Natural Childbirth: Part 1

The gift of pregnancy and the ability to endure childbirth inspires mankind to celebrate and honor our women.  This marvelous ability is recognized by people of all cultures and traditions as a great responsibility that women hold, distinguishing a woman as the bearer of life, the unconditional care-giver, and mankind’s very first teacher.  From traditional spiritual practices to modern religions, women are identified as upholding the beauty and esteem of a culture, and are worthy and deserving of protection and adoration.  In Kem culture, we know that the woman is responsible for the destiny of her children, and the well being and maintenance of her household and her community.  Some of the duties and abilities that women carry are even exemplified by female deities.  Pregnancy and childbirth are associated with practices and traditions that reflect just how important they are to a culture and how very connected the process of childbirth is to spirituality.  Even in modern cultures, we can see remnants of practices coming from traditions that recognize the significance of the natural pregnancy and birthing process.  While human beings come from a long history of acknowledging, respecting, and enduring the natural process of bringing life into the world, the ways of the modern system have managed to twist our views and encourage us to stray from practices that have worked for our ancestors for thousands of years.

Traditional Childbirth

The strength of a woman to birth children is natural. The techniques used by traditional women have been cultivated since mankind’s origins, ages ago. Traditional women, in cultures labeled as impoverished by the modern system, produce strong children, without the interference of modern medicine, using these age old techniques.

The labor process is often seen in traditional cultures across the world as a point at which the spirit world and the human world interface.  In Kem culture, for example, each newborn is recognized as an ancestor who has returned to live their next incarnation.  Though they may be different from one another, there are practices, taboos, and rituals in all traditional cultures that are very, very old, which focus on the expecting mother, her pregnancy, and her labor.  For example, Chinese tradition identifies particular foods as forbidden to consume during pregnancy because they may effect the disposition of the unborn child.  In Cambodian tradition, Healers are responsible for protecting the mother and the child during childbirth and in their traditional practice, the baby is believed to belong to the spirit world for the three days after birth.  These three days are seen as crucial for protecting the child.  Thus, a traditional midwife offers incense and fruit on the fourth day after the child is born.   Japanese traditions do not allow the baby to be named until seven days after its birth, and a celebration in which the mother and baby attend an ancestral temple 100 days after the baby’s birth is often performed to ensure the health of the child.   Some Native American midwives will sing, and bathe the laboring mother in herbal medicines to keep the mother at peace while in labor and to welcome the child into the world.  Many different traditional African cultures make sure that spiritual baths are given after the baby is born for different reasons including spiritual protection, spiritual healing, physical strength, and rite of passage.

Something that many world traditions share is that the husband is not to be part of the child labor and is not to be at the place of birth until after the baby has arrived.  Traditional cultures are also similar in that most of them incorporate herbal medicines to support both the pregnancy and the labor process, and the women of the family or household are very involved in the process of the pregnancy of birth - providing guidance and support, before and during labor, as well as guiding the laboring mother through techniques at each stage of her birth.  While the expecting mother is valued, cared for, and often receives extra or specialized attention, the process from conception to birth is overall respected as a necessary and normal part of life.  When it comes to giving birth, women have traditionally labored at home, with the help of other women in the family (often times elder women), or traditional healers, or midwives.  For generations, women have been giving birth naturally and in line with the rituals and practices of their traditional culture.

Modern Medicine’s Intervention

The way that pregnancy and childbirth are now viewed in modern society has changed drastically.   In America, pregnancy has managed to become somewhat of an epidemic that people need to protect against, and childbirth is now considered by obstetricians as a dangerous condition that can only be cared for by trained specialists.  Just 120 years ago, childbirth in America was still done at home, under the supervision of a midwife, where the midwives in the country outnumbered the obstetricians.  But by 1910, the medical field began its endeavors of taking over the supervision of childbirth - systematically taking advantage of the nation’s poorest women for the obstetricians to gain their needed training.  By 1915, the standard use of interventions during delivery (such as surgical tools and procedures, machinery, IV’s, and drugs) was a commonly accepted way to ease or reduce the evils natural to labor that women had to endure.  The supposed goal of these interventions was to eliminate the amount of pain that women would deal with during labor, as well as supposedly ensure the safe birth of the infant - not to mention, the more use of interventions during birth, the higher the pay for obstetricians.

