Back in the days, the household would get down to drying meat, preparing local beverages called ara and changkoe, and stocking up on ration, as dates approach for the woman in the family to give birth.
Today, similar preparations take place but at a bigger scale. But there is a difference.
Arrangements decades ago would be more for the mother and the child. Confined to ones village and considering limited resources, it only made sense to put aside a few things that would be necessary when the child comes to the world.
Preparations these days begin months ahead in keeping with scores of people one can expect to show up soon after childbirth. The way Bhutanese celebrate a new arrival has evolved to a social event.
Although a universal experience, giving birth is a momentous chapter in a woman’s life. Surrounding it is a whole lot of process, science and social norms in almost all the cultures.
Similarly, for Bhutanese mothers, the pregnancy, leading up to the childbirth is one episode. The real task, which could even prove to be an ordeal for some, starts after the bundle of joy is unbundled.
In the first week, it is mandatory for families to invite a spiritual practitioner to perform offerings and cleansing rituals to appease deities for baby’s good health. The ceremony, usually held on the third day, opens gate for other well-wishers to come in.
It would usually start with cousins and relatives showing up first. They would come loaded with traditional scarves, gifts and envelopes. Then follows the friends and colleagues, with sizes of groups varying from an individual to as big as 30 people at a time. It is as though an entire organisation coming over at a time. But that is exactly what happens.
In return, the guests who have come to welcome the newborn are first served with tea and snacks to go along. Then comes the highlight, changkoe, the fermented rice which is an obligatory beverage at the newborn’s. More drinks and local snacks are served before the meal. It is, more often, a feast for everyone who makes an effort to drop by.
Since it is a lot of work, this is also the time when ones relatives are requested to help with the kitchen and in attending guests. As for the mother and baby, they remain fenced in their room taking essential rest for recuperation.
Elders in the family would say one should treat their guests with lavish meals, or whatever one can afford. This would, in turn, bring blessings to the baby. The belief is deeply rooted in Buddhist values of accumulating merit through good thoughts and actions.
The elders also notice that the practice of checking on the newborn has become fancier from their time when they would walk in with some milk and egg from their