Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘anthropology’ Category

 

Brazil ImageBrazil has a cesarean rate that is, depending on the year, the highest in the world. Their rivals include Taiwan and China, but not the United States. Here we hover around the 33% mark, but in Brazil about half of all babies are born by surgery and in some urban, private hospitals the rates are in 70-90% range.

To put this in perspective, if we took a 20% cesarean rate as “normal” (and I do not think that is normal!) as a 2010 World Health Organization report did, several million Brazilian women are having unnecessary cesareans every year. That report calculated a world-wide excess of 6.2 million cesareans annually and half of those are in China and Brazil.

(http://www.who.int/healthsystems/topics/financing/healthreport/30C-sectioncosts.pdf, p. 8).

Why is the cesarean rate in Brazil so high?

If you ask Americans, they tend to blame Brazilian women.  Almost invariably, the first ideas we Americans have are about how the WOMEN must want more cesareans, how the women must be more used to surgeries (since they have so many more plastic surgeries than American women), how the women must be more concerned with keeping their vaginas tight and beautiful, how the women must not be willing to undergo labor.

But when I ask Brazilians in the United States, they tell me the same things that American women tell me. They say things like, “My doctor told me I didn’t have enough amniotic fluid” or “My baby was too big to be born vaginally” or “My baby was in distress.” In other words, Brazilian women understand their own cesareans as medically-necessary, even though statistically it can’t be true for most of them. (The same phenomenon occurs in the United States, I find.)

A 2014 article in the Atlantic confirms this. That article concluded that the medical system is not set up to support laboring women who are aiming for vaginal births (much less unmedicated vaginal births!). In hospitals where 70% or more of births are by cesarean, women who aim for vaginal birth are nuisances to the schedules of doctors and nurses. And it is a self-fulfilling prophecy that doctors and nurses who are skilled at cesarean birth become less and less skilled at managing natural labors.

All of this adds up to a fascinating cultural picture that I am eager to learn more about. So I am headed to Brazil at the end of May for a two-week crash course in all things birth in Brazil. I will be in Florianapolis with Ana Paula Markel, doula trainer extraordinaire, and in Belo Horizonte with my Portuguese teacher, who has promised to introduce me to young women and their families who are in the thick of this childbearing conundrum.

I’m so excited! If you are Brazilian, Brazilian-American, or an American who has given birth in Brazil, I want your stories!

Here are two articles if you’re interested in more.

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/04/why-most-brazilian-women-get-c-sections/360589/

http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-05-14/brazil-half-all-mothers-have-c-sections-whether-they-want-it-or-not

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Russia Breastfeeding article

This looks like strikethrough text, but click on it! It is the link to my article about breastfeeding and “low milk supply” in Russia. We are so used to our own cultural context that we can forget that we ALL see pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and parenting through our own particular culture. As a breastfeeding conference is underway in my favorite city (Toronto!), I thought I would share this article I wrote a while ago about my experiences in Russia.

Things have changed in Russia since I did fieldwork there in 2000-2001, but I still think it is valuable to understand how others in the world think (or thought) about women’s reproductive bodies.
You can also get to this article by clicking on the words ‘Related articles” below. That brings up the Google link!
by C Gabriel – ‎2003 – ‎Cited by 2 – ‎Related articles

THE EFFECTS OF PERCEIVING “WEAK HEALTH” IN RUSSIA: THE CASE OF.BREASTFEEDINGCynthia Gabriel. The state of Russian health has declined.

Read Full Post »

I see my main job not as a doula, but as a public advocate whose mission is to mainstream natural birth. That doesn’t mean that I PREACH about natural birth (unless I am preaching to the choir at a doula or midwifery conference). I’ve found that preaching doesn’t get me very far when I am talking to the uninformed, underinformed, or people who actually disagree with me. But I do try to take advantage of situations in which it makes sense to tell positive birth stories and bring up my profession as a doula. Just saying the word can be a powerful catalyst in a room of people who’ve never heard it.

I watched it happen today, except it was not me who said the word. It was a college student, just explaining to other students in a class why he had missed class the day before.

His wife is a doula. She had been attending a birth for twenty-four hours. He had to stay home and watch their toddler.

I teach anthropology at a working-class state university in Michigan. My students are a DIVERSE group, though they are usually poorer and come from more disadvantaged backgrounds than the students at the fancy state university (University of Michigan).  That tiny spark — a man saying the word “doula” to fellow students — resulted in several conversations right there in front of my eyes. I didn’t start the conversation. I just stood there, basking in the glow of people talking about birth and realizing that there are more options than they knew. Ripples. Seeds planted.

Read Full Post »

I attended  a beautiful birth three days ago at our local, newly-renovated hospital. This second-time mother was amazing. She was so in touch with her body and what she needed to do at each and every moment: walk, sit, lie down, be in the bathtub, eat, drink, lean on her husband, visualizations for intense contractions.

Natural hospital birth requires women to be in charge of their births, and the book I wrote about natural hospital birth focuses on what WOMEN can do to achieve natural hospital birth. I chose to focus on what we CAN do, rather than on the systemic issues that we can’t control as individuals. We really can’t control the hospital staff. So women who desire natural hospital birth have to be ready to work with all different kinds of providers who have all different kinds of ideas about the best way to give birth.

Still, there are certainly ways that hospital staff can support natural hospital birth. And when I encounter hospital staff who really, really support a laboring woman I want to sing their praises everywhere! There were a thousand ways that the nurses and midwives with whom we worked last week supported this natural birth. Here I want to focus on just one of those “little” big things they did. Well, actually that they did not do. After my client was admitted to the hospital from triage, she never had another vaginal examination!

