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Witches are born with a certain amount of Mana, which can be focused to perform spells when trained. Mana content varies from person to person, with some having more than others. Certain practices, such as early training or rituals , can somewhat increase capacity. Generally however, a person remains with the amount of Mana that they are born with.

Giving birth is a dangerous process which can lead to the death of mother and child. In certain cases, a process called a cesarian section are done to save a life. This is a complex procedure in which the baby is taken out of the mother's abdomen. That can be dangerous, but may be medically necessary. However, there is an added disadvantage to this procedure. Children born this way have significantly reduced Mana content, and in some cases are born with no Mana at all. These children are pitied, as they will be able to produce limited or no magic.

How can interrupting the natural process of childbirth affect the content of Mana in a person?

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    $\begingroup$ Before very modern times, i.e., before the 20th century, the cesarian section procedure had a very very high mortality rate for the mothers; before the middle of the 19th century the mother was almost certain to die, with survival being considered almost a miracle. (That's why the procedure was only performed in extremis to save the baby, for example because the mother was mortally injured.) Even in the second half of the 19th century the survival rates of the mothers were not better than maybe 15%. That is, unless the surgeon perfoming the procedure was a great witch... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 12 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ @VLAZ: C. Julius Caesar's mother, Aurelia, have birth to him when she was 20; she died at 66, when Caesar was 46 years old. So, obviously, he wasn't born through a caesarean section. Moreover, the Julii Caesares family is much older; a Sex. Julius Caesar was praetor in 208 BCE, meaning he was born some 150 years before the dictator. Even Pliny, the first to hypothesize a link between caesarean section and Caesar, says that it may refer to one of his ancestors. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 12 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ You right the rule for mana in your universe so this is entirely up to you. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 13 at 4:21
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    $\begingroup$ @John They're asking us to help with that process. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races with Monica Jan 13 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ @John Dunno, there are plenty of good answers below. Seems to be going alright. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races with Monica Jan 14 at 11:31

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The struggle to be born is the moment when mana is first captured by the child. Wrestling to traverse their mother's birth canal is just the physical manifestation of a more significant struggle; the struggle to become one's self, separate from their mother's life force and mana-pool. This is the magical moment when One becomes Two. And it is the magic of this moment which attracts free roaming mana.

That free roaming mana bonds to that which manifests or causes the moment of magic, to the being whose willpower demands the separation.

In natural child birth, that being is the child, who has chosen the moment and through their herculean struggles, literally summonsed the magic to the moment.

During cesarian sections, the need for the child to struggle is bypassed. The surgeon opens the mother's womb and gently lifts the child out. The separation of One into Two is no more magical than a deadly sword swipe which transforms Life into Unlife. From the mana's point of view, the event is wholly mundane. Thus no mana gathers to bond to the feeble little lifeforms who are born in this way.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this. It's very similar to butterflies hatching from their chrysalis; if they are helped too much, they may not develop the strength to be able to fly properly. I think the opposite side of this coin is equally interesting as well: babies who experience great struggles being born (very long labour, born with umbilical cord wrapped around their neck, come out the wrong way, etc.) might tend to be more powerful. $\endgroup$ – Ahndwoo Jan 13 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ Well, this answer beats the one I was going to give about the birthing process being akin to a ritual which bound the mana. $\endgroup$ – Fering Jan 13 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ Or it can be reversed. Child required such assistance because it had low mana/lifeforce in the first place. $\endgroup$ – PTwr Jan 14 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Ahndwoo "The Stillborn Archmage", coming soon to your ebook reader. After laboring for over 28 hours, witch Genevieve is dismayed. Her precious child is stillborn. She cradled the poor baby and performed the rite of *nascantur morientium, sending the child into the afterlife. What she never expected to happen was that another jealous and deranged witch stole the baby's corpse, wich reacted to her mana and drew its first breath." $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Jan 14 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ @JackM, I was concerned about that while I was writing this answer. But naturally delivered babies arrive looking like they've just fought a great battle, while cesarean children look far less battle worn. I forgot what it feels like to be born a long long time ago, so I don't have any idea who did all the work. But even if it was the mother, most of the work happened while her life force was united with the child. Perhaps they both gain mana during the birth and maybe the loving mother pushes her new mana into her child as a parting gift. There is a lot to work with in this one. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jan 14 at 15:01
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As this is something to do with magic, it doesn't need a concrete scientific definition. As it is something your audience won't want to go in depth in, a one to two sentence throwaway explanation would be best.

Some examples:

  • A common weakness for magic is metal. The metal knife used for the procedure disrupts the mana giving process.
  • If healing magic exists, the witch's mana switchs from bestowing mana to the baby, and instead focuses on healing the witch. This could also be used to explain higher survival rates for the mother.
  • It's correlation, not causation: Babies that don't properly receive magic have a much higher percent chance of having birthing issues that require a c-section. Your society doesn't understand this, and falsely assumes causation.
  • Magic requires a specific ritual to grant and c-sections can't fulfill this ritual as it is not deemed a natural birth. Or because the surgical anesthetic renders the mother incapable of preforming the ritual.
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Mana is accessed by sheer force of will. When exercising extreme willpower to accomplish something, even non magical, it is all but impossible to prevent mana from escaping. This unchanneled mana usually dissipates quickly and merely depletes the users supply until they acquire more, with no other side effects.

