Eve’s punishment rebooted: The ideology of natural birth

There’s something pornographic about the way we depict childbirth. A woman’s agony becomes either the brunt of a joke, or else it is discussed as an awesome spiritual experience. One of the central ways women are socially constructed and treated as sub-human is through the normalization and glorification of women’s pain. In the case of sex, we normalize women’s pain during intercourse (“It always hurts the first time”) or we glorify it through sadomasochistic practices (“Physical abuse is liberating!”). Similarly, we talk about the pain of childbirth — with few exceptions, the most excruciating, exhausting, and dangerous ordeal within human experience — as valuable in and of itself. Hurting women is sexy.

The euphemistically termed “natural childbirth” is often justified on the basis that it is a woman’s choice, that pregnancy and birth is a “natural process,” and that it is best for the woman and baby (both for medical reasons, and because a woman won’t feel attached to her child otherwise). Put into context, these arguments ultimately boil down to “women’s suffering is good.”

Meghan Murphy has already done an excellent job of describing why “choice” is problematic. But there are specific concerns with childbirth because — unless a woman is in a hospital with an anesthesiologist nearby, she isn’t in so much pain that she can’t communicate, and she isn’t being bullied by a midwife — she doesn’t have a choice at all. Unlike BDSM practices, she can’t use a safe word to make it stop (taken as the idealized way in which these practices are presented, not the actuality where women are coerced into these practices). It is beyond unreasonable to think that a woman, in labour and at home, can drive herself to the hospital if she decides she wants an epidural. The condition of birth means that a woman is exceptionally vulnerable, and it is not only reasonable but obligatory that she should expect compassionate, attentive, and excellent medical care.

When people tout “natural birth” as an “empowering choice” (sound familiar?), they conveniently ignore all the women who have been harmed by these practices and for whom giving birth was (completely understandably and legitimately) one of the worst experiences of their lives. Natural birth advocates, just like many in the pro-sex movement, don’t seem to be concerned about the harm that women suffer through this practice or finding ways of preventing this harm from occurring. Women can choose, as long as they choose to suffer and see themselves as liberated through suffering.

The other problem with this ideology is that, as we know from the well-documented phenomenon of adaptive preference, women feel entitled to things that are available to them, not the other way around. If we normalize women’s suffering and refuse to provide palliative care, that is what women will expect. That is what they already are told to expect, given that they are socialized from infanthood to believe that their bodies are things to be used and hurt by men. They are bullied, coerced, told they are selfish or wimps or bad mothers. This ideology is pernicious in two ways. First, this will remove the motivation for finding safer and more effective means of pain management during birth. Second, if this ideology gains enough traction, we will likely regress to a society — as the UK has already done to a great extent — where women are systematically denied pain medication during birth.

Another argument for the natural birth ideology is that childbirth pain is “natural” and that pregnancy is a “natural physical process.” There’s nothing unnatural about any form of pain and, unlike what natural birth advocates would have you believe, all pain has a purpose: the purpose is to tell us when we are sick or injured. And if a midwife says that this pain is different from pain that occurs in response to injury, she obviously knows nothing about birth: childbirth is extremely dangerous and can, quite literally, tear a woman’s body apart. Others argue that the pain is just like exercising or running a marathon — but of course, this is presumably pain that (a) is not as extreme as childbirth, (b) we undertake for our own well-being, and importantly (c) we can stop anytime we like. Indeed, the fact that a pain may not be the result of some injury isn’t reason to refuse treatment: although migraines are very painful they are generally not harmful, and it would be absurd for doctors to refuse migraine sufferers pain medication just because they don’t have a brain injury. But according to this ideology, if a woman is in pain, even if the pain is extreme and prolonged, pain management is no longer necessary.

The argument for the “naturalness” of pregnancy and childbirth is inconsistent on several fronts. First, a healthy woman in the natural course of her life will not get pregnant; something very specific has to occur (these advocates don’t seem to know much about reproduction). It is also not part of healthy bodily functioning for a woman: pregnancy and childbirth is inherently dangerous and damaging to a woman’s physical and psychological health. Often the damage to her body is permanent. Second, death, unlike pregnancy, is something that every healthy person will go through, and yet we do not therefore argue that we shouldn’t try to prevent it or that we shouldn’t make it as painless and comfortable as possible. If we are take “naturalness” as reverting to a time without medical technology, then “naturally” many women would die in childbirth and “naturally” many infants would die before reaching adulthood (in fact, one of the main reasons for overpopulation is that people are living longer and more children are surviving than they would “naturally”). Conveniently, people only advocate “naturalness” when it disadvantages and harms women.

“Natural birth” advocates also claim that pain medication is “harmful” to the woman and the fetus and prevents her from having proper attachment to her child. But if we value women as human beings, we cannot claim that the welfare of the fetus trumps a woman’s right to bodily integrity and appropriate medical care any more than it is acceptable for women to be forced to suffer serious harm or death to carry a fetus to term (in fact, there is no empirical evidence that suggests pain medication during labor causes the fetus significant harm).

What about the argument for women’s health? We probably wouldn’t give much credit to an argument that we should strap patients to the operating table and refuse them anesthetic during surgery, even though general anesthetic is usually the most dangerous part of surgery. Rather than eliminating palliative care, we seek safer and more effective means of performing surgeries and administering anesthetic. Natural birth advocates are not concerned with women’s welfare, because they are not advocating for safer and more effective forms of pain management; they argue they should be eliminated, because women’s suffering is itself a good. And while feminists applaud efforts to give women support and comfort during the birth process (e.g., emotional support, more home-like birthing environments, etc.), this is compatible with providing women pain medication. Once again, the danger of anesthetic only becomes an issue — rather than a normalized part of medical treatment — only when and because it can be used to hurt women.

The “attachment” argument is based upon neuroscience that shows oxytocin (the “feel good” attachment chemical) is released during birth and the idea that women won’t feel attached to their child unless they suffer horribly first. This would entail that adoptive parents (not to mention fathers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents) are incapable of feeling a strong attachment to their children, and that seems false. Suffering is neither necessary or sufficient for women to feel attachment or accomplishment as mothers (why, we should ask, do we justify it on this basis when we don’t think that someone needs to be tortured in order to love someone or to feel accomplished earning a degree?). As for the neuroscience, oxytocin is also increased when we pet our dogs or hug our friends — no pain required.

To be clear, a woman’s right to refuse (or agree to) any particular medical treatment is never at stake. I am not arguing against informed consent or women’s autonomy in making medical decisions. The question is whether we normalize and provide adequate palliative care, or whether we coerce women and deny them palliative care. Some may argue that medical practice is fundamentally misogynist. Women are often subject to painful, unnecessary, and unnecessarily painful procedures; there is inadequate research and attention to women’s health issues; and traditional medicine fails to treat the “whole person.” I agree with all these critiques. However, the natural birth movement is not taking back medical practice to benefit women; instead, it is returning it to an earlier and darker time when women were told that labor pain was Eve’s punishment.

Most midwives and natural birth advocates may be women, but that should not surprise us. Ritual hazing is often perpetrated by people who have suffered the same and who are not necessarily the dominant person in the group (consider female genital mutilation or military hazing). Military training works because, by being objectified, hurt, and abused, soldiers identify with objectified self so that they will have no trouble harming others on behalf of the group. Often, we can only give what we are given, and when others fail to treat us with compassion we learn to be uncompassionate to others. Childbirth, subordination to men, sexual harassment and sexual violence—these are normalized by women, because through systematic abuse they have been given no self, no identity, outside of the system of oppression. And that is precisely, as feminists, what we need to fight against.

C.K. Egbert is a current graduate student in the Philosophy Department at Northwestern University. Her research focuses on feminism and equality.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Wow. I’ve been waiting 15 years for someone to say this. This has been a long time coming and it is well said. Thank you for writing this.

    Hurting women is sexy could also be put as,”Hurting women are sexy” which sounds a lot like porn to me. Natural childbirth has almost become a fetish.

    • Rebecca McCormick

      I believe this essay misses the point of feminism, is not based in fact and is divisive. I wish women could stand together in solidarity instead of measuring our worth by any standards but our own. Everyone experiences pain differently at different times in their lives, but the big issue surrounding childbirth remains our abysmal maternal death rates. In a report from the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals: “Indeed, we are unaware of any study indicating that the 56% increase in the rate of surgical births from 1996 to 200827 as improved outcomes. However, there are data to show that the overuse of medical procedures has increased both infant and maternal morbidity.”
      “The rise of maternal deaths in the United States is historic and worrisome. In 1987, maternal death ratios hit the all-time low of 6.6 deaths per 100,000 live birth.9 These ratios were essentially maintained for more than a decade. Around 2000, the ratio began to increase and has since nearly doubled, hovering between 12 and 15 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2003 and 2007.10 The overarching statistics only scratch the surface: “near misses” (maternal complications so severe the woman nearly died) have also increased by 27% between 1998 and 2005, now affecting approximately 34,000 women a year;11 and appalling disparities in maternal health outcomes exist between racial and ethnic groups, and among women living in different parts of the United States.
      The article deals with statistics, class, race and women centered issues and these are the real things we face. As women. As women united.
      .http://www.arhp.org/publications-and-resources/contraception-journal/march-2011

      Maybe some perspective is necessary. The State of the World’s Mothers Report does not focus on opinions about the best way to give birth, but on factual reporting. Again, the United States statistics on first day deaths of children is appalling-we have the highest first day death rate in the industrialized world, but in Sub-Saharan Africa one mother in 6 will lose a newborn baby and Southeast Asia also has high newborn death rates. I must ask, what are we talking about here?
      http://www.savethechildren.org/atf/cf/%7B9def2ebe-10ae-432c-9bd0-df91d2eba74a%7D/SOWM-FULL-REPORT_2013.PDF

      • C.K. Egbert

        I think saying just that “we should prevent women from dying” is making our standards extremely low. If we put this standard on all healthcare to women, women would never get any form of pain alleviation ever because pain doesn’t kill you (it would be horrible and cruel, but women wouldn’t die).

        Is a woman’s suffering (physical and mental) unimportant? If we were to apply this standard to all women’s issues–just preventing death–then we wouldn’t care about access to voluntary abortions and we wouldn’t care about sexual or emotional abuse (it doesn’t kill a woman in most instances). I care about women’s suffering.

        I’m not denying maternal mortality rate is unimportant–it is extremely important, and we wouldn’t have such high death rates if women had access to contraception, proper healthcare, and the structure of medicine didn’t prioritize the welfare of the fetus to the detriment of women’s health (they may actively do things that harm a woman’s health: e.g., keeping her off necessary medications, giving her medications that cause awful side effects, et below.c.). But that’s not the point of the article here, and it isn’t about the “best way to give birth.” (You can read some of my comments below for more information.)

        Also, saying women experience pain at different times is over-subjectivizing. Different people may experience pain differently, but we know very well what causes pain and how much pain it causes. We know that bumping against something generally doesn’t cause much pain. We know that childbirth causes extreme pain. We couldn’t justify shooting someone in the knee or denying someone who is dying of a painful form of cancer palliative care because “pain is subjective.”

      • C.K. Egbert

        I realize my previous post came off as being really snarky (not to make any excuses, but I was a little sleep-deprived at the time). I think there’s high emotions on this blog, and I don’t want to contribute to any negativity. To be clear, I’m not saying that you are saying any of those things; just that this article wasn’t dealing with mortality rates per se, but with the issue of pain management and that a comprehensive feminist approach needs to address issues of harm/suffering, and not just mortality. I’m sure we all agree that maternal mortality is a bad thing and a very pressing issue globally.

        But this isn’t about the best way to give birth. It’s about what significance we give to women’s suffering and pain, and how that relates to women’s subordination in general.

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        How is depriving women of the option of medication to relieve the pain of labor going to reduce maternal mortality?

      • Anonymous

        Perhaps the increase in maternal morbidity is related to the increase in obesity. The rapid rise in obesity in America and the rapid rise of feminism in the 60’s and 70’s also coincide. Right now there is a great deal of effort by feminists to convince women via “fat acceptance” to be obese and obesity undeniably increases risks for pregnant women….and their unborn babies.

        http://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Obesity-in-Pregnancy

        • The Real Cie

          There have always been fat women having babies. Equating encouraging women not to hate their bodies if said women happen to be fat with increased infant mortality is a fallacious argument.

          • bella_cose

            I would agree it’s not helpful to shame women for their bodies, but there is a connection between the increased weight of mothers, the increased size of their fetuses, and more complications during delivery. Making sure they have access to the support they need to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery would do more to ensure a lower infant mortality rate than shaming women for being overweight.

    • I lived on The Farm in Tennessee for nearly 11 years. I gave birth to my two daughters there and was an apprentice midwife with the very well known midwife, Ina May Gaskin. So….I have had a lot of experience with birth and mothering and the “natural birth” thing. When I lived there, we thought that getting married, getting pregnant and giving birth were the most radical things women could be doing. Geez….but that’s what happens when you live in a cult with a male leader who is considered the “head midwife.” The Farm was a patriarchal heterosexist hierarchy, which I didn’t know then. Women who didn’t want to get married or pregnant or who were Lesbian (and not “out” of course) were marginalized and often “used” to help the women who did have kids. However, I was a student of spirituality and shamanism before I went to The Farm and learned a great deal about energy and the unseen worlds. It is absolutely true that the experience of pain in childbirth can be experienced as transformative, in the right context. It is where belly-dancing originated–for women. No question about it. And this is definitely not the same as bdsm–it’s just not about that. Bringing a new soul into the world is in the realm of shamanic experience, not kinky self-centered bdsm. It can be one of many spiritual experiences in a woman’s life. But certainly not man-datory. I didn’t want drugs, nor did I feel I needed them during birth bc of the way I learned to think about energy. Of course if I was going to have surgery, like for my hysterectomy later in life, I would never think of not having drugs. That said, I think that motherhood in patriarchy is a lot of hype and harmful to women as well as is the extreme heterosexism that is a part of the whole natural birth thing. On The Farm, there was an unspoken vibe that birth giving was some kind of initiation. I feel Gaskin gained notoriety on the backs of hundred of women giving natural birth, risking our lives, in the backwoods of Tennessee ( we did have our own ambulance and docs on The Farm). The midwives were hailed as the wisest of the wise and a woman’s birth was really about the midwives–who was going to be there, who the Gaskins thought should be there, etc. Stephen Gaskin, could, in fact, show up at any birthing he wanted to without asking and touch any a birthing woman how he felt she needed to be touched if he thought she needed something that he knew better than she because he was the “head midwife.” A birthing woman had no choice who was coming nor could she have who she wanted to be at the birth. It was all determined by the midwives. Talk about bullying! At 67, I can look back and see that promoting marriage, pregnancy and birth were not what the planet needed then or now. What we need is serious education about overpopulation, patriarchy, misogyny, heterosexism AND parthenogenesis (the ancient shamanic ancestral way of pregnancy). Midwives now need to be talking seriously about overpopulation. Seriously. Natural birthgiving has become so romanticized, and I take responsibility in promoting that view as The Farm became a worldwide leading proponent, and still is, and the heterosexism around it all is suffocating. I have taken my midwife training and have applied to end of life–since those practices have been coopted by patriarchy as well. So much has been taken from women and coopted by men and patriarchy. So much was burned in the flames of Alexandria and the Inquisition. But our DNA holds the secrets of women, and we are rising again. But the lies of patriarchy must not be a part of that rising.

      • C.K. Egbert

        I agree that we need serious education about birthing, and the real costs to women and to the planet of having children. But I’d disagree that pain specifically is “transformative” in the way that you say; to me, that sounds like the sort of romanticizing of pain that I’m specifically arguing against (which is why I made the analogy to BDSM: it romanticizes and fetishes the experience of pain itself). I’m not saying that giving birth can’t be “transformative,” but there’s no reason to think that a woman who has pain alleviation is “missing out” on any important aspect of the experience.

        My point is that we shouldn’t think of childbirth pain as any different than any other type of serious pain, and that we should treat it as such (namely, as something to be alleviated either through medicinal or non-medicinal means). If it should be the norm to give a woman drugs for a hysterectomy, I think we should be just as concerned that women receive adequate pain relief during labor and birth.

