Visiting experts discusses the importance of translation. Photo: Rame Abdulkader.
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Feminist Cafés talk childbirth, and translation

Last week, the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Feminist and Genders Studies continued their series of talks, styled the Feminist Cafés, with experts of gender studies from around the world—with an added non-fiction twist.

On Nov. 8, the U of O welcomed Şebnem Susam-Saraeva, an expert in translation studies, to give a talk about her research concerning counter-narratives and translations of birth stories.

Şebnem Susam-Saraeva, who is a Senior Lecturer in Translation Studies at the School of Literature, Languages, and Culture at University of Edinburgh, spoke to a small crowd of around eight students and faculty members about a relatively unknown topic for some—a feminist perspective of childbirth.

Susam-Saraeva told the audience that she believes the convergence of childbirth and writing to be a part of a counter-narratives about “alternative stories told from a subordinate position in the knowledge hierarchy.”

Indeed, the focus of the talk was the Turkish translation of American midwife Ina May Gaskin’s Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.

Gaskin, named “the mother of authentic midwifery,” practices at The Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee—a place that is noted for its low rates of mortality, morbidity and intervention.

“(The stories in this collection) teach us that each woman responds to birth in her unique way and how wide-ranging that way can be,” Susam-Saraeva told the crowd.

The work, whose Turkish translation seeks to highlight the problematic patriarchal meta-narratives that surround childbirth in Turkey, promotes the natural birth movement—or as it is sometimes also known—the positive birth movement.

Gaskin’s text presents birth as something that is safe, empowering and supportive of women—which Susam-Saraeva found to be lacking both in Turkey and the United States.

Susam-Saraeva explained to the audience that pregnancy and parturition is almost treated like a disease in both countries—meaning that, birth is something that women fear.

“The book is not a literary piece. It does include birth stories, but they are not written by literary authors—they are written by lay mothers,” Susam-Saraeva told the Fulcrum by email. “They do have the power to change public perception, as they form a cumulative voice encouraging a more positive approach to birth.”

To deal with the added challenges in translating the complex work, she pointed out that the team working on the Turkish translation was made up of translators and revisers who were well versed in both obstetrics and natural birthing techniques.

Yet, while the translation team was specialized in the positive birth movement, they decided to omit some segments that were critical of caesarean sections, otherwise known as C-sections, in fear of upsetting the Turkish audience—where the procedure is done for over half of all births.

“I assume (the translators) skipped some of this information not to excessively worry the Turkish readers, as statistically half of them are expected to have c-sections anyway,” she explained.

Susam-Saraeva concluded the afternoon Feminist Cafe with the statement that these meta-narratives surrounding childbirth have concrete, tangible impacts on material conditions, and called for infrastructure, such as the introduction of birth centres, and support for midwifery.

For her having stories about childbirth gives control of a natural process that can make women feel powerless. “It can help with healing after birth,” she told the audience.

To find out more about upcoming Feminist Cafés, and other related events, check out the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies’ website.