The book Protein Power by the LCHF/keto physicians the Drs. Eades, delves into paleopathology - wheat-based civilizations like Egypt (only a few thousand years ago) had many obese in their burial grounds/mummies, also that they didn’t have long life spans, many dying prematurely in the 50s - frequently due to their high carb diet’s dental diseases. All the Egyptian art with only skinny goddesses and gods was more a cultural projection that the otherworldly was different - thus skinny rather than obese! As far as the earliest humans from antiquity though, raw organ meat is actually easier to chew and digest than cooked, and raw & cooked animal fat beloved by many indigenous peoples. But muscle meat is what gets aromatic and flavorful when cooked, making it easier to eat more of it and thus evolve a bigger brain?
I noticed this part: “Yet our large brains come at a cost, making childbirth more difficult and painful for human mothers than for our nearest evolutionary kin.” This is not at all absolutely true. And sometimes it’s a question of being in captivity, or free. Our nearest evolutionary kin in the present world (the wild chimpanzees) when in captivity don’t breed or thrive nearly as well as when wild, and often have difficulties that the observing humans aren’t even aware of. (It was Gloria Steinem who, when asked why hadn’t had children, said “I can’t mate in captivity”). In the wild mammalian and non-industrial indigenous/aboriginal world, early labors are unobtrusive, non-dramatic, and quite subtle, and the subsequent active labor/birth isn’t mentalized - it’s a primal, effective experience of the body and heart. Relatively well-nourished peasant & indigenous/aboriginal women integrated early labor into their regular life, sometimes birthing outdoors.
Yet the ubiquitous childbirth hex of difficult & painful as the baseline for the home sapiens female birthing experience - rather than it as a marathon of female power, a glorious journey with the coming child, and giving birth to one’s self as a mother - is a common stereotype in scholarship, regardless of whether the author is male or female. It certainly lacks cross-cultural insight in its silencing of aboriginal, indigenous, and peasant traditional societies as well as a portion of hormonally healthy modern women who’ve experienced the challenges of highly functional physiological birthing and the endogenous endorphins that create the advantageous, totally natural altered state that expands coping and conducive change at each level.
Here follows a wild digression for any ancestral health, ancient traditions readers - esp any curious young women who daily encounter “Eve’s Curse” in science - as it’s one of my fave women’s health topics… though I understand it’s not for everybody, so feel free to ignore.
Science has still not caught itself up on the good work done by Sarah Buckley MD and others (Michel Odent MD, Frederick LeBoyer MD, Shafia M. Monroe CM/CE, Aviva Romm MD, Christiane Northup MD - and novelist Alice Walker among others) to educate about the hormonal physiology of spontaneous childbirth, and its conditional requirements. Indigenous & Aboriginal as well as peasant women’s traditions understood the many adaptive functionalities/movements/postures that happen when a woman has the conditions needed to immerse in birth. Primal birth instincts come from a immersion in the hind/primal brain rather than the neocortex (conditions that are in short supply in most of industrial culture). This means that women with “small” pelvises can give birth to “large” babies, quite functionally, given the chance to move around in a conducive, relaxing environment she feels safe & emotionally/spiritually supported in (and not immobilized on her back attached to machines by cords, etc). It also means that traditional 6’ large-framed Maori women speedily gave birth to actual large babies - 12-14 pounders as a normal thing.
It’s a well known fact that the loose connective tissues of the pregnant pelvis combined with mobility/different postures can open the pelvic bone outlet by a couple of extra centimeters - and at the same time, babies skull plates can make their heads smaller. The position & state of a mother and baby both play a part - maternal movement and adaptive postures plus a range of environmental conditions that are soothing and private can make human labor very functional.
The language used about birth in today’s medicine & science culture goes way back in western Judeo-Christian cultures. Studying & re-evaluating the commonly accepted theological stances as well as the medical vs. midwifery model of care that influence the cultural discourse can be very worthwhile. The work of female scholar-anthropologists Robbie Pfeuffer Kahn, Robbie Davis Floyd, and Hilary Marland is all relevant.
