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

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 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

Effects of Marijuana on Pregnancy – Newborns

marijuana

Marijuana: Effects on the Mother

Prolonged use may lead to apathy, lack of energy, lack of desire to work or be productive, diminished concentration, poor personal hygiene, preoccupation with marijuana – the amotivational syndrome

Effects on the fetus

Marijuana can easily cross into the placenta, and causes increased levels of carbon monoxide in the mother’s blood, reducing the level of oxygen to the fetus.

With more states legalizing the sale of Marijuana, there are more users. Those that smoke or exposure to the smoke from their significant others who smoke, Need to be aware of the effect on the unborn fetus.

Issues

One issue with Marijuana use, is that often it has other street drugs combined with the plant itself. Or additional THC is added to compound the effects. These two, and other contaminants can create the issues that will be discussed regarding the development of the fetus, and the later development of the fetus through early childhood.

There have been few definitive studies conducted on humans as to the effects of Marijuana on the fetus. “A new study in animals suggests that children who are exposed to marijuana in the womb may suffer from a variety of long-term problems even if they aren’t born with obvious birth defects.”

One of the components of Marijuana, that the researchers call WIN, has shown an effect in studies conducted on lab rats. Although, not causing birth defects, Marijuana does cause memory loss and inability to learn. “Researchers say they also found that WIN interfered with the release of a brain transmitter called glutamate, a key chemical associated with learning and memory processing.”

An Italian research team found that marijuana caused a disruption from “chemical and electrical processes in the brain during gestation (Bhattacharya)” in lab rats. The effects the study indicates, can be confounded by smoking, wealth, and urban living.

Even second-hand Marijuana smoke can affect the unborn fetus. It can cause your baby to be born premature, and have a lower birth weight, both are risks for the baby. Studies are few and far between, due to the risks involved on the fetus. “In the very few studies available, there appears to be an increase in the incidence of premature labor and low birthweight. In cases in which pot had been tainted with a stimulant (cocaine, for example), there was an increased risk for dangerously fast labors (less than three hours) and for placental abruption (separation of the placenta from the uterine wall)” states Dr. David Barrera.

Observation has shown that “…babies born to women who abused marijuana during their pregnancies display altered responses to visual stimuli, increased tremulousness (trembling or shaking), and a high-pitched cry — any of which may indicate neurological problems in development”. Later in the child’s development these children have a lack of problem-solving skills, and poor memory.

Based on a study conducted by University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, and colleagues in the Eunice K. Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, babies born to smokers of Marijuana are two times more likely to have stillborn babies.

REFERENCES:

Bhattacharya, Shaoni. Marijuana use in pregnancy damages kids’ learning. 25 March 2003 http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn3543-marijuana-use-in-pregnancy-damages-kids-learning.html#.VQWPAeGgZ-8

Hackethal, Veronica MD. Smoking Pot May Double Risk for Stillbirth. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/817503 Medscape Medical News. December 9, 2013

Herbert, Clare. I’m pregnant and my partner smokes weed. Will it affect our baby? http://www.babycentre.co.uk/x1043727/im-pregnant-and-my-partner-smokes-weed-will-it-affect-our-baby#ixzz3USuXGKAG November 2014

How could marijuana use affect your unborn baby? http://www.pregnancyandbaby.com/pregnancy/articles/937071/secondhand-toke-marijuana-pregnancy

Issues part 1

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

In this report, I will discuss the diminishment of access to information for native female populations of traditional cultural / spiritual values regarding reproduction, healthy pregnancies, and child-birth. As well as cutting the ties to cultural education for young native females (and males/but not discussed herein) directly addressing gender-related socio-cultural information.
Today young native females in Lakota country find they are alienated from the cultural concepts of reproduction and childbirth practices that once were available from the elder women within their family groups.

The path of traditional information is fractured, if not completely broken in Lakota country. Also access to traditional midwifery is not available in many areas.

Young women find themselves (by necessity) having to deal with doctors and hospitals that are a part of the system of oppression that conquered their people and that had forced assimilation practices upon their elders. They have also heard about Eugenics Policies to eradicate native populations, by means of the sterilization policies enacted in the 70s through Indian Health Services.

Due to historical trauma, these young women find themselves re-living much of post-traumatic effects during the pregnancy time-period and at birth. The trauma affects the decision-making process as well.

Historical Background

Initial contact with European colonists was tenuous at best. The European white settlers had asserted its dominance from the onset of settlement. Through the lens of the European settlers, these indigenous people were inferior, only due to the differences in cultural systems of governance. Almost immediately the settlers asserted dominance and control over tribes in which they had initially contacted. The tribes were left with two choices: to conform or to resist.

The colonists viewed the encountered indigenous people as an inferior / savage group. This view was based upon the fact the tribes were not Christian (hence “savages”) and technologically not as advanced as their own (incoming) settler populations. The lens of the white populace was Eurocentric/ethnocentric due differences in ideological concepts such as the differences in view, regarding ownership of land.

The indigenous people did not cultivate the land in the same manner as the Europeans settlers. The settlers could not understand the concept of joint stewardship of lands by the native populous. In their ethnocentric mental lens white settlers conceived this ideology as a waste of good farming land, and of course their ideals were superior in that the land would produce food. Land to the settler, was a resource a non-movable commodity.

From this mental idea of superiority, the desire for lands in which to cultivate both their crops and cattle, the European settlers began to broker deals with nearby tribes through treaties . If they could not gain the land through a treaty, they forcibly took what they desired.

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