'The Handmaid's Tale' Birth Ritual May Have Realistic Roots

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Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale premieres on the streaming service on April 26 and depicts a chilling dystopian future in which Handmaids are forced to carry out surrogates pregnancies for a higher class of women and their husbands. The series shows the fictional world's strange birth ritual, but there are many weird real-life birth rituals that may have inspired The Handmaid's Tale, which is based on the best-selling novel by Margaret Atwood. In the Republic of Gilead, many women are found to be infertile, thus Handmaids (who are fertile) are assigned to wealthy families to conceive children during a bizarre sexual ritual, called The Ceremony.

The Handmaid's Tale shows many different rituals in the fictional Republic of Gilead, including The Ceremony, as well as an actual birth. In the second episode titled "Birth," Handmaid Janine is shown having a child in a large mansion. The Gilead ritual, though, also requires that the woman for whom Janine carried go through the motions of birth as well. That means she must breathe as Janine breathes through contractions and, when it comes time to push, the higher status woman sits with Janine between her legs as Janine delivers the child. It is a fictional ritual that takes the concept of surrogacy to another level.

But there are also many birthing rituals from around the world that could have contributed to Atwood's ideas.

Ancient Greece

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According to Parents, pregnant women were not allowed to give birth in a room with any knots, because they believed knots were evil and could delay the process. The magazine reported that the babies during this time were further protected from evil by putting a sign on the child's forehead, which was believed to protect from evil spirits.

Maharashtra, India

According to the Associated Press, newborn babies in this Indian state are thrown off a 50-foot-tall temple called Baba Umer Durga near Sholapur, India — and into a large sheet, held by someone on the ground — because it is believed to give the children good luck later in life. The ritual has existed for more than 700 years.

China In The Late 1800s

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According to Parents, Taoist priests would whisper prayers at the bedside of pregnant women who were in labor and in the Chinese merchant class in the late 1800s. After the birth, the baby would not be washed for three days for good luck, reported the publication.


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According to Mom.me, Mexican folklore stated that a pregnant woman's womb loses heat during birth and her sex organs are permanently affected. In order to prevent this, a traditional midwife is said to put her body in between the pregnant woman's legs during childbirth in order to keep the heat in.


According to the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, 49 percent of Nigerian women prefer to give with with a trained medical professional present, while most women opt for a traditional birth attendant. Each attendant has their own way of carrying out the process: the institute reported that one has the mother-to-be give birth on plantain leaves and another attendant said he could command the baby to stop labor until he could aid the mother.


According to author Michael Palin's website, pregnant women in the Kalash valleys of Pakistan are to give birth in a "menstruating hut," which he describes as "long, low building with a high wall snaking around it." After the child is born, the mother must remain there for 20 days and only women who have their period are allowed to enter the building to aid during childbirth.

As you can see, there are many childbirth traditions around the world that greatly differ from Western medicine.