Western Culture & Colonization of Birth

Western Culture

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The West encourages reading and the attendance of Childbirth Education classes, along with other strategies for birthing.  In traditional cultures women “…prepare more symbolically.  They avoid all actions and thoughts that have anything to do with ‘getting stuck’ or ‘closing up’ and work on ‘letting go’. In traditional societies, women often go to midwives to confirm the pregnancy and then again only if there are special problems… (Nichols & Humenick,145)” prior to childbirth.

Another aspect is that most women within many traditional cultures used to be more directly involved in the childbearing and child birthing aspects from a young age. Her mother or aunts and grandmother would have taught her about the processes of childbearing and childbirth during childhood and/or adolescent years.  The concepts used to have “…been integrated into her maturity into adulthood (Ibid.)”. It would have come from her experiential life and stories told to her instead of a class or books.

Unfortunately, much of this kind of experience and tradition has been lost or is no longer practiced today by women. Some of the other women will talk about this or that grandma who was a midwife, and who may have been allowed at IHS for a birth. When I have asked women, they mostly talk about a more negative experience of their childbirth, if they speak up.

Traditionally, the birth of a baby was in the home, not a hospital.  Some cultures used “a special hut [that] is constructed for that purpose ;…(Ibid)”. But today, birthing mostly takes place in a hospital setting.

Close to the reservation are border towns, where bias and prejudice color the atmosphere of birth. Due to past experiences with IHS, many women may opt to not have their babies at these hospitals. Without midwives to deliver locally, this is what women on the Rosebud (Sicangu Oyate) Reservation face today.

In border towns, the hospitals have their own regulations as to who may attend the birth. They may also decide on whether a woman can have assisted births (Nurse-midwives/doulas/or family supporters).

De-Colonization of Birth
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In the 90s, several women, including myself, were having weekly meetings regarding birth in Indian country. Each week we would have speakers come to share their stories and ideas.

I found it interesting that the biggest objections came via a native woman who was working at IHS. She bluntly stated that no midwife would work through the IHS hospital in Rosebud, if she had a say.

IHS or PHS is a government funded health organization in the United States intended specifically for native health care.  Unfortunately it has its own regulations based upon the government in which native people have been the object of clinical abuse and government sanctioned studies [such as the Eugenics Program; See: ]. The intent of these studies was to lower native populations.

Such historical actions color the way in which indigenous women see childbirth in the dominant society. It creates an atmosphere of distrust in native women, that they too would be subject to similar treatment.

And lest we forget, there have been studies that demonstrated genetic memories. So whether the Eugenics Program was known to them or not, the emotional trauma would still be triggered.

Native women feel marginalized by non-native providers of health care, due to attitudes of the providers. If native health care providers are not available, cultural competence of the health care provider that is on hand is an essential for the indigenous person giving birth. In a study conducted with first-nations women, specially the Mi’kmaq, Lothian stated that “Women need to be assured they can have trust in the birth process (Lavell-Harvard & Lavelle, 50)”.

There are native women who have become Doulas, and who are nurse-midwives. In Vancouver, BC there is a group of women from the Squamish people working to assist women [Ekw’i7tl Doula Collective]. In Minnesota there is a group of native people from the Anishinabe that is training women in Doula work, Childbirth Education, and Breastfeeding [Mewinzha Ondaadiziike Wiigaming /Bemidji, MN]. In New Mexico the first native birthing center [The Changing Woman Initiative] is being developed for  indigenous women.

 

 

 

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How to “Trust the Process” in Childbirth

Trust the Process

Trusting is a big word. We oftentimes say we trust others, but do not even trust our own selves. The nurturance of our babies and bonding that would be necessary in utero, assists in developing a trust between baby and mother. But before working on the baby-mother bond learn to trust your own instincts.

Science has determined that the mother-baby bond is essential after a child is born. But what about the significance of bonding while the baby is growing inside the uterus? This is the essential missing information not communicated to women in our modern times.

Due to the obsession of the over-technological world we live in, we forget to listen within. We tend to not realize important knowledge lies inside our psyches. We avoid listening to our bodies. The cues are there, we just do not stop to listen.

The pregnant body is communicating what it needs all the time, and, believe it or not, the unborn baby is, too. All we have to do as mothers is learn to listen, give ourselves permission to trust the connection, and take the time to respond (Peters & Wilson, 22).

For survival, the baby must begin to adapt to its environment while in the womb in order to survive. There are special molecules that act as messengers, to allow the mother to communicate to her baby in utero. Components such as hormones and neuro-peptides cross the placental wall, sending information to the fetus.

Emotional intelligence is taught to the fetus via this mechanism. So he or she learns the whole range of emotions via the mother. Her responses teach the fetus. She sets the tone, so-to-speak for coping within the world.

