posted by Katy
During undergrad at Berkeley, I came across the topic of female circumcision (also called female genital cutting, female genital mutilation, FGC, or FGM) fairly frequently. The subject came up in Public Health classes, in Medical Anthropology, in Development Studies, and in classes my friends were taking about gender and race. It seemed to be everyone's favorite example of ways that culture and power effect health. I often got the strangest of looks if I pointed out the motifs of the Heart of Darkness story playing out as we discussed female circumcision, despite the fact that this was a very popular concept in other conversations. The key sources used in discussing female circumcision were white, American, faith-based organizations who were set to "save" African women from the horrors of female circumcision. Berkeley's much loved cultural relativity was not considered applicable to families, mostly women, who chose to have their daughters circumcised. The voice of women who were assumed rather than elicited. Needless to say, female circumcision did not seem like something I would ever experience in the US, it seemed like an "African Problem".
I was surprised to discover that the first patient I did a pelvic exam for was circumcised. She was not a meek woman who had no voice, the character suggested by Berkeley academics. She was strong and angry about pain during sex, which was the reason she had come to the clinic. The pain was not from circumcision however, but rather from an endometrial infection, presumably contracted from a colposcopy. She did not mention the circumcision and the midwife I was studying with also did not. The next day, though, I worked with a midwife who is currently doing ethnographic research on circumcised women in New York (this is one reason I love midwives!). We served another circumcised patient and the midwife responded in perfectly "I can see you've been cut, when was that done? Where? Have you had any problems with it? Do you have any questions or concerns?". She answered with validation and empowerment, opened the door for the woman to discuss the circumcision in a setting that was affirming and non-judgmental, or not as her choice may be. This was a moment where theory was biased while practice in the real world lived up to the opportunity to be honest, human, and completely present to serve a woman's needs.
People often ask me "Girl, what are you doing in New York?", often with about that much attitude-- usually I don't have an answer. "Its just the way the wind blew." Slowly though, I'm piecing together reasons and one of them is the diversity of patients. Having the opportunity to work with women who were circumcised is an opportunity to broaden my understanding of the experiences of womanhood and what it means to serve women. This is why I came to New York and why I chose a CNM program.