Birth: The Beginning of Life
Birth: a definition
For all mammals (with platypuses being the exception), parturition is the beginning of life as we know it. More specifically, birth is the means by which non-human primates and human primates alike begin their experience of the world. I am interested in the significance of childbirth the method by which it is carried out, its implications for the birthing mother, and the way that the birthing process is viewed by different societies.
Both birth and the postpartum period involve a certain degree of danger for the birthing mother, her nascent child, and her entire family or community. Because childbirth is so dangerous (the average lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy related causes is about one in fifteen in some poor countries, MacCormack 1), most cultures have distinct patterns that determine how the birthing process will be carried out. The birthing process involves different birthing positions; different rules concerning who is allowed to be present during the time of birth; mechanisms for deciding where birth takes place; and different ways by which mother and child deal with labor, birth and postpartum. "As a life crisis event, birth is everywhere a candidate for consensual shaping and social regulation the particular pattern depending on local history, ecology, social structure, technological development, and the like" (Jordan 4). By exploring the original human condition of childbirth one is able to gain insight into the universal biosocial phenomenon known as the birthing process.
In addition, I am interested in studying childbirth because, as women's work, it is usually not given enough attention in the traditionally male-dominated field of anthropology. "Until quite recently in the history of anthropology, our views of social organization consistently ignored the many and varied places of women in society, resulting in a distorted theory and an impoverished ethnography" (Jordan 5). By exploring childbirth, one can gain insight into the lives of women in any culture.
Parturition in non-human primate societies
Childbirth is inherently natural. All non-human primates experience childbirth, as they are all mammals. Although there are exceptions, the ways in which most non-human primates give birth (where they give birth, with whom they give birth, and the position they assume when delivering), are generally extremely similar.
The general birthing process begins once the birthing mother feels the oncoming of labor and leaves her band to go off into a secluded nest or hollow. Once her contractions become violent, she squats down into the birthing position. The mother's position during labor remains constant. She squats with her legs bent at the knees and thighs, with her feet under her body and her heels tucked into her buttocks. She then bears down until the infant emerges. When the infant emerges she seizes it before it falls to the ground, bites through its placental...