I want to talk a bit about scientific literacy, specifically the importance of citing sources and expecting claims to have supporting evidence. This morning I saw a post shared by a couple birth groups that made the claim that African tribes invented c-sections “hundreds of years before Europeans” (as though it’s a competition and if it is, it looks like the Chinese won). The post extrapolated wildly and didn’t cite sources. Of course, this kind of thing happens every day on social media but it was the response in the comments that concerns me the most.
When commenters asked for sources the responses were “do your own research”, “you’re so rude and so lazy“, “it’s not her job to educate you” and similar. (The first and third phrases are your signs to distance yourself from someone asap; the second one, well, it might be true but not for asking for sources.) Continue reading
On a recent episode of the Dear Hank and John podcast (in which two brothers give “dubious advice”, I recommend it!) a listener sent in a question about why human infants were so useless. And even though both of them have children of their own, they didn’t really know what the answer was so they gave it their best shot: (paraphrasing here) because of bipedalism, women’s hips are too narrow and the baby needs to come out prematurely otherwise they won’t fit.
If you’ve read the earlier parts in this series debunking the Obstetrical Dilemma, you can imagine my epic head shaking and eye-rolling. I had already had this post waiting in the wings but I decided to rework the intro and title when I realized that lay people who have never heard the phrase “obstetrical dilemma” will forward it without even being aware of it. So, why are newborn humans useless?
Well, I was enjoying the lovely fall colors, the warm days and crisp nights– and then that jerk Winter crept up and put an ice cube down my shirt. So, while I huddle here, fingers frozen, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how traditional artic cultures deal with infant carrying in the freezing temperatures. There seem to be two main approaches: a soft carrier that shares body heat between child and caregiver which we’ll cover in this post; and a hard carrier that creates a micro-climate for the baby that I will cover in a future post. Continue reading
Apes, including humans, are physiologically riders, meaning that they carry their babies with them as opposed to leaving them in nests or dens because their breast milk composition is not suited to leaving their infants alone for long periods of time (Ross, 2001). But unlike humans, apes don’t need a tool to carry their infants in part because they have body hair for their infants to cling to but it’s more complicated than simply having body hair and a baby that can grasp it. Hair strength, density, infant weight, carrying position, adult posture, and even humidity play a part in successful infant carrying without tool use. Continue reading
The phrase “childbearing hips”, besides being extremely cringey in any context, is a misnomer. It’s a byproduct of the kind of thinking that went into the Obstetrical Dilemma: in order to give birth women traded in bipedal efficiency for wider hips. It’s a hypothesis that was and is widely assumed to be true. But you know what they say about making assumptions? … As it turns out, pelvic width has nothing to do with bipedal efficiency, nor is it a constraint for fetal head growth or childbirth. Continue reading
In western culture, there is a long tradition of women suffering through labor… something about an apple? Throughout the history of obstetrics, theories have been tossed about to explain humanity’s apparently unique difficulties in childbirth. One of the more recent is the Obstetrical Dilemma which posits that the female pelvis is too narrow to give birth to human babies (without a lot of professional, technical intervention, and even then… ) but too wide (wider, on average, than a male pelvis) to be efficient.
Racist Roots with a side of Misogyny
The OD hypothesis came into being around the same time that hospital birth was becoming the norm in the United States. In 1949, Aldoph H. Schultz, from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland published a paper titled Sex Differences in the Pelves of Primates about the pelvic measurements of a variety male and female cadavers from a selection of primate species. Among these non-human primate species are chimpanzees, gorillas, and negroes.
Yes, you read that correctly. And if you aren’t horrified, I am not sure I want you reading my blog.
Schultz believed that black people represented a different species of primate, describing their pelvic measurements as more animalistic than whites, as a means of explaining why they had easier births. His research was used to justify the lack of medical care available to pregnant black women across the U.S. but even more so in the Jim Crow south. Continue reading