Until I tied the knot, the question I heard most frequently from every other auntie, uncle, elder cousin, random relative I hadn’t met since I stopped pooping in diapers, gardener, and even a domestic staffer was, “When are you getting married?”
Every unmarried Pakistani has felt unreasonable pressure to explain why they haven’t been pinned down. At a time when more of us wish to be masters of our own destiny, settling down with just about anyone is a less desirable idea than being alone yet content.
When I hit my 30s, I had decided I was to remain single forever. Better to happily dance alone than do angry kabadi all day long, right?
That’s when I met her: the missing piece of the puzzle that fit. After some time, we became husband and wife.
“There is a pleasant side effect to this,” I mused. “The personal inquiries at family events will end.”
Yes, the marriage question was dead. But rising from its ashes like a noisy phoenix was another query: “When are you having children?”
Now, at lunches, dinners, parties, and weddings, I was asked when I would be having a child, which, to me, is just as rude as coming out and asking, "Hey, when are you going to successfully inseminate your spouse?"
As with the marriage inquiry, some genuinely couldn’t accept that we had decided to wait until we were ready. But anyway, after a few years we were blessed with a little bun in the oven. Not surprisingly, as soon as my wife began to show, we started to receive a torrent of unsolicited advice on the pregnancy from people we knew as well as random strangers.
The following is a collection of the sentences either we, or pregnant couples we know, have heard. Sound familiar?
1) The bad wrap: “When your baby is born, make sure you wrap the child up tightly… shuru say! Warna your child’s arms and legs will not extend in length!
There are so many silly things about this one. Yes, swaddling correctly can help some newborns find comfort and security, but it has nothing to do with the growth of the child’s arms. What if you did it really well? Would he grow up to be Mr. Fantastic?
2) The 40 day rule: “Don’t keep your newborn’s clothes beyond forty days. It is bad luck and dangerous. Give them away or bury them. Just don’t have them in your possession.”
This sounds like an old-wives tale created to counter kanjoos (stingy) husbands unwilling to buy their baby bigger clothes. For the purpose it serves, I like it.
3) The curfew: “Stay at home for 40 days after the baby is born. Don’t leave for anything or something bad will happen. While pregnant don’t leave the house at sunset time or you will be cursed.”
While it is commendable to look after a new mother, it isn’t a good idea to smother her. Also, ghosts aren’t on the prowl at sunset. Just ask these ladies.
4) Speaking of ghosts: “The evil spirits come down at sunset. If you are pregnant or sleeping with your newborn then make sure you switch on one light at least.”
Perhaps you should switch on the light in your head as well?
5) Bloody hell: “While I have no evidence of this, I know jinns are attracted to menstruating women. That’s why during her recovery period a new mother has to be careful as she is bleeding.”
I am sorry, but the idea that these supernatural creatures have a fetish and are drawn towards bleeding women is ridiculous. To me, it is just another form of period shaming.
Also, I wonder how the jinn community feels about this rumor.
6) Shield the baby: “The baby is also susceptible to black magic during the first 40 days. Evil spirits can’t wait to harm or possess newborn babies. This is why you should cover them from all eyes. Please lock all doors at sunset to keep the foul creatures away. Cover your newborn with a kapra.”
So let’s get this straight. An evil spirit comes down from the skies… travelling through the clouds, unhindered by the walls of a building… drawn towards your baby…. And is ultimately stopped by a thin piece of cloth?
7) The mark of the devil: “My nails aren’t particularly long and one day after giving birth I woke up with five scratch marks on my neck. I am scared that I have been marked by evil. Don’t underestimate the power of the devil.”
You should probably feed your cat.
8) Total eclipse of common sense: “Pregnant ladies and new mothers have to be careful during a lunar eclipse. Anything can happen. Just lie in your room and keep away from all light outside of the house. Someone I know was cutting with scissors while she was pregnant during a lunar eclipse, and when her baby was born, she had a cut on the ear like it had been cut with those same scissors!”
Let’s just call it a loony eclipse.
9) Boy or girl? “If you have a sweet tooth during your pregnancy, you are going to have a boy. Nausea means it is a girl.” Also, “If your fetus has a faster heartbeat it will be a girl.” One of my favourites was: “If you look worn and ugly during pregnancy, you are going to have a girl because she has taken away your beauty, but if you look OK, then it is a boy.”
So, essentially, all the negative signs mean it will be a girl and all the positive symbols point to a boy… sounds quite sexist.
10) Can’t touch this: “Someone pinched my baby on the cheek and he has the mark to this day!”
Had I been the father I would have pinched them back… with a monkey wrench.
11) Consult a professional: “If a pregnant woman wants to know the gender of her child she should go to a newborn or a toddler. They can tell if it is a boy or girl.”
Yes, forget the ultrasound. Consult other babies. They were just in there!
12) Everyone is a dietician: “How come your baby is so thin? Bohot kamzor hai (He’s very weak.)”
Because yeh insaan ka bacha hay. Gainday ka nahi. (Because he is a human baby… not a hippo’s young.)
13) The competitors: “My baby already has her teeth and is beginning to crawl and turn. How come yours isn’t?”
Your child was born a year ago. Mine was born yesterday. Also, it seems like you were born yesterday.
14) Hairy situation: “My mother in law told me that when my baby starts talking my hair will begin falling. I am so scared.”
Let’s not split ends over this.
15) Grease it up: “Have as much ghee and butter as you can in your final month. It will make the baby easier to pass through when your water breaks.”
That’s not how biology works. Anything you consume is digested and absorbed by your system while the waste is passed as feces. It doesn’t take a detour towards the birth canal. This is labor, not a water park ride.
16) Students of Aladdin: “Oh you are pregnant! Can I rub your belly?”
No. No you cannot.
17) Big observer: “You look so huge! Are you having twins?”
B**** I ain’t even pregnant! Also, I am a man.
18) The naysayer: “You are way too old to have gotten pregnant. It may result in complications.”
Right now, you’re the complication.
19) The completionist: “Congratulations on just giving birth! Now quickly have another one.”
Yes, as soon as you lend us your womb.
20) Unfair bias: “I heard drinking or eating these specific things during my pregnancy will make my baby gora.”
There is no end to the sad advice you hear about improving the chances of your baby being born with fair skin.
First of all, babies of all skin colors are beautiful (except green — if you have a green baby, consult a doctor). Besides, it is determined solely by genetics. No, the pigmentation of your food will not affect the pigmentation of your unborn child.
Secondly, while there is all sort of advice to ensure your baby is fair-skinned, there is nothing about making sure your baby will be born with an intelligent mind, a kind heart, or strong character.
Pregnancy in Pakistan: What not to say to expecting parents