        • Thanks for your blog and for your response. Yes, I know this is how you feel and thought you might respond in the way you did. Using those words, I do understand what you are saying. Actually, I would not call it pain in childbirth in my experience because it is really not like any other physical pain I have experienced. I would call it riding intense energy waves–like what it might feel like to surf a strong wave–and because giving birth can be a profound teaching about presence, one’s thoughts completely affect the energy in the moment. Energy follows thought. If you think you are in pain, then you experience the intensity as pain. If you think you are allowing the strong energy of creation pass through your body and surrender to it, it is not painful. It becomes more like intense kundalini rushes. These are spiritual teachings about energy that have been around for eons. And they are true–not romanticizing. And if a woman wants drugs, that is her choice and should be available, I agree. I think it is important not to put all physical pain in the same category, however. Birth giving, in the right context, can be something quite a-mazing and is not the same thing at all as a hysterectomy. That doesn’t mean I promote it or tell women they are missing out. Quite the contrary. It’s just my experience and I do not want the experience itself to be diminished nor what I know to be true about it. It most definitely was not suffering, but in the wrong context, it certainly could have been. It is the intense energy that transforms, which is true in life as well. It has been my truth in birth. And it was nothing like bdsm, as far as I know. But like I said, I do understand your basic ideas. And, if a woman chooses to give birth without drugs, it should not be put on her that she has chosen to suffer. That would be up to her own discernment. All that said, I don’t think baby having is the thing women need to be doing right now and there is so much propaganda about how wonderful motherhood is, etc. We don’t need that.

  • hellzapoppin

    well….I do agree that denying women pain relief based on misogynist ideology or fetus’ rights is very wrong. Also, the absolute crucialness for the whole rest fo the child’s life of immediate post-birth bonding stuff is very questionable in my mind. To be balanced, however, many women choose natural birth and independent lay midwives, especially for home birth, in order to avoid patriarchal punishments and control that are experienced in hospitals. I disagree with the strong emphasis on “danger” here – that has been hyped and used as an excuse for the male takeover of birthing care for the last 150 years. As a radfem who chose a natural birth at home, I did so to maintain my power and control. Its too bad that home birth means no pain relief if a woman wants it, but again that is the fault of patriarchal control over drugs and medical services. In the middle of my painful and prolonged home birth I did discuss the option of going to the hospital with my midwife for anesthesia, she was very respectful and I made my own decision (to stay at home.) I’m not sure who or what you are referring to when you say “natural birth movement” – I am sure there is the kind of shame-y misogyny you describe out there, but there are also lots of other leaders and orgs for natural birth and home birth who do not evidence any, in my direct experience, so I don’t think you should be painting all with the same brush. My choice for a home birth came straight out of my feminism and my mistrust for the male-dominated medical-industrial complex. I also feel very strong and powerful after the experience, not hazed or demeaned, and I can say it has increased my well being in general. Not to say others don’t have different experiences but I think this article does not give adequate credit to the empowerment aspects of natural home birth. Thanks.

    • Daleth

      Do you really think it is “patriarchal” to require that a person have medical training before they are legally allowed to determine the proper dose of anesthesia and deliver it through a needle into a patient’s spinal column?! Personally I hope a matriarchy would have the same requirement.

      Also, things may have been different when you gave birth, but gynecology is now a female-dominated profession. As of 2008 or 2009 (I don’t have the article in front of me so can’t state the exact year), 83% of ob/gyn residents were female and more than 50% of practicing ob/gyns were female, with that number increasing every year as a new crop of overwhelmingly female ob/gyn residents went into practice. This represents a massive shift that has been ongoing since the 1980s, when only something like 11% of practicing ob/gyns were female.

      • andeväsen

        I’d guess that hellzapoppin was not referring to spinal anaesthesia per se but to the attitute of doctors towards women giving birth, because of patriarichal beliefs about women. I don’t agree with her re most of what she said, but can see her point of view.

        Obviously negative assumptions are made about women’s capability in all walks of life – whether seeing a mechanic, trying to rent a property, trying to split the bill at a restaurant etc. (even, as in the recent FC post, at hip hop concerts where female audience members are exhorted to remove their underwear while males are not). The effects of this are magnified when in a vulnerable position, e.g. giving birth.

        And while things are much different now (like you say, today’s obstetricians are keen to reduce C-section rates) and there are more women obstetricians, it does not erase the specialty’s past history of instances of causing seemingly unnecesary pain to women, e.g. the simple practice of not completely closing the speculum before inserting it, and of symphysiootomy (dividing the pelvic bones as a treatment for obstructed labour) – both of which used to occur fairly frequently a few decades ago. Both of these were used as exmamples by my obstetrics trainer as ghastly mistakes of the past.

        It must be seductive to be told that any risks you’ve heard about non-medicated, non-medicalised birth are fabricated, and you can easily give birth in your own home away from patronising, lying (or at best misguided) doctors. I understand from the point of view of women who’ve chosen home birth for those reasons, why they did so.

        However for the ethical reasons as outlined by C.K. Egbert, and because I trust evidence-based health care decision making if I can read the evidence, I would not choose it for myself.

  • I would like to add natural birth advocates frequently make birth into the defining experience of a woman’s life and the most important day of her life. However making birth into the defining experience of a woman’s life, also centres our lives around motherhood (parenthood) in ways that men’s lives aren’t. No one is saying that the birth of a child is the most important experience of a man’s life and that he should be bonding with his child. Yes it is women’s bodies that birth happens to but we are more involved but what about making the day their kid is born the most important day of a man’s life ? And the birth of a man’s child being his most important experience ? And for women’s most important life experience what about becoming CEO or tenured professor or watching your daughter become CEO or tenured professor ? Can’t that be the defining experience of a woman’s life ? Why is it assumed to be the birth of a child ? Why are having children and childcare still being phrased as the central and most important experiences of women’s lives but not men’s lives ?

    Birth is an important experience but this natural birth movement is in a lot of ways a big derailment of feminist efforts. The more women spend time judging each other for who had a natural birth and who wasn’t as brave, the less time we spend working on taking over boardrooms and working on the glass ceiling. The more time we spend on the “pain ceiling” the less time we spend on the glass ceiling.

    • gail

      Why is an alternative simply by existing assumed to be encouraging women to judge each other? You just sound so defensive.

      “A big derailment of feminist efforts”? In 2012 barely over 1% of births in the US were out of hospital (CDC stats). Please, let’s keep this in perspective.

      • “Why is an alternative simply by existing assumed to be encouraging women to judge each other? You just sound so defensive.”

        Projecting much ? Women are being encouraged to compete for who had the most natural birth and who had the most oxytocin and who bonded the most with her baby. There’s the “Mommy Wars” and then there’s the “Birth Wars.” You know what I’m talking about, don’t pretend that you don’t know, if you have not seen the birth wars then you must have been living under a rock for the past 30 years.

        ““A big derailment of feminist efforts”? In 2012 barely over 1% of births in the US were out of hospital (CDC stats). Please, let’s keep this in perspective.”

        It’s not just the women who have and achieve homebirths. Add to this all the women who try for natural childbirth and do that in the hospitals, birth centres and the entire natural childbirth and hypnobirthing industry. But most importantly it’s all the women being told that their children’s birth is the most important moment of their lives in a way that isn’t symmetrical with what is told to fathers. No one expects a child’s birth to be the biggest moment of a father’s life and this is not widely propagated or accepted but somehow women are being told that our lives centre around the children and motherhood once again. That is what is the most damaging.

      • I want to say that firstly I am not ““A big derailment of feminist efforts”? In 2012 barely over 1% of births in the US were out of hospital (CDC stats). ”

        But what percentage of women try for natural birth ? These days from what I hear it sounds like around 80% of women try for natural birth. When 80% of women are affected, yes it is a feminist issue and it does affect feminism. I’ve read that many women are afraid/ashamed to say, “I want and am getting an epidural as soon as possible, I’m not even going to try for a natural birth.” Pain relief has sadly become something that if a woman wants it the thing to do is to go along with everyone else and say you are going for a natural birth and then just go to the hospital and get pain relief and do what you want, but don’t rock the boat, at least pretend you are going for a natural birth and doing what’s “best” for your baby. Among my friends many of them have had natural births and brag about it. Why are you bragging ? No one informs me that they had an epidural or “unnatural” birth. So even if most women may not be having home births, they are still very affected by this ideology.

        • JM

          I find that assumption odd, since almost every women who wants an unmedicated birth in a hospital has to spell that out very clearly to the hospital staff, and has to fight against interventions. It’s not the other way around.

          I had two unmedicated births in a hospital….by choice, but during my first, I did ask for pain medications and the staff immediately responded. I ultimately changed my mind back and they respected that too.

          But I had friends who were given pitocin against their wishes, given episitomies when they preferred to tear, and were refused their wish for a trial of labor after a c-section against ACOG guidelines. The US has a c-section rate of just about 30% and most vaginal labors are NOT unmedicated. I think the confusion may be in your terminology as many interchange the terms “natural” and “vaginal”.

          And FYI, I have friends who have had home births, surgical births, crash c-sections, unmedicated hospital births, and hospital births with pain medication. Some of us breastfeed and some formula feed. No one told us we were supposed to be competing with each other.

          A lot of assumptions were made in this article, and you know what they say….

          • “But I had friends who were given pitocin against their wishes, given episitomies when they preferred to tear, and were refused their wish for a trial of labor after a c-section against ACOG guidelines. The US has a c-section rate of just about 30% and most vaginal labors are NOT unmedicated.”

            I absolutely believe you. No one is saying that the way hospitals operate is good, we are not under any conditions advocating to giving in to that but we are saying that there is a third way.

            ‘I find that assumption odd, since almost every women who wants an unmedicated birth in a hospital has to spell that out very clearly to the hospital staff, and has to fight against interventions. It’s not the other way around.”

            What assumption are you referring to ? I didn’t say anything about hospitals, doctors and nurses’ attitudes towards women having pain relief. I did admit that hospitals in North America are oppressive and it’s not an equal relationship where women can freely get what they want.

            I did made a statement about the culture and the peer group of women of childbearing age, that women are being shamed by their friends for not having had “natural births” or more natural births.

            “I had two unmedicated births in a hospital….by choice, but during my first, I did ask for pain medications and the staff immediately responded. I ultimately changed my mind back and they respected that too.”

            That’s great. My statement about people pushing women towards not having pain medication is not about hospital staff but more about other women of the same age, midwives, doulas and the natural birth industry.

            And when I say that my statement refers to midwives I’m specifically referring to midwives in North America. Midwives are no a homogenous group. From the sounds of it midwives in Sweden and Finland would likely have some very different views on pain relief. It seems that most of the births there are midwife assisted in hospital and women also have pain relief drugs as well.

    • stephen m

      @Jan: Things are improving with more men taking part in child birth/care here in Canada.

      Through my son’s interest in participating in paternity leave, I have noticed that it is not uncommon for a father to take part of the paid parental leave. We still have a way to go but this trend is very encouraging.

      Fathers’ use of paid parental leave – By Katherine Marshall:

      – One in five fathers claims benefits

      Excerpt:
      “The change over time in fathers’ uptake of parental benefits is noticeably tied to the rules of the program. Perhaps because of the relatively short duration of leave available prior to 2001 (10 weeks), and the rule requiring both qualifying parents to undergo an unpaid two-week waiting period, very few fathers participated—only 3% in 2000. However, after paid benefits were extended to 35 weeks and the two-week waiting period was applied to only one parent, the proportion of fathers filing for parental leave benefits jumped to 10% in 2001. Apart from rule changes, rising take-up rates by fathers may also be influenced by a cultural shift that embraces fatherhood and men’s involvement with their children (Daly 2004). In-depth qualitative analyses have shown that views of traditional mothering and fathering roles are changing in Canada (Doucet 2006). Further examples of this shift include the significant increase in fathers’ participation in and time spent on primary child care, and the jump in the proportion of fathers as the stay-at-home parent in single-earner families (Marshall 2006). Yet another indicator of fathers’ evolving role in caregiving is the increase in the average number of days they miss from work for personal or family responsibilities when preschool children are in the household—for example, up from 1.8 days in 1997 to 6.3 days in 2007 (Statistics Canada 2008). The corresponding numbers for women were 4.1 and 4.8.”

      http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2008106/article/10639-eng.htm

      • Yes it does give me warm fuzzy feelings that more fathers are taking parental leave (it’s sweet and incredibly sexy) but 10% of fathers taking some parental leave with their kids (And how much leave are we talking here ? 1 week ? 3 weeks ? 3 months ? 6 months a year ?) while 100% of mothers continue to take leave with their children is not equality between men and women.

        In Sweden 80% of the fathers are taking parental leave with their babies. Sweden allocated 3 months of parental leave for the fathers, mothers can’t take it, either the father stays home his three months or that money from the government is lost. Even if Sweden gets to 100% of fathers taking parental leave with their babies, for instance what if the fathers all take one month of parental leave and the mothers all take 11 months of parental leave ? That’s still not equality in sharing childcare unless on average (obviously every couple isn’t going to split it perfectly down the middle but the whole population added and averaged up) the fathers all take 6 months of parental leave just like the mothers take 6 months of leave.

        You might be interested to look at this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

      • Sorry I misread your statistic as 10% instead of 20% of fathers taking leave.

        • stephen m

          @Jan: Equality in parenting? I agree we have a long way to go. Unfortunately changes in parenting styles are slow to happen. All the same I see the changes since my parenting of children very optimistically and smile at my son’s opportunity to be able to share part of the parental leave which I could not do with just the available 10 weeks.

          There are some very interesting interpretations what is happening to fathering in Canada. “Father involvement in Canada : diversity, renewal, and tranformation, Author Kerry J E Daly; Jessica Ball” looks very good.

          Enough said as this is OT.

    • ptittle

      Not just giving birth, but getting pregnant is turned into a defining experience of a woman’s life. FAR more important than getting a doctorate. Right. Excuse me??

  • Katie

    Wow, you are making a lot of broad assumptions about all birthing women here! Do you believe that if a woman chooses a natural birth and feels pain that she inherently had no choice or empowerment in that process? Or that she always had less choice and power than a woman who chose to access anesthesia? Did you yourself feel bullied or coerced in your birth experience? This piece reads like a person who feels hurt or traumatized applying her own experience to that of all women. This is not fair and will not build any bridges, but assuming it is the case I hope you find a productive way to work through it some day.

    Signed,
    A woman who birthed through a whole lot of pain, felt empowered the whole time, and supports you or anyone to birth however YOU choose!

    • I couldn’t agree more, Katie.

      Of my five births, the first was a cesarean that left me traumatized and with PTSD, the second was a traumatic, highly medicalized hospital VBAC with an OB who was downright abusive – yay for more PTSD – my third was another hospital VBAC but this time natural and with a CNM. Unfortunately I was so traumatized by the previous birth that I actually waited until I was crowning before leaving home just to ensure no scare tactics would be used on me. Finally my husband and I wised up and my next two children were born at home with a CNM. One in water, one not. Both fantastic experiences as well as being very healing for me.

      My recovery was so much easier and shorter with my home births. Lochia wasn’t even as long lasting. I felt like I could have run a marathon after all three of my natural births, rather than feeling like I’d been hit by a train as I did with my first two. Not to mention I bonded faster with my children born naturally.

      I could go on but I’m sure in the author’s mind, we’re victims of misogyny who have been abused and conditioned to believe these things.

      • bella_cose

        Wow. Did you even read the post before commenting? As far as I understood it, it had nothing to do with telling women they can’t have babies however they want to. I’m glad that you were able to have such good experiences for your last two births. That’s what we should all want for women. However, there is a faction of women’s healthcare providers that have decided that the pain of childbirth is just something women should deal with, and have fetishized the “natural” childbirth experience. My take is that the author is trying to open up a different analysis of what we think of as natural, and why natural is automatically equated with being good, or preferable. I read it more as a support of all options being presented as ok to women, and not as a call to limit options, or shame women for choosing one over another.

        • hypatia

          “why natural is automatically equated with being good, or preferable”

          I don’t know where you live, but I’m in the US, and at least here, that’s just patently untrue. Yes, there is a small group of people advocating for natural birth (which, as a term, is fuzzy anyway, and doesn’t necessary mean without pharmaceuticals, depending on who you’re talking to) as preferable to the anti-woman medical model. There are also feminists in the US, but I’d hardly say that “feminism is equated with being good or preferable” at a structural level. Medicalized birth with pain meds is still far and away what is considered “normal” and “good” by the vast majority of people here, both in and out of the medical industry.

          “there is a faction of women’s healthcare providers that have decided that the pain of childbirth is just something women should deal with, and have fetishized the ‘natural’ childbirth experience.”

          Okay, so can we talk about that faction specifically then? Because the post and many of the comments seem to be saying that natural birth advocates/midwives as a whole take this position, and they don’t. Not in my experience, and not in the experiences of many other women commenting here. If someone could provide some links or quotes or book titles or whatever that would help illustrate exactly who and what it is we’re talking about here, then maybe we could all get on the same page with our critique, because I think everyone here can agree that women’s pain is not desirable or sexy and that the fetishization of any aspect of women’s lives/bodies is shitty, and I wish we could do that without shooting ourselves in the foot by broadly demonizing an entire set of practices and ideas (“natural birth”) which currently represent what is far and away the best and most feminist and woman-centered option for many women. (For the record, I’m talking about the overall arc of the conversation here, not saying that you specifically are necessarily doing that.)

