When I gave birth for the first time, I was 18 years old. I‘d had prenatal care but had not taken any birthing classes. I was completely in the dark about the whole thing, and just trusted my doctor to know what was best for me. I began feeling steady contractions around ten that morning and headed to the hospital around noon. I was changed into a hospital gown and tucked into a bed in the labor room, the nurse would pop in periodically to check my vitals. I had only been there a short time when the pain became intense. The nurse came in at one point to tell me I had to be quieter. I told her I really felt like I needed to push. She was a much older woman and kind of reminded me of a drill Sergeant. She made a very disgusted face and in an equally disgusted tone told me that it was much too soon to push. I told her again that I REALLY felt like I needed to push. She angrily walked to the foot of my bed, pulled up the sheet, and pushed my knees apart. Her face went white. She looked at me and said “ Don’t push, take shallow breaths.” She grabbed the edge of my bed frame and started to pull the bed out of the door. As we roared past the nurse’s station towards the elevators, she told the other nurses that the baby was crowning and to call the doctor now, we were heading to delivery. The baby was fine, the doctor arrived literally just in time to catch him. Being so young and unsure of myself, I did not want to argue with the nurse or cause any problems. I realized after that experience that I was the expert of my own body and that no one else, no matter how old or experienced, knew it better than me.
In researching how other cultures look at the childbirth process, I decided to write about how the Mayan people looked at the process of birth. I became interested in Mayan culture several years ago when I read a study about co-sleeping. While the dominate U.S. culture appears to frown on children sleeping in their parent’s beds, the Mayan woman that were interviewed were appalled that U.S. families made their children sleep away from them. They worried about the children’s attachment and development. They wondered what the children would think when they woke up all alone. Many of the people felt it was abusive to make young children sleep in their own rooms, away from the parents.
Mayans are an indigenous people who live in the Yucatan peninsula and Guatemala, most live in small villages, and survive as farmers or artisan. Typically, the Mayan people in these villages live in poverty. The birthing process in this culture is a group event. Many generations of a family may live together in a home, and when a woman goes into labor, all the woman of the family join her for the experience. The only male allowed at the birth is the father, who plays an integral role in supporting the mother through her labor (McGann, 2010).
Mayans use parteras or midwives as their medical guides during birth. Paternas are usually trained by the shaman in the village, and are woman of high standing in the community. In the late 1970s, the government gave trainings to all of the Paternas on basic sanitation concepts such as hand washing and using rubber gloves and masks. Most of the Paternas chose not to utilize these new concepts and continue to support the mother through her birth process as has been done for centuries past. The one exception to that is the use of Oxytocin to speed the process of labor. Although the Mayan’s believe that childbirth is a natural process, they also feel that it can be dangerous and should be completed as quickly as possible (McGann, 2010).
There is a difference in the amount of advice and instruction a first time mother receives and a mother who has given birth previously. During the first birth, mothers are considered ignorant of the process and unable to know what to do. The women will help her push by pushing down on her stomach and forcing her not to take a breath and end the contraction. A mother who has given birth before is believed to know what to do and is in charge of her own labor. As the mother labors, the other women sit casually, chat, and are emotionally supportive of the mother. When a contraction begins, they stop chatting and all of the women chant in rhythm with the intensity and length of the contraction. They chant supportive words such as "push" and "come on", in their native Spanish. When the baby is delivered, the paterna cuts the umbilical cord and gives the baby to the mother or grandmother. The paterna leaves when she is sure the family is settled. She will return for two more visits to check on the mother and infant (McGann, 2010).
Obviously, my birth experience was much different from that of a Mayan woman in her village. I was alone in a sterile room, with only a nurse’s periodic visit to help me along. However, I found some similarities as well. The nurse was not open to listening to what my body was telling me. Instead, because of either my young age or her experience, she felt that she was better able to determine the progress of my labor. In many birthing centers today, immediate family is permitted to be with the mother during labor. I think this would be much more reassuring for the woman. I am sure that the Mayan woman feels secure with so many of their female relatives there to assure them that what they are experiencing is normal.
Hospitals have saved many infants and mother’s lives during the birthing process and when they are needed, they are wonderful. I also think that whenever possible, birth should be looked at as a normal part of the life cycle and not a medical disease to be cured.References