W4: Childbearing traditions vs. Medicalization of Pregnancy

It is known that here in the United States of America, birthing processes and viewpoints have become very centralized around our bio-medicinal culture. The actual birth is something that has come to focus on when it is the right time to go to the hospital. This completely proves that our culture has come to rely on biomedicine and we may not recognize or support any other, more traditional ways of giving birth. The ideas of “natural birth,” birth with the help of a midwife, and multiple other more holistic ways of birthing, have become more and more popular within the United States, but the majority of our culture’s pregnant females still tend to focus on birthing practices in the hospital.

Both the Inuit and the Hmong people have traditional ways of going about childbearing, that strongly differ from the Western, medicalized ways of birth. Some of the traditional aspects of childbearing within the Inuit culture include a type of midwifery, where an older woman, more experienced in birth, helps the Inuit mother give birth (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 16). Another aspect is that the Inuit children are commonly birthed in their family’s hut. In the document, “The Inuit Way: A Guide to Inuit Culture,” the author points out the fact that many Inuit babies today are born in hospitals, one ramification of the Western medicine push on medicalization of childbearing, and that Inuit women are strongly supporting the return of traditional midwifery (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 16). With regard to the Hmong people, their traditional aspects of childbearing differ greatly from those of our Western culture. Their viewpoints are against any prenatal care, which is something that is dominant within our medicalized culture. The Hmong people have also been known to refuse procedures such as C-sections, or stitching to repair any wounds that occur during childbirth. This kind of refusal can lead to infections, which is something that seems inevitably avoidable to doctors in the Western medicine culture, through our medical practices. Forced medicalization onto the Hmong and Inuit cultures is something that has hurt their people, and something that needs to end. An article surrounding the medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth states, “when women’s voices are ignored in the construction of knowledge pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth, they become alienated from the experience” (Parry, 2008). I completely agree with this statement. Traditions within certain cultures should not be tempered with, especially if their traditions are not harming others. In fact, I think it would be beneficial if our Western medicine culture tried to embrace certain aspects of these different cultures, like embracing midwifery even more than it already is.

The idea of birth and expanding people’s viewpoints surrounding birth could play a huge role in my future career.  I plan to become either a NICU nurse or a labor and delivery nurse in the future, so being able to learn more about the different cultural viewpoints surrounding birth has really been helpful. It has opened my eyes to all of the different ways to go about childbearing. I truly feel that pushing the medicalization of birth onto cultures that have their own traditional ways of going about this process is unnecessary. There are, of course, similarities to traditional ways of childbearing and biomedical processes of birthing, but I think that the similarities, as well as their differences, should be embraced. Western medicine should be more open to different practices involving childbearing, instead of forcing medicine which could be unnecessary in cultures that have perfected their traditions over time.

Parry, Diana C. “”We Wanted a Birth Experience, Not a Medical Experience”: Exploring Canadian Women’s Use of Midwifery.” Health Care for Women International 29, no. 8-9 (September 3, 2008): 784-806. Accessed July 28, 2016. doi:10.1080/07399330802269451.

2 thoughts on “W4: Childbearing traditions vs. Medicalization of Pregnancy

  1. Great job on your response, Emily! I thought you had some very well discussed thoughts. I am also pursuing a career in nursing; I however am not as supportive of the idea of home births. Something I came across in my research for this week was that planned home births were associated with three times higher neonatal mortality rates than hospital births, according to Joseph Wax. Forgetting the medical side of birth in a hospital, I cannot imagine the grief and emotional turmoil a family would go through if they lost a child during a home birth that could have been prevented in a hospital. I understand that birth is a natural process and a woman’s body is equipped with the tools it needs to reproduce, but things go wrong in a birth all the time. Umbilical cords get wrapped around necks, respiratory passages get blocked, and mothers can go in to distress at any moment. Hospitals have critical care units and immediate response teams for anything that goes wrong. I also found in my research that hospitals are starting to offer birthing suites to mimic home settings for women that want a more relaxed environment, but still have the medical care available. I do think we can learn valuable lessons for the Inuit and Hmong people, but modern medicine has evolved to a point where we don’t have to let a baby die because of a lack of resources.

  2. Hey Emily,
    Great post! I really like how you take a strong stance against the way we have forced our biomedical ideas on other cultures. I believe the biomedical advocates that try to change the cultures we learned about do intend to do good. They would believe that when the Hmong or Inuit women give birth in a hospital, in a medicalized way, then they are more likely to have a much safer birthing process. Though they may have more access to advanced medical technologies, or specific medications in a hospital, a Hmong or Inuit mother may feel completely unsafe or at least uncomfortable in such a foreign setting.
    That’s so cool that you want to be a nurse. I want to attend an accelerated nursing program after I graduate with my bachelor’s. I can imagine there are not many jobs that are more rewarding than someone who helps bring life into the world. Giving a mother her healthy baby for the first time would make me so happy.
    I agree that both the similarities and differences of both styles of birthing need to be embraced. Both cultures can learn something by trying to understand one another’s reasoning. I think birth is such a personal and important thing that the mother should be able to choose how she gives birth pending the safety of both her and the baby. The safety of the mother and a healthy baby should be of upmost importance no matter what birthing rituals a culture follows.

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