Birth Culture

Birth is cultural, the way eating is cultural. We don’t just eat what our bodies need to sustain us. If we only did that, there would be no reason for birthday cake. Birthday cake is part of our food culture. The place you are giving birth in has a local culture as well. It also partakes of our national birth culture. Not everything doctors do regarding birth makes the birth faster or physically easier for you or the baby. Some things are just cultural. For example, most hospitals do not offer enemas to birthing women anymore, yet a few years ago, most women who labored in hospitals were required to have an enema whether they wanted one or not. Enemas are sometimes helpful at birth, but not always…But they used to be part of the birthing culture… –Jan Mallack & Teresa Bailey in (p. 32)

I don’t feel like I have time to construct a big blog post about this subject, but I’ve been having big thoughts lately about birth culture and also how we think about and treat women’s bodies in pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum. So, this collection of quotes will have to do for now!

In the short book Birth on the Labyrinth Path by Sarah Whedon, I also marked this passage to share: “In the context of modern medicine, the childbearing year is often treated as a healthcare problem and we are alienated from the natural and holy processes of our reproductive bodies. Let us seek more and more ways to reframe pregnancy as a natural part of the human experience and to honor the holiness of this work that brings a pure and tiny spark of the divine into the messy, beautiful drama of life on Earth. Let us guard mothers, fathers, and babies as they grow families. Let us celebrate our sexy, dangerous, bloody, beautiful ability as people to make and love more people…” (emphasis mine)

Later on, Whedon makes these lovely observations about postpartum bodies:

A body that is curvier than it was before, maybe bearing stretch marks or scars from surgical procedures or tearing, maybe producing milk, is a body that bears the signs of delivering a human being into this world. We may mourn our smooth, skinny, unmarked maiden bodies, but at the same time we can celebrate the beauty of our storied, productive, and strong mama bodies….
You may have seen images of new mothers as mama goddesses, resplendent in their fertility, effortlessly suckling a new babe while woodland creatures graze nearby. This is a lovely scene to aspire to, but my personal experience is that new mama goddesses are more likely to be found pinned to a couch by a ravenous infant, wearing pajamas and a messy ponytail, and surrounded by the remains of hastily grabbed snacks and partially read motherhood memoirs. Those mamas are no less goddesses. In fact, a careful Pagan theology of embodiment will recognize that the true mama goddess must include the range of experience of new motherhood, with all the sleepless nights, messy lochia, and milky-sweet sleeping babes.”

I also came across this quote from Sister MorningStar in the Spring 2011 issue of Midwifery Today: “Every mother has a culture. Every mother is a culture. She is born into an ocean of language, traditions and rituals around how she eats, sleeps, poops, makes love or births a baby.”

And, then from Ani DiFranco’s great introduction to Birth Matters: How What We Don’t Know About Nature, Bodies, and Surgery Can Hurt Us by Ina May Gaskin:
“The pains associated with menstruation and childbirth (even the emotional pain) are the price of having agency with the bloody, pulsing, volcanic divinity of creation, and they lie at the core of feminine wisdom. The literal experience of my body is your body your blood is my blood holds great insight into the way of things. A self-possessed woman in childbirth can be a powerful teacher for all (including herself) on the temporality, humility, and connectedness of life.”
I honestly believe that if modern birth culture rested in perspectives like this, our whole world would change!

7 thoughts on “Birth Culture

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