Women's and Gender Studies/Sociology Pre-Grad Intern Teri Adams
Research Roadmap-Where I Need to Go, and How to Get There
I really enjoy being an investigator. Starting off with a question, and then gathering data, and then looking at what the data have to say to the question. I know this is something I need to do in my life. If I am not engaging with theory, I am not happy or healthy, and I feel adrift.
Knowing everything I can about the human body is important to me. I wan tto know what is happening with my own body, first and foremost. I want to be able to prevent, or quickly and accurately knock out, routine disease and infections in my family. This is vital because I can't do my work if my family is sick. This forces me to carefully consider healthful practices, including food, sleep, exercise, play, media exposure, hygiene, and includes healthy mental and emotional development. I am motivated to medicine because of my need to diagnose, treat and heal. These are the skills I want to develop, and the way I want to interact with others in the world. However, I will never be satisfied if I have no theoretical framework to explore. I must do both.
When I returned to the university to complete my undergraduate degree, I already knew, by conducting a thorough investigation of my career goals, that I wanted to become a physician. I assumed this meant I had to majo rin a biological science, but I was thrilled to learn I could follow my intellectual heart in Women's and Gender Studies and still take pre-medical prerequisites. Soon, the idea of attempting an MD/PhD caught my eye. I attended a regional conference. The conference was fun, on the one hand because I love hanging out with medical people. It was frustrating, on the other hand, because my questions are social science questions, not necessarily solvable at a bench in a laboratory. Plus, I have practically no scientific experience when compared to my experience in the humanities. I am gaining some, yes, and I realize it is necessary if I am to pursue a life in medicine. Prior to my reentry to UT in 2006, though, my formal training in the "hard" sciences was practically nil. I have literally been struggling to make it in classes such as calculus and chemistry with no previous exposure. I can't say I've walked away with A's in these classes, but I have passed them and begun to speak their language. I am glad I have pushed myself to learn things in the natural sciences. My thinking has become more logical as a result, and what wonderful exercise for my brain!
When I was conducting an exploratory case study in 2007, my purpose was to observe and analyze a feminized health care environment. The fact the clinic I selected worked with a refugee and asylee client population was incidental. The impression the client population made on me was not. I realized it was part of my personality and socialization to want to create as welcoming and supportive environment as possible for the people coming from all over the world to the place I call home. It truly galls me that people coming from some of the biggest political and human rights debacles (often with US implications) would then have to start over in dangerous, depressing living environments and right off the bat have to try to navigate a welfare system rationed by bureaucracy. The fact that people have so much difficulty accessing health care due to language and cultural barriers is what really made me the angriest. Here is a group of people, many whom have been through war, starvation, assault, slavery, rape ,torture, refugee camps, and on and on and they are having a hard time getting their basic health care needs met?! This is inexcusable to me. It isn't their fault; it's our system's fault. I can't forget about it, and since I can see that so clearly, I feel it is my duty to do something about it.
So this is all well and good. I came up with the idea of starting a non-profit medical interpreting organization. Well, it turns out that takes more energy than I could muster this semester. I did learn some very interesting things about the medical interpreting frameworks that have been developed, and I'm not giving up on this idea, ever. I just need to join forces with other people who can share the investment of energy. So I am going to keep talking it up wherever I go until there is a critical mass to make a push. I feel like devoting the remaining yea rof my undergraduate studies to creating an organization that I will then leave to attend medical school-a tremendous burden, especially in the first years-will be a disservice to the population I'm trying to help.
I've resigned myself to the fact that the anthropology of birth and rape fascinate me and I'm going to research them no matter what anyway. I need to restructure my research focus to build around these areas, even though, and precisely because of, their connection to my own life. I have seen female scholars in particular (including my mentor, Rita Stephan) do this and although it seems personally risky in some ways, like I mentioned, these are the topics I am the most passionate about because they have touched me so deeply. These are the topics I spend the most mental time ruminating, and they are indeed connected. They also connect my experiences with those of women worldwide, for better or for worse. As a feminist scholar, I want to explore the intersection of rape, birth, and culture. Specifically, I want to explore birth as a site of control for women and of women.
At UT, Robbie Davis-Floyd, a senior research fellow, is the main person I need to work with right now. At the conference I went to in Philadelphia as part of this internship, one of the MD/PhD students from UTMB suggested I work with her, and I have since read up on some of her work. If she would be willing to supervise something for me, that would be fantastic.
Meanwhile, I am working as a volunteer doula with a group called GALS-Giving Austin Labor Support. This gives me a great audience for doing cultural competence training with an organized group of birth activists. Using my refugee health contacts, I want to begin to work with mothers from other cultures to help them navigate the modern American hospital medical birth and have a respectful, positive experience. This is a rich topic, because it necessitates understanding cross-cultural perspectives on what a good birth is and finding out what a particular mother feels a good birth is. And of course, it means working with maternity care staff to achieve the optimum birth experience, and working with laboring women to assist them, if requested.
So how does this tie into rape? For me, it is intuitive. As of yet, there is no common cultural understanding I can draw on to explain it. I was drugged and raped by a group of young men when I was a nineteen-year-old college freshman. From the time I realized what had happened until the time my first child was born, it was the defining event of my life. Having my child exit my body changed everything for me. I believe it was because of the way I gave birth. It makes perfect sense to me now why I needed to be in complete control of the entire process, as much as nature would allow. Afterwards, I felt I had been given my virginity back. However, it was not the last time the rape would come up for me, for instance the dissonance I often felt while breastfeeding, when my body was not under my sole control. Since I have no actual memory of the rape, I would experience the loss of control as flashes of anger, incredibly and painfully disconcerting as I held my helpless infant in my arms and engaged in the most tender of human acts.
Now, we have the concept of birth rape to give words to experience. At this point, I am unsure of how I feel about the term, but I wholeheartedly agree with the concept. The way many women are treated during birth in medicalized settings is inhumane. The whole idea of informed consent flies out the window, and hospital staffers routinely inflict medically unnecessary procedures on women and their newborns. Mothers are routinely lied to outright about their options and what is being done to their bodies.
For a while now, I've been tempted to leave this alone, because of the passion I feel. Also, I don't like telling my rape story. It has a tendency to make me actually cry, which I try to avoid in academic settings. Also, speaking out in most contexts about having had a rape experience is fraught with shame because our culture eroticizes rape and imagining the woman acknowledging a rape experience being raped is practically unavoidable.
Since rape is such a common experience for women, especially, perhaps, among women who have lived through desperate and/or violent political stagings, I think there is much work to be done towards understanding how sexual violence and birth experiences play out for women who experience them. Folding in my developed concern for the vulnerability of the refugee population, I see a niche that I can uniquely serve.
The IE Pre-Grad internship I did with Rita this semester was the catalyst for me to make the decision to follow my heart into my research. Among many things I've taken from her guidance is the importance of my own experience, specifically, that the documentation of my own experiences is something that has academic value and I that can cite in my research. This is why she wanted me to keep a journal. Also, she has encouraged me to explore the use of free writing to get words on the page. I have a tendency to avoid writing because I don't think I can do it perfectly. Free writing has been very beneficial in breaking down that barrier for me, and my writing has greatly improved in quality and quantity.
I am grateful for the process I had with the IE internship and with where I'm going with my research. I feel more confident in my ability to choose a good graduate program because I will be looking more at faculty and methodologies that can help me develop as an investigator. Although I'm disappointed in some ways that I wasn't able to launch a non-profit medical interpreting organization, I am so excited about setting forth on the research track I've discovered for myself, and the potential within this work to transform the lives of women and their families.