Having a baby in Bali – The Good, The Bad and the Plain Weird

As Maya has just had her first otonan (sort of Balinese birthday) I thought it would be a good time to have a recap over the experience of being pregnant and raising a baby in a Balinese family and in Bali in general. I couldn’t find much information when I was pregnant, so hopefully this will be helpful to somebody!

When I first found out I was pregnant, we visited Puri Bunda, a specialist maternity and child hospital in Denpasar. There are various hospitals in Bali that provide maternity services but I was happy with the way everything worked out there and we still take Maya for vaccinations etc. There are a lot of differences between maternity care here and in the UK. In the UK I doubt I would have seen a doctor atall unless there were complications as everything is midwife led. Here I was assigned an Obstetrician who I had monthly checkups with from my first appointment (at around 7 weeks) and then fortnightly and weekly as my due date approached. I was a bit worried this would make things over medicalised like the American system but in fact my doctor was very into doing things naturally and even told me to look up hypnobirthing.

My normal checkups consisted of a weight check, a blood pressure check and an ultrasound where the size of the baby was measured. As I was visiting every week in the last month, I ended up with a lot of scan pics! I found this really reassuring in comparison to the UK where you would normally only get 2 ultrasounds throughout your pregnancy. One thing that I did find a little strange was that I didn’t have a blood and urine test until week 20. From what I understand, this is done at every midwife appointment in the UK. Luckily there were no problems with mine but if there had been a problem, it would have been helpful to find out early that the halfway mark. One issue is that there is a shortage of negative blood in Bali, particularly O-. Lucky for me I am AB+ which is one of the rarest blood types but means my body will accept any other blood type. If you’re living in Bali I would really advise having a blood test so that you know what blood type you are in case of accident and you can register as being a donor if you have negative blood.

When it was time for the hospital tour, nearing my due date I really did cry in the car on the way home! The rooms in Puri Bunda are lovely and even the cheapest rooms just look like a hotel. There are 2 beds so Made could sleep comfortably overnight with us and bathrooms inside the rooms (no bath though, just a shower). However, there is a separate delivery room which you are taken to when you are getting close to the pushing stage which I was not so impressed with. I know it is normal in the UK to stay in the same room until after the baby is born which I would have much preferred. On the other hand, Made got to stay with us the whole tie

I had been wanting a water birth but this is not available at Puri Bunda. My doctor has his own clinic with tubs for water birth and there is also a natural birthing centre in Ubud called Bumi Sehat which offers this service but we decided to stick with the hospital as this was my first pregnancy and we wanted the reassurance of having everything right there if there was a problem. The main thing I hated about the delivery room was that it was so small and clinical. I was keen to move around as much as possible and didn’t really want to push lying down but this was pretty much impossible as the room was basically 3 beds separated by pull across screens with just enough space either side to walk up and down. If you opt for the top price package you do get a private delivery room but it is just as clinical looking. I would have much prefered some more comfortable surroundings where I could move around as I wanted and dim the lights etc but oh well. As it happens I was only in there for a couple of hours and was in so much pain I could barely move anyway! I stayed in the room and walked around the hospital for as long as possible until they basically made me come to the delivery room and then I paced up and down beside the bed until I started really feeling the contractions.

Oh also, you are given a gown to wear through the whole hospital stay rather than wearing your own clothes. I wasn’t sure about this at first but there was no need to worry about what to bring and having to clean it later so it was much easier! On this note, I really didn’t need to bring anything except underwear. Everything is provided right down to toothbrushes in the bathroom and clothes for the baby which you get to take home with you.

I did end up pushing lying down but this stage only lasted about half an hour so I don’t think it slowed me down too much! There was a team of midwives in the delivery room who periodically gave me an internal check to see how dilated I was and checked the baby’s heartbeat with a portable device but no being wired up to machines or anything like that. There is also no pain relief! I’m not sure if they offer epidurals if you want one but there is no gas and air and I wasn’t offered anything else. I was keen to do it naturally so this was fine for me, however I think if I hadn’t been as lucky as to only have 2 hours of painful contractions, I would have been screaming for something to help me. The doctor was called when I was ready to push and delivered maya with about 3 midwives/nurses alongside him.

When Maya was born I was given her straight away for skin to skin contact and Made was offered to cut the cord, which he did. They then took her  away (still in the room but outside the cubicle) to clean her while I was being cleaned and stitched up. They collect the placenta in a bowl and bring it back later in a little pot as this is buried outside the house when a baby is born. They brought Maya back after a few minutes for her first breast feed and then took her away to the nursery for medical checks and vaccinations. I was taken back up to the room in a wheel chair and then we asked for Maya to be brought back which they did. There is a nursery and I was worried at first that she would have to stay in there but you are free to have the baby in your room whenever you like (although they seemed suprised I wanted her straight away, apparently most Indonesian women want to rest for the first night?!). They took Maya away to bathe her and for her medical checks but she was never away for longer than an hour or so.

