Journey to Cambodia: Reflections on Midwifery and Global Humanism
A young aspiring midwife, Henna Taylor recently traveled to Cambodia as part of her personal exploration of midwifery around the globe. Henna’s journey, called Searching for Midwifery, will expose her to eight vastly divergent countries in which she will bear whiteness to, document, and study a wide variety of midwifery practices and birth systems. In this piece, she reflects on her experience in Cambodia, and how it altered her worldview forever.
I created the project Searching For Midwifery (SFM) with the intention of becoming a midwife through a path that felt authentic to who I am. I developed it with a desire to learn the skills through first-hand clinical experience and immersion. I wanted to learn about midwifery from women with all kinds of different worldviews and beliefs, and eventually integrate those different styles of maternity and infant care into my own personal practice.
I realize now, after having finished the first of eight stages on my midwifery journey, that learning to be a midwife through international exploration and observation is so much more than systems of women’s health and catching babies. It’s about learning how to be a better human being and enabling others to do the same.
The first stage of SFM took me to the South East region of Cambodia, where I stayed for three months. During that time, I had the opportunity to question everything about how I approach birth and midwifery, my own integrity, and most of all, I questioned the belief that anything I “know” is absolutely true. In Cambodia my worldview imploded, and what was left was a big open space where I had once found safety in “understanding”.
- 1st – Naive Realism (i.e. “there exists no other way of life”)
- 2nd – Ethnocentrism (i.e. “my way or the highway”)
- 3rd – Cultural Relativism (i.e. “every knowledge system must be respected in it’s own right”)
- 4th – Global Humanism (i.e. “recognizing the intrinsic integrity and value of every cultural and religious story, yet seeking a higher standard that can be applied in every context to ensure the rights of individuals….”)
As I read the article, it struck me that, despite all of my good intentions, my mind was, and perhaps still is, stuck in the ethnocentric perspective when it comes to what I experience. It also became clear to me that midwifery is a perfect metaphor for how we all evolve and interact in this world. If my practice of midwifery can be informed by an open yet critical view such as global humanism, rather then the constricted and limited ethnocentrism, then the potential for that midwifery practice to be used as a tool to enable growth in all stages of life is outstanding.
As I embark on my midwifery journey, I realize that I am holding close the ideal of global humanism, of approaching different cultures and birth systems in a way that respects the value in all of them while seeking a higher standard. Holding that idea or intention is the easy part, the crux is in its application.
So I ask myself, how do I affirm global humanism as a practice and not just an ideal?
Cambodia taught me that I am currently coming from an inherently ethnocentric perspective, and that the next step, according to Robbie Davis-Floyd, is to begin to open the deeply innate parts of who I am to new possibilities. So I have chosen to stand in the thick of it, work with and next to women who’s worlds I could never fully comprehend no matter how long I stayed, while staying conscious of the fact that I know nothing, as I seek first to understand.
I don’t pretend to think that the empty/open space in my mind, blown open by someone else’s reality, has really stayed open since I’ve been back in the US, or even that it stayed open for very long when I was in Cambodia. But I have stood next to midwives who have delivered roughly thirty babies a month for fifteen years continuously with no breaks. I have watched as they use, by my standards, harsh bedside manners as they perform certain procedures during labor and birth with motives I don’t understand. And I have felt what it means like to abandon the notion of certitude that lends us so much comfort in this life.
It is terrifying to let go of the beliefs I have carefully crafted about life and living, but what I do know for sure is that birth is a human issue, and as such, fluid and always changing. Therefore, as a midwife in training, so must I be. We are all born once in order to live, and then again, and again as we grow and evolve into who we are. Midwifery is the practice of staying present with that birth and change, and guiding the transition as needed. I can think of nothing more human, more compassionate or more important than that.
To say that I am humbled by my time with Cambodian midwives and birthing women would be an understatement. I am absolutely inspired.
Image Source: Henna Taylor, Searching for Midwifery
My name is Henna Taylor. I’m learning how to be a midwife. To me, a midwife is someone who is willing to stay with someone through great transition and who is able to help guide and/or enable that transition if and when it is called for. I believe that the act of midwifery can be applied to so much more then birth, and that it can have a profound impact on all levels of how we interact with together in this world. When I was a kid I thought I might grow up to be a run away orphan or a pro basketball player or an abstract painter and most absolutely a super hero. I’m inspired by other people doing beautiful things. The things that moves me the most, are the many ways we all search for authenticity. I deeply believe in the value of simplicity (even though I seem to, most often, do things that hard way) and the idea that out of nothing comes something. Always.