Stripping away individualityStripping away individualityTheme:Birth as initiation in a technocratic cultureSummaryDiscussionTranscriptRelated Insights
You walk in and you’re independent and you’re strong and you’re in labor and you sit down in a wheelchair, and you’re immediately perceived as disabled and you begin to feel disabled. Then you’re placed in a hospital bed. You are placed passively in a hospital bed. You are asked to put on a hospital gown. You are shaved and prepped—well, not so much shaving, anymore, but you’re prepped. So, now you look like any other hospital patient.Coming
The reason why birth is comfortable for many American women is that most of us are already socialized into a highly technocratic core value belief system. So, most women go into the hospital believing that they are dependent on science and technology. That’s why they’re in the first place, so it’s a comfortable fit. But, the rite of passage aspect comes in—you enter the hospital; you’re placed in a wheelchair. That’s a powerful symbol of disability. So, your cognitive disorientation begins there. Every rite of passage takes you through a stage of cognitive disorientation, where it sort of takes apart your psyche to reconstruct it in conformity with the new belief and value system you’re asked to hold.
So, you walk in and you’re independent and you’re strong and you’re in labor and you sit down in a wheelchair, and you’re immediately perceived as disabled and you begin to feel disabled. Then you’re placed in a hospital bed. You are placed passively in a hospital bed. You are asked to put on a hospital gown. You are shaved and prepped—well, not so much shaving, anymore, but you’re prepped. So, now you look like any other hospital patient.
One of the things rites of passage do is level everyone out; they take away you’re markers of individual identity and put you at the same level as all the other initiates. Then, you’re generally hooked up to the monitor for a period of time, could be continuous, could be for just the first 20 minutes. Now you’re dependent on this machine for information about your status. As you are taken through these ritualistic procedures, your autonomy diminishes accordingly and your dependence on technology in these situations grows until you come out knowing that you could not have given birth or become a mother without science and technology, which tends to only reinforce what you knew when you went into the hospital in the first place, which is why you went to the hospital. This is why it is so kind of crazy to me that women who truly want a normal birth—by now, we have so much information out there, that women who truly want a normal birth and go to the hospital expecting to have one—I’m kind of like, you know ladies, there is a real cognitive disconnect there. You’re going into an institution that is designed precisely to socialize you into believing that your body is a dysfunctional machine, and that you can’t give birth, and to do all of that for you, but you’re going in wanting a normal birth? If that’s really what you want, why are you going in there in the first place? If you’re going in there, at all, it means that some part of you already believes that technology is supreme and that you are dependent upon it, and you’re letting that part win, you know. If you want to truly empower yourself through birth, stay out of the hospital. Give birth in a holistic model in your own home, attended by midwifes, who will support your autonomy, keep you the center, control your environment rather than your experience, so that your experience can flow freely in the home setting rather than be controlled in every way in the hospital.
So, one find day, I was asked to give two talks at the American Holistic Medical Association—not AMA, but AHMA. I was fascinated; holistic doctors. Let’s see what this is all about. So, I was asked to speak about childbirth and about midwifery, because by then I had started studying American midwives, and I had become an expert, not only in childbirth, but also in midwifery. I think I probably, as an anthropologist, know more about midwives in America and globally than most anthropologists in the world. For sure American midwifery, I’m like the—Barbara Katz Rothman and I are the two that, you know, really get that. A lot of other anthropologists are studying American midwifery, but she [Barbara] has been around ten years longer than I have. The two of us, that’s our thing, is midwifery.
Anyway, I gave these talks and I’m surrounded by all these holistic physicians. And I noticed that at the big banquet on Saturday night, somebody gets up to the microphone with a guitar, and they all start dancing around, waving their hands in the air singing, “I got the healing spirit way down deep in my soul.” And I’m like, these are doctors? Oh my God; where did these people come from?
The cool thing about anthropology is once you know how to do field work, you can just whip out your tape recorder and start doing interviews, you know, on site. So, I whipped out my tape recorder, which I had in my purse, and I grabbed some random holistic physician form somewhere, and sat him down and said, “Tell me your story. Why did you shift paradigms?” By then, I had written my first book and I had talked the technocratic and the holistic paradigms, and those were the two paradigms I was thinking in terms of.
I interviewed these guys, and they were calling themselves holistic physicians. And I developed, finally, after the first four or five interviews, I got my questions refined; I knew what to ask them. Every single one of them I would ask, “What is the body? What do you think the body is?” They would say, “Well, the body is an organism, but beyond that, and much more importantly, the body is an energy field. The body is energy—it’s an energy field in constant interaction with other energy fields.”
So, I came to understand that the core element of a holistic approach to healthcare is to understand the body’s energy. If you don’t understand the concept of energy, then you can’t get that Ayurvedic healing, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, Reiki, homeopathy is quackery if you don’t see that there is energy in those bodies, if you don’t understand . . . I mean for some people energy is what you get when you plug the cord into the wall, you know. This is a different kind of energy. This is quantum physics. The whole universe is this implicate order that is all awash in this quantum sea of energy. All of these physicians—almost all of them based themselves, grounded themselves in that systems theory, chaos theory, all that kind of stuff.
I noticed I was like, I want to write a book about these amazing doctors, and I found a co-author who’d been leading seminars for holistic physicians to process them through their paradigm shifts in the Bay Area, Gloria St. John.Coming