We May Have Different Religions

By Evgeniya Larionova

“We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race”. –Kofi Annan (Ghanian Diplomat, 7th UN Secretary-General, 2001 Nobel Peace Prize winner)

What is exactly childbirth? Some people compare it to a miracle, a heroic act, or a surge of love accompanied by strenuous and intense hours of labor. It’s absolutely one the most unique experiences that can happen to a woman’s body. The time when she is particularly vulnerable and in need of much support and care.

For me, a nurse practitioner student on labor and delivery floor at Massachusetts General Hospital, witnessing childbirth was something that I would never forget. Thrown into the action on a first clinical day, I had mixed feelings of joy, excitement and a slight nervousness. I felt extremely privileged and grateful to witness a natural delivery and I was hoping to help a future-to-be mom during the process.

From the morning report I found out that the woman I was assigned to follow was a recent immigrant from Guatemala who belongs to the indigenous Mayan population. Mayan was the patient’s native language but she was also able to understand Spanish. Her husband had been residing in the United States for 5 years. She moved here a year ago and the family has finally reunited.

My patient was accompanied by a traditional nurse midwife known as comadrona. Comadronas are trusted women leaders in their communities who accepted a spiritual calling. They usually don’t receive any formal training but have years of experience delivering babies. Comadronas regard birth as a natural process and rely heavily on God and prayers. The nurses established a plan of care recognizing my patient’s spirituality and personal support system. The Mayan midwife was present during labor and helped with comfort measures. The nurses also invited a qualified interpreter.

When I entered the room, a nurse and a midwife, along with the comadrona, surrounded the tiny woman. One of the nurses was checking her vital signs and the nurse-midwife was encouraging the woman to take slow deep breaths and relax. The comadrona, wearing a traditional colorful embroidered dress, was gently massaging her back. The room was dimly lit and the scent of fresh lavender floated in the air. My patient’s contractions were increasing steadily and were becoming more regular. This was active labor –she was ready to give birth.

The whole atmosphere struck me. There was no other language present in the room but the language of trust, respect and compassion between these women. I immediately wanted to become connected with what was happening- just by holding this woman’s hand and talking to her.

Reflecting back on this experience, I understood that nurses not only created the environment that made this woman feel comfortable and that was respectful of her spirituality but that the environment also had a significant impact on the labor and birth process. Although childbirth is unique and at the same time a unifying biological event for any woman; providing therapeutic communication, physical, emotional, spiritual care and comfort during the labor process is crucial.

The comadrona shared her knowledge and experience with the American nurses. It was important for my patient to have a traditional midwife near the bedside who comforted and prayed with her. There was interplay between modern and traditional medicine that contributed to the positive outcome. Nurses in this particular case were not only culturally sensitive and able to understand cultural values, beliefs and attitudes of clinicians and patients, but also culturally competent and had knowledge, capacity and skills to provide high-quality care (Jernigan et al, 2016).

It’s essential for any nurse in such a unique, heterogeneous country like the United States to be cognizant and open-minded of cultural diversity and the patient’s cultural perspectives. I will take this amazing experience to my future nursing practice and strive to always treat my patients with dignity, respect and compassion. I also hope to continue to integrate a holistic model and culturally sensitive care into our modern childbirth practices.

This woman gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter whom she named after a nurse taking care of her during her labor and birth.

Additional Resources & References
http://prontointernational.org/
https://he-he.org/en/
http://www.mayamidwifery.org/
http://midwivesformidwives.org/guatemala/
http://www.birth-institute.com/study-abroad-guatemala/
http://www.acog.org/
Jernigan, V. B. B., Hearod, J. B., Tran, K., Norris, K. C., & Buchwald, D. (2016). An Examination of Cultural Competence Training in US Medical Education Guided by the Tool for Assessing Cultural Competence Training.Journal of Health Disparities Research and Practice, 9(3), 150–167.


evgeniya-headshotEvgeniya Larionova received her Bachelors of Science in Nursing from MGH Institute of Health Professions. She is a founder and an Artistic Director of AMGITS Drama&Poetry Club at the Boston Living Center. She is a member of the student Leadership Committee of the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care. Evgeniya is passionate about infectious diseases, community health and integrating holistic care in modern practices.  In her spare time she plays in the Russian theater, enjoy reading, playing the guitar and hiking.

