In many places around the world for thousands of years, both birth and death have been seen as rituals involving families and sometimes even complete communities. Nowadays, many countries engage in medicalized birth that focus more on the science than the cultural rituals they have once celebrated. The aspect of death in some cultures, like the United States for example, can be viewed as a little more taboo than in other places in the world.
In a video by Merilynne Rush, we get a more in depth look at how death is seen in the United States. Rush says that we fear death and just don’t really know how to deal with it since we are not involved with it anymore. Death used to be a normal part of life where the family takes care of the body after death, but we have since turned away from this practice. Bodies are cared for by funeral homes and embalmed or even cremated, and the family is not really involved much in the actual process of that. In other cultures, people spend days honoring the deceased and being together with loved ones. Also common in other cultures is the family taking part in caring for the body before the burial. This practice can be helpful in coming to terms with the death, which is a difficult process. While there are many differences among cultures that can be seen in death ,there are just as many that can be seen in birth.
Birth in many places is very significant and can involve entire communities rather than just the immediate family. This week we have looked at several different areas of the world to compare the way birth is handled. Among the Inuit for example, birth is regarded as a community, social and spiritual act, while doctors in other areas like the United States see it as a medical act. In this reading discussing Inuit birth, Betty anne Davissalso identifies several different types of logic that give different perceptions of how to manage birth including: scientific, clinical, personal, cultural, intuitive, political, legal and economic. Similarly among the Hmong people in Vietnam, birth is seen as a spiritual act with different rituals to be preformed after birth. Having a home birth is important to preform several rituals: one where the mother buries the placenta under the bed to help ensure infant health, and another ritual where the family pours bath water into a hole for 1 month to keep the baby healthy. This can create problems for at risk births where they are miles away from health centers and adamant about having a home birth in order to continue their birth rituals. On the other side of the home birth spectrum, women in the Netherlands who wish to have a home birth, surprisingly more than half, can do so relatively safely because they have reliable transportation and short distances to travel if an emergency trip to the hospital is needed. One similar aspect I found regarding birth is that the groups at risk for poor outcomes are generally the same: women having their 1st child and older than 35 or younger than 25. While there are many aspects of birth that are different, I believe among all people it can be agreed that birth, especially a safe birth is very important.
I chose to use this image from an article called “What Happened to Birth?” that discusses American women and the fear that now exists regarding childbirth. Nowadays, childbirth is more often attended to by a doctor in a hospital setting rather than by midwives in the comfort of their own homes. I believe this image represents the more common ideology of childbirth being a medical act rather than a special moment for a woman when she finally brings her child into the world. In the photo the woman seems alone in a room full of strangers where it seems as though there is less concern about the comfort of the mother and more about just making sure the child is born. While the birth of the child is very important, it is also important to remember this is a huge part this woman’s life, especially if it is her first child. This in my opinion makes childbirth seem more isolated for women rather than as a big family event like it has been in the past.