Birth, a similarity we share in different ways

As we all know, birth is something every human experiences. It is in fact, the act that brings a living being into the environment that is outside their mother’s womb. Birth is obviously an extremely important process that we all share, but as all cultures differ so vastly across the world, the way we approach, think about, and conduct birthing practices vary just as much.

In America, birth is viewed as a medical event. Essentially, the opposite of death, a doctor receives a baby from a mother, and pending it’s vital signs, gives it a time of birth. Similarly in death, a doctor checks for the lack of vital signs, and pronounces a death with a given time. The reason birth is so medicalized in the United States (more so than many other countries) is because biomedicine became so dominant in America, making alternative medicine practices unpopular (Gabriel, 2016). In America if someone gives birth outside of the hospital it is no secret that most people would think that is odd or at least not the norm. A English woman wrote an article about her experience of giving birth in America saying, “I was merely agitated when the hospital administrator stuck her head round the door and asked me to sign some forms. Were these disclaimers? More insurance stuff? Adoption papers? Who knows? I wanted this person gone so scratched a squiggly line on at least half a dozen official looking documents and bid her good day” (Margolis, 2013). This is an act I am sure many women have experienced while giving birth is the United States, as extensive paperwork is always required when a baby is born. Contrary to American customs, the Hmong and Inuit cultures we have learned about look at birth quite differently. There would not be a nurse bursting into a Hmong hut, or an Inuit igloo, asking for papers to be filled out or insurance forms to be signed. These cultures look at birth as more regular part of life. The Inuits strongly believe that birth needs to occur in the family, and that when a woman is taken from her family and put in a hospital there is a significant loss of spirituality (Gabriel, 2016). The Hmong culture is extremely unique and would probably be looked at by many American’s as even odd. A Hmong mother may deliver her own baby in fact, and after the birth, it is ritual to bury the placenta. Not doing so can cause bad situations to unfold for the child later in life (Fadiman, 2012). Who has the right to tell someone that the way their culture views and conducts birth is incorrect? In reality, I believe that people who try to medicalize birth from cultures like the Hmong and Inuit, are only attempting to do so to improve the chances of a successful delivery and a healthy mother/baby duo. If different cultures prove that their way of giving birth is safe and effective, there is no need for biomedicine advocates to force their ways upon them. Instead, accepting a cultures differences from yours, admiring and learning more about why or what they do seems more appropriate.

Margolis, Ruth. “Giving Birth in the US: A New British Mum Tells All” 2013. BBC America.

5 thoughts on “Birth, a similarity we share in different ways

  1. While reading you post, I found myself agreeing with a lot of the points that you made. The statement of birth being the opposite of death, but being handled by doctors in a very similar manner, was an incredibly pointed and affective example of how medicalized birth and death have become in the United States. Furthermore, the quote you provided from the English woman who gave birth in the United States was very interesting. Along with medicalizing birth, this process has been turned into one of filling out mountains of paperwork, instead of just focusing on supporting the mother through the birth of her baby.

    Other cultural birthing practices, like you stated, do not have this process of paperwork or other features of the medicalized process. Since these cultures are still present, I think that that shows their birthing practices have been successful. In both medicalized and natural birthing practices, there are things that cannot be fixed and lives can be lost. However, I think more problems and potential complications with the birthing process itself arise when you remove people from their families and cultural practices, and force them into a scenario that they are not comfortable or familiar with.

  2. Timothy

    I really like how you said that there is no need for biomedicine advocates to force their ways upon other cultures. I was always brought up thinking that us Americans do everything the best and right way! But now I am realizing that those beliefs are very untrue. After reading your blog I am realizing that even more. The United States strictly views birth as a medical event. Other cultures such as the Inuit and Hmong view birth as an everyday part of life. I personally would never have a birth outside of the hospital but if you ask other women my age around different parts of the world or even in some parts of the United States they will have much different opinions. People like what they are familiar with just like I like the idea of a hospital because that is what I am familiar with. The Hmong women do not want to break their tradition of burying the placenta and I can fully respect that. Although I do believe that they can and should take some precautionary measures when delivering a baby. I believe that these women who are delivering need to worry about themselves just as much as the human they are bringing into this world. I think other cultures should stick to their beliefs but they also should be more open to safety and sanitary measures to protect their people from getting ill.

