Pregnancy, Birth, and Solar Eclipse Events in History

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Pregnancy Birth Solar Eclipse

Monday August 21st, the day of the Great American Eclipse. It’s a major event, especially for those located in the 70-mile strip of totality –a pathway from the coast of Oregon to the cost of South Carolina where, for a brief moment, the Moon will block 100 percent of the Sun’s light. For those very close to the pathway –in Portland, OR for example, where the Sun will be occluded more than 99 percent– the experience will be almost as good. In fact, a partial eclipse will shadow all of North America, and parts of South America, Africa, and Europe too.

I hope you’ll be able to watch it –wear certified safety lenses if you do. Or, you can make a pinhole projector. But, in the event that your estimated delivery time approaches, you could end up being one of those mothers who gives birth during a solar eclipse. The delivery room in the hospital is one place where such an event can go completely unnoticed, because you’re inside, sometimes in a windowless room, and everybody is super busy. Outside, however, the day will turn into night. Animals will be going bonkers, confused about what is happening.

As for coming to life during a solar eclipse, you can be very certain that your baby will not know the difference. In 2017, a few people still hold superstitions related to the Sun and Moon. Notably, I’m referring to people who believe in astrology, a pseudoscience that dates back thousands of years. Seeing your pregnant belly and finding out that you could deliver in the middle of the Great American Eclipse, you may run into an astrology person who will inundate you will all sorts of stories about giving birth during a solar eclipse –it’s good, it’s bad, it’s good if you do this, it’s bad if you do that. Don’t let them mess with your mind.

Unlike thousands of years ago, we know why the sunlight goes away. Billions of years ago, the Moon orbited much closer to Earth than it does today and looked much bigger in Earth’s skies. It is moving away from Earth about 4 centimeters per year. Thus, far into the future it will look a lot smaller and a full solar eclipse will not be possible. It happens that during our time, and the times of our ancestors, the Moon has been just the right distance that it can cover the Sun precisely at times, turning day into night, yet allowing the Sun’s glowing atmosphere –called the solar corona– to stick out for a couple of minutes. This probably mystified humans before the workings of an eclipse were understood, and that fed into all of the superstitions.

We know it’s the Moon that causes a solar eclipse, but through ancient history the Moon and lunar gods and goddesses were associated with pregnancy and fertility. Inscriptions in Mesopotamian ancient culture equate the changing size of the lunar crescent with a pregnant belly. This also applies to the dark crescent that gradually obliterates the Sun during a solar eclipse. The biblical Rachel –whose name shares a root with the name of the Canaanite lunar goddess, Nichal– is a literary representation of the Moon. The same is true of Rachel’s father, Laban, whose name in Hebrew literally means Moon. Some people are not impressed with mere names in stories, but in the biblical story Rachel’s son, Joseph, has a dream in which his mother is the Moon, and his father the Sun.

The solar-lunar symbology is therefore well-engrained in our culture. And so, it’s normal to feel that there is something special about the Sun getting obliterated in the sky outside your hospital window as your baby comes through the birth canal, from darkness into light.

Given all of this, you might be interested to know that people are discussing and suggesting eclipsy-sounding names for babies. Given what we noted earlier, you might consider Rachel, especially if you feel the urge for your eclipse name to also be a ‘normal’ name. You don’t hear the name Laban much these days in Western culture, but it actually was fairly common for boys in some Jewish populations in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The cited article suggests Áine (pronounced ahn-ya), an Irish name from a Celtic goddess of midsummer that means ‘radiance’ or ‘brightness’. Of course, for a boy there is Apollo, for the Greek god of light and sort of a Sun god too. He was also the god the medicine, so we really like that here at The Pulse. Since we’re on the topic, you might also consider Luke. It’s merely the English form of Lycos, an alternate name for Apollo, which is why Luke in the Christian story is a physician.

You could get really exotic and name a child Helios, the major Sun god in ancient Greece. But the cited article also notes variations of Helios, such as Eli, Elias, even Elijah. If you want a French solar name, you could pick Soleil. Summer is a beautiful name too and very much in style, with or without the eclipse. And, if you have the Moon in mind, you name your child Luna, or how about Selene or its variation Selena. She was the Greek moon goddess. For a boy, here is an idea not mentioned in the article: Thales. He was a Greek philosopher who predicted the solar eclipse of 585 BCE, and in doing so he actually stopped a war.

There are many other ideas that you can see in the article, but now here is some practical advise in the event that you are able to view the eclipse. The eye protection applies to everybody, pregnant or not, but if you are in the late stages of pregnancy, keep in mind that this will be like a day on the beach. Dehydration is a danger, since you’ll be standing, or sitting, around for a couple of hours in direct sunlight. Drink plenty of water and protect your skin, with a hat, clothing, and sunscreen.

David Warmflash
Dr. David Warmflash is a science communicator and physician with a research background in astrobiology and space medicine. He has completed research fellowships at NASA Johnson Space Center, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brandeis University. Since 2002, he has been collaborating with The Planetary Society on experiments helping us to understand the effects of deep space radiation on life forms, and since 2011 has worked nearly full time in medical writing and science journalism. His focus area includes the emergence of new biotechnologies and their impact on biomedicine, public health, and society.

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