Midwives Use Rituals To Send Message That Women's Bodies Know Best

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In reaction to what midwives view as the overly medicalized way hospitals deliver babies, they have created birthing rituals to send the message that women's bodies know best.

The midwife experience uses these rituals to send the message that home birth is about female empowerment, strengthening relationships between family and friends, and facilitating participatory experiences that put mothers in control, with the ultimate goal of safe and healthy deliveries less focused on technological intervention.

These are some of the findings from an Oregon State University researcher and licensed midwife who witnessed more than 400 home births in order to document an extensive list of practices utilized by midwives to express the symbolic difference between home and hospital births.

... "We know, for instance, that midwives have better health outcomes in some areas, such as reduced rates of surgical delivery and labor induction, than hospitals. But I wanted to examine how ritual might play a part in producing these positive health outcomes."

... evidence shows that hospital births result in about triple the rate of cesarean section for low-risk women compared to midwife-attended home births ...

What she found was a network of common practices, messages and beliefs that resulted in midwives constructing woman-centered rituals around pregnancy and birth that were set up in opposition to what they believe are the overly medicalized practices of hospitals.

For instance ... midwives conducted many of the same diagnostic procedures as a physician would prenatally, from blood pressure and weight checks to blood testing and fetal heart tone evaluation ...

... "Many midwives also downplayed the centrality of monitoring and resuscitation equipment setting them off to the side, or placing them under baby blankets during labor so women would not be reminded of the technology in the room. Mothers and babies were still monitored closely, but the monitoring was not made the central focus."

The differences aren't so much in practice ... but in performance.

Cheyney also documented the use of common phrases to create birthing mantras. She lists phrases such as "don't fight it," "let your body do it," "open," and "let it be strong," as key components ... Many mothers ... reported feeling strong and capable during their labors, and women who compared their hospital birth to their home birth reported feeling like they were "doing something, rather than just lying there passively waiting." Midwives also commonly expressed the statement that they were simply "guardians," and that women have all the tools inside of them to birth their own babies.

... It is Cheyney's belief that both of these sets of rituals have caused a wide chasm between ... hospital births and the 1 percent who choose home births.

"Just as women and their doctors who deliver in the hospital often feel convinced that their birth was the only safe and 'correct' way, women and midwives who deliver at home feel strongly that they have the solution," ... "They believe it with every cell in their body because they have lived it."...

There is definitely something special and unique about homebirth that cannot be summarised in words alone.

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