          • bella_cose

            That’s the entire point though. The author was not “demonizing an entire set of ideas and practices”, at least not how I understood it anyway. Obviously, it’s a very emotional subject for some, and that emotion is perhaps making an objective reading of the post impossible. I think that’s understandable too, although not helpful, unfortunately. I think it might be earlier for me to read it objectively, only because I don’t have children, so I haven’t had any personal experience with the issues surrounding childbirth. I have seen what my friends and family members have gone through, and I can’t say I’ve seen any consensus over women preferring natural childbirth. I do think most women don’t like the cold, clinical feeling of a hospital room though.

            Personally, if I ever do have a child, I’ll forego childbirth and have a cesarean.

          • hypatia

            “I think it might be [easier] for me to read it objectively, only because I don’t have children, so I haven’t had any personal experience with the issues surrounding childbirth.”

            This statement is very problematic; it’s the exact same argument that men use to try to silence women who speak up about things like rape and abuse. Being removed from a given situation may make you less emotional, but that doesn’t mean you’re more objective. Emotionality =/= irrationality or lack of objectivity. That distinction is very much a feminist issue.

            I do think we read the piece differently, and I think it has a lot to do with experience.

            Either way, I would support your right to give birth how you want to (assuming you decided to do it at all), including via c-section.

          • bella_cose

            Really? My statement is problematic? Not once in my comments did I ever say anyone’s personal experience, or opinion should be discounted. The old “I don’t like what your saying or how you say it, so I’ll accuse you of silencing women just like men do” is lazy and offensive. Did it occur to you that maybe I wasn’t trying to be insulting, that maybe I was explaining where I was coming from? And I do think that being emotionally invested in a topic does make it harder for people, in general, to listen to another’s perspective, not impossible though.

            I had an abortion when I was twenty. I’ve never regretted the decision, but it was one of the worst experiences of my life. The clinic I went to was like an abortion factory. The healthcare providers there had no compassion. They were cold and clinical. I seriously felt like I was in an assembly line of women getting abortions. I woke up towards the end of it, scared because I was drowsy and didn’t know what was going on. I was in pain, and the doctor told me he was almost done, and continued what he was doing. I felt like the entire attitude at the clinic towards the women was one of disdain. It was totally dehumanizing. My point here, is that while I don’t have any experience specific to childbirth, I have experienced how awful the healthcare system can be towards women, especially when they are vulnerable. I’m not unempathetic, and I don’t want to silence anyone.

          • hypatia

            Bella_cose, thank you for your clarification and for sharing your experience. I wasn’t trying to quibble with your tone, and I’m sorry if it came off that way. Your phrasing here–that it’s harder to listen to someone else’s perspective when you’re emotionally invested in something–makes a lot more sense to me than when you used the word “objectivity,” and now I feel like I understand what you meant and where you were coming from.

          • bella_cose

            Thank you, hypatia. I apologize for any snarky remarks. I got defensive because I felt that no matter how I tried to clarify my intentions, I wasn’t being heard.

    • “Did you yourself feel bullied or coerced in your birth experience? This piece reads like a person who feels hurt or traumatized applying her own experience to that of all women. This is not fair and will not build any bridges, but assuming it is the case I hope you find a productive way to work through it some day.”

      Katie, why are you trying to pathologize the author?

      Why attempt to invalidate her analysis on the basis of suggesting that she’s damaged goods, and therefore can’t have an opinion about systemic issues affecting women as a reproductive class? This is a condescending and dismissive comment–not something I’d expect to see in a feminist discussion.

      And then you finish up with the ol’ fake/nice I-hope-you-work-through-your-obvious-emotional-problems punch. Dismissive and, frankly, abusive.

  • marv

    Dear Feminist Current companions. This month marks two years since the inception of Meghan’s blog. I appeal to you to offer a financial gift to her and doggy Emma on such a momentous occasion, if you have the means. Where would we be without this sublime revolutionary space? I shudder to think of it.

    GLORIOUS BIRTHDAY, FEMINIST CURRENT!!!!!

    Regrets to C.K. for sidetracking your post. I thought I could capture a larger audience by tapping into your new controversial topic.

    • Meghan Murphy

      OMG I MISSED OUR OWN BIRTHDAY. Holy macaroni. Thanks for the reminder Marv!!

    • Margaret McCarroll

      the Feminist Current is the best investment i ever made ! Happy birthday – great work , wonderful website !

      • Meghan Murphy

        Thanks 🙂

  • northrup

    I agree that the argument from “naturalness” is generally a bad one, but it isn’t fair to say that “natural” childbirth is “inherently dangerous and damaging to a woman’s physical and psychological health” while suggesting that a drugged and/or medically managed childbirth is NOT bringing into childbirth its own inherent risks and dangers to women.

    You emphasize that medically managed childbirth is less painful than “natural,” but ignore the possibility that medically managed childbirth and its practices might actually cause a lot of the pain that it takes as a problem to be solved. Birthing on the back, inducing with drugs, and threatening mothers with inflated “emergencies to the fetus” in order to coerce them into c-section and other interventions are surely practices that exacerbate the pain (physical and psychological) drugs are then offered to “solve.”

    You’ve conflated “pain-free” with “good for women’s physical and psychological health.” Pain certainly isn’t some sort of morally cleansing power, but being pain-free by means of drugs isn’t a moral virtue, either. Neither is inherently good or bad. Pain is a part of life for all humans, and a part of childbirth for most women who go through it. That doesn’t mean that women should have to experience pain if they don’t want to– the option to drug oneself to avoid pain is also a part of life for all humans throughout their lives– but it also doesn’t automatically mean that “pain-free is the way to be.” Being in pain, like all aspects of life, comes with advantages and disadvantages. The choice in a specific context is up to an individual, but we can’t sit around assuming that the choice is always already obvious: “pain free of course”! Life isn’t that simple.

    Being faced with manageable pain throughout one’s life leads to a mature person who can face pain when necessary. People who have this inner resource can then freely choose to undergo pain or not, because they know that if undergoing some pain has some payoffs of value, they can make that choice. Those who avoid pain at all costs throughout their life are very fearful of pain, and can’t really make a free choice when approaching a situation involving potential pain, because they are simply terrified of pain beyond all reason.

    • Melissa

      Well said, Northrup. Also, it’s important to acknowledge that childbirth is actually well-designed, and I can’t understand how anyone can call themselves a feminist without being in awe of the physiological design of women’s bodies. When left UNDISTURBED, the neocortex allowed to dim while the reptilian brain and parasympathetic nervous system take over. I can show you countless videos of women birthing normally without NEED for drugs and assistance, and I can explain it. I have also done it twice, and I can tell you that our bodies work just fine when we are not flooded with fear hormones. The author is basing her findings (assumptions, really) on the culture she lives in, not in athropological studies (read up on modern stoneage cultures and see if those women suffer in birth as western women do) or biochemistry.
      However a mother births, even if surgically, she needs to be in a calm atmosphere free from stress/fear inducing people, surroundings and things.
      The only thing I can agree with the author on is the fetishism attached to the idea of pain in birth- it is out of hand, but not for the reasons she thinks. Blame christianity for that. Once the ancient practice of midwifery was stamped out in the Dark Ages, women in Europe were dying in the thousands, midwives burnt at the stake. The skills to turn or deliver breech babies were lost, male obstetrics came on the scene, causing puerperal fever here there and everywhere by not washing their hands between mothers, cultural practices began to create problems. Practices such as lying down to give birth, being instructed, rushed and pressured. All of THAT created the need for pain relief.
      I am surrounded by women who have endured modern birthing practices and want no more of it. They don’t necessarily want home births etc, but we live in England, where we are predominantly midwife-led (a major factor in creating good birth outcomes- did you know that the States has the highest infant mortality rate of the developed world?) and generally women aren’t completely terrified of birth. There is work to be done by people like me- childbirth educators- in helping women have faith in their bodies. Most of my clients stay in regular contact and tell me about how comfortable their births were, how proud of their bodies they are. They are not crazy evangelists, they are just normal women from all walks of life. And in four years of practice I’ve had just two clients use “walking epidurals”, less than 5% use entonox and one use paracetamol. Not because they are shamed into refusing drugs, but because thy are relaxed and don’t need them. Please don’t anyone diminish their experiences because it doesn’t square with your own- everyone has a right to share their story, but no one has a right to discredit it with misinformation.

      • bella_cose

        Many women in developed countries now weigh more, before and during pregnancy, than they used to. This in turn creates larger fetuses, which are more difficult for women to birth, giving rise to more complications.

        Telling the truth about childbirth shouldn’t involve fantasies about how women were able to do it without pain, in the past. There is no way a female could pass something that large through a cervix and vagina without it causing pain. Some women may have a system that deals with pain better than others, but saying all women can or should deal with it is like saying all women are the same. That, to me, sounds like patriarchy speaking.

      • Mar Iguana

        I can’t thank you enough for this beautiful comment, Melissa. When I commented, essentially saying many of the same things you are, I was slammed so badly by some that I have pretty much stopped commenting here and even on other radfem blogs because I too “…can’t understand how anyone can call themselves a feminist without being in awe of the physiological design of women’s bodies.” I mean, calling natural childbirth a fetish?! That is so far down dadeo’s rabbit hole I have no words. Hopefully, your comment will be better received since you are a professional.

        When I wrote about my un-drugged, painless birth experience I got called, by none-mothers no less, arrogant, judgmental, ignorant of biology and basic anatomy, a physiological freak, defensive, lacking empathy, patriarchal and that I minimize or invalidate other women’s choices. Some folks are indeed “…flooded with fear hormones.”

        I even got banned and told “fuck you” by the owner of another blog, calling me shitty and sarcastic (I still regard her blog as invaluable in the fight for the humanity of women, though I’m no longer welcome) where a commenter there talking about this post accused me of promoting straight privilege, lesbophobia and anti-Semitism. WHAT the fuck. It’s enough to give one cause for pause.

  • psychic monkey

    There is coercion at almost every step of a hospital birth, so it’s really hard to see why you seem to assume that the pain meds can erase all that and make it “pain-free” and all good. Drugs may make you pain free for a few hours– they can make you numb– but they certainly don’t prevent the pain AFTER you’ve given birth when you’re recovering from major abdominal surgery or episiotomies you may not have needed, for example. They don’t stop the psychological trauma that can come from being coerced, abused by an authority figure (doctor) you trusted, or restrained against your will, etc. These things aren’t guaranteed in a hospital birth but they are much, much more common in hospital births and that can’t be denied. These are painful results for women of the medicalization of birth. It’s simply not pain-free.

    You say “The question is whether we normalize and provide adequate palliative care, or whether we coerce women and deny them palliative care.” This just seems crazy, because in order to coerce someone you have to have institutional power or some other kind of power over that person. By offering an alternative way of seeing and doing birth, those who don’t want to birth in hospital aren’t “denying” anyone anything. What doulas or midwives are running around coercing women into becoming their clients? Does this happen? You’re acting like the big, powerful, ingrained institution of childbirthing is doulas/midwives, but it is clearly hospitals and the medical system. Hospitals and doctors have the power to coerce, and they use it.

    For me this post is coming weirdly close to arguing that women’s bodies, insofar as they are bodies capable of reproduction, are inherently flawed (inherently in need of medical intervention), and that the only way to treat women well is to medically alter and medically manage their healthy bodies and healthy bodily processes, which you’ve now covertly painted as not healthy at all. Despite all of your assertions– and despite the fact that birth is potentially dangerous– childbirth is not a medical problem.

    There are other ways to treat pain than drugs, a fact you ignore totally. Truly good social support, having a plan and feeling in control as much as possible during the birth, being emotionally prepared, and not being socially coerced into the birth in the first place (e.g. culture of “femininity” that links motherhood to “true womanhood” or that makes it one of only very few paths to respect and care for women) are ways of lessening the pain of birth that are non-pharmacetical. Some of these are specific things that happen in an individual case, some aren’t– changing our patriarchal culture and ending gender would actually be a way to lessen the pain of chlidbirth for women as a class.

    • Your comment speaks to me. Based on what I’ve seen / heard / read, I get the impression that it is the medical industry that operates on the assumption that female bodies are inherently flawed. Given the varied requirements of each labouring woman, the application of pain relief seems to be used as a matter of course to practically incapacitate her. This kind of medicalised birthing ritual does not appear to facilitate labour for women, but rather for the convenience of doctors and hospitals for keeping things to a schedule. I don’t see the point of inducing women unless it is absolutely necessary, but doctors seem to want to stick religiously to due dates.

      I found witnessing this to be barbaric in the sense that the women seemed to have no autonomy or input in their own labour process. It was handed over to doctors (mostly male) who’d come in, cut women open, sew them up, and leave. There was a feeling of complete disconnection going on.

      I think those who favour a more naturalised process do so as a means of exerting more control over their own birthing experience. I’ve read accounts of many women who have been traumatised by the hospital experience, and some have taken to calling it “birth rape.” Of course, I don’t wish to say natural birth is always right for everybody. Personally I believe in individuals coming to know and understand their own bodies and expectations, and to work out what is best for them. Birth experiences are so varied, after all – there must be factors, both personal and external that contribute to an experience being either exhilarating or distressing.

      For me, there is lacking some middle ground in this discussion. Yet the medical approach, I think, is too imposing and often medicalises the process unnecessarily. It is also folly (even cruel) to deny pain relief to women who are in need of it. Attentiveness to a woman’s needs during her specific experience of birth is of prime concern, I should think. In psychology I learned that doctors have a tendency to underestimate or else disbelieve a patient’s perception of their own pain, leading to inadequate medication. It is so important that we allow women the chance to listen to their own bodies, and then listen to them.

      If we could just get past this notion of what is natural, right and / or inherent for women, I think we’d be better able to appreciate pregnancy and childbirth (and indeed, women themselves).

      • p.s. I thought it might be relevant to share this article:

        http://www.davis-floydpresents.com/uncategorized/the-technocratic-model-of-birth/

        • hypatia

          This is a really interesting article, thanks for the link.

          “Insofar as it deviated from the male standard, the female body was regarded as abnormal, inherently defective, and dangerously under the influence of na­ture, which due to its unpredictability and its occasional mon­strosities, was itself regarded as inherently defective and in need of constant manipulation by man (Merchant, 1983:2). The demise of the midwife and the rise of the male-attended, mechani­cally manipulated birth followed close on the heels of the wide cultural acceptance of the metaphor of the body-as-machine in the West, and the accompanying acceptance of the metaphor of the fe­male body as a defective machine–a metaphor that eventually formed the philosophical foundation of modern obstetrics.”

      • “Attentiveness to a woman’s needs during her specific experience of birth is of prime concern, I should think. In psychology I learned that doctors have a tendency to underestimate or else disbelieve a patient’s perception of their own pain, leading to inadequate medication. It is so important that we allow women the chance to listen to their own bodies, and then listen to them.”

        I couldn’t agree more with you about this. Sweden I believe has the lowest infant and maternal mortality rates so indeed listening to women and women’s listening to their bodies does pay off. I don’t know how people feel that they are going to get somewhere on the infant and maternal mortality rates without increased respect and increased listening to women.

        “I found witnessing this to be barbaric in the sense that the women seemed to have no autonomy or input in their own labour process. It was handed over to doctors (mostly male) who’d come in, cut women open, sew them up, and leave. There was a feeling of complete disconnection going on.”

        Those feelings are valid. That is absolutely happening. There is such a thing as birth rape.

        “Based on what I’ve seen / heard / read, I get the impression that it is the medical industry that operates on the assumption that female bodies are inherently flawed. Given the varied requirements of each labouring woman, the application of pain relief seems to be used as a matter of course to practically incapacitate her. This kind of medicalised birthing ritual does not appear to facilitate labour for women, but rather for the convenience of doctors and hospitals for keeping things to a schedule. I don’t see the point of inducing women unless it is absolutely necessary, but doctors seem to want to stick religiously to due dates.”

        The medical industry does have problems, a lot of problems with the way that it treats women. No one is denying that. In fact I would say that with respect to birth we have a somewhat similar situation to prostitution.

        We have case 1: “The traditional approach”, the male, upper class doctor is in charge of everything, like case 1 in the prostitution discussion “The government criminalizes the prostituted woman and the client.” Everyone says, “Oh but this is wrong the women are being hurt, they shouldn’t be punished and those women should get to exercise choice without being punished.” And that’s accurate that way of doing things is wrong, rightly so!

