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Anthropology News · March 2009


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Parenting as an International PhD Student

María aMeLia viteri cathoLic u aMerica adeLaide LusaMBiLi independent schoLar The experience of parents from the Global South pursuing doctoral studies in North America while raising children remains a largely unexplored topic. Related current literature, such as Christopher Dana Lynn's recent commentary in Anthropology News (49[6]:16), has focused on parents studying in their home countries. Of significance is the particular lack of writing about international single parents pursuing anthropology PhDs. We started our PhD programs in anthropology in 2003 as single mothers of a four-year old from Ecuador (Viteri), and a seven-week old and a six-year old from Kenya (Lusambili). We each completed our programs at American University in Washington DC within four years. In this article, we discuss our experiences raising children and pursuing our careers in the US during this period. Confronting the perception of children as (only) barriers to completing graduate work, we illustrate how children and parents can together simultaneously deal with the challenges a migratory experience and benefit from opportunities to learn in the field and classroom. was waiting; once in the US, family and colleagues (including my advisor William Leap) provided invaluable support. Throughout my education in Ecuador, I did not experience a particular division of work, study and childcare, and I saw the separation of the intellectual (mind) versus the physical (body) discussed by Evans and Grant in Mama, PhD (2008) as rather foreign. When I conducted interviews with Colombian refugees in Imbabura, Ecuador, Simone played with their children. At the publishing company I worked at, she would suggest her favorite games be included in the Teaching English as a Foreign Language book series. As my child and I entered the US, I visualized us once again as a team. Thus, my Ecuadorian background allowed me to create alternative spaces where Simone and I could continue sharing and learning together, which other students did not always imagine as a possibility for themselves. Simone accompanied me through fieldwork, 2004­ 08, with Washington DC's Latino LGBT population--at points facilitating my development of social relationships in the field--and it became a learning experience for us both. Simone is now a fully bilingual and bicultural nine-year old already thinking about her PhD and a career came home frustrated, telling me how she corrected her teacher's assumption by stating, "Ecuadorians don't eat tortillas. We eat bread." She was already counteracting the US's homogenization of Latinos and Hispanics as one cohesive unit for which many people's only reference is Mexican culture. This experience reflects just one way in which her migratory experience through my graduate education has been both challenging and enriching. academic and professional conferences. The situation became more complicated when my husband's US visa renewal was denied in 2004, implying that I had to become a single parent. My marriage added to the list of the many things that suffered in this process, and increased the time I needed to take care of the children. I considered myself different from most graduate students, and thus had to develop a unique graduate school strategy. Although raising children as a graduate student was at points overwhelming, I refused to look at them as hardships and instead

C o m m e n ta rY Viteri's Journey from ecuador When I received American University's acceptance letter for my PhD in cultural anthropology with a concentration on race, gender and social justice, I pictured myself continuing what I had done in my home country: studying, working and caring for my daughter, Simone. But I was unsure how this would all play out in a foreign setting with a different language. Would my experience reflect my memories of caring for Simone as a baby, holding her with one arm while breastfeeding as I simultaneously wrote my BA thesis in linguistics? I limited my PhD applications to schools in the DC area where a secure family network as a teacher. I value the fact that she comfortably engages in fruitful and interesting interactions with all kinds of people of different ages, nationalities and ethnicities and in a variety of settings. Growing up with reassuring images and representations of her home country, Ecuador, she has painfully realized through her migration experience that a majority of people in the US don't know (or care) much about Ecuador. This newly acquired knowledge has turned her unexpectedly into a cultural bridge. While a first grade student in Maryland, her teachers were getting ready to reenact a Mexican celebration and one asked Simone how she and I prepared tortillas at home. Simone

lusambili's Journey from Kenya International graduate students who are also parents experience a unique set of challenges. Like many others, my experience was impacted by limited social networks, financial instability, language barriers, cultural differences and immigration issues. Simultaneously, I worked to manage the competing needs of raising children, such as paying the authors' children: calvin, simone and Laurie, fall childcare expenses 006. Photo courtesy María Amelia Viteri and having sufficient time to schedule and attend saw them as a motivating factor. medical appointments, organize I spoke to them about what I play dates, attend parent-teacher was doing and in the evening we conferences, participate in children's studied together and discussed our school activities and assist children progress in school. Three years with homework. A child's needs can into my PhD program, my son was compete with academic and profesnine. Although he did not undersional needs such that finding time stand much about graduate work, to attend conferences and classes, he knew my advisor (Dolores write papers, plan research and work Koenig), my research topic, what part-time to pay rent and purchase days I had classes, and where I insurance can be a challenge. One searched for books in the library. He spontaneously explained my must also assist children in coping research topic whenever people with the conflicting cultural expeasked about it. My children looked riences encountered in a new enviforward to the day I would finish ronment while also personally my PhD as they felt they were coping with those same issues. part of this process. They attended I enrolled in graduate school at American University in spring my dissertation defense and were 2003, knowing that it would be proud when I finally received the difficult. As an international student PhD. Although I missed attending from Kenya with two children-- many academic conferences and two months and six years old--I put friends and extended family expected tough times. I knew that on the back burner, I now look there were things I would miss out back and realize that my children on: close ties with family in Kenya, entertaining friends, and attending See Work-Life on page


