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Celebrating Women's History Month
March 19, 2007

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the gender studies program at Calvin College is hosting a lecture about childbirth from the point of view of the person most intimately involved in the event: the mother.

“Who’s Having This Baby? How Care and Control Work in Birthing Practices,” which commences at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28 in the Meeter Center Lecture Hall, is based on a book of the same title co-written by communication arts and sciences (CAS) professor Helen Sterk with four other scholars.

Sterk will share four stories from the book, which is created around a collection of 130 interviews of women relating their birthing experiences.

“I started gathering the interviews about the time when I had had my children,” Sterk says. “I was really wondering how a woman had a baby without dying. I thought these stories need to be told so you can know what women really go through. All these books from birthing that you can buy on Amazon are written by experts: doctors, nurses, midwives. Very, very few from the point of view of birthing women.”

The narratives in Who’s Having This Baby, says Sterk, span a whole world of birthing experience.

“I heard the whole gamut," she says, "from not good births to great births, one where a woman is encouraged to be the center of it.”

Indeed, control is central to the birthing experience, Sterk found, and is too often concentrated in the wrong hands.

“What I discovered is that women are too often controlled by people who don’t care about their experience,” she says. “Treating a woman according to so-called scientific protocols rather than according to her case is the key problem. There’s an over-reliance on monitors, medicine and surgery.”

As evidence of this phenomenon, Sterk pointed to the automatic use of Caesarian section in cases of long labor and breech birth.

The solution, she believes, is a more personalized approach to the birthing process.

“I found out that when doctors and caregivers communicate respectfully with women, that women’s birth experiences tend to be more positive,” Sterk says.

The upcoming lecture is one in a series of celebrations of Women’s History Month planned by Calvin’s gender studies department.

The final event will be a showing of the film, Iron-Jawed Angels at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 29 in the Robert L. Bytwerk Video Theater at Calvin.

Directed by Katja von Garnier, and starring Hilary Swank and Frances O’Connor, the film chronicles the later phase of the women’s suffrage movement and the crafting of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which allowed women the vote.

Previous gender studies events this month have included a feminist look at knitting, crocheting and other handcrafts and a lecture on women and the mass media.

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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