Thoughtful Thursday: Jinx

January 29, 2009

Thoughtful ThursdayFor last week’s Thoughtful Thursday, we explored the topic of luck — specifically, whether you can improve your luck. In the comments, some people thought that you can change your luck through lucky charms, positive thoughts, actions, etc. Many other commenters agreed with me that lucky charms don’t actually work, but it’s still nice to try to believe. A couple of commenters have come to abandon luck, since no lucky charm has ever helped to bring the good fortune of children.

This week, we’ll explore the flip side: bad luck, also known as jinxes.

In her comment last week, N from Two Hot Mamas said:

It’s funny, because I don’t believe in luck, but I’m still superstitious. I guess I believe in bad luck, if it’s possible only to believe in that.

It’s human nature when bad things happen to look at the preceding events and work backwards, trying to figure out possible causes. In the future, we then avoid whatever we think might have made the difference last time. Those of us who have experienced infertility or loss often make concerted efforts to avoid jinxing pregnancies (potential or actual). In some cases, it’s a concrete action — for example, in the case of one person I know, an airplane flight closely preceded a stillbirth; this has led to her refusal to fly at all during subsequent pregnancies, even though the doctors don’t think that flying would make a difference. At other times, we can’t pinpoint what we’re avoiding. In An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, after her first pregnancy ended in stillbirth, Elizabeth McCracken describes deliberately doing everything exactly the opposite with her second pregnancy.

Some cultures have fashioned entire lifestyles around avoiding bad luck. For example, many cultures fear the “evil eye.” In her comment for last week’s Thoughtful Thursday on luck, Mel mentioned her hamsa, a common charm in both Judaism and Islam. The purpose of a hamsa, though, is not to bring good luck… but to fend off bad luck. Many hamsas actually have an eye on them, representing the evil eye that they hope to ward off.

Here is one of the hamsas in my house. Like all hamsas, it is shaped like a hand — supposedly the “hand of G-d.” This one does not have the eye in the middle. I display it prominently in my house because it is pretty and because it belonged to DH’s late grandmother. I do not believe that it wards off bad luck; I just like to have it around.


There are numerous cultural traditions associated with avoiding jinxes for pregnancies and babies. For example, some cultures, including stricter sects of Judaism, prefer not to have a baby shower or buy anything before a baby is born. Many cultures have specific rules about when pregnancies should be announced, often with much fanfare and ceremony.

In North America, not announcing a pregnancy until a certain point (often, the end of the first trimester) is common practice among all women, not only those who have experienced infertility or loss. There are plenty of women who blab to everyone before the pee has dried on the stick, but most people are more cautious. But I would argue that the true purpose is less about avoiding a jinx, and more about not wanting to untell the news if something bad does happen.

Other than people following specific cultural customs, it seems very rare in North America to put off purchases and arrangements until after the baby is born. At minimum, almost everyone obtains a car seat so that the baby can come home from the hospital. In actuality, most people buy (or receive as gifts) everything they could possibly need in advance, expecting that shopping will become near-impossible with a newborn as well as satisfying the nesting instinct. But for those who do observe the custom of waiting to make most purchases and refusing a baby shower (which in my own life I’ve seen in people of Jewish and Indian backgrounds, but I know there are other cultures that do this), I again wonder about the true purpose. The cultural explanations are focused on tempting fate. But many of us who have dealt with infertility and loss also hold off on preparations — not because of jinxing, but because we are afraid of ending up with a nursery that’s fully furnished but is missing the baby. We are afraid of the Babies R Us equivalent of untelling, of getting stuck between not being able to get rid of the baby items but not bearing to see them around the house.

Let’s change gears for a moment and talk about baseball (maybe it will bring in some male readers!). In baseball, when a pitcher is several innings into a no-hitter, people start to realize what’s going on, but they’re not supposed to say anything. Anyone who mentions the burgeoning no-hitter is immediately shushed by friends and strangers alike. My husband is unflinchingly logical, yet he joins this superstition. His explanation is that he doesn’t actually believe in jinxing the no-hitter, but he enjoys participating in the tradition, and it’s fun for a stadium full of people to collectively cheer the pitcher on.

How does this baseball analogy relate to infertility and loss? Like my husband does with no-hitters, I have seen pregnant women go through the motions of respecting the tradition. They acknowledge that they’re not supposed to tell people too early, then in the same breath they do it anyway. Through the acknowledgment, they evoke the don’t-tell tradition enough to avoid the jinx, and they also invoke a collective wish for the pregnancy to go well. Usually, “I’m not supposed to tell anyone this early, but I just can’t keep it a secret anymore!” is answered with, “Oh, I’m sure everything will be fine, you have nothing to worry about.” In its own way, those reassurances are a form of avoiding the jinx, as if saying everything will be fine can make it so.