The next day Made’s parents visited the hospital, his dad took the placenta or ari ari home to bury and his mum brought offerings for the hospital temple. There are no visiting hours or restrictions on numbers of visitors at Balinese hospitals so I think it is quite common for the whole family to turn up at once. Oh also using mobile phones in the delivery room is fine and I was talking to my mum while having contractions and made was sending text updates to Opek (Komang’s husband) every 5 minutes as we were in a race to have birth first! (she won by less than an hour!)

They swaddle the babies at the hospital which is not a problem inside as it is air conditioned. However when we got ready to go home they dressed Maya in clothes (including booties, mittens and hat), swaddled her in a muslin, swaddled a sheet around that over her head and then swaddled a blanket around the whole thing! We then went out into the 30 degree heat, into our broken AC car which was even hotter and I quickly ripped all the blankets off again! One of the things I find weird here is that small babies are always bundled up in loads of blankets despite the heat. Oh also they wouldn’t let me put her in the car seat incase she woke up!

On arriving home we had a small ceremony before she entered the home compound and a daily ceremony until her umbilical cord stump dropped off at 6 days. The placenta was already buried under a stone on the right of the house entrance (girls on the right, boys on the left) which had offerings on it and a spiky plant next to it. There was also a little bird house type thing made from bamboo put next to the stone and used to hold offerings. In our bedroom a wooden place for offerings (which I always forget the name) was put up and the umbilical cord stump is stored here along with daily offerings. I was not allowed in the kitchen until Maya’s umbilical cord stump had fallen off and had all my meals and even water brought to me. I think this is quite a clever way to ensure new Balinese mothers get enough rest! Babies are not supposed to leave the house until they have their ground touching ceremony at 3 months but we cheated on this quite a bit. When returning from a doctor’s appointment or any other reason to leave the house, I had to touch the kitchen with my foot on my return (this is also done when coming back from a funeral ceremony and various other things, I’m not sure of the exact meaning). Every night a candle was lit on Maya’s stone and if we went somewhere without her we had to bring back oleh oleh – a souvenir (usually a small cake) to place on her stone. Made had not cut his hair for the duration of my pregnancy as is custom but he was now free to do so and went straight out and got it all shaved off!

Ceremony performed when Maya's umbilical cord stump fell off

More offerings in our bedroom

Maya's stone with the placenta buried underneath and offerings on top

When Maya was one month and one week old we had another ceremony and I was now allowed to go back in the temple (mothers who have just given birth are considered unclean and can not go in the temple). Made could also not go in the temple for 3 days after her birth. We have continued to have a ceremony for her every month (a Balinese month is 5 weeks). This is called natab (probably not spelled like that!) and is a quick ceremony involving sitting her in front of a pile of offerings and waving the essence towards her.

When Maya was 3 Balinese months old we had her ground touching ceremony. This is a big ceremony that requires a lot of offerings. We also had to buy gold jewellery for Maya and a special outfit. My dad and Sue were in Bali at the time so they got to see the ceremony.

Preparing the offerings for Maya's three month ceremony

After some preliminarycleansing rituals around the compound, I had to take Maya and walk her round the offerings in a circle three times (like in our wedding!) – this was when she touched the ground for the first time. Poor little thing had just gone down for a nap after being excited about having so much attention from all the visitors and she was literally asleep when we first started this! She then had to pick out gold jewellery from a bowl along with several other items woven from palm leaves. This is supposed to indicate the child’s future. While this was going on I had to hold a vegetable dressed up as a baby (no kidding!) while my mother in law held maya. I then exchanged the vegetable baby for my real baby who was now all blinged out in gold rings, bracelets, anklets and a necklace. The necklace also has a gold locket type thing on it which Made’s father had taken the previous day to the Balian (traditional healer) who puts something inside to protect the child.

Bowl of water containing gold jewellery

Touching the ground for the first time

Fishing the jewellery out

Having her jewellery put on

Me and Maya in all her bling!

We then all went to pray in the temple and Maya had her first taste of food including coconut water and various other things that represent all the different tastes of sweet, salty, sour etc. After some more wafting the essence of the offerings towards her, we were done and went off to see some of Iris’s ceremony at Komang’s house.

Waiting in the family temple

Maya's chickens

First tastes

Praying in the temple

Maya praying for the first time

All done!