        Case 2: “The natural birth approach”, women have babies at home with a midwife, there less issues of sexism and classism. It’s a more balanced equal relationship and technology isn’t pushed on women as much, women aren’t told that our bodies are all wrong but women have to forgo pain relief and accept some increased risks to get access this experience. Women now have “choice” in that we can choose between case 1 or case 2. This in a VERY rough way reminds me of legalized prostitution in that women are being no longer put into jail for their own exploitation but of course now there is increased trafficking. There now women who have a “choice” (the government no longer punishes them so they can “choose” it) but it is a constrained choice. Interestingly a book about birth was written and Holland, Sweden and the US were compared. Most births in Holland are at home.

        Case 3: Women could have their babies in a hospital with a well trained midwife (so an unequal relationship and classism and sexism aren’t issues as much) and have access to pain relief and medical technology. This is apparently the approach in Sweden and, Finland at the moment (I’m sketchy on how much this is also the case in Denmark and Norway). I’m not sure whether you would call this a “middle ground.” I personally wouldn’t call it a middle ground because it seems that women get all the benefits of the two previous approaches while avoiding the disadvantages.

        There is a Case 3, this is not an “EITHER OR” situation and it would be nice if more women felt entitled to Case 3.

        • C.K. Egbert

          Great response, this is exactly what I’m trying to say–it is not an “either or” situation. We should be giving women the best of everything.

        • By middle ground, I meant it in the sense of incorporating naturalised and medicalised elements into the process if need be, so I agree with you that case 3 is the most ideal. It’s just on the one hand, there is the risk of having unnecessary procedures imposed on you if you decide to birth in a hospital, and yet there are dangers associated with home birthing, such as a major complication that would involve medical intervention.

          To be honest, when I put myself in the position of deciding which option I’d choose, I’d feel too frightened to choose either, like if my birthing plan was compromised by doctors, or if my health / life and that of my baby was potentially going to be compromised if I stayed at home.

          I have seen something similar to case 3, though. Some hospitals have birthing rooms that don’t contain beds and the usual equipment, but those large inflatable balls, ropes for clinging onto when bearing down, and baths. The woman I saw go into one had only the assistance of two midwives. I’d never really seen anything like that before, but it felt the right way to go about it, as there would have been doctors on hand if anything went wrong seeing as she was already in the hospital.

        • hypatia

          There is another option for Case 3: birth centers. I had one baby in a hospital, and after that experience, I didn’t want to be anywhere near a hospital for my second birth unless it became absolutely necessary due to complications or other factors that made it medically necessary. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of home birth for myself, so I chose a birth center with a certified nurse midwife. I do feel like I had the best of “both” worlds. The birth center had an agreement with the hospital that would have allowed me to be in L&D within 10 minutes at any given time if it became necessary. But I was able to labor my way, without intervention or pain meds (which I didn’t want, having already had an epidural with my first and having hated the experience). They had medical technology that was sufficient to safely handle a low-risk birth without serious complications; it’s not like I gave birth in a cave.

          Even though I didn’t want to give birth at home, many women do, and I still think it should be the choice of the woman where she wants to labor and give birth. The data is not particularly reliable on whether or not home birth is actually more dangerous for women with low-risk pregnancies, but home birth for the most part in the US is still seen as very fringe and tends to be talked about very derisively by doctors. Maybe the problem with home birth isn’t a woman wanting to be where she is comfortable, but laws and attitudes that limit her options for a safe delivery at home.

          • And the fact that homebirth transfers are made more dangerous by the hostility against homebirth in the medical profession is a huge problem. In many cases women who transfer are denied timely assistance because of drs attitudes that “you made your bed now lie in it” rather than recognizing that we don’t choose homebirth to spite them or prove something and we are entitled (and competent enough) to change our minds when circumstances change.

          • hypatia

            Good point, Lia Joy, I hadn’t even thought of that.

        • My one hospital birth was absolutely Case 3. (told here in detail here: http://liajoy83.blogspot.com/2012/07/self-directed-birth-of-zena-joy.html ) It was an achievement — and not in the sense that I’m somehow superior for avoiding medical intervention & catching my own baby without assistance, but because it’s so rare to be able to maintain such autonomy in a hospital setting even if that is a woman’s ultimate goal.
          In my case, it was a combination of luck (having the option of a progressive hospital staffed with openminded midwives) and, I think, “earning” their trust because I’d given birth at home unassisted 3 times prior.
          My hospital birth experience is not something women should have to earn, or fight for. It should be an option for those who desire it — And my experience proves it is entirely possible to have all medical technology has to offer while being respected, trusted and given control over my own body. All of my choices were honored, and if at any point I wanted or needed pain relief or surgery, that would have been honored and provided as well. Women are absolutely entitled to Case 3 but sadly most women do not have that option.

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        I don’t see the point of inducing women unless it is absolutely necessary, but doctors seem to want to stick religiously to due dates.

        The risk of intrauterine fetal demise increases abruptly after about 41 weeks gestation. Some maternal complications increase as well. This strikes me as a very good reason to induce labor when the pregnancy has gone past 41 weeks. I don’t know what you mean by “absolutely necessary” but I’d consider avoiding risking my baby smothering because its placenta had decayed to be “absolutely necessary.”

        It was handed over to doctors (mostly male) who’d come in, cut women open, sew them up, and leave.

        A (male) obstetrician cut me open, pulled out the baby, sewed me up and left. He did this at the request of my (female) CNM and myself since the alternative was waiting for me to die from obstructed labor. Both the OB and CNM went over the reasons for the c-section and made sure I agreed with the plan before they proceeded. I felt in control and respected throughout the process. In contrast, several people who have advocated the “natural” route have said or implied that i should have been left to die because if I couldn’t delivery naturally I was an evolutionary failure and just dragging the species down. If that’s feminism, I think I’d rather embrace the patriarchy.

        But it isn’t feminism. Telling women the risks, benefits, and alternatives as far as pain relief options and options for how to give birth and not judging them if they chose differently from you, that’s feminism. Treating women as more than just baby making machines, that’s feminism. Demanding that they give birth a certain way, that’s patriarchy.

        • Daleth

          I’m so glad you and your baby got the treatment you needed.

          Just wanted to second what you said about 41 weeks, and also to point out that that point comes earlier in multiple pregnancies–in diamniotic dichorionic twins it’s 38 weeks and in monoamniotic dichorionic twins it’s 37 weeks. I’m not sure of the exact gestational age where that point is reached for the rarest and highest-risk kind of twins, monoamniotic monochorionic (“mono-mono”), but they are delivered by 34 weeks as a general rule.

          And yet I’ve known people carrying twins to resist induction because they’ve had it burned into their brain by the natural childbirth movement that “babies know when to be born.” If indeed babies know when to be born, can someone explain to me how micropreemies even exist?

        • I realise that I was vague by what I meant by “absolutely necessary” when I spoke about induction. I was basing my opinion on things I’d seen in documentaries, and written accounts by women who had been induced when there had been no medical risk present to either herself or her baby, and which led to further unnecessary intervention. I don’t dispute that there are medically necessary reasons to induce women, like late pregnancy or pre-eclampsia.

          When I said “cut women open” I was referring to episiotomy rather than caesarean. I should have specified what I meant. I do not think there is anything inherently wrong with either procedure, especially as they can be life-saving. If I seemed disapproving of the practice as a whole, that was not meant. I’ve read that episiotomy is sometimes carried out without consent and/or when there’s no need for it to be performed, which I feel constitutes a violation of women’s bodies.

          I also don’t believe there’s a correct way to give birth, and I agree that supplying women with the knowledge about options, interventions, and so on is the right thing to do if women are to exert autonomy over their bodies and the birthing process, whether that involves foregoing pain relief or not. I’m just angry that that autonomy, along with women’s bodies, is not always respected, which I initially perceived to be more common to hospital settings, but the comments here have helped me to understand that similar attitudes and behaviours are present among some home-birth/”natural” birth advocates.

        • Melissa

          The risk of foetal demise doesn’t soar just because a woman goes past 41 weeks. 37 to 42 full weeks is the established normal and healthy range for human gestation, and that has been known for at least 40 years. In fact there studie sin the 90s which found that we can add an average 10 days to the 40wk gestation “clock” given to us in the UK and US. Interestingly, if you were French, you due “date” would be set at 42 weeks.
          Placentas don’t just crumble the day they hit 41 weeks. I have plenty of clients who have their babies after spontaneous labours between 41 and 42 weeks. One last week was at 43.

    • C.K. Egbert

      See my post below for some responses to your concerns. But I don’t think seeing childbirth as a medical problem makes women’s bodies seem flawed; it is dangerous, it can be damaging, and it is painful, and there’s nothing wrong with using various methods (traditional and non-traditional) to intervene to ensure a woman’s safety and alleviate her suffering.

      If you didn’t think we should ever intervene in a woman’s bodily processes, then we shouldn’t have abortions because that is clearly interfering with a woman’s bodily processes (consider abortions are much safer than pregnancy; I don’t think because it is interfering with her bodily processes that abortions are therefore a bad idea).

      The fact that women are vulnerable to getting pregnant and that pregnancy/childbirth are dangerous for women is just a fact. It gets its social meaning by how we treat women as valueless by virtue of the social norms and practices guiding the conditions in which women become pregnant and the way in which they are treated once they are. I don’t think that acknowledging this fact is any different than acknowledging that people with lots of melanin in their skin are vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency or that people with pale skin are vulnerable to getting certain types of skin cancer; it’s just a fact that influences what they need to do to stay healthy. The acknowledgment of this fact isn’t the same as saying that people with dark skin or pale skin are flawed in any way.

      • hypatia

        The results of seeing childbirth as a “medical problem” have been pretty horrific for women, though. 38 years ago, my aunt gave birth in a hospital, alone, with no loved ones with her as she labored. She was literally strapped to the birthing table with leather restraints. She was given an episiotomy without anyone asking her if she wanted one or even explaining what it was. This was in the US. Standard practices have changed since that time, but not as much as you’d think.

        If I were to break my arm, I’d want pain relief (medication), and I certainly wouldn’t try to reset the bone myself if I had access to a doctor. Birth is different, though, in that women have been conditioned to believe that birth is something dangerous, painful, and frightening and that it’s best left to the “experts” to handle. Well, birth *can* be dangerous, and it *is* painful for most women, but it doesn’t have to be frightening, and the thing that gets lost in all of this is that women *are* the experts on our own bodies, needs, and experiences. Some women want pain relief via medication and some don’t (and either choice is obviously valid and should be respected), but the “medical model” of birth has taken our power from us, our history and our community. A “medical problem” is not usually something you try to solve yourself, but birth is something that women *know* how to do, and unless there’s a genuine medical need for intervention, we are best left to do it our way in whatever setting makes us most comfortable, which is the opposite of what happens under the medical model.

        I’d say that birth is an event that can lead to medical problems (obviously) and that women need and deserve to have access to the safest and most effective interventions *should it become necessary*, but birth itself is not a “medical problem,” and it frankly seems very paternalistic, especially in the context of a culture where birth has been so heavily medicalized at great detriment to women, to say it is.

        • C.K. Egbert

          Perhaps I’m just operating under a different understanding of medical problem. Pregnancy is often dangerous, it is very painful–therefore it is a medical problem in the sense that it is a health issue that should involve attention from trained professionals. Midwives and nurses are also “experts,” so the fact that we have professionals involved can’t be what you mean by “medicalization”. And if you think that pain alleviation–including the use of drugs–should be the normalized standard of treatment (meaning it should be assumed women will be offered and provided pain medication when needed, and women should not be coerced into going without it or shamed for wanting pain alleviation), along with ensuring women don’t come to harm, that counts as “medical” to me. So maybe it’s just infelicitous word choice on my part that’s causing the confusion.

          • hypatia

            I think the normalized standard of care should be listening to women, trusting in their understanding of their owns needs and bodies, and ensuring the possibility of meaningful choices for how they will give birth (including the choice to use pharmaceuticals or not). So maybe we’re in total agreement here and just phrasing it differently.

            Language matters, though, and given that we’re not having this conversation in a vacuum but in a world where the Western medical establishment has suppressed and disenfranchised midwives and other alternatives to medicalized birth (and yes, by “medicalized,” I mean specifically within the patriarchal medical establishment) and has also been extremely shitty to women, I think it would help your argument a great deal if you used terminology that avoids echoing the oppressive language used by that establishment.

          • C.K. Egbert

            You are right, language is important, thanks for pointing that out to me.

  • kogoon

    This article is problematic on so many points, I wouldn’t know where to start to address it all. It is utterly littered with absurdist statements and unsupported claims. Feminism is not inherently against natural childbirth and you have no standpoint to allege otherwise. Your contention that midwifes and natural birthing advocates are anti-women is wholly fictitious. The author has taken things to a whole new level in framing reproduction and childbirth as something unnatural and unhealthy. Statements such as “a healthy woman in the natural course of her life will not get pregnant” and another claiming that pregnancy “is also not part of healthy bodily functioning for a woman” being just a couple of examples amongst many. I am speechless at the view that reproduction is not healthy or natural and the idea that this viewpoint is a “feminist” one.

    • C.K. Egbert

      A healthy woman will not get pregnant in the normal course of her life is try to the extent that a woman must be impregnated first. Perfectly healthy women will not get pregnant unless this happens, and sometimes healthy women will not get pregnant even when it does. Sometimes very unhealthy women will get pregnant. So there’s not an inextricable link between pregnancy and health.

      I am also going to acknowledge the facts that pregnancy and childbirth can be very damaging to a woman’s health (including emotional health, such as postpartum depression and psychological trauma from giving birth). An early term abortion, by contrast, is 11 times safer than pregnancy. The number one killer of teenage girls in the developing world is pregnancy. This is just an inherently dangerous condition, and I’m not going to prevent the facts are other than they are or to ignore the ways in which women suffer and experience negative health effects from pregnancy.

      Part of the feminist struggle has been precisely to counter the idea that pregnancy and childbirth are “natural” (in the sense of inevitable or good). There’s nothing “unnatural” about women who avoid pregnancy and never have children. As for “naturalness,” death is much more natural than pregnancy because we all, inevitably, experience death. But we don’t therefore think we shouldn’t avoid it when easily preventable, or that we shouldn’t make it as comfortable as possible for the dying.

      • rob

        “Part of the feminist struggle has been precisely to counter the idea that pregnancy and childbirth are “natural” (in the sense of inevitable or good”

        I agree with your point that there’s nothing “unnatural” about women who avoid pregnancy, where I would respectfully disagree with, is your description of what constitutes “natural”; that is a biological process which takes place in nature independent of human interference, that doesn’t mean that the process is inevitable, and I fail to see how it could be viewed as either “good” or “bad”.

        Getting back to your original point, I absolutely agree that women face societal/patriarchal pressures to have “natural” or drug free births, and elimination of suffering during childbirth should be paramount, but to label childbirth unnatural because it causes pain/suffering seems a little off to me, I mean the menstrual cycle is a natural process, that doesn’t mean that all women have them (inevitability), and I have yet to meet a women who would describe her cycle as “good”, yet it is still a natural biological process.

        The issue with “naturalness” and female bodily processes is something I (a dude) shouldn’t pretend to understand without a lot of female input, but as far as pregnancy goes I do believe it is in fact a natural process, one that is critical for the continuation of the human species, but it is also fundamentally a women’s choice both in the decision to get pregnant/carry a child to term, and the terms in which she gives birth. I think our society may use the whole “naturalness” theme as a way of coercing women into making decisions they wouldn’t otherwise make. e.g. “you’re a women, what do you mean you don’t want kids?, women are supposed to have kids!”

        yes/no?

        • C.K. Egbert

          Short answer, yes, I am arguing against using “natural” to imply “good” and emphasizing that natural means “biological process” and that applies to many things we want to prevent or eliminate (death, disease). What I want to emphasize is that we use the fact that pregnancy is a “natural” process to normalize women’s suffering/harm in a way that we would not do for other natural processes (death, infant mortality, disease..). I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear.

          In addition, pregnancy clearly does involve human interference: a man has to get a woman pregnant. I think it’s important to not lose sight that pregnancy is not something that just “happens” to women the way that menstruation just “happens” to women; there is human responsibility involved.

          • Leo

            Yeah, I never understand the suggestion that ‘natural’ means good, perfectly fine and safe. If you look at the natural world, birth is dangerous for other mammal species, too, humans aren’t an exception to that. Somewhat weird perspective here, but I’m a member of a chinchilla forum where many breeders are members, and what they always emphasise is that it’s not all cute babies, things can and just inevitably will go wrong sometimes, no matter what you do, even with breeder’s and vet’s best efforts to intervene to try to save females and kits, and to be aware that choosing to breed a female does risk her life. I can absolutely believe that the idea of punishment and misogyny comes into how women are treated when they give birth, because these critters get more gentle and considerate care than many women do, judging by the stories I’ve heard (with much more outrage from breeders at any poor treatment from vets, women seem resigned to just expecting it from medical professionals).

