Thai Medicine for the New Mama: Part 1

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My son was born in Chiang Mai on the very day he was expected, or a week early, depending on how you look at it.

His father’s best friend Phra Maha Soontorn, a Buddhist monk since the age of five, knew long before we did that our child would be a boy, that he would be born on a Sunday, and he chose his name accordingly. Arriya, which means “loyal follower of the Buddha” or “good person,” again depending on who you ask.

Thai people consider the day of the week on which you were born to be your “birth day.” When my Thai friends ask my birth day, I tell them I am a Monday, not some day in June.

Traditionally, monks are consulted to name a newborn. They select a name drawn from the letters of the child’s birth day. In Thailand, birth days are seen like signs of the zodiac. They determine your tendencies, your character. To be named in sync with your birth day, is therefore supportive of your true nature (and lucky!). I have even watched a monk remove a dog- eared “naming your baby” book from his satchel with a grin to demonstrate that picking a good baby name is part of the cycle of days for a monk.

Our son was born on wan athit, or Sunday, and Phra Maha Soontorn chose his name before he was born. Before.

Before we knew if our little bundle was a boy or a girl, Phra Maha Soontorn paid us an all too rare visit. As I knelt on the floor listening to him speak with my Thai family, I understood most but not all of what he was saying. Then, he turned to me and in English, a language he doesn’t speak, and he said, “boy.”

I nodded respectfully thinking, “Yeah. Yeah, all you monks want it to be a boy.” Neither I nor my ex-husband really understood that he was telling us it was a boy. Telling us. (I knew from the day before I boarded the plane to fly to Thailand and join my future husband that it would be a boy, because I had seen it in one of the clearest dreams of my life. Even though he would not be born for another 18 months.)

After an ultrasound at six months, we knew without doubt that our little bean was, indeed, a boy. We called family and friends. We called Phra Maha Soontorn. He told my ex-husband, “I know. I told you already.”

As my due date grew nearer, we heard again from Phra Maha Soontorn. This time with a name. A Sunday name. Okay. We’ll see, I think.

A week short of my due date, our son was born. On a Sunday with a beautiful full moon, the day on which Thai people go to the Temple to honor the teachings of the Buddha. We gave him the middle name Arriya.

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Phra Maha Soontorn also made sure to tell me, through my ex-husband, that boys born on the Buddha day do not belong to us. They belong to the Temple. We are only keeping them for awhile.

We’ll see, I think. We’ll see.

This little story is the beginning of a series about Thai herbal medicine and the long tradition of caring for women after birth.

I am deeply grateful to have lived in Thailand while pregnant, giving birth, and caring for our son in the first year of his life. An entire community of family and friends supported me with their deep knowledge of Thai herbs and Thai food as medicine. Their generosity and loving kindness gave both son and mum an extraordinarily good start on a new life.

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