This is the first of a series of posts from my graduating thesis from Goddard College where I received a B.A. in Health Arts and Sciences. I’m really proud of the work I completed here and now, almost 2 years later, I’ve decided to share it in pieces on my blog. I hope you enjoy it…and please feel free to comment!
American culture sets a world standard for the policies of modern consumerism, and this has implications in reproduction, parenting and family health. Family and health practices in historical contexts vary dramatically from modern norms. Medical professionals, pubic school systems, government regulatory agencies, and popular media outlets have a strong influence on the decision-making of the American family today. Information provided by these outlets often goes unquestioned by the modern American family member. The power of the family legacy and ancestral wisdom has been traded for the sensationalism of science, medicine, and commercialism. It is not always actual science and medicine that is controlling the American ideals of “health,” but big business and corporate monopolies. Modern family healthcare is now a great avenue for consumerism and it is the responsibility of the parent and family members to make educated, responsible choices for their loved ones that are truly in the best interest of their health and wellness.
Becoming a mother changed my life, my world, my existence. Though I was already a holistic health student and practitioner (Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Birth Doula, and undergraduate student of health arts and sciences), approaching childbirth and parenting exposed me to a divisive and complicated world of choices in pregnancy, childbirth, parenting, and family health options. I discovered how so many “normal” elements of the American family are in fact a product of marketing and the agenda of consumerism. What many growing families view as unquestionable essentials in reproduction and parenting may not be essential at all. The evidence may prove them to be dangerous or harmful. These widely accepted and assumed ‘essentials’ may include having an obstetrician deliver your baby in a hospital, receiving ‘harmless’ drugs and procedures during childbirth, following the standard vaccination schedule for babies, creating a separate bedroom for the new child, sending your child off to preschool and then a public schooling institution. I had not considered that there are valid and passionately promoted alternatives to these things. I realized I had some homework to do, and that I needed to be ready to make informed decisions when my baby arrived. I was not going to just follow the advice stemming from the personal biases and limited experiences of friends and acquaintances, or, even worse, magazine, television or radio commentary (which should be considered mostly business advertising).
It didn’t take very long for me to be exposed to the diverse world of information surrounding the areas of reproductive and family health. There are many strikingly different views passionately proclaimed by credible and experienced practitioners. I charged myself with the task of sorting them out and making informed decisions. I became consumed by learning and educating people I knew about what I was learning because I realized how clear it was that mainstream American consumerist culture has deceptively stolen the power and control of the American family. In every area that I studied, I began to first ask myself, “Who is paying for this study?,” “Who financed the publishing of this article?,” or “What is the purpose or agenda of the writer of this work?” As I answered these questions, I began to see a pattern. Most of the time I, as a reader, was a consumer being sold some sort of product. When there isn’t a product to be sold, there is not going to be a lot of money put into selling the information or even conducting the proper research in the first place. Therefore credible information about the alternatives is not as readily available or is more difficult to obtain. This began my passionate journey to discover the truth behind so many of the American family and health norms, and why we have developed such a dependence on the unknown “authorities.”
As I learned more about traditional cultures and historical practices, I felt cheated in a way because of how Americans have almost entirely lost our human heritage and ancestral legacies of wisdom in childbirth and family health. Corporate agendas have quickly transformed America into a consumer and product-driven culture, This consumerist agenda has led to public regulatory agencies determining standards for all of America, regardless of tradition, legacy, ancestral wisdom, or even evidence-based information. It has become reasonable to question if agencies designed to protect the health of Americans are truly working towards this goal, or working to defend the interests of the industrial food and pharmaceutical industry. Doctors and other health practitioners who wish to practice freely are often caught in the sticky web of serving two distinctly different masters: the patient and the insurance or drug company. (Of course, it is impossible to serve two masters.) Wanting to make informed decisions in childbirth, parenting, health and nutrition has become more than just a choice to make, it is becoming a right for which Americans have to fight for. A rich culture of childbirth and family health has not truly been lost, it has just been made very silent over the last few generations. Fortunately, families are beginning to raise their voices and stand against the control of consumerism.
This paper is a culmination of the last few years I’ve spent studying this topic of birth, family, and health culture. I have collected historical evidence, current research and statistics, as well as personal experiences, thoughts, and theories. I often find a resistance by families to give heed or concern to the “alternative” options I support. Often the attitude is that people like I are “hippies” or we’re just trying to make life more difficult when modern cultural norm makes life so “easy.” My goal is not to get every mother to birth at home, co-sleep with her baby, breastfeed for two or more years, not vaccinate their child, or “protect” their child from daycare and preschool. Although I have strong convictions in these areas, my goal is to encourage families to make educated, informed decisions about how so many things can seriously affect their lives and health. I truly believe that almost all mothers and parents want the best for their child, and if they are choosing to follow the typical modern choices for their family health, they are doing so because they believe this is the best choice for their health and safety. The problem I have is that most families have not been given the opportunity to make informed decisions. The professionals and authorities who are pushing to keep America moving towards total compliance with the modern cultural “system” are doing everything in their power to silence any opposing information available. Parents are made to feel inadequate and too incompetent to make important decisions for their family (whether obviously or implicitly). For instance, when a parent questions the standard vaccination schedule for their infant, their pediatrician might tell them they are irresponsible parents for even questioning their official recommendations, and shouldn’t discuss it again or they might dismiss them as patients. Parents are threatened by their professional caregivers and even peers if they do not follow the American norms. The truth is, with the age of the Internet, there is much information freely available to those who simply Google search the words “safety of homebirth,” “safety of vaccines,” “benefits of co-sleeping,” “dangers of epidurals,” etc. No matter what decisions are ultimately made, my goal is to empower families to educate themselves and defend their right and freedom to make informed decisions.
As I discuss the history of childbirth and the politics and choices surrounding childbirth today, then how the culture of childbirth in America affects fertility, pregnancy, parenting, and family health and nutrition, I hope to spark a desire in families to educate themselves and feel confident in their decision making ability. Everything is a choice, and, in America, it is still ours to make.
More to come…