Cultural Perspectives on Childbirth
Last week I ended with discussion about the Lakota belief in a spiritual being who assists the souls of the unborn in their journey to human existence. It is thought she “marks” them before entry into this world. This “mark” is what the medical field calls a “Mongolian” mark.
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 spiritually based 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 spiritual in the birthing process.
Western culture 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 ‘letting go’… In traditional societies, women often go to midwives to confirm the pregnancy and then again only if there are special problems… (145)” prior to childbirth.
Another aspect is that most women within many traditional cultures would have been 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 would 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 experiential life and tradition has been lost or no longer practiced today by local tribal 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 for their childbirth if they speak up at all.
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 in the local area, birthing mostly takes place in a hospital setting, here on the reservation. Locally, there is the IHS. There also is Winner Regional, in Winner South Dakota (45 minutes from Mission, SD) or Cherry County Hospital in Valentine, NE.
Due to past experiences with IHS (the “Eugenics Project” of the 60s and 70s, for one), many women may opt to not have their babies unless there is an emergency. Both Winner and Valentine have doctors that have demonstrated certain biases against native women. Without midwives to deliver locally, this is what women on the Rosebud (Sicangu Oyate) Reservation face today (with the exception of one community).
Each of these three hospitals has their own regulations as to who may attend the birth. They also decide on whether a woman can have assisted births (Nurse-midwives/doulas/etc.). My attempts to discover these policies, and the reasons for them, have been futile.
– Next week will be “Part 1 – The issues that affect Lakota Native women during pregnancy and childbirth in regards to: Racism, Sexism, and Oppression”