Knocked up abroad: Turkish superstitions on pregnancy and children

Turkish superstitionsBeing pregnant in a foreign country, even as a traveler, gives you a unique perspective into a culture, their beliefs and practices, and values. While I’ve been in Istanbul, I’ve found Turkish superstitions to apply to all aspects of life, pregnancy and children no exception. Over the past six months, I’ve heard a lot of interesting customs and beliefs, some of them wackier than others. Turks love babies and tend to be deferential towards pregnant women – I always get a seat on the train and am often offered help whether I need (or want) it or not.

As a foreigner with a non-Turkish husband, I’ll be exempt from many of these traditions, but enjoy learning about each of them.
The nazar – don’t leave home without it
If you’ve been to Turkey, you’ve undoubtedly seen the nazar boncuk, or evil eye, everywhere. The blue glass stone is put on doorways, cars, jewelry, and anywhere else it can be attached to. There is no religious significance and not many people still believe the old superstitions, but the tradition remains. Few Turkish parents would let their child out without a nazar pinned to their clothing for protection from evil spirits.

Beware of cold
Nearly every illness in Turkey will be attributed to cold drafts, and this means many Turks will not use air conditioning in summer, and bundle babies even on the hottest days. Cold floors are repeatedly the culprit, and women should avoid walking barefoot to avoid infertility, miscarriage, and just unpleasant gas. Mothers-to-be should wear slippers to avoid lectures from Turks. After birth, the mother should continue to stay warm while breastfeeding, as cold milk will result in a stomachache.

On food
My favorite Turkish custom has yet to happen for me, but it’s said that if a pregnant woman smells food, she must taste it. In theory, waiters might chase pregnant women down the street with a food sample to avoid bad luck. If you crave sweet things, you’ll have a boy; sour food means a girl. A lot of red meat will result in a boy, mainly vegetables, a girl. If a pregnant woman eats eggs, the baby will be naughty. Any particular food cravings may result in a birthmark on the baby in the shape of the food. I’ll keep you posted if I have a badly-behaved set of boy-and-girl twins with pickle-shaped birthmarks.

Be careful what you look at
According to Turkish custom, pregnant women should look at nothing but pretty things while expecting, for fear that the baby could take on unpleasant characteristics of an ugly, disabled, or dead person. Trips to the zoo are limited too, it’s bad luck to look at bears, monkeys, or camels. It is said that if you look at a person often, the baby will resemble them, so keep watching Mad Men if you want a handsome boy. For extra measure, once the baby is born, never call him cute or pretty, best to call it ugly so that the spirits won’t make it so.

Cutting the cord
When the baby is being delivered, fathers will choose a secret name and tell the doctor, who will whisper it into the baby’s ear as she is born. After birth, the umbilical cord has to be properly disposed of, and where it is buried will influence the child’s life. Bury it outside a mosque for a devout child, at a medical school for a future doctor (I’m guessing Harvard must have a lot of umbilical cords in the grounds). Circumcision practices are a whole other story, but they happen much later in life for boys and involve little sultan’s costumes.

Visiting the baby
Traditionally, new mothers didn’t leave the house for the first 40 days of the baby’s life, but this is rarely the case today in Turkish cities. Baby showers take place after the birth in the home of the new baby. New parents should provide small gifts for guests who visit the baby, such as chocolates or a sachet of herbs. In return, guests bring pieces of gold for the baby (also common at Turkish weddings) and drink a special drink, Lohusa Şerbeti, to welcome the newborn.

Sweat the small stuff
Most of us have heard that pregnant women should be careful coloring their hair (it’s really fine, just avoid getting color on your skin), but many Turks also believe that cutting the mother’s hair will cut the baby’s life short. Speaking of short, don’t measure the baby, lest he stay short-statured. Finally, they may be small, but don’t think you can just step over a baby: it’s bad luck for you as babies are considered to be angels.

Many thanks to my Turkish and expat friends at the Sublime Portal for their stories, input and advice!

Gadling readers, what beliefs are popular in your country or places you’ve traveled?

[Photo courtesy Flickr user Camera on Autopilot]


Want more Knocked Up Abroad? Check out the first few installments here, and stay tuned for more on travelling in the second and third trimester, where to do pre-baby shopping, and more on having a baby in a foreign country.

Knocked up abroad: getting pregnant in a foreign country

pregnant in a foreign country My first clue that something was different came when I woke up one night on vacation in Kiev at 3am, proceeded to eat 3 slices of toast with caviar spread, went back to bed and woke up a few hours later wondering if they made blueberry muffins in Ukraine (tragicially, they do not). That “time of the month” hadn’t happened but flying tends to always mess with your body, so I didn’t give it much of a thought. Since moving to Istanbul from New York in May 2010 for a work project, my husband and I take frequent trips around Eastern Europe (see my Weekending posts) and that week we spent exploring Kiev and Warsaw while Turkey celebrated Kurban Bayramı (the Muslim festival of sacrifice).