Top Ten Misconceptions About the Use of Nitrous Oxide in Labor

by Michelle Collins, PhD, CNM, FACNM

The use of nitrous oxide as a labor analgesic has taken hold in the US in the past three years. It has been used widely in Europe for decades, with favorable results, along with comes educational information but all the perpetuation of myths.

10. Using nitrous oxide in labor is “just like” when you use it at the dental office. It’s not. In dental offices, the concentration of nitrous oxide to oxygen is variable, so the dentist can increase or decrease the concentration based on the patient’s needs. Dentists may use concentrations of nitrous oxide of up to 70%. The dentist also places a small mask over the patient’s nose, through which a continuous stream of nitrous oxide is delivered.

During labor nitrous oxide is only used at concentrations of 50% nitrous oxide to oxygen – no higher. And the stream of nitrous oxide is intermittently administered by the woman herself using either a mouthpiece or mask with a demand valve. The demand valve opens only when the woman inhales (breathes in) – which is when the gas is released. When the woman exhales (breathes out), the valve closes and the gas stream is stopped.10 Misconceptions about Nitrous Oxide in Labor

9. You will be confined to bed while using nitrous oxide. You will still be able to move around while using nitrous oxide during labor. About 10% of nitrous users may experience some dizziness, so your care providers will want to see you stand or move about without difficulty before they let you up on your own, but many women use nitrous oxide while standing, squatting, sitting in a rocking chair, or on a birth ball.

8. Continuous fetal monitoring will be required with nitrous oxide use. Whether you have continuous or intermittent fetal monitoring should be dictated by your obstetrical status, not because you are using nitrous oxide. In other words, if you are a candidate for intermittent monitoring, that does not have to change to continuous monitoring just because you begin using nitrous oxide.

7. If you choose to use nitrous oxide, you cannot use any other pain medications. A fair number of women who start out using nitrous go on to have an epidural placed at some later point in their labor. Using nitrous oxide earlier on allows you to maintain your mobility and stay upright, allowing the baby to move down well in your pelvis before being confined to bed with epidural anesthesia.

6. Nitrous oxide will stall your labor, or slow contractions. There has not been any research showing that nitrous slows down labor or causes contractions to be less strong or happen less often.

5. Nitrous oxide will harm the baby. Nitrous oxide is metabolized (processed) in your lung tissue, but because some of the gas passes into your blood stream, some can also pass through the placenta and go to your baby. However, studies have not shown adverse effects on babies of mothers who have used nitrous oxide in labor.

4. There is a point in labor when it is too late to use nitrous oxide. Actually, some women don’t begin using nitrous oxide until they are in the pushing stage. Other women don’t use it at all during labor, but find it very helpful if they need repair of any tears in their birth canal.

3. My family members can assist me with holding the nitrous oxide mask or mouthpiece if I get tired of holding it. As well-meaning as family members are, this is one area where they can’t help. A safety precaution for nitrous oxide use is that the laboring woman holds her own mask or mouthpiece. When she has had sufficient nitrous oxide, she won’t be able to bring her hand holding the device to her face. Allowing someone else to hold the mask/mouthpiece overrides this safety feature of nitrous oxide.

2. Nitrous oxide is offered at many hospitals and birth centers. Until 2011, there was really only one hospital in the US offering this option. Since that time, use of nitrous oxide has dramatically increased and there are currently over 100 hospitals and 50 birth centers offering nitrous oxide. Though it has come a long way, there is a long way to go to ensure that every woman who desires to use nitrous oxide in childbirth, has the opportunity.

1. Nitrous oxide makes you laugh (hence the nickname “laughing gas”). Despite the nickname, inhaling nitrous oxide doesn’t leave women laughing like hyenas! Because nitrous oxide decreases anxiety, it puts women more at ease and they may be more talkative and relaxed… but don’t count on side splitting laughter!

Michelle CollinsMichelle Collins is currently Professor of Nursing and Director of the Nurse-Midwifery education program at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. In addition to the teaching and administrative aspects of her job, she maintains an active clinical practice as part of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing faculty nurse-midwifery practice.  Currently she is a blogger for Nashville Public Television for the popular series Call the Midwife.


Resource on Nitrous Oxide For Nurses

AWHONN has a Nurses Leading Implementation of Nitrous Oxide Use in Obstetrics webinar to describe the history of nitrous oxide use to present day and the necessary steps nurses need to take to initiate nitrous services at their institutions.

Nitrous Oxide as Labor Analgesia, Nursing for Women’s Health, Volume 16, Issue 5, pages 398–409, October / November 2012.