Friday, May 23, 2008

Why I chose UC (part 2):

College- growing into your own person
(continued from here)

It is required of all students to take a "global and cultural awareness" class. I decided to take Anthropology 101. It was your basic general education course: required reading, notes, group work, papers, lectures, the whole shebang. What caught my attention most was one of our required books: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. It's about a Hmong family and their struggle with the medical system in California as they try to get help for their girl with epilepsy. The part that affected me most was not about Lia, but about how Foua gives birth.

Even if Foua had been a less fastidious housekeeper, her newborn babies wouldn't have gotten dirty, since she never let them actually touch the floor. She remains proud to this day that she delivered each of them into her own hands, reaching between her legs to ease out the head and then letting the rest of the body slip out onto her bent forearms. No birth attendant was present, though if her throat became dry during labor, her husband, Nao Kao, was permitted to bring her a cup of hot water, as long as he averted his eyes from her body. Because Foua believed that moaning or screaming would thwart the birth, she labored in silence, with the exception of an occasional prayer to her ancestors. She was so quiet that although most of her babies were born at night, her older children slept undisturbed on a communal bamboo pallet a few feet away, and woke only when they heard the cry of their new brother or sister. After each birth, Nao Kao cut the umbilical cord with heated scissors and tied it with string. Then Foua washed the baby with water she had carried from the stream, usually in the early phases of labor, in a wooden and bamboo pack-barrel strapped to her back.

It continues on (you can read more here) with how they take care of the placenta and other customs concerning birth. When I read this, it was the first time that I had encountered the idea that birth could be painless, even easy. My own birth was a scheduled cesarean due to my breech position. And even though my mother made comments such as, "It's you fault for turning around that last month!" jokingly, I always felt she wasn't happy with her birth experience.

But here in Foua was a woman who was proud of catching her children and of her births, one who didn't scream in labor. I sat down an thought, "Why is it that she can give birth so peacefully and women here can't? Why can't I have that sort of birth, too?"

"I can. What's the difference between me and Foua? We both have arms and legs and muscles. We are built the same- both humans." I could come up with only two differences: nutrition and
the cultural views of childbirth. Being in America, I have access to the best nutrition in the world (if I take advantage of it). All I need to do is change the way I view childbirth.

At this point, I was engaged to McKay. I started joking around with him saying, "You'll come home from work some day and I'll have a baby in my arms and declare, 'Look what I found! You won't believe where they were hiding!'" He didn't think I was very serious- and I wasn't quite serious yet- just testing the waters. And I didn't think this was something that was even allowed in America.

(continued in part 3)


  1. I'm glad your writing about why you chose UC. I remember reading this book, too, in a medical anthropology class I took as a PhD student.

  2. I've been quite fascinated by your whole experience. How do you just get over the stigma that it will hurt and it will hurt a lot (my sister had her baby earlier this month -- naturally! Not her choice, the epidural wore off -- and has been telling horror stories ever since). I've always loved the idea of a birthing tub (though even that seems too extreme to some people I know), but I'm probably too chicken to do anything at home. Granted, I maybe have to get married first (o:

    Either way, thanks for writing about these things; it's really given me a whole new perspective on something I thought was mostly a set way.

  3. I was always interested in HB and UC. I screamed my way through my first birth, then epi'd my way through the second, only to deliver quietly like Faou in the front seat of my van while my husband raced down the highway to the nearest hopsital (I wanted a HB, but he is not comfortable...we had agreed that I would deliver at the hospital I liked an hour away...we didn't even make it the 10 minutes to the one closest to home!)Off to search your blog for your birth story :)

  4. Link to part 3, please?


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