Cultural Perspectives on Childbirth

co sleeping

Every aspect of who we are from our behaviors to our learning processes is framed by our culture. The whole idea of a “melting pot” in America where many cultures blend to become one culture, is a fallacy.  People of like cultural and ethnic background tend to gravitate towards what is similar and familiar.  It shapes their identity.

This is particularly true of treaty nations (indigenous peoples) who struggle to keep their own tribal identity. Even in the cities, away from reservations, native people gravitate toward what is familiar and comfortable (besides where else would they get some Indian Tacos?).

Every indigenous group has their own cultural beliefs, rituals and traditions. Even for pregnancy and childbirth.  How childbirth took place was shaped by cultural values, ways of knowing, and framed within ritual and belief.

Unfortunately the cultural aspects were not all preserved and kept in all tribal groups, due encroachment from white society.  This encroachment has created a rift in fabric of cultural life. “The culture in which people grow up is one of the key influences on the way they see and react to the world and the way they behave (Nichols & Humenick, 139).”

For many cultures, including the Lakota, pregnancy and childbirth is much more than just a physical act.  It is believed that a spiritual force is at work.  Concepts, customs, and traditions develop around these spiritual beliefs.

Here are some of the sites I found, for other cultures:

http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/immexico_healing.asp

http://www.louisianafolklife.org/LT/Articles_Essays/main_misc_wait_babies.html

http://ihst.midwife.org/ihst/files/ccLibraryFiles/Filename/000000000004/IHS%20Midwives.pdf

Multi-cultural Beliefs

Within each indigenous culture are the ideas and concepts that surround the actions of the pregnant woman, her diet, how others should act when around her.  Some ideas and traditions actually carry across into multiple cultures around the world.

One concept has to do with knots and ties. That if these were within view of a pregnant woman, or she stepped across them, it would cause the umbilical cord to be tangled at birth. Another has to do with actions of others. If you fight around a pregnant woman or with one, it causes problems with her pregnancy.

For most indigenous cultures there are concepts taught regarding the spiritual aspects of birth and early childhood. There is a belief that a female spirit that assists in childbirth, for the Lakota people, and also assists the soul of the child in “picking” the family in which they will be born.  In western society, what they call the “Mongolian Marks” is what this female makes when a spirit is born in our world.

Infants and young children (until age 5) are considered “sacred beings” and our actions with them must be tempered by this belief.  They are closer to the spirit world, in Lakota belief.

Because of the spiritual forces in play, many indigenous cultures had and still practice rituals at the birth of a child.  This is due to the understanding that childbearing and childbirth are a sacred act.

This may not necessarily be understood by present-day women within the culture, but in their soul and spirit the women do recognize that modern medicine’s “managed care” works against the traditions and ageless wisdom of their tribe.  This is true whether they have a traditional spiritual base and upbringing in their lives or they have adopted non-traditional religious practice. Their sense of “knowing” from their soul, speaks out against what is not natural and a part of the spiritual birthing process.

Next: the Western Culture & De-Colonization of Birthing

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FYI for native women

Just an FYI for all of you…

 

Midwives Resistance: How Native Women are Reclaiming Birth on Their Terms

Mana Preconference/for native midwives

2 FULL DAYS:

Indigenous Midwifery: Ancestral Knowledge Keepers – $150. (Proceeds go to Native American Midwives Alliance)

When: October 14-15, 8:00-5:00PM

Indigenous Birthworkers Network Birthworkers who are Midwives, Doulas, mothers…

Midwifery is On the Rise In Native Communities

Nicolle Gonzales CNM ~ Blessingway of a Native American Midwife  Video

Midwives of Color

2018 American Indian and Alaska Native National Behavioral Health Conference

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Birth Trauma Part 3

According to Cheryl Tatano Beck, traumatic birth is defined as “an event occurring during the labor and delivery process that involves actual or threatened serious injury or death to the mother  or her infant. The birthing woman experiences intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and horror” she had later revised that statement to include the woman feeling stripped of her dignity.

What is the cause of women perceiving their birth experience as traumatic? It is the systemic elimination of protective care during the birthing process.

In Beck’s study of 40 women she says that there were four themes that emerged. Theme #1 was to care for the women and treating them as human beings. Theme #2: Lack of Communication.  Theme #3 was safety. Theme #4: The ends will justify the means.

With theme One: #1 women feeling they were objectified, and treated arrogantly and with a lack of empathy. The women were #2 left alone, and abandoned. The #3 birthing mother’s needs were not met by the hospital staff. An example given was of a woman from Puerto Rico who was on all fours, when a nurse brought in 20 students to observe…without her consent.

