Birth Culture on Slate.com

Slate published an interview with me and a selection of my Birth Culture photographs. I’m so glad to have had the chance to explain why I care about this project, and to share the work widely. I’m amazed and happy about the response it’s gotten – 24,000 shares on Facebook!

Much like death, the subject of birth is often taboo, a fact of life that is rarely explored beyond established procedure. Proujansky has been fascinated by the various ways in which each culture she has explored approaches birth but said that in the United States, gender and generation often dominate the conversation.

“We have ideas about what women’s bodies are for and it’s not this,” she said about American views on birth. “You see a woman naked but her body is performing functions that are intense. Our culture has a weird thing about images of women’s bodies doing this kind of physical work that isn’t young and sexy; birth has elements of struggle, power, transformation and mortality that don’t fit with our ideas about women’s bodies: they’re ok to look at when they’re sexy but when they’re working it’s something else. Birth is uncontrolled and that freaks us out.”

She also feels it ties into the idea of how we view motherhood.

“We sometimes celebrate mothers and put them on a pedestal and they’re supposed to be self sacrificing with an endless well of love but we also have stereotypes about them being intellect free with snide jokes about mom jeans and soccer moms.”

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Full-Spectrum Reproductive Care for the New York Times

I worked on a piece about full-spectrum reproductive care for the New York Times Sunday Review with my frequent collaborator, writer Alissa Quart.

Buffalo Womenservices is unusual because it is a birth and abortion center in one. It is part of an effort to reframe reproductive care as a continuum — the phrase for it is “full-spectrum reproductive health” — that spans both birth and abortion. Facilities for each are typically distinct.

Combining the two in one place underlines how many women experience both birth and abortion. Three in 10 women will have an abortion in their lives; eight out of 10 will give birth. About 61 percent of women who have an abortion already have at least one child.

Kayla, the nurse pictured here, gave birth at Buffalo Womenservices before returning to work as a nurse who assists during the abortion procedures, taking breaks to pump breastmilk for her infant daughter. Like her co-workers, she believes that women’s choices around terminating pregnancy and around the way in which they give birth are related forms of essential reproductive choice. The facility’s doctor noted that all pregnancies are not the same, and women have a range of reasons for what they decide to do with them.

The women whose abortions I photographed were already mothers, and both of them took the interests of their children into account when making their decisions. The facility’s doctor expressed frustration at people’s tendency to project their own experiences onto other people’s complex lives.

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All of It: Jen

Jen and her husband work in communications for non-profit organizations, and they are both dedicated to social justice, work and family. I recently got to photograph Jen at work and, later, giving birth at home. Her husband, friend, midwife and three-year-old daughter Olive watched as baby Wiley joined the family.
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CASA Midwifery Students on a Journey

After preparing their public health presentations – including hand-sewn model pelvises, breasts and amniotic sacs – the students from CASA midwifery school boarded a run-down bus, ate American cheese and hot pepper sandwiches, and rode 32 hours from their school in San Miguel de Allende to the small city of José Maria Morelos in the Southern state of Quintana Roo. There all 40 students slept on the floor of a classroom at the Universidad Intercultural Maya and gave presentations to local traditional Mayan midwives about prenatal resuscitation, post-partum hemorrhage and other topics. The traditional midwives, who had learned from relatives and practiced for many years, taught the students about home births in hammocks, herbal medicines, and their own approaches to obstetric emergencies and prenatal care.

Next post: homestays with traditional midwives.

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CASA Midwifery School in Mexico

Here are some photos from my most recent trip for my Birth and Culture project.

In this first post, students from CASA, Mexico’s only government-accredited midwifery training program, prepared for a trip to rural villages where they studied with Mayan traditional midwives. At their school in San Miguel de Allende, they practiced giving presentations on women’s health and responding to birth emergencies. And in CASA’s hospital, a local traditional midwife delivered a woman’s fifth baby.

Next post: the journey.

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