    Taylor Dabish

  3. I want to agree with all of you here. American ethnocentrism holds a lot of the blame for why we think it’s so important to have babies be born in a hospital. While there are definitely pros to it, there are also cons and I think Americans fail to understand that. They compare our way of birth to other cultures way of birth, like the Hmong and the Inuit, and they can’t imagine that that is the correct way of doing things. I think this was the main problem between the Canadians and the Inuits, one was so sure that their birthing methods were better, and therefore were forced onto the other culture.

    I love your connection between biomedicine and alternative practices. Over time, our reliance on biomedicine have overpowered other cultures’ way of doing things, and to us has become the “wrong way” of doing things. You made a good point by reminding us about all of the paperwork that has to be done when a child is born. In this way, child birth becomes basically dehumanized, which is something that I am realizing now after these past few lectures. I look strongly upon the Inuit and Hmong birthing practices because they are so intimate and important, like how you mentioned that the Inuit feel birth needs to be very family oriented. You are completely right to say, “Who has the right to tell someone that the way their culture views and conducts birth is incorrect?” We are all different in our own ways, and we cannot stress it enough, because this difference in cultures affects everything we do.

  4. Timothy,
    I agree that birthing rituals in the United States are commonly looked at as a medical event, rather than a spiritual event. Just as Van Hollen writes, and as we have discussed before, patients—in this case mothers—are often looked at as an object such as a machine. The birthing process is just another function, and the doctor is there to ensure that there are no problems with the delivery. Van Hollen mentions that in Western medicine, “the power lies with the doctors and no longer with the mothers during birth” (page 51). This is so incredibly true in which doctors determine when is the perfect time to push, when the mother can hold and feed her child, and when the child can go home. Of course as a product of biomedical practices and growing up around it, I understand that it is to ensure the health of the baby and the mother before returning home. However, as a student of the medical field, I also believe that because of all the power that doctors are given, they are at higher risks of fault if something goes wrong. I recently read an article by Laura Beil that discussed the issues of post-partem nerve and pelvic floor damage. She referenced a study by Cynthia Mannion that found the number of incidences within the U.S. is astounding, coming out to be 49% of women had urinary incontinence due to the weakening of the pelvic floor. That’s almost half of all mothers in the study!
    Additionally, the naming of a child is not very ceremonious in the West. Many families are asked to choose a name and print it on a document. However this practice is so much different compared to birthing rituals of the Inuit. When a baby is born in the Inuit culture, the shaman holds a ritual after the naming to ensure that the child can live his life protected by spirits, and he is also baptized very early on, within days of coming into the world. Further, the ceremony includes a coming together of the community to dance and sing to celebrate the child (Inuit Birth video, 2016), something most babies in Western culture do not experience until their first birthday. The process of birth is beautiful in any culture and the bond that a mother and child shares is extraordinary, and it’s even more fascinating to see how the event is different all across the world.

    Beil, Laura, ed. Millions of Women are Injured During Childbirth. Why Aren’t Doctors Diagnosing Them? N.p.: Cosmopolitan, 2016.
    Mannion, C. A., Vinturache, A. E., McDonald, S. W., & Tough, S. C. (2015). The Influence of Back Pain and Urinary Incontinence on Daily Tasks of Mothers at 12 Months Postpartum. PLoS ONE, 10(6), e0129615.

  5. I definitely agree with everything that you posted here and I liked that you introduced this as Americans only seeing birth as a medical event rather than us seeing it on a more spiritual event and I think that is a very important factor this week. I really think that it has everything to do with the modernized society that we have here and how we keep pushing for more and more medical advances. Yes we are the top dog when it comes to most things but there are other cultures that bypass us when it comes to enjoying and appreciated the smaller things in life. Although Americans will not stop pushing for more techniques and ways of making pregnancy and labor better and healthier for the baby I do believe that we should take a minute, step back and start to appreciate birth and labor a little bit more on a spiritual level as you hinted towards in you argument ( or so it seems that way). Overall I really enjoyed your post!

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