Friday, April 16, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
So far I think I've focused on two distinct strands of thought regarding religion and childbirth. On the one hand, I've looked at the ways that women ascribe religious meaning to their birth experiences. On the other, I've explored birth as a feminist issue. But I haven't explicitly stated the connection between these two strands. Here it is, in the Epilogue of Blessed Events (page 216):
"...in home birth, while women draw from their religious traditions to make decisions about pregnancy and birth, they are usually creating their own local and contextual religious interpretations of childbirth. They give religious meaning to the home as a site of birth, to their bodies as the generative source of new life, and to their pain as a spark of both physical and spiritual power. The religious idioms they turn to in this meaning-making provide a persuasive moral language supporting a woman in her resistance to conventional biomedical approaches to birth. Religious discourse, then, can be used as an oppositional language challenging biomedical perspectives..."
The home birth movement is feminist in that it asserts women's power and insists that birth is a life-shaping experience for the mother and the baby. It rejects the notion that a woman is merely the "environment of the fetus." Klassen found that these home-birthing women use religious discourse to resist the biomedical model of birth. Her thesis is powerful. So often, patriarchy shapes religion and childbirth. For me, these words conjure up images of subservient, domestic baby-making machines. Who would have thought that religion and childbirth could be so radical? We cannot overlook their liberatory potential.
Monday, April 5, 2010
The Gender Studies department at my school organized an information session last week for students interested in learning more about becoming a midwife or doula. A panel of midwives and doulas from the area spoke and answered questions. (Thank you to the organizers and speakers!) It was super informative and inspirational. I think my favorite part was hearing how they become interested in the field. Everyone had a beautiful, unique story.
People are starting to ask me that same question, and I haven't come up with a good answer. My former boss at Planned Parenthood used to be a midwife, and sometimes she told me about it. In Puerto Rico last year, I met a woman at an ecovillage who was becoming a midwife, and she taught me the word doula. Then, a doula-in-training couch surfed at my house. I watched The Business of Being Born and Orgasmic Birth. Little things here and there. In retrospect, I think my most basic impetus is feminism. I was born a feminist, and it just took a while for me to acquire the right vocabulary to articulate it (thanks, Ani). The whole concept behind the midwifery model of birth always made sense to me. The notion that women know how to birth, and that birth is a natural process, seems so obvious. And yet, the current climate surrounding childbirth in the United States suggests otherwise. Educating myself about midwifery and childbirth 1) gave me vocabulary and 2) gave me the social, historical, and political context to realize just how important birth is. In fact, every day I learn something new that reaffirms its importance to humanity. The way women birth, the way beings come into this world, matters.
At the beginning of this year, as graduation and What Am I Going To Do With My Life crept up on me, I decided to look into midwifery more seriously. I read about the different types of midwives and schooling, and I learned that it is a real commitment. Midwifery school is expensive and takes at least a couple years. It is a demanding career. It's not the sort of thing that you can just try out for a while. (I suppose you could, but you'd lose a lot of time, money, and energy.) Then I read more about birth doulas. Doulaing (we really need to come up with a noun for it) sounded equally amazing and important, yet a lot more readily accessible. It would be a great first step toward becoming a midwife. I could get a lot of experience attending births, supporting mothers, and seeing what midwives do. After a while, I could decide to go to midwifery school. Or not. Either way, I could always be a doula.
The doula certification requirements didn't seem too demanding. Still, this year I am working two jobs, taking classes, and writing my senior thesis. To account for all of the time that would go into the certification, I decided to integrate it with an academic tutorial on religion and childbirth. This blog is sort of an alternative to weekly reading responses for the tutorial. Over the past few months, I took a breastfeeding course, a childbirth education course, and a doula training workshop. I read all of the DONA required reading. The last step is the most important: I have to doula for three births. I am still not sure when that is going to happen. I am graduating in May (if all goes according to plan) and then living on a farm in Connecticut. After that, I might teach English in Spain. When will I ever get the chance to doula? The ideal answer: within two years. I have to doula for three births within two years of completing the other requirements in order to get certified. I'm not worried about it, though. It's impossible to plan right now, since I'm not where I will be in a few months, but as soon I relocate, I will take a more proactive approach. In the meantime, I still have a lot to learn. There are so many birth-related books I want to read! So many classes to take, movies to watch, people to listen to.
Anyway, that is my status, in case anyone was wondering. A few lovely New College students have approached me about this project. A few have checked out this blog (hi!). If anyone reading this would like to talk to me about it, I would love to! Feel free to comment, email, approach me in person--whatever you'd like. You have no idea how happy it makes me that so many New College students are interested in this stuff! I will miss this place. Now back to my thesis.