Personally, I have toyed with the idea of refusing a baby shower when the time comes, to be consistent with observant Jewish practice (for new readers, I am not Jewish but in our home we practice many elements of Judaism consistent with my husband’s Orthodox upbringing). Instead of the charade of being a normal oblivious pregnant woman, which I don’t know that I could pull off at a baby shower or anywhere else, I would instead don the persona of being anxious, superstitious, and culturally respectful.

Let’s get real. The Real Me wishes that I could have lived a life where obliviousness at my own baby shower was possible. The Real Me anticipates that when the time comes, nobody will throw me a shower — definitely not in the city where I live now, and probably not in any of the cities where I used to live; the only possibility for a shower is in one city where many of DH’s friends and family cluster. But if that hypothetical baby shower does happen, the Real Me doesn’t want to field questions like “What took you so long?” or tolerate innuendo about the sex that created the baby. In addition to giving the impression of religious observance, refusing a shower would be a defense against the anxiety that none of my friends care enough to hold a shower and an avoidance of “normal” bullshit. Refusing a shower would also be a passive-aggressive act to withhold my joy from the people in my life: I haven’t deemed most of them worthy to share in all of the pain that it will have taken to get to that point, so maybe they don’t get the good stuff either. Would I really let them off so easy, letting them eat sheet cake without ever having fielded a sobbing phone call about a BFN? Would I give them the satisfaction of letting them coo at onesies when they never earned it by sending a miscarriage condolence card? Yes, refusing a baby shower would have its purposes, but for me none of them having anything to do with avoiding a jinx.

And so, as you must have guessed by now, I do not believe in jinxes. I go through the motions of avoiding jinxes, not to hedge my bets in case they do exist (as I do for good luck charms), but because the jinx traditions have real functions. I will insist on waiting longer than usual to announce a pregnancy, having made the opposite mistake with my first miscarriage and told too many people too early. The bad “luck” I am avoiding is not some nebulous evil eye, spirit, or will of G-d, but the pain of sharing my past and potential future heartache with others. I am also avoiding the bad “luck” of most people behaving in a way that is totally unhelpful if something bad does happen. Similarly, with purchases, I will probably put off pregnancy and baby purchases longer than most. The dozens of children’s books and toys in my house already raise eyebrows; when people have to trip over a stroller to get past your foyer, fake explanations become progressively more difficult. What is this jinx that we imagine we are avoiding by refraining from making purchases? Part of it, I think, comes from doing anything we can not to make a potential loss even more real, even more painful. I know that there are people who truly believe in bad luck, in tempting fate, in drawing the anger of the gods (and I’d love to hear from you in the comments); for me, the jinxes I’m trying to avoid are the ones in my head.

Your Thoughtful Thursday question for today:
Do you believe that you can do or say things to jinx an outcome?

15 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Jinx”

  1. WiseGuy Says:

    Well, it really is true that we do not purchase anything till the child is born. The first clothes that a baby wears also are not new, rather ones worn by some other baby. Refusing baby showers, nopes, I do not think so. The baby shower can only be held in the seventh month or the ninth month. Why not the eighth month? I have no clue. And why not before the seventh? By the seventh month, the pregnancy is fairly advanced and hence if a birth occurs, the chances that the baby will live are higher.

    Oh…the thing about evil luck and so….I am scheduled for a big-time ritual somewhere in Feb to help me overcome the misery wrought on me by the bad deeds of my past life (that’s true…lolol…). Now, I am somebody who will laugh it off, but I am actually scared. Maybe, this will help. It will not harm me even if it does not help me and so on.

    And after December, I am more conscious of the number 3. I pick 3 cookies, 3 magazines from the table, 3 books….3 whatever, I am likely to notice.

  2. loribeth Says:

    Theoretically, I know superstitions are bunk — but nevertheless, I still feel the weight of them.

    Reading your thoughts on showers & gifts and buying things for the baby made me think of a really interesting (albeit slightly academic) book that I read called “Motherhood Lost” by Linda Layne. One of the questions she discusses is when does a baby/fetus become a person. Her theory is that one of the ways we establish personhood is by giving gifts. (We shop, therefore the baby is, lol.) Another is by naming the baby & finding out the gender. And thus what a shock it is when the baby dies — & suddenly, he or she is a “nonperson” in the eyes of the same people who were giving gifts & helping us to establish his or her identity. No wonder it hurts so much.

  3. shinejil Says:

    I don’t believe in jinxes (though I’ve spent many years living in countries where bad luck avoidance is both science and art).

