intensely trivial

Excerpt from Rediscovering Birth

It seems most people who know me well are less surprised than I am that I have stumbled onto this path of wanting to study midwifery. But here I am. It feels almost inevitable that I ended up here. It feels comfortable, like there was a hollow carved for me here already, and I’ve finally found it and agreed to settle down into it. I knew it when I was the doula for a remarkable ordinary woman who gave birth at home a few weeks ago. (I blogged about that birth in installments here, here, and here.) Since that birth, I’ve kept thinking about the things I saw there. I attended a hospital birth last week that was basically a failed induction ending up as a cesarean. I can’t help but contrast those two births.
Meanwhile, I’ve been reading a book called Rediscovering Birth, by the grand dame of childbirth studies, British anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger. (She wrote The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth, which I happened to read when I was pregnant with Jonathan, and it made such a difference!) Rediscovering Birth is a beautiful book you might keep on your coffee table just for its stunning photography and illustrations. But Kitzinger’s writing is substantive, too. She examines birth practices in traditional societies and compares them to those in industrialized societies.
The following excerpt (which I think would still come under “fair use”) encapsulates one aspect of the difference between traditional birth and industrialized birth, and between homebirth and hospital birth:

Shared Knowledge
When simple objects such as a hammock, ‘household artefacts. . . which are imbedded in the matrix of daily life’, are used in childbirth, the result is ‘hands on, collaborative birthing’, writes the anthropologist Brigitte Jordan. A Mayan in Yucatan is accustomed to using her hammock to get comfortable. She lies on her back, her side or even her front. Her movement is not restricted and as she feels the baby descending she adjusts her position easily. Her husband, mother, other women in the family and the midwife are equally familiar with hammocks and how they can be used, so they know exactly how to position themselves to give her the best support.
It is quite different for a woman lying on a hospital delivery table. She is no longer held in anyone’s arms. The narrowness of the table and the equipment around her prohibit it and mean that there is simply no space for them to get near her. The lower part of her body is draped and isolated from the upper part. [In the hospitals where I’ve attended births, I’ve never seen this draping; hopefully it is now just a memory.] She cannot touch it. She cannot see what is happening. And if she has had regional anaesthesia she cannot feel it.
When sophisticated technology is used in childbirth, power is in the hands of those who know how to control and interpret it. Interpreting the squiggles on a print-out from an electronic monitor is often difficult even for those who have been trained to do so. Setting up an intravenous drip, inserting a catheter, giving an epidural, even measuring blood pressure, all require professional skills. The birthing woman turns to her care-givers for information and they turn to the electronic equipment for information. They then decide whether or not to share this with the woman. They may withhold it, telling her not to worry, or give her partial information, or, depending on what they want her to do, give her information which, though inaccurate, is designed to get her to act in a certain way — to push harder or to agree to a Caesarean section, for example, which they consider is in her own and the baby’s best interest.
In contrast, when objects are used with which everyone is familiar and which everyone knows how to handle, knowledge is shared. And because knowledge is shared, there is no hierarchy. Though the midwife is respected for her special skills, all the other women present understand birth, too, and know how to handle the objects which come in useful in childbirth. Just as women work together in the kitchen or the dairy, so they work together in the birth room. Their activities appear automatic, unspectacular, smoothly co-ordinated. It is as though everyone present knows the steps of the dance and they are all in tune with the same music.

(Kitzinger, Rediscovering Birth, Pocket Books, 2000; p. 176)


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Shelley C. says:

    Ahhh (*sigh*) You direction…it does seem fitting. I am smiling. Can you see?

    Posted 8 years, 3 months ago
  2. * svet says:

    Nice! 🙂 you would be great at it! 🙂

    Posted 8 years, 3 months ago

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