Miriam Zoila Perez has worked in the reproductive justice movement for more than seven years, She is the founder of Radical Doula, a blog that covers the intersections of birth activism and social justice from a doula’s perspective. You might also know her from her work at Feministing.com, where she is an editor. Her writing has also appeared in The Nation, RH Reality Check, Alternet, The American Prospect and she is a frequent contributor to Colorlines.com. She was chosen as a 2010 Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging LGBT Voice in Non-Fiction. She received a 2009 Young Woman of Achievement Award from the Women’s Information Network and a 2010 Barbara Seaman Award for Activism in Women’s Health from the National Women’s Health Network.
Chanel Dubofsky: For the folks who don’t know, what’s a “radical doula?”
Miriam Perez: There is no official definition of a radical doula. To start, a doula is a person who provides emotional support to people during childbirth. Different than a midwife or an obstetrician, a doula is kind of like a birth coach. They work with the person in labor, and their partners or support people, to make the experience as good as possible. Things like massage, position suggestions, as well as other physical support techniques and emotional support. It’s a role that has been popularized in recent decades to deal with the realities of hospital birth.
Reading this article on Slate, reminded me how misplaced our priorities sometime seem to be — with new moms rushed home and right back into their physically and emotionally demanding lives. A week after giving birth to my youngest, a decade ago, I was back at work (though my boss at the time allowed me to work from home for the next few weeks).
The Slate piece writes of the Latin American postpartum custom of la cuarentena, or “the quarantine,” which despite its unpleasant name and the folk customs associated with it, keeps the new mommy and baby in confinement for 40 days, optimally waited on by extended family members. The article says it sounds “like a hedonist’s dream,” until the new mother being interviewed elaborates. “Food, sex, and rest are subject to a constellation of taboos and prescriptions. Sex is a no-no.” But who wants to — or is able to — have sex soon after having a baby anyway? “Rest is mandated and traditionally facilitated by female relatives, who take over errands and chores. Foods are divided into the approved (carrots, chicken soup) and the forbidden (spicy and heavy fare).”
It reminds me of the Haredi custom of sending women from the maternity ward to a kimpeturin heim, or convalescent home for new mothers. They’re found in sizeable Haredi communities, where couples often have six, 10 or more children, and postpartum new mothers go for anywhere from a few nights to two weeks to recover from the birth.
You know it’s a new day in social networking (virtual and otherwise) when someone puts as her Facebook photo a picture of her pee stick home pregnancy test showing the 2 lines that indicate a baby is on the way.
While I don’t personally know the woman who decided to announce her pregnancy this way, we have FB friends in common, which is how I meandered over to her page (procrastinating while trying to write a Sisterhood blog post).
I love when technology and popular culture bump up against tradition, and this is one small, new illustration of how the former continuously impacts the latter.
It’s the first time I’ve encountered a pregnancy announcement on Facebook, but we Jewish women vary widely in when and how we tell people that we’re expecting.
Mainstream and longstanding Jewish custom has long been to wait until after the first trimester, when the greatest risk of miscarriage has passed, before sharing the news widely. I told my mother and sister as soon as I knew I was expecting, but held off on sharing the news more widely until the 2nd trimester kick off (or should I call it kick-in, because that’s the trimester when you start having the astounding sensation of feeling the baby move).
B’sha’ah tova, Rebecca — congratulations on the upcoming birth of your baby. I hope that all goes well for you and the baby. You write that the pregnancy is leading your husband to connect with his Jewish roots in new ways. Becoming a parent can do that to you. If you want to read more about it, I recommend Chana Weisberg’s book “Expecting Miracles: Finding Meaning and Spirituality in Pregnancy Through Judaism” (Urim Publications 2004).
Having been pregnant four times and as a mother of three, thank God, healthy children, I have to disagree with your assessment of Jewish customs around pregnancy: the practices of waiting until at least after the first trimester to make it public, of not sharing the names you may have picked out, of not preparing a baby’s room until the birth, and not having a shower beforehand.
I don’t consider them “superstitions,” as you called them, but rather practices rooted in wisdom that made sense when they began, probably many generations ago, and that make sense now, too.
I was living in Berlin when I found out that I was pregnant. My doctor there, a very exuberant Chilean woman, was doing an ultrasound around 14-weeks when she suddenly paused near the baby’s abdomen. “Oh! I see a tiny, tiny, oh so small little penis!” she exclaimed. This, of course, did not thrill my husband. About six weeks later when we were back in the office, the penis had disappeared and it was announced that we were having a girl.
But those few weeks were enough time to get us thinking about (un)pleasantries like circumcision. We had several discussions with friends and my husband’s cousin who had decided not to circumcise his two sons. He said he felt that Jewish tradition had lost its meaning with so many other people circumcising their children.
After deciding to have the baby back in New York, we recently moved back from Berlin. Last week, I attended an informational session at a hip pediatrician’s office in Tribeca. The assembled crowd consisted mainly of very pregnant trendy women and their very anxious partners. After a litany of predictable questions (What’s your policy on vaccinations? Your view on breastfeeding? How late can I call?), one dad wanted to know the practice’s philosophy on circumcision.
“It’s a very personal decision,” the perky nurse practitioner explained. “But only 10% of our patients are circumcised.”
My husband and I were shocked. I had imagined that figure would be closer to about 75%, especially given New York’s large Jewish population.