    Yet I’m on the same page as you: I do not want a baby shower. I don’t want the useless gifts, the stupid games and snacks, the speculation about the child. I don’t want to have to pretend to feel great and joyful, when I’m sure I’m going to be a bundle of anxious nerves until I see a living breathing baby.

    I like your perspective that those who haven’t supported don’t get the privilege of celebrating with you. I think there’s some justice in that.

    The option I’ve considered is a welcome home party, when people get to come over and meet theoretical child. But before the birth? No way.

  4. isothegoldenegg Says:

    Great post! Great comments, too. Incredible timing, I just posted this about something I’m feeling “jinxy” about.

  5. isothegoldenegg Says:

    Funny, I feel differently about a baby shower. I didn’t get a wedding, I want a BIG baby shower. I want to flaunt a big belly and wedding ringless hand, and celebrate it all openly!

  6. Danielle Says:

    I’m not sure if I believe in bad luck or preventing from it. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was young and dumb. I didn’t tell anyone ASAP, but then again I was cautious and we did wait a bit. We made decisions to not tell anyone about her potential birth defect, but did make plans to be alone in the room with her if she wasn’t going to live. With my son we were a lot more cautious. Nothing was bought until the past possible minute. I think that has more to do with un-telling, rather then jinxing anything. I think being prepared is better, then walking around the house 3 times so as not to jinx the outcome.

  7. Nity Says:

    Where I lived, we called the hamsa the “hand of Fatima”. It was a good luck charm.

    I often worried about publishing any good news because I was worried I’d jinx myself… like being hopeful about an IUI or talking about pregnancy too much.

    It’s kind of weird that I’m superstitious like that. You’re making me think about why…

    Many friends (IF) have told me to openly be excited about pregnancy. It took a long road to get here, you can be excited!!

  8. Artblog Says:

    Unfortunately and I say unfortunately because I truly wish I didn’t, it’s such a burden but I do beleive in all that and more!

    With my last pregnancy I told no one until they asked because it was quite clear I was. Even then I just nodded and smiled out of politeness and changed the subject. With my closer friends there is baby talk but only with them.

    I also, never, buy anything un-necessary until the baby is born. I do buy the essentials, you need to but I keep the packaging and receipts collectively, somewhere safe just in case.

    But I’m also resigned to the fact that, what will be, will be, regardless of charms or bad eye but unfortunately I still beleive in all that crap 🙂

    Wishing you success for your next cycle. x Artblog

  9. Artblog Says:

    I should also add, we’re lucky in Europe not to have baby showers as a tradition. Cuts out a lot of awkwardness if you ask me and I’m not such a fan of it for those very reasons 🙂

  10. Shelby Says:

    I was raised in a fairly superstitious home, so the whole idea of avoiding bad luck rather than inviting good luck is not new to me. I think I do believe in jinxes to a very limited extent. I did tell a small handful of people when I was pregnant before the time it was ‘acceptable’, but when I lost the baby, I did not feel as if spilling the beans had anything to do with it. But still, when/if I become pregnant again, I will hold off longer in the telling. Maybe it is part superstition and part not wanting to untell. It’s very interesting how it’s viewed in different cultures.

  11. I really liked this post of yours (and the pretty hamsa). I’ve been dwelling on the “living jinx” idea in my head. Especially after the month I’ve just had.

    I’ve always been a fan of the world of superstitions while acknowledging that they are, in fact, superstitions. It’s a little bit like me being agnostic… but just in case there is a God, every time I get pregnant I send prayers, thanks, pleadings up there – “just in case”. For the record: none of the prayers have been answered to date.

    I have a poster of Parvati praying or paying homage to the shiva-lingum (an Indian fertility symbol). Women all over go touch the lingum (its all very phallic) and pray that they have babies. This allegedly works for most women. I have this poster over my bed because it’s in color and its pretty. I love Indian mythology even if I don’t believe in it.

    We’ve been to the Kali temple in Calcutta, India, on our honeymoon, in 2005. It is crowded and filthy but beautiful and honest in a way only India can be. There is a sacred tree covered in flowers and coins from women who travel there from all over India and overseas to touch the tree, pay homage to Kali and have a baby. When I touched the tree, there was a woman there with a toddler at her breast, she said in Bengali that she and her husband tried for many years and she touched the tree and it happened that month. She was now pregnant with her second. I smiled and took her picture.

    Fertility symbols are another interesting topic to me.

    We’ve also been there with buying the baby things. We waited patiently until we crossed the “magical” land into the second trimester. Even then, we said nothing (I have the fat lady’s ability to hide pregnancies until about 18 weeks). And bought nothing.

