Childbirth in Cuba

The photograph of Hernandez and his newborn daughter published in the Cuban newspaper Granma.

The photograph of Hernandez and his newborn daughter published in the Cuban newspaper Granma.

Gerardo Hernandez, one of three Cuban spies released last month as part of the US-Cuba rapprochement, is the proud father of a baby girl born in Havana this week, the Cuban government newspaper Granma has reported. While negotiations between the two countries were still underway, U.S. officials allowed Hernandez to have his wife artificially inseminated while he was still in prison, with his sperm transported to Havana.

Hernandez said he had sired the baby “by remote control,” and if he was not there at the time of his daughter’s conception, it is also likely that—barring some special dispensation or very recent policy change—he was not there at the time of her delivery either: Cuba is one of the few countries where hospitals rarely allow fathers in the delivery room.

This is a moot point in many parts of the developing world, where births often take place without medical attention of any kind, but it seems a curious anachronism in light of Cuba’s much publicized health care system.  This blogger visited a facility for women with high risk pregnancies in Havana, the Hogar Materno Leonor Perez, where the doctor on duty said Cuban fathers were not permitted to attend their children’s births and that there were no midwives in the country.

There is a very interesting study on this subject by researchers from the University of Havana and the Escuela Nacional de Salud Pública that was published in a Brazilian health journal in 2012 (http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1413-81232012000700029&lng=es&nrm=iso&tlng=es) and reprinted in a somewhat different form late last year in the Revista Cubana de Salud Pública (http://scielo.sld.cu/scielo.php?pid=S0864-34662013000400009&script=sci_arttext). The researchers followed 36 women undergoing childbirth in three hospitals, comparing the practices in Cuban maternity wards with recommendations by the World Health Organization. They concluded that “knowledge about pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum in Cuba is currently deficient” and that “the routine use of some medical interventions and the institutional regulations described herein are considered expressions of physical and gender violence.” Surgical procedures, such as episiotomies, were usually performed without any explanation, the women were left with their gowns open and examined in full view of medical and non-medical personnel and were obliged to lie on their backs during delivery.

And here’s a link to a short documentary on Cuban childbirth, Antesala, by Brazilian filmmaker Pedro Freire, with English subtitles:http://vimeo.com/10285661

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