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Midwives use rituals to send message that women's bodies know best
Date:12/16/2011

g 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, Cheyney found that 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. But midwives chose to get the entire family involved, often asking the partner to palpitate along with the midwife or allowing older children to hold the equipment used to listen to fetal heart tones.

"The participatory nature was a key component to creating a ritual that empowers the woman and her family to feel in control," Cheyney said. "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, she argues, 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 to the home birth ritual. Many mothers that Cheyney interviewed 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.

Cheyney said she was interested in documenting these home birth rituals in part because past anthropological studies have already looked at the rituals that characterize hospital deliveries. It is Cheyn
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Contact: Melissa Cheyney
melissa.cheyney@oregonstate.edu
541-737-3895
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert

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