            I’ve plenty of stories from women who’ve found it traumatic, including my mum. In her case, she was in hospital, and required intervention that resulted in her having a near death experience. I had to be rushed off for oxygen, myself. Without all the medical intervention, I wouldn’t be typing this, but I actually suspect it did have a negative impact on her bonding with me (…I could really have done without her telling me about all this -in a somewhat accusatory way, at that, as though it was somehow my fault- at a young age, she pretty much passed her trauma onto me and made me totally phobic about anything to do with birth or pregnancy). Some women just do have a bad experience, unfortunately, and that probably applies no matter what options they choose.

            Dehumanising and insensitive (mis)treatment by medical professionals is a major issue – and it’s one many women seem to be aware of from hearing the stories of other women, even if they haven’t given birth themselves, so probably influences their decisions. Well, doctors, and nurses too, are not empathetic a lot of the time anyway, whether someone is giving birth or has a broken arm. I’ve been bullied and ignored by them so much, just as a disabled women seeking treatment for my condition, that I’d be utterly terrified at the idea of giving birth in a hospital, if I had to (nope nope nope, not happening). Most of the time they just plain do not really understand pain, or emphasise with those in pain, and will treat patients as though they’re just exaggerating it (especially in those cases where there’s a limited amount they can do to mitigate it – they’d rather altogether deny the pain is an issue and be dismissive of the patient than have to outright admit that they can’t do much to help, or are worried about side effects if they do), so I kind of see the issue of pain relief during birth as part of that issue, as well as a feminist one. I haven’t really found medical professionals (male or female) give much of a fuck about pain generally – they can’t see it, so they don’t find it difficult to ignore it (especially if it suits them better to do so). So their cost-benefit analysis here is likely just plain not fully taking the woman’s pain into account.

      • hypatia

        “This is just an inherently dangerous condition”

        You’re not wrong about the fact that pregnancy and birth can be very dangerous for women (for a host of reasons, including the high levels of medicalization and unnecessary intervention in the US), but you do realize that you’re echoing the exact arguments that the patriarchal medical establishment has used for years to terrify women and force them to submit to highly medicalized, disenfranchising, and even traumatizing practices, right?

        You’re also conflating “natural” with “universal” and thus merging some very disparate perspectives on pregnancy and childbirth as if they were one and the same (e.g., that of the patriarchal powers that be who say that women belong at home with children, etc., and feminist natural birth advocates who say that birth is not inherently some terrifying medical event for which you should have to give up all your power to doctors out of fear), which is just a complete straw man.

        • I absolutely agree with this. We’ve been socialised for so long to believe that childbirth is dangerous we forget why. It used to be dangerous because of poor nutrition, hygiene, education etc, but we’ve been taught that it was hospitals that made it safer. There are absolutely circumstances where a hospital birth is the best option, but for normal pregnancies home births are just as safe and a lot more empowering. I had no pain relief at home because I didn’t feel the need to. I was in control, in charge. I could move where I wanted, eat and drink what I wanted and no one uninvited was there. I opted for home birthing precisely to avoid the patriarchal medicalised birth model.

    • Firstly I don’t have a problem with a woman refusing drugs because she feels more in tune with going along without them so I’m not making a judgement on natural childbirth. (I do definitely judge the way it is promoted to women though and I also judge the way childbirth that consists of the doctor bringing in a power imbalance often based on sex and class, doing unnecessary procedures and not listening to women is promoted). I agree with you in sentiment to a large extend. I do have to slightly disagree with the following statement you made.

      “Feminism is not inherently against natural childbirth and you have no standpoint to allege otherwise.”

      Historically Grantly Read who wrote “Childbirth without Fear” and was one of the founders of the natural childbirth movement was very anti-feminist, sexist and racist. He specifically said that women in the west were becoming too intellectual and being racist he also wanted them to have more white babies. He wrote that women in Africa were more in touch with their bodies and less intellectual and thus their childbirths were easier and they had less pain. Basically think of Mitt Romney. His wife never worked a day in her life and they have ~20 white babies.

      So while I would agree that feminism is not inherently against natural childbirth. Natural childbirth historically was conceived in a backlash against feminism and was inherently against feminism.

      Please take a look at the following link:
      http://weareskeptixx.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/the-misogyny-at-the-heart-of-natural-childbirth/


      “The mother is the factory, and by education and care she can be made more efficient in the art of motherhood.”

      That was written in 1942 by Grantly Dick-Read, widely considered to be the father of modern natural childbirth. Most people don’t realize that natural childbirth was invented by a man to convince middle and upper class white women to have more children and abandon their demands for political, economic, and educational equality.

      Grantly Dick-Read’s theory of natural childbirth grew out of his belief in eugenics. He was concerned that “inferior” people were having more children than their “betters,” portending “race suicide” of the white middle and upper classes. Dick-Read believed that women’s emancipation led them away from the natural profession of motherhood toward totally unsuitable activities. Since their fear of pain in childbirth might also be discouraging them, they must be taught that the pain was due to their false cultural beliefs. In this way, women could be manipulated into having more children.

      According to Read: “Woman fails when she ceases to desire the children for which she was primarily made. Her true emancipation lies in freedom to fulfil her biological purposes.”

      The comparisons between “overcivilized” white women and “primitive” women who gave birth easily was not merely the product of racism but also reflected the anxiety that men felt about women’s emancipation. This anxiety was expressed in medicine generally, and in obstetrics and gynecology particularly, by the fabrication of claims about the “disease” of hysteria and the degeneration of women’s natural capabilities in fertility and childbirth compared to her “savage” peers. Simply put, the result of women insisting on increased education, enlarged roles outside the home, and greater political participation was that their ovaries shriveled, they suddenly began to experience painful childbirth, and they developed the brand new disease of “hysteria” located in the uterus itself.

      Pain in childbirth served a very important function in this racist and sexist discourse: it was the punishment that befell women who became too educated, too independent, and left the home. The idea that “primitive” women had painless childbirth was fabricated to contrast with the painful childbirth of “overcivilized” women. Grantly Dick-Read was issuing a warning to women of a certain social class: if you step beyond the roles prescribed for women, you will be punished with painful labor. And if you have had painful labor, you should understand it as a punishment for ignoring your “natural” duty to stay home and procreate.

      In light of this, the contemporary popularity of natural childbirth is more than a bit ironic. The central claims of natural childbirth—that childbirth is not inherently painful and that if you “prepare” properly, your birth will be painless too—were utter fabrications. (The modern day modification of these fabrications is the claim women should find the severe pain of labor “empowering.”) Dick- Read would be delighted that these fabrications have been embraced by many women and that his philosophy has been propagated so successfully that most women don’t even realize that the central tenets of natural childbirth are racist and sexist lies.

      For more on Grantly Dick-Read and the history of natural childbirth (as well as sourcing of the quotes above), see Holistic obstetrics: the origins of “natural childbirth” in Britain, O Moscucci, PMJ 2003; 79:168-173. “

      • hypatia

        Grantly Dick-Read was indeed terrible for many reasons. He was also a man and an OB who emerged from the medical establishment and carried with him many of its attitudes about women and birth.

        This claim: “The modern day modification of these fabrications is the claim women should find the severe pain of labor ’empowering.'”

        reads like total nonsense to me. It completely distorts the modern day philosophy of natural birth as I’ve encountered it. Women who choose to give birth without pain meds are not empowered by being in pain, but by being able to lead and direct their own experience and process of birth and labor, by not being treated as a helpless and stupid *thing* to be objectified and belittled by the people who are supposed to be “helping.” An epidural interferes with the body’s biological processes that aid in labor and delivery, leaving women vulnerable to increased intervention and to having their birth process directed by “experts” instead of self-directed based on their own connection to their bodies. This doesn’t mean that pain meds are “bad,” only that they come with additional risk, at least in our current cultural context, of losing power and self-determination. There are ways to minimize these risks as much as possible for women who want pain meds but do not want to be subject to dehumanizing medicalized practices, and natural birth advocates like Pam England specifically address these issues so that women can be in charge of their births as much as possible, regardless of their choices or of situations where medical intervention becomes necessary.

      • hypatia

        One other thing. The implication that this one guy was a misogynist, therefore all natural birth practices are rooted in misogyny, is a fallacy. People like to use the same tactics on anti-pornography and abolitionist feminists, too, comparing us to right-wing anti-obscenity types and calling us “prudes” and “anti-sex.”

      • Yet it is the feminist movement that fought and won to have twightlight sleep given to women in childbirth. This was way before Grantly Dick-Read. It was this that gave the male dominated medical institution the ability to control and manipulate a women’s body. It did not even render women painless or unconscious, but removed from them the memory of the pain. This also created an environment in which women had to have someone else controlling her body. Thus they were strapped down, drugged, and had no ability to comprehend or deal with the pain of childbirth.

        While Dick-Read was sexist, other pioneers such as Ina May Gaskin where defiantly not. Midwives themselves have fought against the male dominated medical world as male physicians showed female midwives as stupid, dumb, and filthy. It is the midwives that pushed for women’s power and choices. Look at their history and you will see a much different view. The history of the midwife is the history of women’s choices and taking back their choices.

        “The central claims of natural childbirth—that childbirth is not inherently painful and that if you “prepare” properly, your birth will be painless too—were utter fabrications.”

        This is not the central claim of natural childbirth. That was Dick-Read. You will still find people who do believe this and I find that fine, but the central claim to most natural birth advocates you would talk to and actually interview (which I don’t think this article did) was that they were taking back their own power. Not by choosing pain, but by refusing to follow the male dominated medical institution that tells them how and when their bodies should work.

        I worked as a nurse and I saw abuses happen frequently. Women are not given choices and they do have to fight if they want something different than mainstream. They are bullied by fear and their own intelligence is downplayed. Women will have medication given, water broken, epitomizes given, and c-sections performed without their will or consent.

        This article needed a lot more research done into the history of midwifery and natural childbirth as well as actually talking with women who make these choices. I do not care if women need or want pain medication or more interventions, but a woman will very seldom have to fight to get the medication or intervention. Yet, a women will often, with great difficultly, have to fight the male dominated medical institution to not have things done to her that goes against the current anti-women birth culture that has been established.

        History of midwifery http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/timeline.asp

        According to Catherine Scholten in her book, “Childbearing in American Society: 1650-1850,” “the presence of male physicians in the lying-in room signaled a general change in attitudes toward childbirth. With changing conditions of urban life, new perceptions of women, and advancements in medical science, birth became increasingly viewed as a medical problem to be managed by physicians. At the same time, because medical training was restricted to men, women lost their positions as assistants at childbirth, and an event traditionally managed by a community of women became an experience shared primarily by a woman and her doctor.”

        “Physicians trained in the specialty of obstetrics and gynecology declared themselves to be the proper caregivers for childbearing women, and the hospital was deemed to be the proper setting for that care. Birth evolved from a physiological event into a medical procedure. According to one of the foremost authorities of the day, Dr. Joseph DeLee, birth was a dangerous process from which few women escaped unscathed, and proper management of this pathological condition required a program of routine medical intervention. DeLee’s recommended interventions included anesthesia, episiotomy, and assisted (forceps) delivery.”

        http://drbeardmoose.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/witchesmidwivesandnurses.pdf

        This link is a great read on how feminism and the natural midwifery have gone hand in hand. And how our medical establishment has done a lot to discredit women in general and as practitioners.

        Feminist natural birth advocates are not against pain control, they are against being controlled, period. If you actually talk to some midwives, you will see that.

        • Great (and important) comment, Rachel. Thank you!

      • hellzapoppin

        thanks for the important history here. i certainly dont believe women should be told they “should” find the pain empowering. but i also would like other women to know that going through labour with all sensation can be empowering. laboring womens experiences dont necessarily fit into neat categories or outcomes.

        • C.K. Egbert

          I’m not sure how this avoids falling into the “pain can be empowering” idea that I’m critiquing? Unless you are just disagreeing with me on that point?

          As I said before, there’s a difference between saying “pain can be empowering!” versus “not feeling coerced/feeling supported/feeling in control of what is happening to me” is empowering.

          • Being in control lessens the pain. You can’t separate the two points. You’re free to manage how you feel and your reaction to the pain, you can move about, bathe, adopt any position or ultimately transfer to hospital if you wish. You can’t underestimate the fact of being in control of the whole process.

          • The Computer Ate My Nym

            Being in control lessens pain. Choosing what you want to do about the pain is part of being in control. Having someone tell you, “there, there, dear, you just need to walk around and bathe a bit…isn’t this so empowering!” when you want medication is not empowering, it is belittling and can be terrifying.

            My personal experience is almost the opposite of your picture; Before I got an epidural I was in severe pain and was unable to move freely or concentrate on anything other than the pain. After the epidural I could still feel contractions but they were, truly, sensation rather than pain. I could move freely in bed, change position without difficulty, talk and laugh with my partner, take a nap…all things I could not do before getting medication. I’ll give you that I didn’t get out of bed much after getting it, but at least I could lie in bed without feeling like I was being tortured. My experience may be atypical, but I doubt it’s unique.

          • C.K. Egbert

            As I’ve said on the podcast thread, I think the problem here is that there is a certain framing of discourse: women who have hospital births with epidurals is not something “empowering” versus with a midwife and at home is considered “empowering.” I think it’s wrong, and dangerous, to presume that using pain medication and being in a hospital is automatically “disempowering” and “oppressive.”

            I also don’t think it is an “atypical experience”: I think women are not inclined, or perhaps even feel ashamed, to admit that they want and appreciate pain medication because of the framework which we’ve given women to interpret their experiences.

            Avoiding pain is a completely self-respecting and empowering choice to make.

          • Missfit

            It’s not unique, I got the exact same experience. Also, when my contractions started for my second daughter, I was more calm knowing that I would get the epidural eventually, knowing the pain would ease and that I would have some rest before the pushing.

            I have a friend who said she didn’t want an epidural because she wanted a natural birth, medication-free. She finally caved and asked for the epidural as she couldn’t bear the pain anymore. Everything went fine. But she was disappointed with herself, as if she was weak for not having been able to do without it.

            My experience at the hospital was overall positive. I had female doctors and incredible nurses with me. As someone else said, obstetrics/gynecolgy is becoming dominated by women and I think that changes the approach also.

  • As a fan of science fiction, I would go a step further and argue for the creation of an artificial means of bringing fetuses to term. We already have the ability to save fetuses that are born prematurely. If I am not mistaken, it is possible for fetuses which are born after five months to survive if given the right medical assistance. Maybe in the future we may be able to come up with ways to enable a three month old fetus to develop outside a woman’s womb and as defenders of abortion rights we (should) all know that a three month old fetus can be removed from a woman’s womb fairly easily in a way that usually causes very little pain or damage to women’s bodies.

    I know the thought of artificial reproduction creeps people out, but what I am suggesting is only a little bit more artificial than what already exists and artificial things are not necessarily bad. They are not necessarily good either. Breast implants, nose jobs and similar treatments are clearly bad, because they do nothing to increase life span, improve one’s physical abilities or reduce pain (in fact they cause it), but other medical technologies (like vaccines and anti-biotics) have increased life expectancy.

    I think people are (justifiably) scared of technology, because right now most technological advancement is out of the control of us ordinary people. Large male-dominated corporations use technology to generate profit with little concern for any negative consequences that they may result from such technology. So people see all these technological advances taking place and feel that they are being “dominated” by technology (hence the many science fiction stories about robots taking over the world.) In reality we are being dominated by capitalism. Technology itself is morally neutral (although many specific technologies like nuclear weapons and extreme beauty practices are horrific and can never be redeemed.) If medicine and technology were under the democratic control of the ordinary masses and if men were discouraged from obsessing over women’s physical appearances then I think that humanity would be able to use technology to benefit itself in a way that did not reinforce male dominance or the dominance of the capitalist class over everyone else.

    • C.K. Egbert

      I think that would be a good project to undergo. If we can prevent harm to someone using technology, why wouldn’t we do so?

      • Melissa

        Because you’re talking about infringing upon the normal developmental processes a baby is meant to go through. The hormones that pass from mother to baby and stimulate brain and character development (eg oxytocin, which can not be synthesised to a point of crossing the blood/brain barrier), it receives its immunological defences from her, she is more than a vessel!
        If you don’t want to have babies, don’t! I never wanted to- I wanted to be sterilised because I had been conditioned to think I wasn’t up to the process (I am terrified of pain), but that’s what contraception is for, and of course, in absolute worst cases, what abortion is for.
        But to redesign the entire process because of a fear of pain? Horrific! Please read up on birth physiology. What you are suggesting sounds like a Mary Shelley sequel.