Eventually, coming hand-in-hand with the growing interventions for childbirth, was the usage of birth control pills, and tube-tying.  Formatted for humans after being tested on rats, the original birth control pill was presented to American women in 1950.  As part of a campaign to reduce the amount of children per American household, birth control spread rapidly throughout the nation, and is now in 2010 being offered to pre-teens and teenagers without necessary consent of parents in some states.  Women and couples are encouraged to consider having fewer children through media propaganda and even legislation, and the perception of childbirth has been dramatized to the point that some women fear getting pregnant or will not consider childbirth without drugs or surgical intervention.  The promoted and unfortunately prevailing American attitude towards pregnancy and birth has been transformed to that of prevention, reduction, and desensitization.  Contrary to what the modern medical system would have us believe, giving birth outside of the hospital and its interventions is a decision that we not only have the right to, but that would enhance our lives and the lives we bring into the world.  It is a decision that is still respected around the world, and access to this ancient alternative is becoming more readily available in the United States.

Deciding On Nature’s Side

The traditional women of Sudan are testaments to nature's gift of life. More women in the colonial world are reclaiming this heritage.

As I assisted in the birth of a baby boy in a birthing center in my home city in Brooklyn, I stood at the edge of the bed riveted by the look of pure astonishment and joy that erupted on the face of the young girl whose newborn baby was placed onto her stomach just seconds after he took his first breath.   With her full embrace shortened by the still uncut umbilical cord, the nineteen-year old mother broke into tears as she reached for the baby that she had just delivered; catching her breath, she muttered with an indescribable smile, “hi baby. . .I did it.”   Amidst all of the medical warnings against it, intimidating media imagery, the accepted standards of friends and family, and the uncountable interventions available to ease the process, the decision to have a natural childbirth may strike many modern women as old-fashioned, courageous, or even risky.  But making the decision to maintain a natural pregnancy and give birth naturally reflects honesty, awareness, and a sincere commitment to the value of life and the duty that is owed as a woman.  Considering the attitude and approach to pregnancy and childbirth in the modern society, especially here in America, what is there to motivate women to return to the natural process of childbirth?  It was my privilege to discuss the compelling experiences that seven outstanding women had with their decisions to have natural births...

Although natural laboring is again becoming a more widespread practice in the United States, mainstream society is disconnected from this movement in many ways, and subtly promotes stigma associated with it.  However, networks of health and life-conscious people continue to grow across the country, and more women are investigating the effects of the modern system’s practices, doing research on their own, and finding ways to apply a more traditional approach to fulfilling the duty they have to bring life into the world - especially as enhancement to a more holistic and spiritually grounded way of life.  For example, Latisha Emery, a 25-year old mother and entrepreneur from Chicago, who had her only daughter naturally and plans the same for her future children, shared that her desire to give birth naturally “was what was in line with the kind of lifestyle that I was living.  It didn’t make sense to be a vegan, use all natural body products, to be a naturalist, a culturalist (or traditionalist), and to get injected with all types of stuff when I was having my daughter.  I also wanted to give her an opportunity, I didn’t want her to come into the world, having any kind of toxins from injections or drugs I had taken.  I didn’t want her to have to experience that or be addicted to anything.  I wanted to give her a chance at being born when she should be and as close as possible to how she should be.”

