Feminist Birth?

15 April 2014
It amazes and depresses me that feminism, with it's (hoped for) support of a woman's bodily autonomy and right to choose, still has so very far to go when it comes to birth. As this piece from New Statesman points out, 100 years ago feminists were fighting the notion that a woman must give birth in pain to atone for original sin, and for the right to anaesthesia in labour. We've now come full circle. Google search "feminist birth", and you will see dozens of links to sites advocating "natural birth", without medical intervention or pain relief. Pain is how you get in touch with your inner warrior woman! Pain is empowering! Pain is GOOD FOR YOU AND YOUR BABY!

And god help you if you want an elective caesarean. Her body her choice - unless you want a c-section without medical indication. Then you're just anxious, or a victim of the medico-industrial patriarchal system, or, you know, selfish ("it's not as good for baby"). Not only does feminism not support the notion that a woman has the right to choose the birth she wants, even if that's a caesarean, some pro-"natural birth" advocates actively hector caesar by choice women about just how damn wrong they are.

Websites which purport to have a feminist agenda, to empower women to make the right choice, have already decided what that choice should be. Take for example this Australian site with the stated goal "Birth can be beautiful. Learn here how to have the kind of birth you wish for". But you're only allowed to wish for an unmedicated "natural birth", apparently. Like so many of these sites it is packed with horror stories of c-sections. Well I'm happy to go without the tears and cuts and stitches and fistulas and painful intercourse and fecal incontinence thanks. Does this happen in all vaginal birth? Of course not. But neither does the c-section horror.

I fell for this rubbish myself, I'm sorry to say. As someone who'd been through trauma, I gratefully accepted the notion that a healing, empowering natural birth was just the thing. And when I realised it wasn't what I wanted at all, that I'd been sold 50 cents of bull plop in a ten dollar bag, I couldn't get out of it. My doula told me I didn't really want a c-section (frankly, I'm still mad that we didn't ask for our money back; she was useless). The birth centre thought I didn't really want a c-section and sent me for counselling instead of to see an obstetrician. It was the worst and most disempowering experience of my life, and I've had self-described "feminists" tell me "well, that's unfortunate, but caesarean sections are major surgery, you know. Bad for baby". There is nothing empowering or respectful - nothing feminist - about telling a woman she's too misinformed to know what's good for her.

Can we stop valorising "natural" birth? Listen. Unless you gave birth to a Cabbage Patch Doll, YOU HAVE HAD A NATURAL BIRTH. A feminist birth is the birth a woman asks for, after discussion with her care provider. If you want to give birth in a stream in a rainforest with panpipes and incense, go for it. If you for whatever reason want to give birth by c-section, I will support you in that too because your reasons are NONE OF MY DAMN BUSINESS. It's your body, not mine, and I can't understand why feminists who  wouldn't conceive of forcing a woman to continue with an unwanted pregnancy think it is just fine, in everyone's best interests, to force a woman to give birth vaginally against her will. Feminist birth is bigger than a bath tub. Can we all get along with this?

Edit: I read this comment on the Skeptical OB and had to share it:

NCB ideologues ARE the handmaidens of the patriarchy.
1) They trivialize the pain of childbirth and claim that pain relief is unnecessary or even morally wrong.
2) They discourage and deny access to the best medical care on the most dangerous day most women have experienced since they day of their own birth.
3) They listen only to women who say what they want to hear, and deny the validity of experiences that do not fit their narrative.
4) They judge women by their fertility and other biological functions rather than by the work of their hands and minds.
What is remotely feminist in any of that?

I concur.

1 comment:

  1. And here in lies the problem many (Insert core belief here) face.

    The hijacking of the agenda by people where the only way is their way. And more often then not, they are in the minority but unfortunately they yell the loudest.


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