One of the early things I learned in my cultural unlearning/decolonization about women’s health & birth was about the Judeo-Christian reference to when Adam & Eve are cast out of Eden. The English male translators commissioned by King James to create the English bible, blatantly mis-translated the Hebrew word root “Etsev” word used for cursing both Adam and Eve - when it came to Eve!. Etsev means good hard work pertaining to field/tilling work in an agricultural culture - as in physically & spiritually intense, with variable daily & seasonal weather, and the sweetness of harvest. However, in relation to only Eve/childbirth/females, the mistranslated English words pain/anguish/sorrow" are used for “Etsev”: ‘she shall give birth in pain’. Otherwise, when “Etsev” used in specific reference to Adam/males, it’s just ‘labor, toil, work’. So, the word was translated intentionally to curse Eve and her kind (continuing the tone of the Malleus Maleficarum inquisition text written in the 1480s) - and also without any regard for all the indigenous women and peasant women that knew very well both hard physical work and spiritual endurance.
Hard field work is rarely “pain-free” (most especially for enslaved peoples - mentally & physically brutalized by the work as well as the traffickers/guards) - but for the non-enslaved, neither is it only a hellish torment of cursedness that the early church patriarchs wanted female sexuality and the labor of childbearing to be for women. I imagine my own girlhood & young womanhood would’ve been quite different if I’d have been enculturated free of “Eve’s Curse”. I would have more quickly understood my personal JOY and AUTONOMY quite apart from patriarchal values. Anyway… it’s a lot to unpack considering that 16th century German theologian Martin Luther wrote and preached about it like this: “If women become tired, even die, it does not matter. Let them die in childbirth. That’s what they are there for”.
Culture plays a huge role in birth.
For both SAD and LCHF/keto women, emergency medicine is fantastic for true emergencies, and high-risk women with serious health conditions can and do require medical intervention. But being that we live in a time when even low-risk, otherwise-healthy women’s births either frequently turn into emergencies or are prescheduled surgeries, we could learn a few things from the traditional cultures.
Patriarchal values in the academy and science journalism socialize girls & women to consider otherwise-healthy birth a disease rather, than a state of optimal physiology, a dissociation rather than a hard won metamorphosis. At the same time, women & girls aren’t taught to think outside the box and think about autonomous coping skills and primal survival. For example, when London was being bombed for months during WWII - during which time well over a hundred women went into labor, all of them at home (under their kitchen tables was a popular choice for safest location) due to it being impossible to get out to the hospital safely, and having to rely on sheer instinct and primal faith. Very interestingly, recorded London birth stats for that period were actually much lower mortality than normal - in fact, there were no full term mortalities of either mother or baby (of the recorded births, ofc there were plentiful slums where unknown outcomes happened).
This culture’s many environmental factors and its medical model of “care” often converge to cause difficulty for otherwise-healthy, low-risk women - whether emotional stress or physical stress - and encourage the neocortex rather than the instinctual hind brain. The fear-tension-pain cycle and reduced oxytocin from a variety of stressors in turn influence catecholamine and cortisol reaction. They are most dramatic at birth, but can be active in pregnancy and preconception - which is why childbirth preparation & full-spectrum informed choice ideally begins before conception. In traditional hunter-gatherer societies as well as indigenous horticultural societies that lived closely with the life-death-life cycle, ancient teachings based in Nature as the teacher along with strong women’s community helped young women be equipped for a likely good birth journey.
Intact indigenous/land-based cultures - the vast majority of them female-centered, with the oldest women the key decision makers - view birth as normal as digestion and other bodily functions (when it is based in good health - and not in malnourishment or trauma). Many midwives and physicians who’ve worked with traditional indigenous women, as well as anthropologists and others who’ve been adopted by indigenous peoples (such as Jean Liedloff, Marjorie Shostak, Erica Elliott MD, Carolyn Niethammer, Pam England) have reported on how well-nourished traditional indigenous women pride themselves on birthing well/healthfully - having learned since girlhood from examples of women focusing their inner roar/power within.