Where did the traditional midwives go? In my home village, in a remote area in the Northern Philippines, it was a practice to deliver at home. Now, the law forbids it: one has to go to a hospital to give birth. Why has this experience become medicalized in such a way?
I became a mother at the early age of 21. I gave birth at home. After two years, I had a second baby again at home. My third baby had to be delivered in a hospital. That is when I lived the shock of my life. At home, I gave birth kneeling down on a stool, in a way that comforts me and helps me push. While in the hospital, I had to lay in a foamy bed that made me feel I was drowning, and my feet were lifted. At some point, someone came and put their fingers inside me to measure the opening, I felt my baby was pushed back in. I told the hospital midwife my waters broke, and they laughed: “Oh come on! If your waters broke, the baby should follow”. I pressed my husband to find the doctor and ask him to come and see me, as I was giving birth. When the doctor arrived, he realized I was all wet, so they rushed me into the operating room. But I couldn’t push anymore, I lost all my strength pushing. So they said I had to be operated on, or else the baby will dry out. Why was this surgery necessary? Why did I have to go through a cesarean, when my two first babies were normally delivered? Why couldn’t the staff follow my lead, what I perceived as necessary? I kept asking for a hard bed, for instance.
Nine days after a normal delivery, the mother is usually almost healed. But with a C-section, even a month later, the wound is still fresh, and I couldn’t retrieve my normal life (carrying objects, taking a bath, and so on) until at least three months had passed. I breastfed my two first babies, without having to take antibiotics or any medicine. Three months after my third baby was born, I had no more milk to breastfeed him. I wanted to have half a dozen kids, but after this experience, I decided no more babies.
This is also when I found out that the help of a traditional village midwife is very precious. When I was delivering my two first babies, the midwife responded to anything I would say with a comforting solution. She would rub oil on my belly and my back, and used her hands as if she were putting the baby on track. It was magical. At the hospital, they would only look at me and wait. They were always on a rush, since waiting is a waste of time, and time is money for them.
My point is that women have the knowledge of what is best for our bodies. Most doctors are men: they know how to cut, but that is only the easy, harmful way, which is profitable for them, but not for us. Why does everything have to be medicalized in our modern world, why do our bodies and health have to benefit the pharmaceutical industries, while we are gifted with herbal medicines and traditional knowledge from our foremothers?
Why is it that something that comes so naturally to many women, like the function of delivering babies, has to become a business, managed by “professionals” who do not identify with the process, nor empathize with the mothers calling for help? Why is it that in many parts of the world giving birth at home has become a luxury item, only available to the rich, while the masses are forced into the operation room and under the knife? The illusion of safety sold by these hospitals fails to meet reality: in my village, we delivered children in our homes with no complications, whereas at the hospitals, we paid expensive bills to provide our bodies as feasts to the scalpel. That did not feel safe at all.
I encourage feminist women and midwives around the world, especially in the villages, to prosper the gift of delivering babies, a gift that we are losing, if not have lost already, to the medical institutions and pharmaceutical industries. Let’s not lose the knowledge, skills, labor, and practice developed by women throughout centuries to a capitalist system that transforms every aspect of life, no matter how intimate, into a commodity. Our bodies as girls, women, and mothers, are constantly taken away from us, produced, controlled, and disposed of. Our sexual lives and reproductive function become matters of heated debates controlled by a hegemony of men and patriarchal institutions. The experience of motherhood becomes colonized like our bodies, managed, mismanaged, and medicalized under false-pretenses of safety. Our bodies are our own, and we need to reclaim them as they give way to other bodies to enter this world. Let childbirth be an act of emancipation.
[Thumbnail image by Doula Amy Edge]