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

Advertisements

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

View original post

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.

Baby Wearing – Part 2

Why would it be of benefit to you as a mother to carry your baby, using any method?

It would assure you that continuity is available for your baby.  After nine months of carrying the fetus, where gentle rocking motions were constant, it would make sense to allow for this continuity to continue outside the womb.

You and your baby are bonding in the first few months after birth. Babies need to feel, smell, and touch you for assurance.  It stresses baby to have separation from you.  Yet, you need to get things done, right? Baby-wearing allows for both!

It assists in cognitive development (Gross-Loh, 46) when you carry your baby. The baby is in a calm state, content, and observing all the time while learning about their world.

You learn about your baby as well. The attachment of mother and baby is strengthened; mother is able to understand baby’s cues easier which develop a mutual trust.
Let’s take a look at some of the various methods used (by country):

Mexican women use the Reboso, a traditional shawl wrap that usually would be given to girls at Menarche and worn as a shawl or neck wrap until needed for carrying a baby. The Lakota use a cradleboard, the Japanese and Malasian women carried babies on their backs…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Things to Consider:

In the first six months after having a baby the hormone relaxin may be in your system. It is important to be aware of “postural adaptations that may adversely affect your spinal joints (Ohm, 18)”.  If feeling Fatigued or feeling muscles tightened (such as tightened muscles of the neck or shoulders).  Jeanne Ohm recommends a chiropractic visit.

When you are using your baby wrap, sling, or carrier consider your back.  The higher up and closer your baby is, the more comfort you will feel.

Consider the type of carrier you will use. Of great concern are the types of slings that are like a pouch and hand low, with lots of material.  It is potentially dangerous for the baby as the baby may lie in a “C” position with his/her chin tucked towards the chest.  This position can potentially cause breathing issues, or asphyxia (suffocation).

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