into a relationship doesn't usually include guidance nor couple counselling. Now think of the relatively small financial investment you put in a doula: the education, the continuous support, the reassurance. Think of the immediate satisfaction and the benefits you will keep enjoying your whole life.

  3. Saving money: spending less in material, more in education/support The childcare and juvenile products industry tries to sell you new articles each year making you believe all of these are an absolute "must have". They play on new parents insecurities and their natural desire to "do well" and be "good parents." Most parents want what is best for their children. But what is best is not necessarily a cupboard full of new fashionable clothes, the last baby toys on the markets, or a "go go gadget" potty that you can also use on planet Mars and that is convertible into a hockey helmet. Think of bare necessities and if you get tempted think of hand-me-down material from friends and family members, recycling centres, second-hand shops and Facebook marketplace (or other C2C platforms).

  4. Crowdfunding and birth registry Open your crowdfunding account for personal funding. There is GoFundMe and many others. In the Nordics, you can also simply share your MobilePay number to your potential funders. Share your dreams, be loud, receive financial help from people you love and who love you. If you have a birth registry, do not hesitate to add "doula support" to your list. Not only, it will help donors to know what you really really want, but it will definitely help you pay for your doula. It will also normalise the need of a doula and give valuable ideas to your future pregnant friends. Such a win-win plan!

  5. Asking your doula if they accept payment plans/instalment agreements Spoiler alert: most of doulas accept instalments. Money discussions might feel delicate or taboo to you but they don't have to be. See it as one practicality amongst others!

  6. Alternatives: Finding a volunteer doula or a doula apprentice Ask your nurse/midwife if they know volunteer doulas. Volunteer doulas can be assigned to expecting persons on specific grounds. The fee is minimum. Contact a doula training school and ask if a student is looking for a client to support. That could be a good compromise.


Hopefully, this step-by-step article will help you to make doula services affordable for you and your family. You deserve a beautiful and empowering experience. Create your ideal team: family, friends, doula and other professionals. Express your needs and wishes, not only to the universe but loudly. Ask for it!



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