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Friday, January 18, 2013

For Somali Women, Childbirth is Very Different in the United States

Hopkins Patch

By James Warden
From prenatal care to postpartum rituals, the western experience can be alienating for Somali immigrants.
One Somali woman described being in labor for three or four days. She eventually went to the hospital. But the doctor told her she needed surgery to deliver the baby, and her family took her home because they didn’t want a C-section. She eventually gave birth to a dead baby.

Another woman described being held for 21 days at the clinic of an Ethiopian refugee camp. Her strength depleted to such an extent that they transferred her to the hospital, where they asked her whether she wanted to save her own life or the life of the child. The woman chose to save the child’s live. But the lights went out just before surgery, and the doctors aborted the baby and took him out of her dead. Of the 13 women and the babies being born there that night, she and one infant were the only ones who survived.

Those are just two of the stories that Nancy Deyo told Wednesday at a conference on Somali women’s health, coordinated by Somali women's health education and advocacy group Isuroon.

Deyo, senior advisor at the Women's Refugee Commission, heard the stories while conducting putting together a report on cultural traditions and the Somali women’s reproductive health.

During her research, she spoke with a total of 50 people—Somali women, Somali men, religious leaders and healthcare providers at three local hospitals and clinics. Many of the interviewees were from Hopkins' Somali community. One group of women had given birth in both the United States and Somalia or refugee camps.

Somali women’s health is a particularly important issue. Back in Somalia, about one in 12 women die in childbirth.

Yet western healthcare can be alienating for many mothers. The report paints a picture of very different expectations for reproductive medicine than those found in western culture. It also recommends ways local providers can adapt their care to Somali culture since giving birth in an unfamiliar western hospital can be frightening to expectant mothers.

“The stories of medicine in the United States can be every bit as scary as the stories of Somalia and the camps are to us all,” Deyo said.

Below are few examples of how Somali healthcare culture differs. See the table below for a full breakdown.

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