In theme Two: #1 no one communicated with the woman in labor. They were described as having conversations with one another within earshot but not directly talking with or to the laboring mother. As if she were non-existent.

In the third theme:  the #1 laboring mothers felt that the staff (nurses and doctors) did not adequately deliver safe care. #2 The mothers were not being allowed input into the care being given for their own selves and actually fearing for their own and / or the infant’s life!

In theme Four:  entailed #1 the sense that what was endured and experienced by the mothers was the sense of being “pushed to the background” as everyone around them were celebrating the baby’s healthy birth. These women #2 felt invisible, only the infant mattered.

The experiences mothers have had led to severe post-partum trauma and depression.  Beck, Driscoll, and Watson’s book Traumatic Birth goes into detail about feedback loops [pp. 10-12] that describe the interaction of the mother and child after a traumatic birth, with a listing of the causes and consequences of the cause. Sometimes even breastfeeding is difficult, creating “…intruding flashbacks, disturbing detachments with their infants, feeling violated, enduring physical pain, and insufficient milk supply…” Often the anniversary of a traumatic birth amplifies the feedback loop.

 …

My own reaction to the shared experiences the women in this book had illustrated the barbarism of western medical professionals, a barbarism that is completely contrary to those principles I listed from the ACOG website in part #2.

The women who tell their story of childbirth weave an astounding sense of personal alienation.  It is no wonder that there is PTSD, depression, self-destructive behaviors, socially isolationistic behaviors and pelvic floor injuries as a result of the improper calloused form of care received. Many of the women feel as though they were raped, yet most had no “history of physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse” so birth precipitated  a sense of having “the loss of the soul”.

I only touched on a small portion of the book in these three posts. In the next few blogs, I would like to address how we can alter the outcome for women in these circumstances and possibly change childbirth for women.

Birth Trauma – Part 2

What can you do to prevent problems in labor, and miscommunication with your doctor? My recommendation is to follow the recommended diet for pregnancy, exercise (for pregnant women), drink a lot of water, and attend to the prenatal visits.

Never be afraid to ask questions!

Why a certain test is being done, what does that word mean, etc. Some things I can assist you with during the Childbirth Education coursework…but asking the questions of your doctor is important. You get to know your doctor, and he/she can get to know you.

Your right as a patient is to have any procedure or test explained to you, by your doctor.

Questions such as:

-Is the particular procedure / test done because it is required?
-Who requires it?
-Why is it required?
-Is it because of doctor concern? What precipitated that concern?

Your doctor is not GOD.

If the doctor is not responding to your questions or you are not comfortable with the explanation / or attitude of the doctor you still can address the issue. Sometimes just a rewording of your question is helpful.  If still you are not being listened to, the following outlines your rights…

HIPPA law outlines a patient’s rights:

To Clear Communication

The AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics clearly states that it is a fundamental ethical requirement that a physician should at all times deal honestly and openly with patients. Patients have a right to know their past and present medical status and to be free of any mistaken beliefs concerning their conditions.
[https://www.emedicinehealth.com/patient_rights/article_em.htm#communication ]

To Informed Consent

Informed consent involves the patient’s understanding of the following:

  • What the doctor is proposing to do
  • Whether the doctor’s proposal is a minor procedure or major surgery
  • The nature and purpose of the treatment
  • Intended effects versus possible side effects
  • The risks and anticipated benefits involved
  • All reasonable alternatives including risks and possible benefits.

[https://www.emedicinehealth.com/patient_rights/article_em.htm#informed_consent ]

Within the perimeters of informed consent, the doctor ethically understands the responsibility of:

  • The patient being told what the doctor is going to do
  • That the patient is helped to understand the medical implications
  • Whether it is a minor or major procedure
  • The risks and benefits
  • Alternatives with the information about risks and benefits

The patient rights also include:

  • Freedom from force, fraud, deceit, duress, overreaching or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion
  • The right to refuse or withdraw without influencing the patient’s future healthcare
  • The right to ask questions and to negotiate aspects of treatment

    The 3rd part follows in one week…

Birth Trauma – Part 1

Many things come up during the labor and birthing of a baby. These may or may not be emergency-level events. A woman in labor is focused on the process they are involved in: birth. The woman may not be aware of what is being discussed around them, nor the things happening that may alter their ideals of the “perfect”  birth.

Here are some things that may occur:

  • Slow dilation of the cervix
  • Labor stalling
  • Movement of the baby stops
  • Blood pressure of the mother rises

Often doctors in the hospital will want to intervene. The remedies may be interventions that you really do not need.