Showing off her outfit

Happy being a Balinese baby

Komang and Iris

Today Maya had her first Otonan which is a ceremony held every 210 days for every Balinese person for as long as they live. For her first otonan we had to shave her hair off – this is a cleansing ritual and means that she is now able to go to the village temples. Luckily she didn’t seem that bothered about having her hair shaved off, although she looks rather funny now!

Maya and Iris, freshly bald!

In the family temple with Maya

Performing the ceremony

Apart from all the religious ceremonies, some of the cultural differences are really quite apparent. I do think they go totally over the top about bundling babies up here, particularly as it is a tropical country. God forbid I try to take Maya out of the house without a hat and socks on! Last time I went to the baby clinic with Maya there was a western woman there holding a newborn without any blankets – ooh she did get some harsh stares! If there is the slightest hint of wind I am imediately instructed to protect Maya by either putting a hat on her or preferably going indoors incase she catches a cold!?

The other thing I’m finding a bit annoying is weaning. I’ve been using baby-led weaning with Maya which is going really well but the concept is totally alien to the Balinese who are used to exclusively feeding bubur (rice porrige) and pureed soft fruits like banana and papaya to their babies for a very long time. Even Maya’s 5 year old cousin is sometimes spoon fed. Although Made and his mother are coming round to the idea after seeing how capable Maya is of eating and how she enjoys feeding herself, Made’s father still looks on sadly as if i’m feeding her mcdonalds and I have heard the word ‘blender’ mentioned many times. The other problem is that there are no real family meal times here – everyone just eats when they’re hungry and stis in the kitchen or on the floor. This makes me really sad and is something i’m just not willing to accept as I think it’s really important for children to eat together with the family. So I have been trying to make sure that I at least am eating with Maya. I don’t have a problem with her eating bubur (although I do have a problem with them playing games to try and trick her into eating off a spoon when she will happily feed herself from a spoon with a bit of help) but I have trouble convincing made that a baby cannot live off rice alone and they need to add veg and some source of protein to make it a balanced meal. It seems to be finally dawning on them that she can actually eat the lumps so they don’t need to puree it… we’re getting there slowly!

Well I think that’s about it! If I think of anything else I will edit this later and hope that someone finds it useful or at least interesting. Maya’s 7 month update is also due but seeing as this has been such a mammoth post, it might be a bit late!

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5 Responses to “Having a baby in Bali – The Good, The Bad and the Plain Weird”

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  1. Tiffani Arigunawan says:

    Hi,
    I am not sure if you still log onto this website, but I wanted to say how nice it is to read your blog. I too am 29, living in Bali with my husband Wayan, and pregnant with our 2nd child. We live at Petitenget Beach and I have been very concerned about the prenatal care here. I would love to email or chat with you if you have the time as one new mom in Bali to another. Of course you have more experience than me now and I could use the help on where to get maternity clothes and baby things. I hope this reaches you and once again, I have really enjoyed reading your blog. Take care!

  2. Wow–what a fantastic post. We’re living in Mexico right now, but considering a move to Bali (assuming that I can have a baby there…as we’d like that to be in the plans for the next year). I’ve had 3 children by midwives–the last being a home birth. I’m very curious about all of the details of medical care in Bali, etc! I’d also love the contact info of the woman who left the previous comment (if you’d be willing to share), so I can connect with her and pick her brain, as well! Thanks for such a fantastic (and entertaining) post!

  3. Rachel says:

    Thanks for your comment :) There are some excellent midwives and birthing facilities in Bali – if you would like a midwife led birth and/or home birth, definitely check out Bumi Sehat in Ubud. I’ve met several women (locals and expats) who had a home birth with one of their midwives or gave birth at the birthing centre and they’ve only had good things to say about it. I was really considering it for my 2nd but decided to go with the same hospital as I had such a good experience first time round and liked my doctor.

    Emailing you now with Tiffani’s contact details :)

  4. As a Balinese people I feel very very happy about this kind of thing. Not only you, there are so many tourist coming to visit Bali and after they see how’s Bali, how’s the people’s finally they decide to live and have a small Balinese family.
    I’m originally from Singaraja (North of Bali) and my wife is originally from Tegallalang – Gianyar. I’m so happy also to become her husband, to be a part of her family.
    My wish for you, hope to get happiness life in Bali with your husband, your children’s and all of your family. Sorry my English is really bad, I hope you understand what i mean :).

  5. Rachel says:

    Hi Made,
    Thanks for reading my blog and commenting. I do love living in Bali although it is not always easy – so many ceremonies, so much work and money! I am still trying to learn little by little every day. I don’t always agree with everything in Bali but I am happy I chose to raise my children and live here.
    And your english is great! Much better than my bahasa indonesia :p

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