        • bella_cose

          Well, there are already countries that are working on developing artificial wombs, and it’s very likely they will be a viable option at some point in the not too distant future. Of course, in the U.S. at least, they would probably be used as a reason to take away the limited abortion rights women have, so maybe it’s not a good thing.

        • C.K. Egbert

          I’m talking here about a hypothetical. If we could find a way to adequately replicate the process artificially, then yes, I think we should. I don’t think that the suffering and harm women experience in pregnancy/childbirth is sacrosanct. If you think it ever acceptable to use technology to prevent harm and human suffering, then it must also be acceptable to use technology to alleviate or prevent harm to women. I don’t see this as any different than giving women abortions, contraception, or supplying anyone with surgeries, pain medication, and antibiotics. We interfere in human processes all the time, and the only difference is that this is a complicated one that is used–conveniently–to convince us that suffering/harm is suddenly no longer bad when a woman is experiencing it.

          It’s also rather dismissive to talk about this as a “fear of pain” as though that is a bad thing. A woman who gets pregnant and has children is not “asking” to endure horrific and prolonged pain–not to mention death or permanent disability–and we should not consider that “normal” or the “price you pay.” That is precisely the normalization and acceptance of women’s suffering and harm that is subordinating.

  • Thank you! People are so deeply invested in the idea that out of hospital birth and non effective methods of pain management are feminist and empowering that they can´t see that they´ve been sold a bill of goods. Women are suffering needlessly and endangering themselves and their babies because of this cult of natural childbirth, and yes, it is a cult. Childbirth is dangerous and painful and there is no way to get a baby out of a woman without incurring risk. Advocating for women to receive sub-standard care at home or anywhere because it´s natural is not empowering. It drives me up a wall that the cult of natural /home birth tries to piggy back itself onto the pro choice movement. Safe birth and respect for women, pain management available without shame. That´s what it´s all about.

    • hellzapoppin

      giving birth at my own home was feminist and empowering (for me, and for my daughter) – no one sold me a bill of goods. i was also very happy with the standard of care i received, thank you. ObGyn male priests’ ritual cutting (episiotomies, C-sections, “husband’s knots”, fetal monitors screwed into babies’ scalps, etc.) is what I consider cult-like. even so, i understand some women are more comfortable in that hospital – that’s why its about choice – her body, her choice. no need to demonize the few independent midwives who are preserving the home birth choice for women.

      • morag

        How is giving birth empowering? Childbirth leaves the woman in such a painful and vulnerable position. I look at it as I do high heels: both are painful and change the female body in a profound way, but it’s considered something “natural” that women are just meant to do. Any woman who doesn’t comply is defective. Why is it that empowerment for women is always paired with pain and sacrifice?

        • hypatia

          She didn’t say that birthing babies is empowering, she said that the *way* she chose to have her daughter was empowering (as compared to other birth options that are available). If you’re going to have a baby–and women who are pregnant and intend to stay that way are–it’s about choosing the most empowering option for how to do that, according to your own criteria. For me, hospital birth was objectifying and dehumanizing, while med-free birth in a birth center with a midwife was empowering. This isn’t about having babies vs. not having babies, it’s about *how* you have your baby once you’ve already determined that’s something you’re going to do.

          And some of the rhetoric I’ve been seeing about how pregnancy and birth changes women’s bodies borders on deeply misogynistic notions about how mothers’ bodies are “damaged” bodies. Comparing the changes my body has undergone as a result of pregnancy and birth to the harm that occurs from the long-term affects of wearing high heels, something women do to achieve patriarchal notions of “beauty,” is actually pretty offensive. My body is different than it was before I had children, but it’s not damaged, thanks.

          • bella_cose

            Actual physical damage to a woman’s body is possible through childbirth. I don’t think anyone is talking about losing a few pounds. I would think it’s a big deal to a woman who gave birth and was left incontinent, or unable to enjoy intercourse due to pain, or who has pelvic organ prolapse, etc.

          • hypatia

            “Childbirth leaves the woman in such a painful and vulnerable position. I look at it as I do high heels: both are painful and change the female body in a profound way…”

            This is in part what I was responding to (though I wasn’t only responding to morag’s statement), the comparison of birth to wearing high heels, and the statement that seems to imply that birth is universally damaging in some way. Obviously some women are injured or even killed by giving birth, but to talk as though women are somehow left damaged by birth as a matter of course falls too close to patriarchal narratives about beauty and worth for my comfort.

          • morag

            Uh yeah, my point was so totally obviously that women are worthless and ugly after giving birth. You know what I find patriarchal? How when a woman says anything negative about childbirth it’s like an open invitation for another womam to talk about her pregnancy ad nauseum. The majority of comments here didn’t respond to what CK actually wrote, it was just an excuse to write about their super special pregnancy. Not all women want children and not all women want to hear about your special breeder status. No matter how painful the pregnancy, there are still messages broadcasted everywhere about white motherhood being ideal. I’m not recanting my statements that pregnancy is a vulnerable and body changing process just b/c it makes some women feel bad. And thanksto bella _cose for actually getting my point.

          • morag

            I guess it bears repeating that no where in my comment did I argue that women are “damaged” by pregnancy. It’s a fact that pregnancy changes the female body, and that’s not the same as saying that women’s bodies are broken or deficient in anyway. My point was that pregnancy can be harmful and that fact is ignored b/c of patriarchal messages that tell women that having babies is their natural duty. Why does it freak out so many women that maybe, just maybe, their special status as childbearers is just smoke and mirrors?

          • hypatia

            And that would be why I explained specifically that I wasn’t responding only to your comment.

          • hypatia

            Well, I’ll just shut the fuck up then and leave it to people who’ve never had kids and don’t intend to have them to decide for me how childbirth ought to happen. Forgive me for forgetting that my experiences as a woman are boring and stupid and not worthy of anyone’s consideration. I shouldn’t have been so uppity as to think that my actual experiences with the actual things being discussed in this post ought to have any bearing on anything. I’ll just get back to breeding now, since my status as a mother–or worse, my having the gall to talk about it as if it matters–apparently just renders me annoying and “super special.”

            You call that shit feminism?

            I’m so glad that my abusive ex practiced reproductive coercion in addition to the other violence he bestowed on me, which is how I became a mother in the first place. But I suppose you figure a “breeder” like me just pops out kids so I can fit in to the Cult of Motherhood, right? Right. I’ll go back to the kitchen now.

          • “Obviously some women are injured or even killed by giving birth, but to talk as though women are somehow left damaged by birth as a matter of course falls too close to patriarchal narratives about beauty and worth for my comfort.”

            It may seem to agree with the patriarchal narrative to some extent but that’s no reason to discount it totally. Thing about it, what you term the “patriarchal narrative” with respect to childbirth here must have had some grains of truth in it for people to go along with it. It’s not a black and white issue, they don’t have to totally wrong about everything in order to be wrong.

            http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/dec/10/torn-apart-by-childbirth

            This woman can’t work because of the injuries she sustained during childbirth. I don’t see that part tying into the patriarchal narrative about beauty and worth.

          • hypatia

            Please re-read the numerous comments where I’ve acknowledged that birth can be dangerous and even deadly, thanks. We can talk about these issues without framing them using the language of the patriarchy.

  • Missfit

    When I got pregnant, I asked myself whether I would prefer to give birth in the hospital or elsewhere (‘maison de naissance’ or home). Since pregnancy and childbirth are not a disease, why should I go to a hospital? Nobody likes hospitals. I also associate conventional medicine as a way men have objectified women’s bodies. I decided still to give birth at the hospital in order to have access to pain medication. Labour was very painful for me and receiving the epidural was a huge release.

    When I pushed, I screamed very hard and I later apologized for that, I felt a bit ashamed of myself, all the hospital must have heard me. That’s silly, I know. The nurse told me that she witnessed that women screaming during childbirth is taboo. It shouldn’t be of course. But women are taught to take pain with a smile when we do our womanly duties (not that we should smile when giving birth but maybe show a little restraint). Starting form when as a little girl I tried to remain still and hide the pain when my hair were braided and I was told I had to suffer to be beautiful.

    • C.K. Egbert

      Missfit–Thanks so much for sharing this with us, that’s an excellent point. There are so many ways in which we are silenced and forced to pretend to feel things we don’t.

      • hypatia

        Giving birth “naturally” in a birth center with a midwife, I was actively encouraged to make as much noise as I wanted to, if that was something that helped. And I screamed and yelled a whole lot, and it did help. Thanks to the setting and to the support, I didn’t feel self-conscious or ashamed at all, just focused on my body and my process. This kind of stuff is what I mean when I say that natural birth was empowering for me, because in stark contrast to my previous hospital birthing experience, I wasn’t silenced or forced to pretend anything. Other people may have different experiences, of course, but that’s mine.

      • I will never forget, in the hospital with my first VBAC, after enduring hours of unwanted pitocin, the nurse’s reaction when I finally begged for and received the epidural – which to be fair was done within moments of my request. She complimented me on how much nicer I was. She even shook my hand in a mock “introduction” as she said it was nice to finally meet me. Because, apparently, that laboring mother before her who only wanted no pitocin and to be left alone – within reason – to labor wasn’t the “real” me. Instead the “real” me was the submissive woman not asking for things and not bothering her.

        • Candy

          ugh, so creepy.

  • hellzapoppin

    i think it should also be noted that if some home birth advocates are strongly vocal opposing misconceptions of risk and decrying patriarchal medical systems, that is in the face of very aggressive efforts of the last 150 years of doctors and the medical establishment to silence, criminalize and totally wipe out midwifery and home birth, which they have been quite successful at.

    • Daleth

      Should it also be noted that babies are more than 4 times more likely to die in a midwife-attended home birth than in a midwife-attended hospital birth? And 2.5 times more likely to die in a midwife-attended home birth than in an OB-attended hospital birth, even though the OBs’ numbers, unlike the midwives’ numbers, include HIGH-risk births?

      For specifics, check out the bottom chart on this page, which summarizes the findings of a study that looked at more than 10 million births (no problem with sample size there!):
      http://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378%2813%2901155-1/fulltext

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is a reason–namely, saving babies’ lives–that we in this country have moved away from home births and toward hospital births.

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  • C.K. Egbert

    I’m going to comment here in order to avoid populating the whole thread with my responses. As Meghan as argued well in other areas of this blog, this is not about women’s choices or whether women feel empowered by their choices. This is about the conditions of the choices, and how we treat women. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the ways in which we are inconsistent when we talk about women’s pain during childbirth and other types of pain or medical issues.

    When people say women are not being coerced, we forget that women are coerced by the social conditions and the social norms. They are coerced when they are shamed for not wanting to suffer. They are coerced when, as I noted above, we remove the motivation for finding safer and more effective means of eliminating pain during birth because pain is “natural,” “inevitable,” or “empowering,” resulting in a lack of progress in pain management for women. They are coerced when, as noted with the UK, they eventually have few or no options for pain alleviation.

    I agree with the critiques that the current way we treat women in medical care can be dehumanizing or coercive, and I also share the distrust many people have with the medical establishment (once again, I’m not arguing against medical autonomy). I applaud and support all efforts to find safer and more effective means of alleviating someone’s pain (including non-traditional means, such as self-hypnosis). I’m also not saying that drugs are without risk; all drugs and medical procedures carry risks. But we don’t say because all drugs have risks that we should never use them: that would be cruel and inhumane. Pain alleviation should be a normal part of the medical decision-making process, people should expect this as part of their medical treatment without having to beg for it, and it should be catered to the person’s subjective suffering. My point is that we are using different standards for women and birth than we do for other people and medical conditions, and that is problematic. The ideology I’m critiquing is not one that says that we need to advocate for safer and more effective means of pain management, but that the pain itself is “natural”, is a “good,” that suffering is empowering, and that we shouldn’t use medical technology to alleviate women’s suffering (there’s a reason I’m drawing a parallel to pornography, and that is because the arguments are almost exactly the same).

    Pain and suffering have ethical and political importance. Much of human suffering is directly related to the actions of others, and thus we need to be especially careful about treating pain as “inevitable.” We dehumanize people when we tell them it is good for them to suffer, that their suffering doesn’t matter, that they should suffer in silence, or that their suffering is something to be traded off for some other “good” (e.g. it is acceptable for women to suffer and die during pregnancy for the sake of the fetus, the suffering of people in sweatshops creates greater happiness overall…You can see how this type of reasoning is problematic). Invalidating, minimizing, and being unresponsive and not empathetic to someone’s feelings or pain is a form of serious psychological abuse–and this is what women experience as women, on a grand scale.

    • psychich monkey

      What is at issue is that you ASSUME and hold constant without questioning it the entire thing at issue: the medicalization of birth. You assume that childbirth is a medical problem and then proceed from there. The entire issue, though, is that when women’s healthy (=/= natural) bodies and healthy (=/= natural) bodily processes are unnecessarily intervened upon, it tends to harm women. Childbirth is not a disease, although it can be dangerous. It isn’t wrong for some women to want intervention when their pregnancy or birth is causing them pain and suffering or threatening their health, but that isn’t the same thing as having all birth and all women’s bodies who give birth be framed as a medical problem simply by virtue of existing. So, yes, when you frame women’s healthy bodily processes as inherently in need of medical intervention, you are indeed arguing that women’s bodies are inherently lesser-than. Medicine exists to treat disease and pathology not healthy bodily processes. How can anyone not see this? Abortion is not a good counterexample in this connexion — see below.

      You are also arguing against a number of straw men. I said that we should question the medicalization of and medical intervention into women’s healthy bodily processes, and you suggested that I said that we should never intervene in women’s bodily processes. Not what I said. But I am in favor of as little intervention as possible, and intervening in healthy bodies and processes makes no sense and is dangerous. That’s just how the body works. And the medicalized birth experience is a perfect example (“cascading interventions,” anyone?) of that.

      I am actually not in favor of abortion as a feminist goal.The problem that abortion exists to solve is not women’s inherent reproductive vulnerability, but the abuse of women’s reproductive capacity by patriarchal capitalism. That’s an important distinction. I believe that women need abortion as a harm-reduction method to get through their lives under patriarchy. In patriarchy it is really not an option for most women to control their fertility themselves, to refuse PIV or heterosexuality in many cases, to avoid rape, or to develop identities that don’t involve coerced motherhood. But abortion is a band-aid, not a feminist goal. It is unfortunate to me that women have been made to believe that abortion is the height of feminine “power,” when in fact it represents a major point at which female bodily autonomy was captured for patriarchal capitalism and harnessed. Abortion, like hormonal birth control, is how patriarchy solved the problem it created by making a culture that uses and abuses women and coerces them sexually. The patriarchal solution is to add on something, to alter women’s healthy bodies somehow (pills, abortion, etc.) instead of ever questioning whether patriarchy should get to use and abuse women and coerce them sexually. This is basic feminist history– the “sexual revolution” and the pill and abortion were actually solutions for men and benefitted men, not women.

      Medicalization means taking a problem created for women by patriarchy, and hacking a solution out of women’s bodies. and then, to add insult to injury, papering it all over by pretending that it was a problem with women’s bodies all along. There is nothing wrong with women’s bodies. There are problems patriarchy has with women’s bodies.

      Finally, you can’t seem to conceive of a world in which techno-capitalism (the medical system as it exists now, as well as the production of pharmaceuticals and epidurals and c-sections, etc.) don’t exist. You seem to believe that technology can be harnessed for the good of the oppressed even though its material existence is built on the backs of the oppressed (who digs in the mines for the metals? who works in the factories to build this stuff? Who gets this junk put on their land when it is no longer useable but won’t biodegrade for hundreds or thousands of years?) and its social significance and societal implementation has always been controlled by those in power to benefit those in power. If technology was going to solve the problems of capitalism, it would have already. In the 60’s everyone thought robots and such were about to radically lessen the work day for everyone. Today that is laughable and everyone works more than ever, and work is precarious and largely imisserating. The pill, by the way, was created by experimenting on (torturing/treating like lab animals i.e. a resource to be used) brown and black women without their consent– but surely you know that? Does it bother you?

      • bella_cose

        I like to have consensual, heterosexual sex. I am a woman. No birth control is 100% effective. Even if patriarchy ceased to exist, this would still be the case, and I would want to have the option of terminating my pregnancy. I have no idea where you get off saying abortion only benefits men. I’m not trying to say that there aren’t instances of it benefiting men, but it’s an extremely important option for women to have in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. For whatever reason it may occur.

