From nowhere we came, into nowhere we go. What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night.

~ Attributed to Crowfoot

Help the Captain get his spaceship!

Mithril Angel Wings

Babies

Poor blog… the holidays hit and then everything fell by the wayside, but it would be nice to pick up again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about babies lately. Not so much about having any myself right now, but about how they come into the world. I watched the documentary Babies last year, which was fascinating in how it chronicled the first year of life of babies in Namibia, Mongolia, Japan, and the U.S. I couldn’t help but feel a bit dismayed though about two rather disparate issues: 1) the, errr, ‘rustic’ setting for the African baby and how it was portrayed, and 2) the over-technologized state of maternity care in America.

It’s entirely possible I’m bringing my own cultural baggage to this, but the African baby fed into about every unfortunate stereotype I can think of about primitiveness on that continent. Take pets and hygiene… All three of the other babies are shown playing with or crawling after cats, which are wandering around in their households. The African baby is shown playing with flies. We see cleaning scenes for all three of the other babies where they are washed with water in bassinet, or in a shower, or in a tub. In addition, with the American baby, her father is so fastidious he actually gets a lint roller out to get cat hair off the girl after she’s been lying on a rug. For the African baby, it shows his mother cleaning him off by licking his face.

These vignettes certainly make for a stark contrast between cultures, I just hate to think that people will see this movie and come away with only one impression of Africa in their minds. Even I am boiling it down to representing ‘Africa’ and not a nomadic tribe in Namibia, because I think that’s how many Americans would simplify it. Having grown up in various African countries, yes of course I have seen people living in rural settings, and it’s true that lack of access to clean running water in many places is a huge issue. However, that is not the sum total of Africa, and I’ve gotten enough ridiculous questions in my day (“What is it like to be surrounded by black people and diseases everywhere?”) to cringe just a little when I see certain kinds of portrayals.

On the other hand, the piece that struck me about the American baby was the brief glimpse the movie showed of her birth and how much it aimed to be an environment that is sterile, rigid, and controlled. We see her mother hooked up to an IV drip and monitor, and after birth the baby too is hooked up to all sorts of wires. I see the same scene repeated every time one of my pregnant friends or family members posts their pictures from the hospital — each woman lying on her back in bed, IV in her arm, monitors surrounding her, often times followed by pictures of the baby in the incubator in the NICU.

I also recently watched The Business of Being Born, which posed the question, “Should most births be viewed as a natural life process, or should every delivery be treated as a potentially catastrophic medical emergency?” I am increasingly convinced that America’s reliance on science and technology has negatively changed the way we treat labor and delivery as a whole. Rather than being a natural process, we make increasingly invasive attempts to monitor and control every part, and in many cases these interventions are not medically necessary and can actually be harmful.

I have been having debates with people lately about various birth practices and these topics could easily fill a whole series of posts. For the time being, though, I leave you with a passage from the book Baby Catcher as food for thought about doctors’ purview over childbirth and what is “normal.”

One evening during the beginning months, Dr. Clark looked anxious as he stood beside me in the hallway. He glanced into the birth center where his patient labored in the queen-size bed, her seven or eight invited guests snacking on Brie and sipping Chardonnay. “What am I supposed to do in there?” he asked.

I smiled. “Nothing. She’s doing fine. Just catch the baby.”

“The hell with that. I didn’t go to medical school to do nothing at birth.”

“But if the birth is normal, then what’s there to do?”

“Normal birth is a retrospective diagnosis,” he said. “No birth is normal until after the fact. All births are complicated until proven otherwise.” Straightening his shoulders, he walked into the room.

Dumbfounded, I stood in the corridor staring at his back. I realied that he had just provided me with the definition of the difference between doctors and midwives. Midwives believe birth is normal till proven otherwise. Doctors don’t.

~ From Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent

 

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