Melinda ChickeringGiving Birth in Bali

Melinda Chickering:
Giving Birth in Bali

American Melinda Chickering was born in a small town in Iowa. As a young girl, she loved writing diaries and short stories. Melinda studied philosophy, public policy, and international development at university. She taught English as a second language in Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia. Melinda’s writing has appeared in numerous magazines and local newspapers in the USA and Indonesia. In 2014 Melinda self-published Becoming Home in which she shares her experiences giving birth in Bali.

What inspired you to write Becoming Home?

As Americans living in Bali, we had endless questions when we discovered that I was pregnant. Where should we give birth? Who can support us through pregnancy and birthing? Where do I get prenatal care? Do they have those classes here like in the States? Is it safe enough to give birth in Bali? What happens if there are complications with either the pregnancy or birth?

Where did you go for answers?

I started doing a lot of research and learned so much. I wanted to write about the learning process in part because that’s just what I do, but also because I was amazed at how little basic information about pregnancy and birth I had in hand before getting pregnant. ‘Sex Ed’ in my public school simply didn’t cover this stuff! There is a culture of squeamishness, or perhaps Puritanism, around pregnancy and birth that is all too pervasive in much of the modern world. We’re told to leave it to the experts (doctors). We learned to honor the answers already within ourselves.

Can you give some examples of how women and babies get the short end of the stick?

Nearly a third of US births are C-sections, many of which are unnecessary, putting mothers and babies at risk because doctors and hospitals fear litigation. According to Amnesty International, women face greater risk of death in pregnancy and childbirth in the USA than in 40 other countries, while at the same time Americans spend the most on childbirth technology. That’s not healthcare. That’s a sick system.

What is it like for women giving birth in the States?

In my home culture, people tend to follow the advice and practices of their parents and peers. That leads most to give birth in hospitals with doctors (not midwives and without doulas) even when there is no previous indication of pathology or complications. Women tend to accept the standard of care that’s presented to them without too many questions. That usually includes lots of prenatal testing, pain management with epidurals, episiotomy, frequently induction, etc. Many families end up with interventions that might not have been necessary in the birth of their babies had they been better informed in a culture that is less deferential to the medical establishment.

How did that contrast with your birth experience in Bali?

From outside the medicalized culture which surrounds birth in the USA, I was able to question its underlying assumptions, like “pain is bad,” “doctors know best,” and “birth must be managed.” Here my husband and I learned that birth can be the most magical, sacred induction into parenthood. That must be what god or Allah or whomever intended! We also learned the importance of surrounding ourselves with loving, supportive and respectful caregivers. We gave birth at Bumi Sehat Clinic. The wonderful people there made all the difference.

How was your personal experience different (special)?

In preparing for the birth of our baby, I came to realize the importance of feeling safe enough to surrender control and embrace vulnerability. It’s quite difficult for most of us because of our cultural education, and in some cases, our own past traumas. That was certainly true for me as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. On the day of the birth, those lessons were brought vividly to the fore. The midwives at Bumi Sehat helped me tap and trust my body’s own wisdom.

How did you get Becoming Home published?

Publishing is in quite a state of flux as information technology has disrupted the old model. Plenty of my writing had been published before, but this is my first book. I looked into the traditional route—getting an agent, getting a publisher… I had written Becoming Home for very personal reasons and without much concern for marketability. But marketability is THE concern of traditional publishing houses.

What method did you choose?

Crowd funding provided me with means to self-publish. A newish company called Publishizer provides an online crowd funding platform for books. Basically, an author submits some information about her or his project, and Publishizer posts it online to attract pre-orders for the finished product. The campaign runs for a delimited time with a budget goal. If it reaches the goal in the time allotted, the author receives the funding to cover editing, layout, cover, printing, shipping, etc.

Do you have any advice or cautionary words?

The most important factor, I think, is to give birth where the mother and father feel most comfortable and where they feel loved, supported and respected. Some women might only feel safe enough to give birth in a hospital. Personally, I would have felt less safe in a hospital! There are hospitals here, of course, and some friends of mine have birthed there. If I had felt that I needed a hospital birth, we might have chosen differently.

What did you learn from writing a memoir?

I have always been a reader and a writer. I love reading or hearing people’s life stories. A memoir is a slice of life that offers up some lesson, a shift in perspective. Becoming Home began as my intellectual learning journey through the early stages of pregnancy. By birth day, it had already become a tale of a shift from head to heart. I was journaling about my research, feelings and dreams during the pregnancy. The memoir really came together after the birth, with clarity of hindsight on those personal shifts, and after I was getting a good night’s sleep again!

Email: Becoming Home is available for Rp150,000 at Ganesha Bookstores. For overseas buyers, order online at CreateSpace ( or Amazon.

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Copyright © 2014 Bill Dalton
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