The medical interventions used during childbirth in a modern hospital range from minor pain-killers to surgical tools and vacuums to open surgery.  A host of profit-ensuring labor aides and safety procedures are accepted as commonplace and often go unquestioned.  While all these interventions come with a range of side-effects, the usage of drugs, especially the Epidural, during labor is not only the most commonly accepted, but also the least interrogated, and has the most immediate impact on the life of the newborn and the involvement of the mother during her labor.  Christa Weathers, a 35 year-old Employee Benefits Consultant from Boston, who gave birth to both her son and daughter naturally, shared that: “Intuitively I thought that taking medicines or doing any of the procedures that they have just didn’t seem right for me or the baby.  I was also aware of the fact that these [medicines and procedures that they do] haven’t always been around, that natural child birth was the only way to have a child for a very long time.  Just reading articles that were available about the Epidural, I think one of the articles said a side effect of the Epidural was that it would make the baby look lethargic and the woman wouldn’t know when to push, it seemed like a very detached experience that wasn’t something I wanted.  I didn’t want to bring the baby in on drugs. “  Similarly, Veesha Dash (32), Head Pre-School Teacher and mother of four from Connecticut, reflected on her impression after having experienced the modern hospital-controlled birth of her first son and how it influenced her decision to labor naturally with the rest of her children; “I was more conscientious of the things I was putting in my kids, and for me it didn’t feel right; really thinking about my first child and being under sedation of drugs, I didn’t like the feeling of it because I was in and out - so I chose to have no help when it comes to medication.”

One of the many things that media, modern doctors, and the status quo will not reveal is just how terrifying and often times dangerous giving birth under the watch of the modern medical system can be.  The immense cloud of fears, superstitions, and media dramatization prevalent in this society keeps people’s eyes focused away from what is happening inside hospitals right in our hometowns.  The experience she had in a hospital in New York City made PershaRa Fyeteq, 28-year-old Air Force Reserve Service Specialist and mother of two, promise herself not to allow her second child to be born at the hands of the mainstream medical system.  Remembering that day she explained: “I have a son who is 8 years old and I gave birth to him in NYC.  I was 20 years old,  so I didn’t know about the options that were available to me.  I had come from Israel, so I just assumed the births would be done the same way.  I didn’t realize until I got to the delivery room how awfully things were done.  Before I was ready to give birth, they laid me down on the bed, and connected me to the IV, to put anesthesia in me, but my body wanted to move around; I asked if I could get up and move around, and they said, ‘no’...I was actually confined to the bed with a monitor on my belly, and I had to use a bedpan to use the bathroom.  They decided to give me an Episiotomy without asking me; they were just tired of me being in labor, it was almost 7pm and they were ready to go home.  Overall, it was like being treated worse than an animal - that’s how it felt, like I wasn’t a human who was giving birth to a baby, like I didn’t deserve any caring, no compassion.”  Sharing in the same sentiment, Hapi Kamenthu (32), an EMS Technician from Brooklyn and mother of two, remembered that after “experiencing having a child in the hospital, I wanted to do it naturally.” When asked what about the experience led her towards natural labor for her second child, she explained that the environment in the hospital “was cold.  I didn’t get to walk around or eat during labor, and I didn’t get to see what was going on with my baby in the same room with me.”

 The modern hospital procedures are best at keeping women from carrying out the process that they are built to perform, creating more dangers and ill side effects than they would normally have to deal with.  Tamera Matthews, a 33 year-old Registered Nurse, who delivered her only daughter naturally, shared that “what really prompted me [give birth naturally] was my experience as a registered nurse in labor and delivery.  Just to see how childbirth is treated almost like an illness - there’s a lot of unnecessary interventions, medications involved, and technology, like monitors, IVs, a lot of machinery...All of these things that they put into you or on you to have a baby that really make having a baby a truly unnatural process.  The environment is not therapeutic at all; when you think of what it means to bring a new life into this world, and just really see the many complications that a lot of my women would have because of the way that the U.S. views delivery - you see a lot of women that end up with C-Sections, or Postpartum Hemorrhages because they’re not allowed to let their body work naturally.”  If we are able to put our research, experiences, and reasoning together, we will see which side is actually risky - and logically begin to ask ourselves, why not decide on nature’s side?

Next month in the continuation of this section, we will examine what is involved in the decision to carry out nature’s process, seeing modern interventions for what they really are, and finding support for the decision to give birth the only way that we were made to - naturally.


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