Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Summer I Ate Clay because I am a Birth Junkie

I ATE CLAY. Literally.

Curse my Anthropological curiosity!

This summer has been a whirlwind for my graduate program. I completed my IRB and began my research for my master's thesis on breastfeeding. I am also interning for the community organization who provides women with breastfeeding assistance. Doing participant observation has been harder to arrange than I thought, and recruitment for interviews wasn't able to begin until much later than I had wanted. But I am in the full swing of things! I am learning a lot about women's breastfeeding experiences. More on this project down the line :)

So why did I ate clay? Well, here is the story:
I interviewed a woman who was from Africa, and she told me all about the postpartum practices of her country. She was explaining that after women give birth there is a huge celebration, people whistle, and the children make these things that they bring to the woman. I asked her if it was food and she said "No. it's... mud. Is that the right word? It's edible." I thought perhaps there was a language barrier... how could mud be edible? Then she pulled a bag out of her kitchen pantry and said, "Here I have some that someone brought for me after I had my baby." And asked me if I wanted to try it.

Now you would think that since she had described it as "mud," that perhaps I would hesitate. And perhaps a normal person would. But being obsessed with all things birth and culture-related, I was fascinated by this different postpartum practice. What was this food that the women of her culture eat postpartum? I had to experience it.

It looked like a dark colored ball with white powder. I asked her if it was sugary and she said No. Then she broke one into pieces, picked up a small piece, and put it in her mouth. So, I picked up a piece, put it in my mouth, and started chewing. And quickly realized I was eating CLAY. And she said, "oh! you're not supposed to chew it!" And I'm trying not to be all, "AHHH Get this out my mouth its dirt!" Thankfully she said, would you like a paper towel? And I spit out as much as I could, rinsed my mouth out at the sink, and was still given a toothpick and a bottle of water on my way out so that I could continue to pick the mud out of my teeth. BLECH!

It wasn't until later that I realized that someone probably brought it to her from her home country, meaning I most likely ate the dirt of another country. And am now probably going to get all sorts of diseases. But I feel fine so far! :) In case you're curious, this is called geophagy, which is a condition where people crave and eat non-food items like clay, chalk, etc. Pregnant and postpartum women are known to crave clay. It is tradition in Africa, maybe because of cravings caused by dietary deficiency (lack of nutrients). It also helps you feel full.
Really interesting radio story about this here.

There has been a lot going on since I last did a "personal doula update" of sorts!

In biggest news, this blog was reviewed in this summer's SQUAT magazine! So cool!
Sarah wrote, "Overall, I've found that Emily's sharp, thorough intellect and clear writing style makes each blog post a learning experience, which keeps me (this non-blogger) coming back again and again." Thanks, Sarah and SQUAT!

I am also taking a course this summer on global women's health. We have focused on a lot of the topics that were covered in my anthropology reproductive health class, with a few others thrown in that are not related to reproduction (chronic diseases, violence, and so forth). This is the first time this course is being taught, and I really like how interdisciplinary it is, and how we talk a lot about human rights (and even feminism!) As part of this course, we are traveling to Panama to explore these health issues in this particular country. I am very excited to visit a new country! And to reflect more on women's health issues from an international perspective.

I had a few doula clients have their babies. I mentioned in my last update that one doula client was going to attempt a red raspberry leaf tea chugging method to make her labor super short. Well, her labor was very fast and intense! Of course, we'll have no idea if that is because of the red raspberry leaf tea, or the chiropractor/acupuncture she tried when her water broke and contractions didn't start, or just if that's how her labor would have been anyway. Once her contractions actually started in earnest, she was dilated at super lightning speed. I honestly didn't even believe that it was possible for her to be ready to go to the hospital when I got the call that went, "actually, don't come to the house, just meet us at the hospital!" But when we checked in she was fully dilated. The urge to push took longer to come, and the actual pushing phase was also longer than my average, which is interesting. I'm not sure what that means, but it was interesting to note. Every birth is so different! This birth had a fabulous in-hospital midwife attending, and I was so incredibly pleased to see that.

I had another new experience with another doula birth this summer. Client had a beautiful and relaxing birth center birth, labor not too long, and pushed her baby out into the water. I even had a doula-in-training friend working with me for that birth, which was fun! Unfortunately, she had the toughest postpartum period I've ever seen. The baby was the most frustrated baby I have ever seen. Would not stop crying, even when she had the breast in her mouth. Baby was not latching, and mom's milk didn't come in for a week. And then the poor mama felt she couldn't take it easy, didn't have a lot of help at home, and she had a lot of trouble with her perineal stitches. Apparently in my state, midwives aren't supposed to touch you 48 hours after the birth, so she was simply told to "go to the emergency room." With a newborn! My heart really went out to her :( I don't have a lot of practice with the postpartum end of things; I was never trained as a postpartum doula, and my newborn knowledge is really centered around breastfeeding.

Also, it has been a while since I talked about the objects from my doula bag that I use, so here is what I have realized that I use most:

- A fan. I realized the battery-operated one was just too intense (and loud) for moms, so I carry an old fashioned hand-held one (that I actually bought in China). I use it at every birth. Most moms have temperature swings, and get very hot during pushing.
- Wet wash cloth. Either my own or the birth center/hospital ones. For the same reasons as above!
- Breath mints. I eat a lot of these during a labor. Long hours without teeth brushing, or I just ate and want to clear that food scent away, or because I'm doing a lot of breathing and my breath probably just stinks. I offer to dad, too. 
- iPod and speaker. You would not believe how many times mom and dad don't bring their own (forget it at home or don't think of it). All my clients have liked either the classical music or the guided visualization tracks. I have a ton of ocean and nature music sounds, too, but these end up sounding annoying and weird in a hospital room.
- Birth ball. For laboring at home. Most of the birth locations in my area have some of their own.

Things I use often, but not every time:
- Rice sock to heat up
- Straws for mom to drink with
- Peppermint oil on a cotton ball for nausea.
- Preggie pop or other lollipop to keep mom going (sugar, anti-nausea, something good tasting)
- Lanolin ointment for when mom's forget their lip balm
- Tennis ball for back massage

I'll update you on Panama and women's health later! 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing such a great story, Emily! We are very excited about your upcoming travels and studies of women's health around the world. Along these same lines, you and your followers may be interested in Midwife International.

    At Midwife International, we believe in the power of childbirth and the midwifery model of care. Our solution to the lack of midwives around the world is to train midwives who are equipped to work in resource-constrained regions where maternal and child mortality is high and the need for professional midwives is greatest. We do so through a Clinical Immersion Program. For more information please check out:

    Thank you for all that you do!


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