Childbirth with a Midwife

“Oh.” My grandma smiled at the question, thinking of happier times. “My mama had us all at home in the same bed with the same midwife. There were ten of us and I was the last baby. We knew that midwife all our lives. She was a great big lady and she had a good sense a humor, always laughin’. When I got married, she told your grandpa, ‘You treat my girl right. Gladys is my baby too, and if I hear a you mistreatin’ my baby, I’m gonna come afta you.’” My grandma laughed aloud at this memory, her wrinkled face beaming. “My mama nursed us all, too, for a long time. My oldest brother, Louis, the one who died of rheumatic fever at nineteen, I heard she nursed him all the way to five years old. He would go to school and when he came home, mama would nurse him.” My grandmother laughed some more and so did I, thinking of a boy that age still on the tit. I added home birth to my ideal of what sort of mother I wanted to be.

Synanon Kid Grows Up by C.A. Wittman

Childbirth can be Cruel

The next time Grandmother Gladys came for a visit I asked her about her birth experiences. She said she didn’t remember. She had entered the hospital and been drugged, giving birth unconsciously. With her third child she went into labor two months early. One of the nurses had roughly pushed her onto the birthing bed, pinched her arm, and said in a callous, irritated voice, “You just couldn’t wait, could you?” It was the last thing anyone had uttered to her before she went under.

Synanon Kid Grows Up by C.A. Wittman

Childbirth Can be Terrifying

After the film I asked Theresa about her own birth experience with me and learned that she had entered the hospital alone and frightened, whereupon she’d been whisked away to a room neighboring other birthing rooms, a harried nurse running back and forth between Theresa and two other women, all of them afraid and calling for the nurse’s attention. Theresa recalled the intense pain of labor, having little understanding as to what was happening with her body, with no one to explain anything or provide any comfort, all the while begging the nurse not to leave her alone as, through the walls, the terrified screams of her neighbors penetrated. I came into this world after some hours of the torture she described to me, pulled out with forceps, silent, possibly stillborn, Theresa had thought. The doctor held me by my feet and slapped my bottom a few times until I let out a small weak whimper. Theresa’s story shocked me.

Synanon Kid Grows Up by C.A. Wittman

Economics of Fertility and Childbearing


Are you likely to have more kids if you are rich or poor?  Or to put this in econo-jargon: Are kids normal or inferior goods?  (Reminder: When you get rich you buy more of a “normal good,” and less of an “inferior good.” And yes, the language of economics can be a bit cold.)…

Whether you cut the data across countries, through time, or across people at a point in time, the same fact arises: The richer you get, the fewer kids you have.

Yep, kids aren’t normal.

The Rich vs Poor Debate: Are Kids Normal or Inferior Goods?,, by Justin Wolfers

Women, Childbirth, Boy-Magic and Bacha Posh

This book is amazing. It’s one of those books that did not turn out the way I expected – and it was a very happy surprise.

While the individuals interviewed and profiled are all located in Afghanistan, the author traveled all over the world and found ‘Bacha Posh‘, or girls living as boys, in many regions where women are oppressed and living lives defined by the requirement to give birth to boys.

The author makes the following comment:

“The way I have come to see it now is that bacha posh is a missing piece in the history of women…We have an idea of how patriarchy was formed. But back then, a resistance was also born. Bacha posh is both historical and present-day rejection of patriarchy by those who refuse to accept the ruling order for themselves and their daughters.”

After reading the book, I fully agree with her. I also agree with many comments made by individuals interviewed who expressed frustration over government and NGOs who fly into Afghanistan and proceed to lecture local women about the nature of gender and the changes they should be making without ever taking the time to learn about the people, culture, history and (most importantly) needs and objectives of those trying to carve out lives in a war-torn region of the world.

From the description and the cover, I thought I was going to be reading about an underground society in the western-sense. Teenagers and young adults meeting in clandestine places and taking risks to express themselves or attempting to achieve goals not commonly allowed by society or family. While there were elements of these things, they were a very small part of the book as a whole.

This journalistic investigation is an examination of both an aspect of Afghan culture AND western perspectives on gender, human rights and women’s equality. It is as much an examination of our own misconceptions as it is an exploration of a tradition and a concept that is inherently foreign to people living in present-day western society.

It’s an excellent read. I highly recommend it.

To provide a sense of the cultural background that defines the lives of the bacha posh, here are a few quotes about women, childbirth, boys and magic:

“Having at least one son is mandatory for good standing and reputation here. A family is not only incomplete without one; in a country lacking rule of law, it is also seen as weak and vulnerable. So it is incumbent upon every married woman to quickly bear a son–it is her absolute purpose in life, and if she does not fulfill it, there is clearly something wrong with her in the eyes of others. She could be dismissed as a dokhtar zai, or “she who only brings daughters.”

“The literacy rate is no more than 10 percent in most areas, and many unfounded truths swirl around without being challenged. Among them is the commonly held belief that a woman can choose the sex of her unborn baby simply by making up her mind about it. As a consequence, a woman’s inability to bear sons does not elicit much sympathy.”

“Esmaeel came to the family through divine intervention, she explains. When her sixth daughter was born, this desperate mother decided that the child should be presented to the world as a son…Her mother had been told by friends and neighbors that if she were to turn her girl into a boy, it would bring her good luck. Good luck, in this case, was a real son…Telling her story of giving birth to a son after dressing a daughter as a boy for two years, the mother looks immensely pleased. Her sixth daughter, who had been a bacha posh, died shortly after her third birthday, but she had fulfilled a greater purpose.”

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg