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Why We Have the World’s Ugliest Baby

February 19, 2010

Fun Baby Facts of the Day No. 1: Breastfeeding babies are hungrier during the night, because of the prolactin hormone produced by the mother.

This week saw an important milestone reached, one in which Alika, after 19 days, finally threw off the last vestiges of her previous life in the womb.

During a routine visit to the paediatrician, we had to undress Alika for weighting, and the remnants of her umbilical cord fell off. It is about an inch long, black and nasty.

Generally this is thrown out but in some counties – such as in Bulgaria – this little appendage could determine the course of your life. Wherever you dispose of it actually becomes very symbolic. For example, if you wanted the child to be an academic, you would take the umbilical cord to a university library and deposit it in a book, or more hygienically, bury it in the university grounds.

We haven’t decided what to do with Alika’s little piece of skin, though we are thinking of giving it to CERN (European Laboratory for Particle Physics) so she can become a famous physicist or sending it to the International Olympic Committee so she can be a great sportsperson. And to think I was planning to put it in the garbage.

Bulgaria has some other interesting traditions involving a newborn child, as they “must be given protection and a blessing by means of special rituals.”

One is that the Virgin Mary sits beside the new mother to protect her. When she leaves “The Mother of God should not be allowed to go away hungry though and hence the Virgin Mary loaf of bread. The latter should be kneaded and baked by a woman whose parents and children are alive, so that her good luck should be transmitted to both newborn infant and young mother. The loaf should be baked in a house other than the house of confinement and should be brought over when the baby is born.” (Quoted from Bulgarian Folk Customs by Mercia MacDermott.)

You also do not show the baby to the family or friends until the 40th day of life. Before then, the baby is considered “unclean” and not part of this world yet. This changes on the 40th day when the baby is baptised in church.

The other tradition worth mentioning occurs when the family and friends are finally introduced to the child. This can best be explained by recalling my conversation in the street with Maria’s cousin in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. We were returning from lunch to meet his sister’s recently born baby; it was the first introduction to the child for the extended family.

He mentioned casually to me, “when we get to the flat and see the baby, you must pretend to spit on her, and then say “ugly” (grozno in Bulgarian) or “may the chickens shit on your head.””

I turned to him to check his facial expression. “What?”

“Pretend to spit on her and repeat to her what I say.”

“Right. You want me to insult a child I’ve never met in front of all your family.”

“Yes. I’m serious. It is to keep the devil away.”

“You just want to embarrass me.”

“Ok. Watch me.”

“Oh, I will.”

And indeed, when we walked into the living room with all the family, he did what he said he would. By calling the child ugly – or wishing for chickens to shit on its head, which is the cousin’s personal favourite insult for babies – this tells the devil that the child is not worth touching. The more perfect the baby, the more the devil wants to take its soul. Therefore, you must confuse the devil and call perfect children ugly.

I like these traditions, which are so lacking in Anglo-Saxon culture. Sure we can play a mean game of cricket on the word stage, but we don’t have many of these tree-roots back to the past; from a time when life was simpler yet the portents for its safe continuation far more ethereal.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. mandy permalink
    February 21, 2010 3:05 am

    When is best time for me to bring over the loaf of bread I have just baked?

  2. mandy permalink
    February 21, 2010 3:06 am

    Oh and to think I used to call you an ugly little pain in the neck…I thought I was insulting you…but NO!

  3. Wynche permalink
    February 26, 2010 10:30 pm

    How interesting!
    You know about Bulgarian folk customs more than I do 🙂
    When it seems illogical or funny to you, you seek explanations. All I do is just repeat what everybody else is doing or saying.
    Or not.
    I never organised the ritual bread-breaking for Deyan (no idea if this is what you mean by the Virgin Mary loaf of bread). I knew the custom but couldn’t find any meaning in it, so I decided I had enough on my hands already, and just skipped it.
    The part about calling beautiful children ugly – now, this one has deep roots. Actually, my first word to Deyan when they showed him to me was: “Ugly”.
    I liked the theory that we do it to confuse the devil… it sounds like a smart move!

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