Her waters were intact and she was pronounced five centimeters when we arrived, so I expected that we would have several encounters with hospital staff about vaginal examinations through her labor. Instead, they quietly monitored the baby’s heart rate and the mama’s blood pressure for eight hours and never mentioned a vaginal exam once.

Here are some of the many other ways the staff was supportive: They never turned on the light when they entered the room. (The nurse used a flashlight to find things in cupboards.) They brought us extra pillows, extra towels, and extra hospital gowns when we asked. They pointed us toward the snack room when we were hungry. The midwife brought two glasses of water for the husband and me (the doula) during the most active part of labor, when we were working hard giving back pressure and talking the mama through each and every contraction. They were supportive in so many ways.

But by answering the mother’s questions about how her labor was progressing each and every time with a smile and reassurance that everything looked “great” — instead of saying, “Well, let’s check and find out” — they gave her such a gift of confidence. It makes me want to cry from happiness. It’s such an easy thing to do: suggest a vaginal examination. The vaginal exam, by giving everyone a “number,” appears to answer the question, “How are things going?” But, of course, it does not answer the question at all. If a woman is at seven centimeters, there is no way to know whether she will progress to ten in five minutes or five hours. There is no way to know whether she is feeling strong and capable or weak and defeated.

So often women know intuitively before or during labor that hearing a “number” will interfere with their ability to trust their bodies. (More rarely, but occasionally, some women know that they will be empowered by knowing this number. These women want to have vaginal exams and use this information to help themselves. The key is: Know Thyself!) For most women, though, hearing this cold, hard “fact” speaks to our brains, our rational selves. This is not the self who needs to be in charge of labor. Rational Self needs to step aside and let Intuitive, Body Self be in charge. There are many subtle ways that our Rational Self gets reactivated in labor. Imagine a woman in active labor who is sort of floating on hormones that take her out of normal conversational range. When the hospital shift changes and the new nurse comes on, she might come in and introduce herself and ask questions like, “So are you allergic to any medications?” She just activated the rational mind of the laboring woman! An immediate consequence of even one (much less a few!) rational thought is a lowering of our ability to cope with pain. The brain waves that allow us to be in a meditative, inner state are different from the brain waves that allow us to hold conversations. These brain waves are associated with changes in hormone levels, blood flow to various organs, heart rate, etc.

So, the fact that these nurses and hospital-based midwives were willing to forgo vaginal exams for EIGHT HOURS was a gift beyond measure. This mama got to labor and remained the expert on her labor. Her bodily sensations, her noises, her movements guided how the rest of us acted. We did not ever try to push her to get labor going “more” or “better.” No one had to feel disappointed or worried about how much longer there was to go, based on a number we heard at a particular moment. We all got to focus on a woman in labor. What did she need? What helped her feel the most comfortable?

When the baby arrived, she pushed twice. The baby arrived happy and healthy. I assume she had made it to “ten.”

What was your experience with vaginal exams at hospital births?

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

A Very Interesting Article.

I ran across this the other day and shook my head. As an anthropologist, I have to answer back! You see, anthropologists (including archaeologists) are humans who are shaped by the culture in which they grow up. So from about 1880-1960, archaeologists and cultural anthropologists from the United States and western Europe happened to notice aspects of so-called “primitive” cultures that confirmed their belief that there has always been a clear and firm gender division of labor. They gathered all kinds of evidence that men “hunt” and do “public” work while women “gather” and do “family” work. (Later anthropologists found that this clear, easy divide was often made up by the anthropologists who somehow failed to see things like men doing lots and lots of gathering because hunts were so few and far between. And, my favorite, is a recent article by an archaeologist who examines body weight and determined that men (fathers and brothers) must have done most of the carrying of toddlers and small children on frequent, long walks.)

These happen to be the same years that homebirth midwives were being pushed out of their profession by medical doctors. Birth was moving more and more into hospitals until, after WWII, there were more hospital births than homebirths in the United States. (The UK and Canada had a slightly different, but similar, history.) Women were increasingly drugged during labor and the rates of cesarean section climbed through the 1900s (and SOARED at the end of the century). Birth was increasingly seen as “dangerous” and “risky.” Hiring medical specialists to intervene in the process was a sign of prosperity and progress.

So it is no wonder that archaeologists (mostly men!) of the time interpreted the fossil record in light of this insight that birth is “risky” for human women. Indeed, human pelves are significantly different in shape from those of our nearest relatives (other apes). This “story” about the trade-off between bipedalism (walking upright on two feet, which ultimately changes the shape of pelvic bones) and giving birth to our young has been the dominant story for a long time.

Luckily, some anthropologists who grew up with feminism have taken a second look at that fossil record.  I love reading the work of Dana Walrath, an anthropologist who studies the evolution of human pelves (the plural of pelvis — cool, eh?). She believes that it has been pure sexism in archaeology and medicine that created this “birth is dangerous because of bipedalism” story (though understandable, given our cultural history). The feminist story is that we human women are amazing creatures who are incredibly highly-evolved to give birth to our babies. She’s got the bones to prove it! Check out her articles such as
1. Walrath D. (2006) Gender, Genes, and the Evolution of Human Birth, in Feminist Anthropology: Past, Present, and Future. PL Geller and MK Stockett (eds.), Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
2. Walrath D. (2003) Re-thinking pelvic typologies and the human birth mechanism. Current Anthropology 44(1):5-31.

Read Full Post »