Posted by Katy
August means a much needed vacation from school and the toil of New York City. I'm spending the month with my boyfriend in the Himachal Pradesh region of India (that is very north). I decided to let this be a true vacation and not do any nursing or midwifery work, but I still have run across some interesting stories:
Mountaineering Mama- We went to the mountain institute outside of Manali for trekking information and met the nicest woman who gave us a map, directions, and advice. She is a mountaineer, guide, and teacher at the institute and was clearly incredibly knowledgeable about mountains. She asked what I did and when I explained midwifery she launched into her birth story (it seems to be a cross-cultural response)! She explained that she had a c-section for her first baby because the cord was wrapped around his neck. She tried to have a natural birth with the second baby, but when the labor pains started, they were so painful that she requested another c-section.
Komal- We met Komal on the bus to the Spiti valley. Despite being in her twenties, Komal has really traveled India: she was born in the Nubra valley of Ladakh, studied in Kerala, and now lives in Manali. She works as a nurse in the local hospital in pharmacy. She was delighted that I am a nurse but laughed when I told her what type. She informed me that women here are strong and birth babies at home with only their mothers-in-law! This quite contradicts the previous story, but has been reiterated by others here in India and in the literature.
The Nursery Shepherd- Trekking in the remote Lahaul valley, we came across many shepherds with meadows full of sheep, goats, horses and dogs. Our favorite was a Gaddi shepherd who was herding about twenty goats all less than a month old and carrying a lamb that had been born the previous night. He spoke very impressive English and while we sat talking, his kids climbed all over him lovingy. Ponies, kids, and lambs romped around the mountains and valleys, reminders of the ubiquitous nature and normalcy of birth. Despite the abundance of birth in the area women (of the human variety) were practically absent.
These three stories, which are certainly random snapshots and not meant to be scientific or analytical, highlight that birth is socially, culturally, and politically constructed. It is an event that is at once quotidian and extraordinary, occurring across all species, cultures, and times.