        Also, what does it even mean – abortion as a feminist goal? I’ve never heard anyone say abortion itself is a feminist goal. That doesn’t even make sense.

        • pogo

          Bella_cose,
          but the truth is that, while you like hetero sex, you don’t like to have hetero sex if it causes you to get pregnant. If you don’t like hetero sex that causes you to get pregnant you need to be able to decide unilaterally exactly when you do and don’t want that type of sex. Simple and requires no pharmaceuticals. But to do it you need to be able to make those decisions without coercion, without repercussion & without having to explain yourself or sacrifice the quality of your relationships.

          Perhaps not you, but almost all women who live under patriarchy do not have the choice of an identity that excludes sex which could get them pregnant. If you are a heterosexual women who never wants sex that could get you pregnant you certainly are going to have trouble negotiating a relationship with a man. Women who defend such boundaries are ostracized, while virtually ALL heterosexual men are never penetrated by their female partners and this hardly has to be discussed let alone negotiated or dealt with as part of their identity–and they can’t even fucking get pregnant!!

          So, the way that abortions and birth control benefit men is that they allow even more sexual access to women. They allow men to have control over the when and how of sex while giving the women band-aid options to deal with the aftereffects of that access.The fact that so many women need access to abortions only shows that sex and thus pregnancy is out of their control. Remember, birth control was invented for wives, not women. It was only later that they tricked women with that free love bullshit. Pregnancy is the symptom, patriarchy the cause. Not women’s bodies or nature. Despite the fact that you enjoy and consent to heterosexual sex, if you can’t say NO to sex- blanket statement- you aren’t really able to say a true yes, right?

          • bella_cose

            So, since I don’t ever want to get pregnant, I’m not ever allowed to have heterosexual vaginal intercourse? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. While I’m all for criticizing and analyzing sexual practices and desires the may result from, or contribute to, patriarchal oppression, I’m not going to never have heterosexual intercourse because I might get pregnant, even when I try not to. Instead of trying to limit women’s choices more, I would rather spend my time and energy dismantling the underlying political, social, and economic institutions and ideas that give rise to patriarchy in the first place.

          • pogo

            “not allowed” ??? no no no….. i don’t even know where to start with your response. I said what women want/need/should be allowed to do is decide exactly when and what kinds of sex they do want to have without coercion. in the world we currently live in women do not have that choice and men do- and they can’t even get pregnant.

          • bella_cose

            “but the truth is that, while you like hetero sex, you don’t like to have hetero sex if it causes you to get pregnant. If you don’t like hetero sex that causes you to get pregnant you need to be able to decide unilaterally exactly when you do and don’t want that type of sex.”

            That sounds to me like you’re telling me that heterosexual sex is always coercive, which I don’t believe. I like heterosexual sex, whether or not it could get me pregnant, because there are ways to prevent pregnancy, not always involving pharmaceuticals, and there is a way to deal with an unintentional pregnancy. I don’t want to be limited oral sex, or whatever, just because I might get pregnant otherwise. I do feel that I can say no. I have no problem leaving a relationship where I don’t feel completely respected, and I have done so in the past. I’m not saying it was always so easy for me. It was definitely a learning process. Fortunately, male attention and approval never meant much to me, so it wasn’t difficult to go without it.

            I do agree that it isn’t the same for everyone, and women should feel no anxiety or shame in rejecting any practice, sexual or medical, that they are uncomfortable with.

          • ““but the truth is that, while you like hetero sex, you don’t like to have hetero sex if it causes you to get pregnant.”

            How do you get to “not liking” the sex, if the result is pregnancy? You are making assumptions and twisting bella_cose’s words. Surely we can accept a scenario where a person does not want to be pregnant but can really love the sex that could make her pregnant??? Surely we can accept the positive usefulness of abortion and birth control for the women who both like sexual acts that can lead to pregnancy but not pregnancy itself? Just because a man might be spared attempts to make him responsible for a human being that he generates through sex thanks to abortion does not mean that abortion is in essence detrimental to women or of no benefit to them. That’s just silly. I don’t get any coherence in your objection to what bella_cose wrote.

          • okay

            what you’re missing here, bella_cose, is that “dismantling the underlying politics, social, and economic institutions and ideas that give rise to patriarchy,” which you say you are in favor of, would affect people’s attitudes towards heterosexual sex. You seem to be speaking as if you want to hold your personal preferences for heterosexual sex constant and outside of patriarchy or its influence.You say “I like heterosexual sex” as if your “I” and your “likes” were not forged in the context of patriarchy. But they were. You can’t hold that constant and assume it would never change while claiming to want to radically overthrow every institution and idea that gives rise to patriarchy. Clearly patriarchy thrives on the ideas and institutions that can make women “like” and “choose” heterosexual sex.

          • bella_cose

            Actually, I didn’t miss that. I mentioned above that I think it’s important to analyze sexual practices as they relate to patriarchy. The fact of the matter is, I would never physically be satisfied with only one form of sex. Inanimate objects don’t turn me on, and I’m not going to become a political lesbian. I’m not saying I’m not uncomfortable with certain aspects of heterosexual sex (because I am), but I’m not going to be asexual either.

          • okay

            but it isn’t about you, is it? You are one person, but if we can create enough good feminist work, feminist communities, and infuse the cultures we live in with feminist values, people’s sexualities won’t be forged in such a hot patriarchal fire, in which case they won’t have such a very specific “taste” for heterosexual, penis-in-vagina sex as you have. That’s the point. The point is that just because YOU would “never be satisfied” with non-piv sex (or maybe having piv sex only when not fertile? or some other solution), doesn’t mean that we can’t make it our aim to CHANGE things such that other women shall.

            You’ve been speaking as if just beacuse you like PIV sex, it’s a permanent thing and you represent some permanent and unchangeable subset of women who have and will always have your same proclivities. not so. Feminist futures are real! Also, people’s preferences can change, and their priorities and values can change.

            I don’t begrudge you your fondness for PIV sex. I really don’t. But this isn’t about you. It’s about wanting better for women in the future. If we take you as emblematic of how womanhood has to be (even if only for a subset of women), then we DO have to focus on abortion and hormonal contraceptives as the end all be all and as a permanent necessity. I accept that they are necessary for women now, but I hope for a future in which they aren’t because women have more power, and that includes sexualities formed in a context in which they have more power, i.e. not within compulsory heterosexuality.

          • bella_cose

            I think where we differ, is that to me, feminism is not a rejection of men. It is a rejection of patriarchy. I don’t think that patriarchy is inseparable from men, or that it’s an inherent part of being male. It is a system, a structure, a practice, etc. It is not an essential quality.

            For some women (probably many, if they are heterosexual), PIV sex is enjoyable, because of the pleasant physical sensations it creates. Natural methods of birth control tend to be unreliable for many women, so it’s not as easy as abstaining when one might be fertile. Also, such methods can be burdensome for women. I think women deserve the peace of mind hormonal contraception provides, if that’s what they choose.

            If a women doesn’t feel that non-PIV sex would be satisfying for her long term, then I don’t want to change that. There isn’t any reason to, as long as the sex isn’t violent, degrading, or forced.

            I don’t view men or penises as inherently evil. I don’t aspire to a world where women have power by rejecting everything having to do with men. That’s basically what patriarchy has done to women, and I’d rather not copy patriarchy’s mistakes.

            One more thing. Sometimes women take hormonal contraceptives for reasons other than birth control, and have abortions for reasons other than not wanting to be pregnant.

          • okay

            regarding abortion:

            when do women have abortions for a reason other than aborting a pregnancy?

            in regards to contraceptives, how does that matter? Some people use alcohol for reasons other than avoiding their feelings (e.g. blood-thinning, having fun), some people use thorazine for things other than numbing people with psychosis (as surgical anesthetic). Does that mean that we can’t argue against the use of alcohol to deal with one’s emotions? Does that mean that we can’t argue against the use of thorazine to drug people into submission and numb them?

            I’m not sure these are the best analogies, but I thin you get my point. I don’t understand what contraceptives being used for, say, endometriosis, has to do with contraceptives being used for contraception.

          • bella_cose

            I’m replying to your last comment here, because for some reason, there is no reply button after it.

            “regarding abortion:
            when do women have abortions for a reason other than aborting a pregnancy?”

            I never said they didn’t have abortions to end a pregnancy. I said not all women have abortions to end an unwanted pregnancy. Perhaps you’ve never heard of pregnant women with life-threatening complications that will kill them if they don’t abort? Or fetuses with terrible deformities or diseases who will be born only to suffer and die soon after birth? Honestly, I don’t care why any woman chooses to end a pregnancy, just that she has an option to.

            Sorry, but I just don’t think what you are proposing sounds reasonable, unless one happens to be asexual, or a lesbian.

            I don’t share your vision for a world where women are separate from men. That doesn’t sound very interesting to me. I hold men accountable for their complicity in, and privilege from, patriarchy. However, I still believe there is hope for men yet.

      • C.K. Egbert

        I’m not actually clear on where we disagree if you think we should normalize women’s pain management and prioritize women’s health during pregnancy and childbirth. I’m arguing against thinking of suffering during pregnancy and birth as some great, empowering, spiritual experience or using different standards for pregnancy as we do for other types of health concerns As far as pregnancy as a “medical problem,” maybe we just thinking of the term differently: I’m thinking of it as any time when someone’s health could be negatively impacted and they should have available the assistance of a trained professional (not just doctors, but massage therapists, chiropractors, etc…Midwives would also qualify, so it can’t be the fact that there is a trained professional involved that makes it “medicalized”). If you’re critiquing the problem-solution paradigm of medical practice, then yes, I agree with you.

        I don’t think technology solves our problems, and there are definite problems with the medical establishment (it is ideological, profit-driven, misogynist, not holistic, etc.). Are you just against the idea of any medical technology? What I’m saying is that you can’t have one standard of care when it comes to pregnancy and another when it comes to other medical issues. So I can imagine a world without pharmaceuticals, C-sections, and epidurals, but it would also have to be a world without general anesthetic or surgeries or IVs, etc. You can’t just have medical technology for people with broken bones or appendicitis and not make it available as a potential treatment option for women–that’s discriminatory (once again, I’m not arguing that we should have it as the only treatment option; it’s great if women experience no complications or can manage their pain via self-hypnosis and don’t need drugs, and we certainly should move toward a more holistic model of healthcare).

    • Birthinator

      I believe what you are trying to say is that, in weighing the pros and cons of any birthing situation, that women’s suffering is not given sufficient weight. That rings true to me in the same way that women are ‘shamed’ for using formula. No matter how much you weigh the pros and cons, women’s sacrifices- time, sanity and labor- are not given adequate weight and inevitably breastmilk comes out on top. that’s not enough of an analysis, though.

      Despite saying that Meghan has debunked the choosy choice feminism, what you are describing here is liberal choosy choice birthing. The primary argument you’re making is that women can’t choose X way to give birth (the decidedly traditional path) and must be liberated to do so. The logical way forward from there is liberalization or freedom of choice. This is all so reminiscent of the ‘women are ashamed of sex and so need to be liberated to have more sex!’ line of thinking. No feminists, especially not radical feminists, are criticizing individual women for choosing epidurals.

      I think it’s irresponsible to take the administration of pain meds out of context and encourage women to allow their birth to be medicalized– simply to allow access to pharmaceutical pain relief. Pain relief is not dependent on the ‘medical industrial complex’, no, its only pharmaceutical pain meds that are. You say you just want to give women options but, from a radical perspective, what you are doing is minimizing the harm of the traditional medicalized model of birth to the point that it seems equally as harmless – or harmful- as a natural birth. Birth is painful and can injure women’s bodies. But, I believe there is a difference between pain derived from a ‘natural’ body process and pain which occurs at the hands of an authority figure, in a woman hating institution and without consent. Do you really believe the ‘natural’ and ‘institutional’ are equal? As you pointed out death is ‘natural’, and individuals should be allowed to make choices about how they do it. Yet, in a class analysis and in a quality of life analysis, there is a difference between dying a ‘naturally’ painful death and by lethal injection (palliative care).

      • C.K. Egbert

        I’m replying here to your comment below as well as your response to Mira.

        First of all, I’m not advocating for “choice” (I’ve actually argued against it previously on this blog). I’m also not trying to minimize the harm women experience through the medical establishment or pretend it doesn’t happen. But critiquing the ideology of natural birth isn’t the same as advocating for patriarchal medical institutions: if I criticize the idea that women have to be chaste it doesn’t mean I’m “sex-positive.”

        Saying someone can “recover from pain” but not from “birth rape” is not always true–sometimes the experience of the pain is just as traumatizing and damaging as “birth rape.” I’m not going to dismiss those women. I’m also not going to pretend that women aren’t harmed by the norms surrounding reproduction and by being shamed and coerced by those norms into thinking they shouldn’t be permitted pharmaceutical drugs. I’m trying to show how our norms and ways of thinking about reproduction are damaging to women.

        There is a link between “natural pain” and institutional subordination. Our pain gains social significance by how it is responded to by other people and social institutions. If women are systematically denied pain alleviation, and told that their suffering is good and “natural”, that it is worth it to make them suffer for some other “good,” that is oppressive just as it would be oppressive for people to be denied palliative care because they were members of a certain race. We can be harmed just as much by indifference to our suffering as we can by active infliction.

        I’ve responded in the previous post about the medical industry. I don’t deny that there are other forms of pain alleviation, and I support the use of those if they are safe and effective. I don’t deny that there are risks to pain medication, but there always are and it is just a normal part of the medical decision-making process. If you think we should abandon all drugs together (once again, as I’m trying to show, we can’t decide to change our standards when it comes to women during childbirth)…I’m not sure what to say, other than I think that isn’t good because drugs may be the only effective means of pain alleviation.

    • hypatia

      “Pain is good.” “Suffering is empowering.” Who says these things? Because you seem to be claiming that these statements are part and parcel of natural birth advocacy, and they are not. These attitudes are quite opposed to anything I’ve encountered in my personal experience. Perhaps there is a subset of natural birth advocates out there who do believe and promote these things. If so, it would be useful to address that subset directly and specifically instead of painting everything that falls under the umbrella of “natural birth” with the same brush.

    • I think there is also an assumption made that pain is suffering. I experienced pain in childbirth, but did not suffer. As someone mentioned above, I was allowed to express my pain without feeling like it was wrong. I could make whatever noises I wanted, do what I needed to do, without feeling shamed or that somehow what I was doing was wrong. That makes a huge difference. I have given birth in a variety of settings and the hospital was by far the one that was most focused on their own power and position and routines, rather than the mother’s needs. After an epidural is given, the woman is still left alone to labor with all the fears and uncertainties that crop up. They still suffer, yet it is not recognized as such. They aren’t in pain, so therefore, they obviously are okay. That simply is not the case. In the birth center, it was a completely different matter. I had someone with me at all times, to ease my fears, answer my questions, and spend as much time as I needed discussing my needs. If I needed medical interventions, which I did, it was discussed with me and was ultimately my choice. I was never left to suffer, the way they do in the hospital.

      Granted, I do think hospitals are improving in many ways, but they have a long way to go to truly be women centered, instead of physician/hospital routine centered.

      • bella_cose

        This has been said in other posts, but there should be an option that involves pain management, including medication if desired, and no suffering. Isn’t that what we all want, for all women experiencing childbirth?

        • hypatia

          Of course. The issue seems to be the assumption that having a natural birth (without pain meds) precludes changing your mind and getting the meds if you want them. For example, C.K. said that a woman doesn’t have a choice unless she is in a hospital with an anesthesiologist. That’s just not true. Obviously (as C.K. said) a laboring woman generally cannot just get up and drive herself to the hospital, but why are we making the assumption that doing so would be the only way to get meds if she wants them? Most birth centers have close agreements with nearby hospitals and could have you in the delivery ward very quickly (as in, literally within a few minutes) if you decided that’s what you wanted to do (or if complications arose and you needed to transfer). Home-birthing women often have options in place for getting them to a hospital very quickly as well, should the need or desire arise.

          Starting out at home or at a birth center does not automatically mean that meds aren’t an option.

  • bella_cose

    I’m so glad you wrote this post. This subject has been on my mind, and I have known women who were gently coerced, or downright shamed into natural childbirth, and also breastfeeding. Personally, I think a woman should be able to make her own decisions regarding how she gives birth, even as far as whether she would rather have a c-section, instead of a vaginal birth.