In certain circumstances, when the willpower is strong enough, the user will subconsciously channel the mana into the thing they are focused on. In most cases this grants them a small strength or speed boost.

Labor and delivery is considered its own special case. The willpower of the mother is at its peak, possibly pushing her farther than every before. At the same time, her mind is solely focused on one thing: her unborn child. This combination infuses the child with their magical abilities and leaves the mother drained of mana for a time, until she can recover.

In the case of C-sections (which are totally a thing in this society, despite a presumed lack of modern medicine, due to their abilities to heal the incisions with magic, or at least significantly aid in the healing process), this process cannot be seen to completion.

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I recall reading somewhere that babies born from C-sections tend to have more health issues because they didn't get the micro-flora they would have if they passed through the birth canal. You can use a similar explanation, by passing through the birth canal the baby reacts to magical micro-flora and starts generating its own mana

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Things happen during natural birth—hormones, exposure to microbes, etc—so it stands to reason that the establishing of the Mana pool could work similarly. This could range from a natural process of separating from the mother's Mana, which would be interrupted by the C-section, to something being expelled simultaneously that would normally attach to the child.

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When a person dies, their mana is returned to the universe.

So long as a baby is connected to the mother by umbilical cord, they do not just share a single supply of oxygen, they also share a single essence of mana: that of the mother. In natural birth, the baby gets its own share of the mana when the umbilical cord is cut* (using the correct ritual incantation**).

When a cesarian section is performed, the mother very quickly dies of blood loss, usually before the umbilical cord can be properly cut. At this point, the mana is still bonded to her the mother's life, so all of it disappears before any of it can be bonded to the baby.

* This means that neither the baby nor the mother will be as strong as the mother was before she gave birth, and the total mana in the world would quickly dissipate. Perhaps that is why magic no longer exists, or perhaps pregnancy is one of the few cases where mana is created.

** In some cases the incantation is botched, or purposely skipped because the mother wants to hold onto the mana. Like those delivered by cesarean, these poor souls have no mana.***

*** Plot twist: the main character thought she was manaless because her mother died in childbirth, but actually, her mother is an evil witch who only had her to increase her mana and then gave her away to an orphanage.

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If you read about Thelema, you will see that it's a lot about sex. The word itself is a greek term that can be translated as "lust" in some contexts. Some early Chaos Magic works also were deeply rooted in sex.

So you get less mana for being born through a cesarian because you have bypassed the birth channel, which is where magic is.

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Squeezing!

While being pushed through the birth canal, fluid is squeezed from the baby's lungs. This is why babies delivered through C-section are more likely to have lung problems later.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transient_tachypnea_of_the_newborn

Why is this liquid in the lungs detrimental to mana development? If you want to use this as your reasoning, that's up to you.

An alternate idea, the entire baby's head is squeezed, including the skull. Babies heads are surprisingly resilient for this reason. The skull hardens later during development. That could also be your reason. Maybe the brain releases a hormone due to this pressure?

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Have you heard of Supercooled water? In essence, water is brought to freezing point, but fails to freeze because it is missing the initial trigger (seed crystal) for the water to crystallize and form ice. A triggering event (like impact with a table) can cause a seed to form, allowing the water to freeze.

What does this have to do with mana? Simple. It's not so much that the babies don't have mana, but that their mana is in an unusable form still. The final stages of birth is were the mana seed forms that turns their mana usable (and training/rituals can help boost the conversion rate/efficiency during early childhood). Because they were born early, they lack a mana seed to convert their own mana, so the only mana they have access to is whatever transferred to them directly from their mother, if any. (If a mother/daughter are genetically similar enough, in theory the mother's mana could act as a seed for the daughter, allowing for the daughter to generate an exceptional mana capacity during the gestation period, but that's just a theory! A worldbuilding theory! Thanks for reading!)

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self-fulfilling prophecy/placebo effect made manifest

Once long ago few children could be salvaged by cesarean section. New methods and spells for healing during the process were found and used and the first child was born by it. This particular child, through sheer luck, had no mana. There's no saying why, or maybe there is that's up to you. After that event, which could be given a name, it was "known" that cesarean section-born children had low or no mana.

What nobody has caught onto, though, is that the amount you have depends almost entirely on how much those around you in your first few moments believe you will have. The conscious and subconscious thoughts adjacent to the newborn, the placebo effect made manifest by mana and will stick to a child. The gateway for mana to enter must be shunted open at the start, or risk it being forever closed and kick-start the engine of magic within us must be stoked by fires present at birth. A child born into a room full of doctors with the highest hopes will inundate the child's first moments with magic.

This could encourage large families, or births being a culturally celebrated thing. Over the course of countless generations the largest families with highest hopes for their children will have the most successful children. Those children will carry that tendency to have large families on with them, and the culture would adjust such that the largest a family you have the better. Jargon could be invented to this degree likening large families to wishing good luck. Murder would be, in a way, even more tragic. Forcefully shrinking someone's family will leave their next children a little bit less capable. Given enough time this could see the complete extinction of a lineage.

You could have someone break the wheel, a child born by cesarean but with strong mana because the people near them at birth were delusional or just ignorant of an otherwise very prominent stigma. This gives you an out so that this rule can be broken if it serves the narrative.

The more individuals near the newborn that think it will have mana, the more it will. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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