Sunday, June 14, 2009

Women around the World

I am off to Turkey. I have traveled extensively and hope to for a long time to come. I always make time in my itinerary for exploring the cultures I observe and study in relation to how women live and work and how they differ from us, here in the United States. I am especially interested in how they manage their healthcare needs and in particular, how they "do" pregnancy and labor and delivery, post-partum and early mothering and bonding. I do believe that women are pretty much the same, the world over; that they care about their families and that they care about the family of man.

There are alot of differences from culture to culture. In the third world, women may never see a doctor, have a pap smear or a mammogram. They are cared for by other women and sometimes a special woman with skills in intuitive medicine and their elder female relatives. They learn how to take care of their female needs relating to menstruation and sex and birthing and parenting by example. They trust the community of women, of which they are a part and they live by modeling and taking the advice of the experience of that community.

Some cultures have special rituals for initiating women into adulthood. Some of those rituals are symbolic and celebratory and some are very abhorent to us, in the west. Female circumcision is not a topic that I care to touch and I try to be non-judgemental, most of the time, but I do not believe that mutilation of female genitalia is anything other than an ancient practice of sexual dominance of male over female. I believe it is sexual politics at it's most horrific extreme.

But in many cultures there are differences in just how we dispense medical care. Is it a socialized form? Is it community based? Do midwives that are trained in birthing babies deliver or is it a medical doctor? Is it a hospital setting? Are home births routine? It varies. Often the answers to these questions are found in the demographics of a population. Urban vs rural, for instance. A democracy with laws and rules to follow, that mandate how a population receives care?

What is most interesting to me is the folk cultures that over the generations have assimilated a code of ethics and conduct concerning how women are introduced into the sisterhood of their community. The rituals for engagement and marriage that teach a woman and celebrate with her her new roles. Most obvious is the female -centered labors and deliveries, where the primary caregivers are just family and friends. And afterwards, in the post-partum period, many cultures have prescribed times for confinement and special foods to aid in recovery and lactation.

Babies are often taken to nurseries in our country for observation and early care. In some places, babies are immediately the responsibility of the mother. She learns at the hands of her mom or older female role model and the baby sleeps with her and is fed by her exclusively. The woman may quite soon be up and about but with a baby papoosed to her body. No mechanical swings, no crib. No one else does those round-the-clock feedings. There are places and languages where there is no conception of post partum depression as we know it here. Could that be because of continual and female support? Extended family relationships?

I am anxious to see what it is like in Turkey, crossroads of Europe and Asia. Straddling east and west. Ancient practices juxtaposed with the twenty-first century. I will be staying with a family in Izmir who have generously arranged for me to spend time with a nurse ( the host is a doctor ) and I will be able to observe and question, first- hand, how they do my business there.

I hope to share some of my insights and pass on some of what I learn with the women who I teach and nurse and counsel here. I believe in the world- wide collective of women: their experience and wisdom, grace and intuition. I believe that if you are a daughter or a sister or a mother or grandmother: a woman, then you are invested in peace and prosperity for your family and your community and your world. I believe that women are the answer for the planet and each other. I believe that despite our differences, we are the same. We all want our loved ones to thrive.