On culture and childbirth

“Babies come out the same way no matter where you go,” was a common phrase that people liked to tell me when I told them that I was going to work at a birthing center in India for five weeks. And in many ways, they’re right. No matter where you go in the world, humans are more alike than different. Not only in our basic anatomy, but all of us have the same basic needs as well. Watching new moms interact with their newborns has taught me how similar we all really are. The joy and love and pure happiness that flows easily between a woman and her new baby knows no language or culture or country.

That said, birth is most definitely not the same wherever you go. Culture is so deeply engrained in the process of pregnancy and childbirth, and to provide good care, we need to recognize that. I think that sometimes it is easy to look at women’s anatomy as the same, and think that all births should be conducted the same way. But culture dictates so much about how comfortable a woman is and therefore what she needs during her birth experience, that it needs to be considered.

For example, in India, when a woman is pregnant with her first child, she typically goes to her hometown and lives with her mother for the last couple months and for the first few months after the baby is born.  If she hopes to deliver at our center, she must keep in contact via WhatsApp and see a different provider in her hometown for checkups, then travel back to Hyderabad to deliver. Our center has to be willing to accommodate that. This is just one example, but there are so many things that I have learned to keep in mind when supporting a woman through labor here in India.

In the future, I’ll take this back to the States with me. People from all over the world with all different needs and preferences deliver at the hospitals that I work at. I need to remember that no two births are the same, and I’ll do everything I can to better understand women’s needs and the role that their history and culture play in their childbirth experience.

In addition, this has taught me how important it is for providers to be familiar with the demographic of patients they are caring for. One of my goals is to someday help train a new generation of providers in low resource settings, so that people who truly understand a culture are the ones providing care. My time in India has reinforced to me how important that is.