Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

Obstetrical Rituals and Cultural Anomaly: Part II

Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

Obstetrical Rituals and Cultural Anomaly: Part II

Article excerpt

(Part I of Dr. Davis-Floyd's article may be found in PPPJ Volume 4, Number 3, spring, 1990. Part II completes the article, including references for both parts. Editor)

FOURTH CONCEPTUAL DILEMMA: HOW TO "FENCE IN" THE DANGERS ASSOCIATED WITH THE LIMINAL PERIOD IN BIRTH, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME ALLOWING CONTROLLED ACCESS TO THEIR REVITALIZING POWER

A fundamental paradox presented by most initiatory rites of passage to the cultures which design them lies in their official recognition and indeed, publicizing, of officially non-existent transitional stages of being. The category systems of most cultures allow individuals to be either "here" or "there," but not in-between, for the existence of inbetween calls into question the absoluteness of "here" and "there".25 It is a well-documented feature of rites of passage that those in the liminal phase must be conceptually, as well as physically, isolated from the rest of society24-52-53 as their existence poses a threat to the entire category system of that society. Yet it is also well-documented that this very threat can be of tremendous benefit to society, for in the process of the symbolic inversion of a culture's category system lies the potential for the expansion, growth, and change of that category system, and thus of the culture itself. This bring us to the fourth conceptual dilemma presented to American society by birth: how to "fence in" the dangers associated with the liminal period in birth, while at the same time allowing controlled access to their revitalizing power.

Roger Abrahams54 points out that a tremendous amount of energy is generated in the profound symbolic inversion of a culture's deepest beliefs which is characteristic of the liminal period in initiation rites. He states that while this energy may remain unfocused for the initiates, who often do not know exactly where they are nor exactly what is happening to them, it is focused and thus usable by the elders conducting the rite. Therefore, Abrahams suggests, initiatory rites of passage may be carried out as much for the benefit of these elders as for the initiates.54:12'39b Brigitte Jordan provides us with an excellent (and brief) example of the symbolic process through which the focusing of the energy generated by the birth process away from the mother and toward the medical personnel who attend her takes place:

In hospital deliveries, responsibility and credit are clearly the physician's. This becomes visible in the handshake and "thank-you" that resident and intern (or intern and medical student) exchange after birth. "Good work" is a compliment to a physician by somebody qualified to judge, namely another physician. Typically, nobody thanks the woman. In the common view, she has been delivered rather than given birth.55

This interactional pattern of focusing the creative energy of birth onto the physician works to revitalize and perpetuate the medical system in its present form, and thus our core value system is perpetuated as well. Many women attempt to reclaim this revitalizing birth energy through subsequent, self-empowering births in the hospital and at home:

I sat there. . . . and then I realized-Hey, I did it! I wanted to have the baby at home and I read the books to figure out how and then I really did it! It worked! I didn't have to go to the hospital at all; the doctors didn't touch me! Then I realized that if I could do that great thing, perhaps I could do other things as well.56

Women scholars in general need to consider the potential cultural significance of the re-focusing of the creative birth energy away from medical personnel and back onto the mother and her family through the rituals of home birth.

FIFTH CONCEPTUAL DILEMMA: HOW TO ENCULTURATE A NON-CULTURAL BABY

Although birth is certainly a passage for the baby from the womb to the world, it is not a rite of passage for the baby unless, as for the mother, specific cultural actions are taken to make it so. …

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