Saturday, January 01, 2005

Putting Things in Perspective

I may have mentioned a midwife friend (on the West Coast, not in Michigan) who went and did a month’s service at a medical mission in rural Guatemala last year. She came back and said it was hard to listen to her patients, middle-class women, complaining about minor pregnancy discomforts or worrying over details of their intricate birth plans. “It’s hard to be sympathetic when I’ve just seen a Guatemalan woman with a prolapsed uterus, who only came to the clinic to have her son’s tumor removed. She didn’t even consider her condition worth treatment!”

As I read accounts of women birthing or trying to keep their children alive in the wake of the tsunami, I get a sense of what she meant.

Don’t get me wrong. I think birth is a sacred event and a rite of passage. I agree fully that birth has been medicalized to the harm of women and babies. I believe women should be in control of their births and making informed decisions about their care. After all, I am a doula.

But when I think about poverty, malnutrition, famine and natural disasters, I confess I would not want to be pregnant, or laboring, or mothering a newborn in any of those situations. If I had been eating only rice and living in a slum with an open sewer in the street, being able to refuse an IV in labor would be low on my priority list.

On many occasions I have heard a doctor or nurse console a mother facing unwanted interventions by saying, “as long as you have a healthy baby in the end, it doesn’t matter how you got there.” It always makes me bristle. “IT VERY MUCH MATTERS!” is what I want to scream at them.

But when I step way back, I think my attitude is completely contextual. In other words, as a white, North American, middle class woman, OF COURSE I am going to think the process matters. It does. But only because I have grown up with a Western sense of individuality, priorities, self-determination, affluence.

Were I a rickshaw driver birthing a baby in the dark, on an island hilltop off India, hours after a tidal wave nearly killed me, I would only care about having a healthy baby in the end and living myself. It would not matter how I got there.


Blogger Sage Femme said...

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