Anthropology News · March 2009

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Perinatal Care

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Not surprisingly, complications such as changes in fetal heart rate or dystocia can frequently be remedied by changes in position. Many hospital artifacts, such as delivery tables, discourage such physiologically beneficial adjustments. Unfortunately, this type of traditional knowledge and technology is increasingly being replaced (rather than augmented) by biomedical cosmopolitan obstetrics. the bias toward upscaling Years of research comparing birth practices in low- and high-tech settings in developing and industrialized countries have shown that when different levels of technology are available in the same environment, the solution to problems that arise on one level is almost always sought through more rather than less invasive technologies (ie, on a higher-tech rather than lower-tech level). Where cosmopolitan facilities are available in developing countries, it is never the case that women are referred to the low-technology sector. This tends to hold even if a low-tech solution is locally available and easily accessible, such as walking and resting when labor slows down in preference to oxytocin injections, or mother-baby co-sleeping for premature newborns in preference to incubators. This pervasive bias for upscaling to higher technology has sometimes been called Jordan's Law. It may well be that it is a property of technological systems in general. The reasons for this bias to upscale are many, ranging from the fact that lowtech and high-tech artifacts have

different diffusion paths, to the power and sense of superiority that cosmopolitan biomedicine (as authoritative knowledge) has claimed throughout the world, which is supported by ideologies promoting "modernization" and "progress." In the developed world, there has been some reaction to the routine use of hightech practices, visible in the rise of natural birth movements and the increasing availability and visibility of midwife-managed birth centers that rely on low-tech methods first. By contrast, referral networks in developing countries are typically set up Q mphepi and other Kangaroo mother care (Kmc) for a one-way flow of mothers receive training in proper Kmc technique "patients" from lowfrom a health worker in the Bwailai Kmc Nursery. tech to high-tech Photo courtesy Save the Children facilities, and training is focused on transferring high-tech providers who work in regions of obstetric practices unilaterally to the world where local birth cultures indigenous obstetric experts. What are strong and have much empirical is missing is a reciprocal incorporaknowledge to offer. tion of low-tech practices and indigThis approach would ask for enous birthing knowledge into the a different kind of research from training of biomedically oriented anthropologists because it would birth attendants. This would move beyond investigating what mean taking seriously the wisdom happens if biomedical technologies embedded in empirical knowledge are applied to underserved populasystems. It would mean apprecitions, and instead ask researchers ating, for example, the potential to examine why and in what ways of mobility-supporting techniques local obstetric practices persist. In and midwife-based knowledge of our thinking, the emphasis needs to massage and manual manipulamove from designing global intertion, and incorporating those in the ventions to understanding the local training of cosmopolitan health care conditions under which particular There is a common perception that children rob parenting graduate students of essential time for completing research, writing papers and attending classes. However, coming from cultures where social and recreation time is highly valued, we both took care to esbalish a balance in our lives--a balance in which our children were integral. Family time became recreation time, as we cooked traditional meals and visited parks, libraries and museums with our kids, taking regular (and necessary) breaks from the challenging academic world. We believe that this balance, enabled by our children, allowed us to have healthier lifestyles than many of our PhD colleagues. Ultimately, our graduate educations were transformative experiences for our entire families, and the years of effort that we and our children put into the process was worth it. María Amelia Viteri is a visiting professor of anthropology at Catholic University in Washington DC and associate researcher at FLACSO (Latin American School for Social Sciences) in Ecuador. Her research focuses on

practices are useful or not. A consequence would be that biomedically trained care personnel might be taught to understand the benefits and drawbacks of local knowledge systems as indigenous care providers learn about the benefits and drawbacks of biomedical systems. In line with this thinking and publications such as Robbie Davis-Floyd and Carolyn Sargent's Childbirth and Authoritative Knowledge (1997), anthropologists should propose research that reverses the unidirectional flow of training and knowledge from high to low technology in order to overcome the power imbalance between cosmopolitan obstetrics and low-tech perinatal care. This could finally lead to a true partnership between two ethnoobstetric systems, both of which have much to contribute to the welfare of mothers and babies. Brigitte Jordan carried out crosscultural research on childbirth for almost two decades. She is a past recipient of the AAA's Margaret Mead Award and author of Birth in Four Cultures, now in its fourth edition. Though her website now focuses on recent publications in corporate anthropology, many of her writings on childbirth, midwifery, and maternal and child health can be found at She can be contacted at [email protected] Anastasia L Thatcher is a business strategist consulting for not-forprofit and for-profit organizations within healthcare and international development. Her work has spanned four continents, focusing on challenges in both the developed and developing world. Currently she is working to build a cross-sector effort to tackle issues of quality and access within children's and maternal healthcare. She can be contacted at [email protected] border crossing frameworks in the US, El Salvador and Ecuador. She is the main editor, with Aaron Tobler, of the forthcoming volume Shifting Positionalities: The (Local and International) GeoPolitics of Surveillance and Policing. Adelaide Lusambili works as an independent scholar in the US and UK. Her research focuses on the political economy of health, illness, poverty and social economic policy as it relates to gender and environment. She is the author of Environmental Sanitation and Gender among the Urban Poor (2008).


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were part of the reason I finished my graduate work within four years, along with the tremendous support I received from Koenig and other friends and colleagues. Children as motivators Ultimately, in both of our graduate experiences, our children became essential motivating factors to push ahead and complete our degrees.



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