Creating the bond with the fetus is a spiritual act that transcends the normal functions of mothering. How one adjusts to life, begins during the prenatal period.

Researchers and clinicians have found that prenatal and birth experiences of the mother, effect the birthing patterns she has with her own babies. These would include cultural patterns imbedded in the lives of the family. We can prevent “life-constricting patterns (McCarty, 9)” that are developed while in utero by addressing these issues and healing our own birth traumas.

This scientific approach closely parallels the work of John Upledger in his ground-breaking work with Cranio-Sacral and Somato-Emotional Release therapies. His theory is that the body stores memories at the cellular level.

Have you ever massaged someone, or been massaged, and a small soft-tissue lump is discovered that almost feels like it “crackles”? That is a “energy cyst”. When released it creates an emotional response, and the muscular tension abates. It is thought this “cyst” holds the memory of the injury. In Unpledger’s book, he states that traumatic injury can be fully healed by the release of these “cysts”.

I have come to look upon this phenomenon as ‘tissue memory’. By this I mean that the cells and tissues of the body may actually possess their own memory capabilities. These tissue memories are not necessarily reliant upon the brain for their existence [[Upledger, 64].

I would consider this muscular and tissue intelligence. If Upledger’s theory is true [and is likely, due to hundreds of patients having experienced his work] then it is an important aspect to consider for the mother and the mother-baby bond.

There are four essential KEYS to developing the mother-baby bond, and learning to be aware of and trust your own instincts.

Being: an awareness of thoughts and feelings
Observing: a state of mindfulness
Nourishing: involves all the things women do to tend to their emotional and physical needs.
Deciding: to make an active participation in creating your own reality. A conscious agreement
to make decisions based on deep inner-listening.

Steps to making the conscious agreement are:

1. Separating ourselves from all external influences (even for a few moments in the day)

2. Get quiet and pause. A few deep breaths in order to connect to your “source”

3. Listen. What is your gut saying to you? How does your body feel? How is your body reacting? How does your baby react to what you are feeling, physically or emotionally?

4. Then decide and commit. This is when you honor your feeling and that of your baby. Make a decision that will be in harmony with the messages your intuition says.

Through this practice, then you will develop a trusting respect for your own intuitive thought process, allowing it to guide you. You have several months of your pregnancy to find your awareness of self and of your baby.

When the day comes for labor to begin you take this newly-developed self-awareness, the bond you created between you and baby, and the education you have gained about safe birthing practices to trust fully the process of labor! “Listen” to your own self, and what your baby is telling you.

Relax into labor, BE with it. OBSERVE what is transpiring within your own body, and NOURISHING your emotional / physical needs while you are in labor. Then DECIDE. Decide to trust your instincts, trust your body (which is wonderfully made!), and to trust your bond you’ve made with your baby…

COMMIT to Trusting the Process.

REFERENCES:

McCarty, Wendy Anne. Ph.D. , R.N. The Call to Reawaken and Deepen Our Communication with Babies: What Babies Are Teaching Us. International Doula. Summer 2004, Vol 12.

Tracey Wilson Peters, CCCE, C.L.D., and Laurel Wilson, IBCLC, CCCE. The Mission Piece: Consciousness and the MotherBaby Bond. Pathways to Family Wellness. Issue 31, Fall 2011

Upledger, John E., D.O., O.M.M. Your Inner Physician and You. 2nd Ed. North Atlantic Books. 1997

Issues Part 3

What are the issues that affect Lakota Native women during pregnancy and childbirth in regards to: Racism, Sexism, and Oppression – Part 3

After years of encroachment upon traditional healing practices, the stage was set for an Eugenics movement. This movement “… in the 20th century began as a means of controlling the perceived increase in ‘degenerate’ population and maintaining or protecting hereditarily ‘fit’ members in society from being overrun by the genetically ‘unfit.’ (Forbes, 2)” or groups that were marginalized, such as Native Americans.

Initially, the population targeted was those with low intelligence and those with physical disabilities. But, soon it expanded to “ a program to implement ‘racial hygiene’ in the United States, eugenics essentially entailed taking the principle of natural selection and enforcing it by employing allegedly ‘scientific’ means (Forbes, 2)” The concern was that the white populace were being degraded by the influx of people with racial differences. The classifications included socio-economic, class, status and race.

…policies founded on eugenic theories (sic) started to emerge, forcing procedural sterilizations and other means of population control upon people believed to be unfit (Forbes, 2-3)”. In the late 60s and through the 70s the target was Native American people. Indian Health Services began a systematic sterilization policy.

Women would go to the I.H.S. hospital, told they needed a cesarean section (for a variety of reasons), anesthetized; and when they awoke, these women found they had been given a hysterectomy, which is what happened to my friend. She stated that she was not informed of the need for a hysterectomy. She had gone to deliver her baby, the doctors examined her and stated that she needed an emergency cesarean section. She awoke, finding that she had her uterus removed. My friend’s experience was not uncommon, “…in 1975 alone, some 25,000 Native American women were permanently sterilized – many after being coerced, misinformed, or threatened .

