“Is it just me or are there a lot of pregnant women here?” I posed the question to some of my fellow China Daily co-workers during lunch.
It wasn’t something that had become immediately apparent until a few weeks into working at CD. It went from occasionally noticing a protruding belly in a cute, flowery frock to sipping my soy milk at the office canteen for breakfast and realizing every single woman at the table next to me was pregnant. They were everywhere: at the canteen, next to me in the queue for the bathroom, waddling past me in the hallway (as I write, one pregnant woman just went out of my office to take a phone call). I might pass one clutching her thermos of tea in the the morning and later on in the afternoon I’d squeeze past a pack of them.
My American co-workers laughed at my observation and I figured maybe I was just hyper-aware of all those who were expecting. But how were they all so very, very pregnant and all around the same time? Most I encountered looked like they should be due within the next two to three months.
“Oh, it’s because 2015 is the Year of the Sheep,” a Chinese friend and co-worker explained during an afternoon jaunt to the 7-11 across the street. “Those born during that year are said to be unlucky.”
So rather than condemning a child to a life of unluckiness, many young couples deliberately begin a race against the lunar calendar to have their children born during the Year of the Horse. The horse is considered a lucky animal; the dragon is the luckiest. A May Washington Post story shed light on the deeply-held superstition (because let’s face it, that’s what it is, right?):
“Sheep are meek creatures, raised for nothing more than slaughter. Babies born in the Year of the Sheep, therefore, will grow up to be followers rather than leaders, according to some superstitions. The children are destined for heartbreak and failed marriages, and they will be unlucky in business, many Chinese believe. One popular folk saying holds that only one out of 10 people born in the Year of the Sheep finds happiness.
Health professionals say fertility consultations have spiked in recent months. Some doctors even have expressed worries that there may be a corresponding jump in abortions later this year, as couples realize they missed the horse-year cutoff. According to the Chinese lunar calendar, the Year of the Sheep (also called goat or ram) begins Feb. 19, 2015, so the window for conception closes around the end of this month.
Many patients have inquired about early delivery via Caesarean section to ensure a horse-year birth, said Li Jianjun, an obstetrician at Beijing’s United Family Hospital.”
It all made sense. I was sort of baffled at first to realize so many people continued to carry on this belief. Then I was intrigued. Back at my desk I googled to find out what animal represented 1991, my birth year. I groaned.
I was a sheep.
I looked around the office and suddenly felt like the black sheep. Some of these expecting mothers were purposefully trying to thwart burdening their child with the same fate my parents didn’t have the foresight to prevent. Was I unlucky?
Despite my previous guffawing at Chinese couples and their superstitions, I suddenly felt a little dismayed at being a sheep. I flashed back to the years of plopping down at the Chinese restaurant in my hometown and reading all of the zodiac descriptions on the place mats. I remember as a kid trying to make out the descriptions through the crab rangoon grease and feeling glad to be a sheep. It’s way better than being a slimy snake. Ew.
But for the Chinese, even the snake has more opportunities at luck than the sheep.
Sheep are “tender, polite, filial, clever, and kind-hearted,” according to TravelChinaGuide.com (I’m not sure what would be considered the leading source on the subject). They’re also said to be “worriers who are shy, pessimistic, moody, indecisive, over-sensitive, weak-willed and puzzled about life.”
Were the past 22 years unlucky? Certainly everyone has various setbacks throughout life but I didn’t feel any of mine were particularly ill-fated.
I found some comfort in seeing fellow sheep people that seemed to do well for themselves: Michelangelo, Mark Twain, Barbara Walters, Julia Roberts, Orville Wright among others.
I’ve got a chance, right? I guess this means winning the lottery is out of the question.