These interventions could possibly be:

  • Monitors
  • IV insertion
  • Inducing labor (Pitocin)
  • Or even the decision to have a c-Section (read my blog post on this here: )

The first two  can be alleviated by using gravity (walking, dancing, leaning forward onto the labor bed with feet on the floor and doing squats). Usually stressors or nervousness are the cause.

With Labor stalling, if already dilated 6-7cm, it could very well be a natural stall while going into the next stage of labor or “Transition” (Balaskas 127-131). Body tension can also effect how labor progression.

Low moaning sounds are effective here, in that the vocal cords being activated relaxes the sphincter muscle group of the pelvic floor, as Ina May states ” The state of relaxation of the mouth and jaw is directly correlated with the ability of the cervix, the vagina, and the anus to open to full capacity (Ina Mays Guide, 170). The sphincter muscles will close due to stress or fear. Goer suggests that “obstetric management can obstruct progress (The Thinking Woman’s, 108)”

Remember: Babies are birthed when they are READY. Not on some sort of perceived time schedule.  This is a process that cannot be forced.

If the baby stops movement, inform your doctor. You can use “kick counts” as a method to monitor movements if you are concerned. In active labor, the baby tends to move in a spiral as baby moves into birthing position . Sometimes stopping movement for a short period of time can be an indicator of  the baby 1) shifting position 2) resting before birthing.

Blood pressure issues could be gestational diabetes, or just stress. The cause for the blood pressure rising needs to be found. High blood pressure is also a symptom of pre-eclampsia. But if you were not having signs of this condition and diagnosed in pregnancy (which is why prenatal visits are essential) then it may be something else.

Of course, water by mouth could assist in lowering the blood pressure level. Here is suggested reading for you to understand the seriousness of this condition: https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Preeclampsia-and-High-Blood-Pressure-During-Pregnancy

So now we move onto the second part of this discussion, published one week from this page.

A Good Question

What needs to happen, in order to fix a broken system? Your probably wondering what I mean by a broken system. I am talking about the care of women, and especially birthing.

In a nation that has been considered “advanced” we are so far behind the eight-ball that it becomes shameful. Our c-Section rates were seriously through-the-roof, and although some improvement has been made still higher than most “civilized” countries! The average being around 31%.

Along  with that outrageous number of c-Sections are the ever-climbing mortality rates of women in birth, predominately women of color. This is shameful in a country that is supposed to be “advanced”!

On top of both high c-Section rates, and high mortality rates for birthing, is the across-the-racial-board birth trauma. It should NEVER happen! But, we have nurses and doctors who force women into procedures, who intimidate and threaten.

The media makes it seem that birth is both dangerous and extremely painful. When that consciousness is embedded in the psyche of women, and you have a medical field that relies on mechanical means to monitor births… the stage is set. We have normalized bad birthing practices, and outdated concepts about birth.

That is without discussing the current political scenarios.

The next few blogs will address the history behind, and the current information about birthing in the United States. The outdated concepts surrounding birth practices need debunking. The normalization of bad birthing practices needs to have a light shown upon it, in order to make it STOP.

It is time to become educated,

get angry,

and create a change!

My sister site will also be publishing this information, although later, at joyousbirth

Pre-Eclampsia

This seems to come up a lot when women tell me their birth stories. I cringe inside, because the majority of the time it ends up with a c-Section.

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What is it?

Symptoms are: elevated protein levels in the Urine; high blood pressure or steadily rising blood pressure; headaches; swelling of ankles, face and hands; upper abdominal pain; visual disturbances; kidney, heart, or thyroid problems (Romm, 211).

Toxemia (a later stage of this condition) is life-threatening. Do not ignore these symptoms!

How can it be prevented?

A good diet
Plenty of water (plain, at least 6 Eight ounce glasses daily)
Lowering stress in your life, 2 aspects: exercise and some sort of meditative practice.

What can I do if the doctor says I am beginning to have pre-eclampsia?

For High-Blood Pressure
Eating well (see my nutrition hand-out), exercise (see my handout for exercise), and lowering stress will all assist in lowering high blood pressure when the other indicators are ruled out.  Often times women do not drink enough water and water is the first thing the ER recommends for high blood pressure.

Swelling
These are things you can do to lower the swelling:

  • Elevate your feet for 20 minutes a day
  • Lie on the left side when sleeping or resting (assists blood flow)
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day (even a long walk will help).
  • Eat more protein and salt foods to taste. You can use natural mineral waters to assist in electrolyte balancing.

Herbals: add Epson salts to foot soak, drinking nettle and dandelion infusion (assists in balancing the kidney retention and flow of fluids).