In 1990, a former nurse at I.H.S. reported that tubal ligations were used on women who did not want the surgical procedure. Birth control also was forced upon unsuspecting females such as Depo-Provera, without informed consent, and prior to the FDA having given its approval (this would include the mentally retarded ).

Health risks of the drug Depo-Provera are high in native populations due to Diabetes, obesity, and cigarette smoking. Many who were forced to have it or Norplant administered were not informed of the risk. A secondary aspect is the cultural issues. Irregular bleeding that is caused by these drugs can prevented participation in traditional spiritual practices.

In my own research of the issues of native women in the child-bearing years I was shocked by the high numbers of cesarean sections done on this sector of women. The rate of C-Sections nation-wide is 32.8%; whereas South Dakota is around 25.3%. But, I.H.S. rates are higher than the state average, last internet search showed it at 34%.

Why is this of concern? The health risks of women in the child-bearing years due to unnecessary surgery being conducted. Childbirth is treated by the modern medical doctors as though the baby a ‘disease’ that needs to be cut-out, rather than a natural biological reproductive process. Had the traditional practices of midwifery had been continued within the native culture, allowed to flourish, there would have been very few cesarean sections necessary in our modern times.

Other Factors Regarding Childbirth in Indian Country

Next below the black woman, the native woman is recorded as 2nd to the highest in infant mortality rates . This is due to living in rural areas with poor access to proper care during pregnancy. “Poverty is an important risk factor for poor health outcomes ”.

Compounding the issues mentioned above are those of teen and pre-teen births. A female who is younger than 18 or 19 years of age are not fully developed, in other words are still growing themselves. Teenagers tend to eat poorly, are more prone to drink alcohol, smoke, and take drugs during pregnancy.

Next: What are the issues that affect Lakota Native women during pregnancy and childbirth in regards to: Racism, Sexism, and Oppression – Part 4

Issues Part 2

The issues that affect Lakota Native women during pregnancy and childbirth in regards to: Racism, Sexism, and Oppression – Part 2

With new contact with the European settlers, many natives also had died due to the diseases that came with the settlers. Millions of indigenous people died by disease they had no immunity in which to fight. Disease, along with the losses of lives through conflicts or being starved out, diminished the populous and allowed for further settlement.

Over time, some philosophical concepts arose that was thought to garner the concept of a congealed wholeness of this new settler society, such as the melting pot concept. It would never become fully congealed due to its not dealing with non-whites within the American culture, i.e. how do non-whites fit the ideal? Such as, black slaves or native people.

A second concept, cultural pluralism, was a belief where many cultures and communities “should be tolerated” and somehow would all fit under the umbrella of a somewhat fused society and therefore be protected. Cultural pluralism also did not work.

Instead, the concept of assimilation grew, that would cause all groups to conform to one single group, the now dominant white/Anglo-protestant group. “Gordon (1964) has called Anglo-conformity. The idea was that the various cultural groups were to completely shed the individual unique qualities they possessed with expedience and take on the dominant cultural ways”.

So when tribes began conforming to cultural / religious ideology of the settlers, they believed this could preserve their people. The south-eastern tribes learned this philosophy of assimilating to the dominant culture had no lasting value. They became victim to American policies of removal (the American Indian Removal Act of 1830 ), in order that the American people could take the lands upon which they lived.

Policies of American government continued to diminish the lands and societies of the native populous as the immigrants continued to pour into the new “United states”. In time, the political policy was to remove children from their family and culture, carting them off to boarding schools to forcibly assimilate the populace of the younger generation of native people to “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man ”.

Traditional Childbirth Practices

In Lakota native societies (as was true of many tribal groups), the extended family groups (Tiospayes, as it is called in Lakota society) each had their own midwives that lived within the family group, and healers that worked with women. This was attested by two interviewees whose grandmothers were practicing midwives.

The teachings of the elder women within the culture (regarding traditional childbirth practices) would have been transferred from elder female to a younger generation of females. But, over time, the use of midwives within the communities had dwindled as the older females died. In interviewing people the trail of lost information seems to have run out in the generation just previous to my own, in most communities.

The shift from the traditional mode to what we now see is due to the dominant culture forcibly removing any access to information about traditional practices through assimilation policies (i.e. Boarding Schools) and over time, access to midwives and healers through government funded hospitals (I.H.S.) policies. The final act of forced assimilation was to remove the right to spiritual practices and native medicine from the arena of health care, forcing tribal members to rely on doctors from the dominant white society.

See next week’s Part 3 – The issues that affect Lakota Native women during pregnancy and childbirth in regards to: Racism, Sexism, and Oppression?