    It was the magical 16 week scan (the second one that my husband had actually been able to attend with me) which was the “crossing point” for us. We ordered a few things, the bassinet, the change table, set up the nursery, tried to buy things every week so we wouldn’t end up with a huge credit card debt “before” the baby was born. Of course, we had no idea then that babies died once you crossed the magical land of the second trimester. For. No. Reason.

    Now, we have a half-filled nursery with things covered in plastic. No live baby.

    I don’t think I’ll be having a baby shower until my baby is 5.

    P.S. Thanks for the comment on my (newish) blog.

  12. dreamingsoul Says:

    What an interesting post! I don’t really know what I believe anymore. On the one hand, I have become MUCH more superstitious and much more aware of caution when it comes to anything baby related. When we first filed our papers to adopt in 2006, we were told that we would have a referral within 9 months and to ensure that we were ready. We bought a crib, a mattress, bedding, gathered clothes from friends, erected a bookcase, finished the nursery, etc. It is now three years later and no baby. We have to walk past that nursery (now turned back into a guest room, but still with pale yellow walls and that beautiful bookcase filled with baby books) every day. If I had to do it all over again, I would have waited until we had a referral, then begin the mass shopping. With my current pregnancy, I don’t know when I will be able to shop. So many things can happen and I am certain that I won’t be ready to “go there” until very late in the pregnancy (assuming the pregnancy progresses normally). I will not be having a baby shower and have warned my friends and family within an inch of their lives not to go there. I have been to too many where the pain of it took my breath away. Nope, I don’t want one. We are old enough to know what we need and what we don’t. Those who would like to get something for us, will do so regardless of whether or not we have a shower. I don’t need to sit among a room full of women and wonder who is hurting because of me. Nope. Not for me.

  13. Cat Says:

    I’m not sure I believe in jinxes, but I do believe in living to have no regrets. Our first m/c was at 5w1d, though it carried on because of the PIO for several weeks longer. 5w1d happened to be the day we went with our two 40# nieces to pick pumpkins. I was lifting them up in the playground and we went on the longest hayride ever in a bumpy wagon. I will always wonder if that had anything to do with it, even though logically I know it could be any number of reasons that early in the game.

    We are now at 5w3d and are anxiously awaiting our first u/s. I honestly don’t even want to talk about it too much and only one of my sisters even knows so far. Several friends and my other sister know that we should know by now but aren’t asking anything so far. I would of course tell them if anything happened, but somehow I feel like talking about it could jinx it, if such a think exists. I can see myself being like Artblog and Shalini and not telling everyone until I can’t hide it anymore.

    I also see your point about not celebrating with the people who haven’t been supporting me on this IF journey, but then again, I didn’t give them the chance to support me (or not be supportive) because I didn’t tell them what we were going through. I know we’ll still do all the typical things because DH won’t feel the same and will want all that stuff. Plus, it would be nice for our fertile friends to spend money on us and bring us meals after all the years we’ve spent doing that stuff for them and all the babies they’ve been having.

  14. Leslie Laine Says:

    Love the thought-provoking post. You posed several things I’ve never thought about before, which is unusual because I can relate a tooth ache to infertility (seriously).

    I have shared our IF journey with several people in the town I live in, and I have been perpetually let down – over and over again. I’ve been disappointed even by a friend who has been through IVF twice. Quite simply, I was a better friend to her than she was to me, and I have subsequently ended the relationship. I couldn’t take her negativity anymore (i.e.”Some people never find out why they can’t get pregnant.” and “It make take more than once with IVF, Leslie.”)

    I’ve decided that many of the people I’ve met here (we’ve lived here for almost four years) are much better friends when it comes to celebrating life’s rites of passage – baby showers, wedding showers, bachelorette parties – all are much better at coordinating and attending life’s high points than dealing with another IVF cycle setback, BFN after BFN after BFN. After awhile, I suppose it’s mundane to people who easily reproduce or to people who already have children.

    I’ve been wondering lately if many new moms would prefer to avoid those of us struggling with infertility – I suppose I am the ultimate Debbie Downer to someone who conceived after one month of trying. After all, they probably just want to be excited about their pregnancy – and guilt free about it as well.

    Anyway…obviously, you struck a chord with me today as I’ve almost written an entire post on your comments page. Thanks for the thought provoking post and thought comment on my blog – I’ll be visiting you again.

  15. Bunny Says:

    maybe i’m a glass half-full person, i don’t really worry about jinxes, but i do try to cultivate good luck through charms and other talisman. for me, not telling about a pregnancy makes sense for logical reasons, but i don’t think that it jinxes it…

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