Anthropology of Childbirth: Where, How and Why
Childbirth is one of the most profound experiences for any woman and to an equal measure, it has been known to cause a similar effect on men as well…
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The experience of birth has been different with each time period and with each culture (Gelis, 1991). Traditions, religions, and feminist perspectives have impacted differently on childbirth, making each childbirth experience different (Gelis, 1991). This paper shall discuss the anthropology of birth – answering questions on where, how, and why. A focus on cultural and social differences shall be considered for this study. It shall discuss the medical anthropology of childbirth, the theory of power, medical power, and the power of knowledge. A discussion on feminism and feminist perspectives on pregnancy and child birth shall also be established. A view on what women want and how they choose where, how, and why they want to give birth shall also be presented. The choice of prenatal care shall be considered for this paper, including the influences for women’s choice. This paper shall then discuss whether or not women have a choice on childbirth or if society has that choice. The differences between the cultures and social classes will also be presented in this study. These topics shall be considered in order to establish a clear and comprehensive understanding of childbirth and its anthropology.
II. 1 Foucault, power, and childbirth...
Homebirthers who refuse medical monitoring often succeed in compromising the authority of medical childbirths; they also reject the docile body and live in their empowered body (Cheyney, 2006). They also support the democratization of the woman’s choice during birthing. Those opting for homebirths discuss their attempts at avoiding medical assistance and they create a picture of a reality which does not in any way represent docility, but one which manifests personal power. Women opting for childbirth declare that they do not need all the medical interventions which are being made available during childbirth; and they are also in disbelief of claims that 30% of women cannot deliver their babies naturally (Cheyney, 2006). These women declare that these beliefs are only used as a means of controlling women, disempowering them and ‘medicalizing’ childbirths. By accepting the link between knowledge and power, women are supporting Foucault’s contention that knowledge and power are synonymous with each other. Knowledge/power as a concept also implies the inseparable nature of these ideas and how discipline can increase their impact (Cheyney, 2006). Society agrees that with the power given to some groups (obstetricians) and denied for others (like midwives), social functions are often determined. This understanding results to subjugated conceptualizations which can manifest as medical and midwifery ideals of care. With knowledge and the experience of personal power during birth, women who choose homebirths with midwives declare more power and knowledge in their choice (Gordon, 1980). Foucault criticizes modern practices and how these practices lead to submissive qualities with promised success rates and rewards for their subjugation. In relation to
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According to Nanda and Warms,the study of anthropology is “the scientific and humanistic study of human beings”.They go on to further qualify this definition by stating that anthropology “encompasses the evolutionary history of humanity,physical variation among humans,the study of past societies,and the comparative study of current-day human societies and cultures
This, says Kelley, causes stereotyping of the “underclass” as per the social scientists own definition of the term and, therefore, the reality of different cultures within that same underclass is not discussed among them. For instance, social scientists in the 60s, generalizes all black culture as ghetto culture, claiming it to be a result of the racist attitude of the society.
The Latin term cum-mater and the Spanish and Portuguese term comadre, have the same meaning: with woman (Coalition for improving maternity services, n.d). Midwives have been part of the human experience as long as we know. In earlier times, a midwife didn’t receive formal education to assist birth.
However, if a vaginal delivery poses an imminent threat to the health of the mother or the child, or if the pregnant woman requests for a cesarean delivery, the baby is delivered through a cesarean section. The total and primary cesarean rate showed a decrease between 1989 and 1996 and an increase between 1996 and 2003 in the United States.
Hence it is the amount of data that they have gathered and the facts themselves that influence their thinking.
Many are of the opinion that VBAC trial of labour can be thought of only when there has been one low side to side scar c section , or in case of more than one caesarean but also accompanied by previous vaginal delivery.
Anthropologists in general look at cross-cultural differences in social institutions, cultural beliefs, and communication styles. In fact in recent years with the growing globalization, this subject has gained much more importance. Knowledge about human diversity is helpful especially in the case of global organizations.
The author states that anthropology in its turn helps us to analyze how culture affects every part of human life and society. One of the key aims of anthropology is to comprehend and analyze culture patterns of life. Anthropological investigation may be of a great help for us while studying internal logic of another society.
In short, everything related to man comes under the scope of anthropology. It is important to see the world through an anthropological lens because one can know better about one’s own past and present and can see for oneself where he/she
Genic activities, as argued in biological anthropology, will bring about different outcomes under different conditions. Most voluntarily observable characteristics are influenced to a lesser or greater extent (Merrell & Ingersoll, 1962).
It is perhaps so important that it the treatment of women’s health is a ‘reflection of the total culture’ (Kay, 1982, pvii) as they are a reflection of so many aspects of the society; equality, religion, leadership
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