Pregnant Women and their Families
What of dais’ knowledge and practice is relevant or can help me with my pregnancy, birth and postpartum?
The first thing to remember is that if you are reading this, you are in a very different situation than the women that dais served in the past, or even now. You will see in the database presented on this website that dais supported women in many ways—dietary, ritual, massage, herbal—and you might pick and chose among these which are relevant, available and appeal to you.
Perhaps most important about traditional ways was that dais and women believed that the female body (with help from the dai, female relatives, the spirit world, herbs, etc.) had the power, the shakti, to birth a baby. We, in our technology-dominated world, have lost that belief, and the rituals which support that belief. Rituals and visualizations congruent with a woman’s beliefs and spiritual life can be part of a birth ‘plan’.
Aren’t dais’ ways unscientific?
It all depends on what you mean by ‘science’. Traditional methods of birthing have not been tested by randomized, double blind, controlled trials, as often pharmaceuticals have been. They have, however, been tested by time. The best of the dai tradition is also compatible with Yoga, Tantra, Ayurveda and other Asian medical systems.
Procedures like enema, shaving the pubic area, denial of food and restricted movement during labour, were all introduced into India from the west—and they were thought to be modern and scientific. Now, however, in the west they considered not ‘evidence-based and are passé, understood to cause more harm than good. And are experienced as painful and oppressive by many women.
What if my obstetrician objects?
Finding an obstetrician who is both skilled in bio-medical terms, and also open to women birthing in a manner they choose is a challenging task. Increasingly medical doctors are aware of the value of complementary and alternative systems of medicine in areas like heart disease, diabetes, etc. In obstetrics however, not much information is available to doctors in the Indian context. So a pregnant woman needs to do her homework. What, specifically does the doctor object to and why? What evidence (doctors are supposedly very keen on ‘evidence-based’ medicine) can you present to speak to her concerns? You can educate yourself about procedures and their rationales and pick the issues which are important to you.
It is also essential that your husband and family or friends, who are going to be involved, support you in what you are trying to do. They too must be made aware that all medical interventions, even though in emergencies they may be life saving, have negative side effects on you and the baby. Too often small procedures, such as a sedative injection, will result in slowing down labour pains, requiring pitocin to stimulate the contractions—which if it is not effective in opening the cervix will result in fetal distress, which necessitates a caesarian section!
How does one combine indigenous and modern medicine?
It is not easy to combine tradition with modern medicine in the Indian context. Doctors are respected caregivers and exercise absolute power in their domain, the hospital or nursing home. Their education has prepared them to practice obstetrics and not realize its limitations, nor appreciate traditional or complementary medicine.
Likewise there are so many pieces of advice from aunties and grandmothers—one does not know what is valuable and what is not. Local health traditions are different in different areas—for example in mountain areas the oil-massage so common in the plains is not practiced, perhaps because of the climate. It is important to try to understand the rationale behind the practice and then evaluate it from one’s own point of view. Much of traditional body knowledge is non-medical, preventative and health promoting, not simply curative. The pregnant woman can exercise maximum control over her lifestyle before she goes into labour. She can care for herself, ensuring a healthy body through exercise, diet and maintaining emotional balance.
Traditionally women always said that swabbing the floor in a squatting position and using a traditional toilet are excellent for a pregnant woman—and they are right. However this activity can be updated by the modern woman, squatting whenever possible and following an exercise regimen. Walking throughout the pregnancy is highly recommended. Yoga and meditation are invaluable during pregnancy, not only helping maintain emotional equilibrium, but also energizing the body with prana—the life force energy.
What can be used in the hospital/nursing home?
Dais give ‘heating’ substances to stimulate the metabolism and strengthen contractions. Sipping a herbal concoction may be allowed by your doctor during labour. In many areas a postpartum preparation is made of gur, ajwain and other ingredients. One Bihari nurse referred to this as ‘desi antibiotics’. Punjabis call it ‘panjiri’. It helps cleansing the body postpartum, is a prophylactic against infection and aids milk production.
Dais also use the subtle power of rituals, especially with the first stage of labour. Throughout India rituals of opening are performed to facilitate the birth. The cervix has to open in order for the baby to emerge, this opening—which takes place inside the mother’s body (dais use the term andar ka sharir—literally the inside body) is helped by mimicking that inner process in the outside world. Doors, windows, locks, knots are all opened by the mother. Her hair is let loose, bangles, other jewelry, bindi are all removed—signifying permission for the mother to move from social convention to the ‘wild’ pure bodily energetic space, unrestrained.
Women today could do this opening ritual before leaving for the hospital/nursing home, but their situation is quite different—they usually would not have the support of a family or friends who believed that such rituals could be effective. If done today it would be important to perform these actions in a prayerful manner, invoking whatever powers, deities, energies one is accustomed to—be they conventional religious figures, Reiki or Pranic Healing, personal deities (Ishta Deva) or simply Mother Nature as she works through the hormonal actions of the female body.