When we arrived back home in Istanbul a few days later, I dug out the Turkish pregnancy test I had purchased a few months earlier after a previous false alarm. Though the instructions were in Turkish, peeing on a stick is fairly universal, and the “POZITIF” results were hard to misinterpret. Excited and nervous to be pregnant in a foreign country, my husband and I wondered what a mountain of paperwork we’d have to provide U.S. Customs in 9 months, what the medical system in Istanbul would be like, and if we could get away with having a baby in Turkey not named in some way for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of modern Turkey and namesake for millions of Turks. Being pregnant in a foreign country is the ultimate way of “going native,” the most “authentic” travel experience you can have. It’s also challenging, sometimes scary, and limits where you can travel, but can be a great way to discover a culture, their hospitality, and traditions.Once I confirmed that I was in fact hamile with bebek, I noticed how child-friendly Turkey is, though not without challenges for the expecting expat. I could only find one English-language pregnancy book (co-written by Oprah’s fave, Dr. Oz, who is of Turkish descent), I’ve heard C-sections are pushed on many women as the only option for childbirth, and I’ve found maternity clothes are mostly limited to childish t-shirts and denim overalls. Turkey’s also a dream for the pregnant traveler: fresh fruit juice is cheap and easy to find at most cafes, vaccinations aren’t needed to visit, and Turks treat pregnant women with the utmost respect and care.

Having a baby, especially a first, in a foreign country isn’t for everyone. My family and support system is far away and I don’t know where to go for things I can find easily in my hometown. My doctor speaks excellent English but many of the nurses and hospital staff do not, and my Turkish is hardly fluent enough to cover every situation. Though the cost of domestic help is low, I’m not sure I want a lady with whom I can’t fully communicate telling me how to raise a baby.

Pregnancy also changes how you look at travel, both where you go and how you do it. I’ve been fortunate not to have morning sickness, but I’m just as at risk for disease as other pregnant women and have to weigh the risks of visiting countries with suggested vaccinations or food- and water-borne illnesses. Growing a baby is tiring work, and it’s hard to reconcile my usual travel self (lots of walking, few breaks) with my pregnant self (tired and hungry almost all the time). The best part about pregnancy travel is learning how each culture values pregnant women and mothers, hearing childbirth experiences from locals and foreigners, and seeing how kind strangers really can be. And all the food cravings help you discover the local cuisine, too.

Stay tuned for more on pregnancy travel, including Turkish superstitions and customs, the lowdown on prenatal medical care in Istanbul, where to travel in each trimester, what to eat when pregnant abroad, and more on having a baby in a foreign country. Check here for further updates.

Aruba’s Westin Resort offers $300 for your baby

I can understand the idea of a babymoon, a vacation taken right before a new baby is born. Enjoying one last (for a while anyway) trip before your life becomes a crazy blur of diapers and late-night feedings almost seems medically necessary. But taking a vacation with the sole purpose of getting knocked up – a procreation vacation – well, that sounds a little too “desperate marketing ploy” to me. Can’t people just have sex at home? Or just go on a trip and say “We’re gonna go on vacation, have a lot of sex, and see what happens” without making pregnancy the objective? Apparently, the Westin hopes not.

The Westin Resort on Aruba wants couples looking to take their own procreation vacation to book a stay this fall. The Resort is offering a $300 credit, to be used on on a future visit, to any couple that conceives while staying at the resort between September 1 and December 19. During that time, the Resort’s “Classic Package” is $399 per night for two and includes all meals and drinks, including alcohol. Guests who book by September 30 will also receive a $100 Resort Credit.

It’s an attention-getting promotion, but I doubt many couples will be able to collect. Getting pregnant seems like a crap shoot that requires the perfect storm of several factors. No matter how much sex a couple has over the course of their stay, the odds that the woman will happen to be ovulating and get pregnant within that time frame are slim. But if it does happen, the couple just needs to provide a doctor’s note confirming that conception was on or around the dates of their stay, and they’ll receive the $300 credit. For those who do receive a visit from the stork, I suppose it’s a nice incentive to return to the Westin for the first post-baby vacation.

[via USA Today]

German cruise company offers knock-up refund

Germany is struggling to combat a declining birth rate. And, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help the cause in its own way. TUI Cruises has come up with an unusual approach to encouraging procreation.

The cruise company is basically paying for pregnancy.

If you become “with child” on your honeymoon – as long as you are a passenger on the new liner, Mein Schiff – you’ll get a full refund (ladies only).

Scammers, beware! TUI Cruises expects to furnish some proof, of the medical variety, before it will open its wallet and pay the refund. I strongly suspect that they don’t want pictures of how the little bugger was created, though.

“Gallery courtesy Asylum.com. Be sure to check out their list of 26 places every man should visit!”