Next: TOXEMIA

 

 

Can It Get Crazier?

This was a question that has been like a mantra the last few months. My phone started degrading, and not functioning well.  So my daughter gives me her old iPhone. Well, that precipitated a chain of events.

First, I had to order a sim card that was At &t compatible (I pay month to month because its actually cheaper than any service out there). It was gonna take a week. Meanwhile, I needed a phone to use. So I bought one.

The sim arrives, so I go get the iPhone registered. At&t says “we cannot use that phone number because it is out of our service area”.  Well, no duh.  That is why I am not with your company! What I did not think about was all the sites in which I had the two-step security…

That is why three months went by without a peep from me on this site.

But…I persisted

WordPress and I went back and forth. Then they realized I was using the recovery email.  Once I emailed all the information I had to prove this is my site from the correct email, I get into this site. Whew.

So, yes folks…she is back!

Sphincter Law – Part 2

doula at work

Sphincters May Close Suddenly if the Owner is Frightened

The sudden contraction of the Sphincters is a fear-based reaction, as a part of the fight-or-flight response of adrenals. The Adrenaline/catecholamine level will rise in the bloodstream when frightened or angered.

If a female animal in the wild is in process of birth, the birth process will reverse if the animal is startled by a surprise encounter with a predator. Humans can do the same thing.

In her book, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Ina describes a situation where during labor a woman developed a fever; soon it became apparent that there was a bladder infection. She was seven centimeters dilated, but stalled in labor. So Ina chose to transport her to a hospital.

The laboring woman was examined by a doctor that was rough…who stated she was only 4 centimeters. Her dilation retracted from 7 to 4 centimeters as an automatic response to the roughly-handled internal exam…a natural self-protection, evidence of the function of the sphincter function.

What Helps the Sphincters?

• Trust, comfort, familiarity and safety
• Laughter
• Slow and deep [abdominal] breathing
• Immersion in warm water which calms and relaxes
• Relaxation of the mouth and jaw
o Relax the throat and jaw by singing
o Release an audible low moaning sound (similar to the sounds of lovemaking)
o “horse-lips” similar to the tone that horses make when they make that sound with their lips flapping, or “raspberry” sound.
• Relaxed labor supporters

~This information was taken from Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Ina May is an internationally known Midwife, who has delivered babies and written books on Midwifery and natural childbirth. She works at THE FARM, in Tennessee.

Sphincter Law- Part 1

doula at work
In birth work, obstetricians use the Law of Three Ps:

• Passenger (baby)
• The Passage (the pelvic structure and vagina)
• And the Powers (strength of uterine contractions)

From these Ina Gaskin believes stems the misunderstood capacity of a woman’s body from both the pregnant woman and the doctors who work with them. From the misunderstood capacities are the causative factors leading to all the interventions and procedures that now create problems in birthing, such as: Cesarean sections, Forceps use, vacuum extractors, etc.

The blame is placed upon women, for what obstetricians see as “dysfunctional birth”. Women have birthed for eons without a hitch; doctors perceive having a baby as “a problem of physics rather than a millions-of-years-old physiological process (168)”.

The Basics of Sphincter Law

• They function best when the atmosphere is private, and familiar.
• They do not open “at will” and do not respond to commands such as “Push!”
• When in the process of opening (relaxing) they will suddenly close down if a person is upset, frightened, humiliated, or self-conscious. This is the reason why in most traditional cultures women assist women in birth.
• If the mouth and jaw are relaxed, there is a direct correlation to the ability of the sphincters opening in the cervical and vaginal area (or the anus, for that matter).

What are the Sphincters?

These are a grouping of muscles that surround the rectum, bladder, the cervix and vagina. Each has a function for the body. These muscles remain contracted to keep the openings of certain organs held shut until something needs to pass through.

How do they work?

They work in conjunction with the brain. The brain has two sections that directly influence the functions of the Sphincters. These sections are the neocortex and the brain stem (or “primal” brain).

The brain stem is the portion that is directly connected to hormonal functions, and more instinctual. The hormones it releases (related to birth) are oxytocin (the main ingredient in the drug Pitocin, used to induce labor), endorphins, and prolactin.

Whereas the neocortex stimulation works to inhibit the brain stem from hormone release. It is “stimulated” during labor by asking too many questions of a woman in labor, bright light, and failure to protect her privacy during birth.

The sphincters work with the brain stem (and its many hormonal excretions) by a relaxation response. They respond to emotions. A good example of this relaxation response is what happens when toilet functions are interrupted. Everything gets held in, and it takes a while to relax again, right?

~more on the “Sphincters” next week!