Any mother can tell you that the experience of giving birth is both incredible and incredibly terrifying. Most modern moms-to-be have their own personal rituals that can range from what music they want to listen to in the delivery room to whether they want to give birth in a hospital or in a bathtub at home with the help of a midwife. Some other people may find these rituals "strange," but they can't hold a candle to these five shocking childbirth customs from ancient times.
"Leaf" nothing to chance
The first custom on our list is one of the tamest, but it will still sound weird (and unhygienic) to modern-day moms. According to historians, ancient Native American tribes had several different birthing traditions, including not letting the expectant mother lie down until her baby was born. The mother would walk around or stand up and sit down for hours, until she finally delivered her baby—right into a big pile of leaves. No one would catch the baby as it was being born, it would just fall softly on top of the leaves, much like a mother bird laying her eggs in a nest.
Father's first judgment
The ancient Romans invented a lot of great things, but this childbirth custom wasn't one of them. During the Roman Empire, nothing was more important than having your child grow up to be someone extremely important, as social standing was everything. When a baby was born, it would be immediately placed at the feet of its father. If the father picked up the child, it meant he wanted it and would see that it got the best education and care that he could give it. If he didn't pick it up, though, it meant he saw no potential in it, and it would be thrown into the dump. Many babies died this way, but many others survived when other Roman citizens picked them up and took them home to be raised as slaves.
No knots allowed
In ancient Greece, mothers gave birth with the help of midwives. Before the birthing process could begin, though, the room was checked for knots of any kind—on ropes, belts, shoes, curtains, hair, etc.—and if any were found, they were immediately untied. Knots were considered to be bad magic that could delay or even prevent birth from happening altogether. Once all the knots were removed from the room, the mother crouched over a stool to give birth, and when the baby arrived it was immediately cleaned. A sign was made on its forehead as well, to protect it even further from malevolent forces that might harm it.
Yes, you read that right: belly dancing. While belly dancing is normally thought of as something sensuous, or at least entertaining, it was actually a reverent tradition in the delivery room of ancient Egyptians. The dance was thought to reflect "the body as a creation of nature and temple of the soul," and was not only performed for the expectant mother by her handmaidens and midwives, but also by the mother herself. The gyrations of the hips were thought to be good for future births as well as to warm up the mother for the current one. She would also squat down and roll her abdominal muscles in the traditional belly dance fashion to help her delivery go more smoothly.
Belly dancing during labor might sound a bit quirky, but it is nothing compared to the idea behind the dances that were done during ancient Anglo-Saxon births. The Anglo-Saxons were sure that the way to protect the mother during childbirth and ensure a smoother delivery was to do a dance that involved both a living man and a dead man. The living man was usually the woman's husband, and (perhaps luckily) the dead man was inside a grave. The expectant mother would step over the grave of the dead man while saying one charm, and then step over the live man while saying another in order to ensure the birth would be successful and as painless as possible.