We think of birth as a way to add to our family. We think of birth as a physiologic process. We worry about the unknown territory of birth. Birth is first and foremost, a cultural event. Why cultural? Why not a private event? What is our culture of birth?
Birth is cultural the way eating is cultural. We all need to eat to survive, but birthday cake is cultural. Much of what we eat, how we eat and who we eat with is cultural. Think of chopsticks versus knife and fork. Birth is the same way. You could give birth at home, on a park bench, in a midwife center or a hospital. I slipped in park bench, didn’t I? Who is comfortable with the idea of giving birth on a pubic park bench? That is cultural.
You might think that OB’s who supervise births in hospitals would allow women to do the physical things which help her to get her baby born. You would think that we would have incorporated into our birth practices all our eons of knowledge of what works best for mom and baby to have safe and satisfying births. But you would be wrong! Much of what hospitals and even mothers do regarding birth is based on our culture of birth. Birth culture varies within the United States. For example, here in Pittsburgh, if a mother wants to have an enema to help her with her birth, she can only have one if her midwife requests one. Most doctors won’t bother to request one. Most moms giving birth in Pittsburgh won’t have an enema even if they request it themselves. Why? Because enemas are not part of our current birth culture.
You may not care about that. Who wants an enema (unless they really need one)? Still, the culture of birth where you are birthing will dictate many things. Will you have constant fetal monitoring during labor or have a choice? Will your baby be whisked away after birth and reunited with you later? Will your baby have to “prove” it can drink from a bottle before your baby can be at your breast? It goes on and on.
How do you know what your local birth culture is? Ask moms who have recently given birth where you are planning to give birth. Write a birth vision and talk to your care-giver about it. (Our book: Doulas’ Guide to Birthing Your Way describes in detail how to write your own user-friendly birth vision.) Hiring a local doula can really help, too. Doulas know what your local options are. That really opens up your choices. Your doula’s goal should be that your birth is culturally compatible with you! It is your birth, after all.