About two weeks ago, during my lunch break on Thursday, I longed for a lunch date with my 6-month pregnant wife, who happened to be free on that day. We promised to meet at her favourite restaurant at noon.
We kept our promise and enjoyed it so much, especially since we rarely have time for such a date due to our tight schedules. As fate would have it, the very same day we bumped into my 60-year-old aunt, who is my mother’s older sister.
I said “good afternoon” but instead of reciprocating my greeting like she normally would, my aunt scolded me instead for bringing my wife out. Her reason? There was an eclipse of the sun on that day.
“You fool! Don’t you know that the eclipse can make your unborn child retarded?” she said. “Pregnant women have to stay indoor on such a day!”
My wife suddenly became nervous. Meanwhile, I tried to reason with her that it was simply a superstition with no scientific basis, but my aunt denied it and kept going on about the “good old days” where many pregnant women, including herself, had to abide by a long list of local taboos.
I argued that many of those rules were unreasonable and my aunt asked me to prove it. Challenge accepted, Auntie!
In the next few days, I spent my nights reading about these taboos which have been passed from one generation to another in Cambodia. It is interesting to find that most of them are heavily related to superstitions and animism.
After studying them carefully, I found many to be unreasonable. However, I did also find some taboos which, in some ways, promote positive maternal care.
Here are some of the most well-known taboos in Cambodia, along with my remarks:
No going out during the eclipse
This one is especially for my aunt. An eclipse, according to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, is defined as “an occasion when the moon passes between the earth and the sun so that you cannot see all or part of the sun for a time” or “an occasion when the earth passes between the moon and the sun so that you cannot see all or part of the moon for a time”.
Nevertheless, people in many countries believe that such celestial event could “harm” a baby. In India, for example, it is believed that solar eclipse could result in a baby’s deformity while in the UK, it is said that pregnant women during an eclipse should avoid handling knives and other sharp objects, and not to cook or drink any water during the lunar eclipse.
These are mere superstitions since there are no scientific explanation to back up the allegations that natural phenomenon such as the eclipse would potentially bring harm to the baby or the expecting mother. Therefore, there is no reason to be afraid.
No getting up later than your husband
It is not unusual in Cambodia for the elderly to advise pregnant women to get up before their husband. This is because they believe that doing so will expedite and ease the birthing process. This taboo is not only unreasonable, but also could be detrimental to the mothers.
Most women failed to get high quality of sleep during pregnancy as they face issues such as the need to urinate frequently, leg cramps and nausea. Therefore, they need to get as much rest as possible to ensure their own health and the health of their babies.
I cannot imagine how many Cambodian women have had to suffer from this silly concept, particularly if their husbands are heavy sleepers. Speaking of sleeping, someone has told my wife to walk over my feet when I am asleep so that her morning sickness could be passed to me. Even if that was true, it still sucks!
No eating porridge, snails and snacks
Cambodian people believe that a pregnant woman should not eat porridge because it will make her babies “dirty” when they are born and avoid eating snails, which will make the baby “slow”.
Many asked pregnant women not to frequently indulge in small treats as it will bring the pain back and forth. I don’t know how these taboos came to be, but my wife’s obstetrician said warm porridge is a good remedy for her when she has a cold.
The doctor even said that my wife can enjoy escargot, her favourite food, as long as the snails are well cooked. The doctor also recommended crackers and other bland treats which can help curb her morning sickness.
However, not all taboos are bad. There are some taboos which we find good for pregnant woman. For example, the elders forbid pregnant women from taking a shower at night or sit at the top of a staircase, saying that such actions could harm the foetus or contribute to difficulty in labour, but they are also the positions where accidents could easily happen.
Meanwhile, when the Cambodian elders say, “Don’t wear clothes that are too tight because it will squish the baby,” they are partially right, since tight outfit will make the mother uncomfortable. After all said and done, I guess elder Cambodians (and my aunt) were not completely wrong.