I have always been intrigued by the shift from home birth to hospital birth, and why American culture is so insistent on having children in hospitals instead of at home. Especially in American culture it seems that we almost frown upon home births, seeing them as riskier. I have a unique view of this situation, because if it weren’t for modern medicine and my mother’s decision to have a cesarean section, I would not be alive today.
What I found really interesting about both the Inuit and Hmong’s birthing culture was the importance of a babies’ sex. For example, for the Inuit people the mother is separated from her child after giving birth for a certain length of time according to the sex of the baby (Gabriel, 2016). Hmong men would dig holes depending on a baby’s sex, for a girl the hole for the placenta would be under the parent’s beds and for a boy they would did a hole for the placenta in a place of great honor (Fadiman, 1997). Where birthing differences are strange to us, they are very significant to their own culture. The move from “regular” home birth to a more “medicalized” birth had heavy impacts on both cultures.
In the Inuit culture, policies forced all Inuit women to give birth by evacuation to hospitals in South Canada (Gabriel). This hurt many women who were still nursing a child (since Inuit women nurse their children for long periods of times) because they would have to leave 4 weeks before their due date and could stay up to 7 weeks away from their family. This also was a heavy financial burden since bringing another person with you was not covered. If there was a home emergency, women would need to fly back home on their own dime, only to return to give birth.
Hmong culture emphasized the importance of giving birth in the home. If women did not give birth at home, there were spiritual ramifications that would hurt the mother or child (Fadiman, 1997). The move to a medicalized childbirth, which came after fleeing their homeland due to communist militaries, greatly impacted their way of childbirth. The people believe that after death the soul travels back to its placenta’s burial place and must re-enter it in order to be reborn. In refugee camps, the placentas were burned despite the Hmong’s cultural need of them.
While I can understand why many though medicalized childbirth would help reduce childbirth-related complications, we didn’t consider the ethnic consequences. In both cases of the Hmong and Inuit, medicalization of childbirth created a distance between family members. There was no community surrounding the mother. I thought that this was the saddest effect of the medicalization.
I became increasingly interested the pros and cons of hospital births verses home births. I came across a journal article which found that planned home births were less expected to have the occurrence of lacerations, hemorrhaging, or infections and showed less incidents of babies born with a low birthweight, prematurely, or with need of ventilation. However, home births did tend to triple the neonatal mortality rate (Wax et al, 2010). Like most of my other blog posts, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to balance culture with our new technologies. Women have given birth for centuries before hospitals were around, and though many lives were lost, I still feel that the emotional experience of birth is so spiritually significant that it cannot be sterilized to the point of what hospitals have made birth into today.
- Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, (1997).
- Gabriel, Cynthia, Ph. D. “Inuit Birth: Reclaiming Birth Authority.” Lecture. (2016).
- Wax, Joseph R., F. Lee Lucas, Maryanne Lamont, Michael G. Pinette, Angelina Cartin, and Jacquelyn Blackstone. “Maternal and Newborn Outcomes in Planned Home Birth vs Planned Hospital Births: A Metaanalysis.” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 203, no. 3 (2010).