  • Natural childbirth is painted negatively with a big broad brush in this article. Mercifully, the Lamaze technique was around in 1976, when I got pregnant despite eight years of faithfully taking The Pill. I did have him in a hospital (the same one I was born in 29 years earlier) because I couldn’t find a midwife where I lived at the time. I rarely tell people about my experience because most don’t believe it and women seem to be more interested in telling their war stories of how awful it was for them and seem resentful of my story, so I just shut up when they start to talk about theirs.

    I had to fight tooth and nail to do it my way, going through six doctors before I found one that would allow my coach (and son’s father) into the delivery room and who didn’t make me sign off on giving him final say on whether drugs or an episiotomy would be forced on me. Going to those Lamaze classes for several weeks was one of the best things I ever did. I was totally committed to experiencing contractions, not pain, during labor and it worked. For me. Not everyone in my class was able to pull it off sadly.

    It makes me crazy-go-nuts to see how women are portrayed, screaming in agony and acting crazy, while giving birth in movies. I just can’t watch. It’s obscene and it doesn’t have to be that way. Lamaze taught me how to, not just relax, but go completely limp during labor so that I wasn’t fighting what my uterus and cervix were doing. It’s hard to describe how magical it was to actually experience that physical sensation instead of pain. But, I guess it’s not dramatic enough to film a woman just laying there like melting jello.

    I did have one painful contraction (oh, sweet mother of god!) that happened after they gave me an enema and I was on the toilet instead of where I was supposed to be, limp and riding the contraction. I think the entire floor heard me screaming and swearing like a sailor in there I was sooo pissed off. But, it was the one thing the doctor wouldn’t budge on even though I figured for what I was paying (since I had no health insurance at the time) I should be able to shit where and when I needed to.

    But it wasn’t just the physical aspects of making my body go limp and the breathing technique that was important. I had to keep my mind focused as well. I used to surf in Southern California in my yout so that’s what I used to help me ride the contractions like a big wave. Cowabunga and hang ten, surf’s up! When I could feel a contraction coming on, in my mind I’d paddle out to meet it, ride it as it swelled, crested then subsided, then paddle back out for the next one. What a ride.

    I only came off the ocean in the delivery room one time to growl at a nurse, scaring her since she was coming at me with a needle because somebody forgot to tell her I was having none of that epsiotomy business. Those poor nurses didn’t know what to do with me in there, so I told them to just get out of our way and leave me alone.

    The doctor didn’t come in until the baby was crowning. At that point, my coach was helping me balance on my haunches while I was panting because laying on my back (totally for the convenience of the doctor) was slowing me down; my cervix was relaxed, allowing my baby to quickly slide on through to the other side when he was ready. Since he was born drug free he was screaming as soon as his mouth cleared my cervix. None of that having to slap him around to get him to cry and start breathing. So, essentially all the doctor did was catch him and declare, yup, it’s a healthy boy. In those days, you didn’t know what you were going to have beforehand.

    They don’t call it labor for nothing, I rode those waves for eight hours. I was pooped so I took a little nap, but there was no way I was paying for a night’s stay in that hospital. After a few hours, I was packing my stuff and telling a nurse to bring me my baby ‘cause we were going home. The three other women in my room were looking at me bug-eyed as if I was from another planet. “But, but, you can’t leave without the doctor’s permission,” one of them said. I just shook my head and said, “Watch me.” It makes me sad to remember those women laying there so cowed and fearful, and in such pain.

    Then a nurse came in to tell me I couldn’t leave because my son had just been circumcised (a decision I’m still ambivalent about). I told her millions of baby boys had been cut in the desert for thousands of years and survived, so he’d do just fine at home, and if they didn’t bring him to me, I’d just go in and get him myself. I was already angry with them for giving him a bottle after I’d told them not to because I was going to breast feed. Their attitude was almost spiteful in taking back some bit of the control I had been able to deny them of otherwise.

    It’s an outrage that mothers are still expected to just hand over complete control of their bodies to the maternity industry without a peep. It’s an outrage that a mother still has to fight for that control every step of the way. It’s an outrage that women are still kept ignorant about what their body will be doing and why during labor, making them fight it instead of working with it. It’s an outrage that far more C-sections are done in this country than in any of the other developed nation and that rate has increased from around 5% in 1965 to a whopping 33% at present; mostly because it’s so lucrative, and so the doctor can schedule childbirth into his busy day and won’t risk having to get up in the middle of the night or miss his golf game. The outrages could fill pages.

    Men had to burn millions of women at the stake to take control of human reproduction during The Inquisition and the little motherfuckers should have no part in any stage of it by now. The maternity ward is a bread-and-butter profit center for hospitals and doctors. That industry is fighting home birthing and birthing centers using fear and ignorance as weapons, and there’s a little publicized war on midwives going on right now.

    This world hates women, but few are more hatefully treated than mothers, who are pretty much blamed for causing every ill in society. When you’re pregnant, everybody seems to consider your body public property and they think they have the right to walk up, touch your stomach and start telling you what to do and what’s what, much like the author of this post.

    • bella_cose

      I think it’s very easy to forget that everybody is different, and the experience of pain is not going to be the same for everyone. Just because Lamaze worked for you, doesn’t mean it will work for every woman, even if she does it perfectly. That’s why women should be able to choose how they want to give birth, and be supported without judgement.

      • I guess you missed these words in my post:

        “…it worked. For me. Not everyone in my class was able to pull it off sadly.”

        And:

        “I did have one painful contraction (oh, sweet mother of god!)…”

        I do not forget that everybody is different. I do not assume Lamaze works for everyone. Of course, every woman should be able to choose how she wants to give birth without judgement (duh). I did experience the pain during that one contraction, so am not entirely unaware of that pain.

        My suggestion to you is to think about it once or twice before talking down to people.

        • bella_cose

          I wasn’t talking down to you. It sounded more like you were talking down to the women who didn’t pull off their Lamaze training as perfectly as you did.

          • Yeah. See. This is why: “I rarely tell people about my experience because…”

        • Daleth

          Not every woman in your class was “able to pull it off”? That makes it sound like they failed in some way. And that is just not respectful of the fact that different people are different–we have different levels of pain tolerance, different nervous systems, etc.

          • Aw crap. Here we go again.

          • Personally I think there is nothing wrong with you sharing your experience. I think it’s important for you to share your experience. I would rephrase that one line and maybe say, “Not everyone is able to pull it off, we have different levels of pain tolerance, different nervous systems etc. Some women like me are able to accomplish it and some women aren’t. Half of my class was able to accomplish it so probably half of women are able to accomplish it and I was in that half.”

          • “I would rephrase that one line…” Sorry, no can do. Seems it’s threatening to some here to contemplate that there could possibly be a way to have pain-free, natural childbirth for a healthy woman with a normal pregnancy.

            I suggest it’s more probable that not everyone is able to accomplish a pain-free birthing experience because they are understandably unable to surmount centuries of patriarchal mindfuck, not because they have some kind of pain tolerance or nervous system so freakish that contraction pain feels little worse than stubbing one’s toe.

          • bella_cose

            Well, that’s just the height of arrogance. If you really don’t believe that different people have different pain tolerances, then you don’t understand biology. How you can another woman’s experience because it’s different from your own, is incomprehensible to me. Maybe you’re just feeling defensive because people are daring to question you, or suggest yhat you have a little empathy, but that’s no excuse. It’s not like you’re better than women who didn’t have your experience, or who chose to give birth differently. You may be the authority on your own birth experience, but you don’t get to minimize or invalidate other women’s choices because you don’t agree with them.

            Perhaps you should go around to maternity wards and tell those women who are in pain that their just too weak to fight patrarchy’s hold on them, and the pain is actually all in their heads. I mean, we shouldn’t encourage women to trust themselves, or how their bodies feel. You know better than they do, right?

          • Actually, the height of arrogance is to attack someone for a lived experience that you have not had yourself.

            “Perhaps you should go around to maternity wards and tell those women who are in pain that their just too weak to fight patrarchy’s hold on them, and the pain is actually all in their heads.”

            By the time a woman is in the maternity ward, it’s a little too late to try to tell them anything about patrarchy’s (sic) hatred of them, the medical industrial complex, sadistic depictions of labor/delivery, birthing alternatives or anything else.

            Straw:
            “…you really don’t believe that different people have different pain tolerances…”

            “…you don’t understand biology.”
            “…minimize or invalidate other women’s choices because you don’t agree with them.”
            “…we shouldn’t encourage women to trust themselves, or how their bodies feel.”
            Perhaps you should use caution when playing with matches.

          • Daleth

            Judgmental much, Mar Iguana? Here we were giving you the benefit of the doubt, thinking it was just due to unfortunate phrasing that it sounded like you were judging other women!

            In counterpoint to your “suggestion” about why a few women don’t find childbirth painful, here’s what I suggest:
            – Strong muscle contractions are painful to most people, no matter what muscle is involved.

            – Tearing the flesh is painful to most people.

            – Stretching the flesh to 5-10 times its normal size is painful to most people.

            – Stretching and tearing are more painful when they occur in areas with lots of nerve endings, such as the genitals.

            All of the above is just basic anatomy. Claiming that a “patriarchal mindfuck” is the only reason we feel pain *when such things happen to the womb, vagina, etc* is totally absurd.

            And for the record, most of us do suffer from a patriarchal mindfuck about a lot of things. I’m not discounting that. What I’m discounting is your apparent view that vaginas, cervixes and wombs are somehow naturally immune to pain, unlike every other part of our bodies.

          • You and bella_cose have fun pitching straw. Roll around in it. Pick your teeth with it. Have a ball. I’m done with you so break out your pitchforks, toss it high and spread it around. I find inquisitions tiresome.

          • bella_cose

            Apparently, Mar Iguana meant exactly what she said, with all the judgement and condescension it was said with. Having given birth, as I believe she said at one point, one time, she is now an expert not only on her body, but every other female’s as well. It would seem, according to her, that we were all made in her image. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to reason with someone like that. You did make the effort though, and were much nicer about it than I could have been.

    • I’ve been lurking this discussion without comment as I have never and will never be giving birth, but your post has stayed with me, Mar Iguana.

      I think another piece of the big picture here is that patriarchy holds the body in contempt, identifying women with the lower-value zone of material “nature”, a resource to be controlled and exploited. The resulting disembodiment, dearth of body practice integrated in our day to day basic survival, ideology of body-punishment as health (the “pain is just weakness levying your body” nonsense) and so on result in the majority of the population being numbed to their own proprioceptive capacities. I think the prevalence of sexual trauma and sexual repression (including that expressed in the so called sex-pos ideology) results in numerous people being shut down and rigid in the region of the sexual organs – chair sitting also contributes hugely to this, but that’s a bit of a digression.

      Your employment of the body knowledge you gleaned from surfing – i.e. responsive body listening to a constantly and rapidly changing environment: a practice that requires lowering the body’s centre of gravity (difficult for a lot of us “Moderns”), being open and responsive and tuned to the minute shifts in the configuration of waves – makes perfect sense to me.

      Many body workers describe the pain that is experienced when tissues held in tension are released either through stretching or manipulation as pain that the person is carrying, not pain inflicted by the stretch or manipulation itself as it is often experienced.

      All of this to say that Patriarchal Capitalism, born of European enlightenment thinking makes for closed, tense, misaligned and traumatized bodies, especially in the physical region of reproductive organs. This in turn, it would seem to me, makes for more painful and difficult childbirth.

      This is not to say that there is no pain in giving birth in an ideal world. I have watched numerous animals give birth and there is often a cry on the final push. However, I do think that contempt for the body, especially the female body is a wider contributing factor to the pain of childbirth.

      • “Your employment of the body knowledge you gleaned from surfing – i.e. responsive body listening to a constantly and rapidly changing environment: a practice that requires lowering the body’s centre of gravity (difficult for a lot of us “Moderns”), being open and responsive and tuned to the minute shifts in the configuration of waves – makes perfect sense to me.”

        Where my surfing experience helped most is learning how waves start, build to a crescendo and then subside more than knowing how to ride a surfboard. Contractions follow this same structure. It was more like I was floating on my back upon the waves of contractions entirely in my mind, not using my body in any way. I should have been more clear about that in my comment.

        The most important aspect of Lamaze is learning how to completely relax the entire body to the point of being limp during all the hours of labor. The coach’s critical function is to constantly check to make sure that you are absolutely limp all over. The coach should be able to lift your hand or foot to make sure they drop to the bed as if you were unconscious. They gently manipulate your jaw to make sure it is entirely slack for example.

        Pain during labor isn’t caused by the contractions of the uterus as much as by the tightening of the muscles surrounding the uterus. When these muscles are not resisting the squeezing being done by the uterus, it allows you to feel that squeezing without pain, an amazing sensation. A sensation that sadly most women are not allowed to experience.

        But, women are not to be blamed if they are unable to overcome thousands of years of mindfuck brainwashing of the notion that severe childbirth pain is unavoidable until more secular modern times with the aid of the boys’ little chemistry sets for which we should worship at the feet of Medical Deities.

        “To the woman he said,
        ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
        with pain you will give birth to children.
        Your desire will be for your husband,
        and he will rule over you.’” Genesis 3:16

        This little gem from Judeo-Christian bible babble implies that before their male god was invented, childbearing may not have been so unbearably painful before thousands of years of female knowledge and wisdom was destroyed.

        I literally cannot watch the pornographic BDSM depiction of women in labor in the movies, watching them tighten every muscle in their bodies, screaming and contorting their faces in pain, with people yelling at them to BREATHE BREATHE. There is no doubt in my mind that womb-envious men get off on this depiction.

        It comforts them to think that since they cannot reproduce humans themselves, woman should suffer for their critical ability to perpetuate the race. And, any women down through the ages who were able to circumvent this suffering must be destroyed along with their knowledge, the most (in)famous purge being The Inquisition*.

        Patriarchs/capitalists absolutely cannot allow women to have this power over life and death, especially to trust that women aren’t killing their heirs upon birth or before. They need to control the supply of warriors, workers and incubators. So, capitalism began during The Inqusition, not The Enlightenment, which was the beginning of the notion that the body is just a machine.

        Patriarchal men are absolutely furious that women have been able to intrude in the world outside the home that they monopolized before women were able to control when and if they procreated. Here’s a good article on why men are going out of their minds because of birth control (although I disagree that we will be fighting this battle for as long as the article says because most life on Earth won’t survive that long at its present rate of destruction):

        http://www.alternet.org/story/154144/why_patriarchal_men_are_utterly_petrified_of_birth_control_–_and_why_we%27ll_still_be_fighting_about_it_100_years_from_now

        *To learn what The Inquisition was really all about, the beginning of capitalism, which fails without absolute control of women’s reproductive capacity, please, please read “Caliban and The Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation” by Silvia Federici. It explains how capitalists hide behind religion, using it to destroy birth control and abortion, to maintain (and now regain) control over women’s sexuality. See a great review of the book here: http://www.opednews.com/articles/Who-Were-the-Witches–Pa-by-Alex-Knight-091106-190.html

        • lizor

          That’s really interesting, mmmariguana. I agree with you 100% about the cultural designation of childbirth pain and I did not at all mean to make any assumptions about your experience of surfing in relation to labour. I was taking the opportunity to tie what you were saying into my own experience teaching movement and experiential anatomy. So many people dissociate when it’s suggested that they bring proprioceptive attention to the region of the pelvis, reproductive organs and organs of elimination. I believe this to be a culturally-based trauma (in the cases of those who have managed to avoid some form of sexual assault) that is deeply entwined with the biblical hatred of female bodies. I would imagine that surfing would require a dropping one’s centre of gravity – also very difficult for a society that believes “self” is in the head and the rest is a sort of object/vehicle for the brain.
          Part and parcel of the relaxation techniques that you describe comes receptiveness and flexibility – and less pain. For example, one of the concepts that I have always tried to drive home is that people don’t have “short” muscles that require stretching like a piece of fabric; they are actually holding the muscles in flexion (as one does when the fight or flight response is triggered) and they have to re-learn simply allowing the muscle to extend as per its natural capacity.

          All of this tangent (and I thank you in advance for your patience with this) is to add to your proposition by saying that people who are holding in the pelvis/belly – and it is very difficult to live in this culture and NOT hold, at best, a defensive stance, if not full-on trauma, in the tissues near our sex organs – is, I think, also a source of unnecessary pain for women giving birth.

        • lizor

          Forgot to say: I have been eyeing Caliban and the Witch for a couple of years now. I will definitely get a copy and read it on your recommendation. Thanks!

        • “I literally cannot watch the pornographic BDSM depiction of women in labor in the movies, watching them tighten every muscle in their bodies, screaming and contorting their faces in pain, with people yelling at them to BREATHE BREATHE. There is no doubt in my mind that womb-envious men get off on this depiction.”

          – Recently I was having a discussion with a friend online about birthing positions, and conducted an image search so that I could send some their way. I ended up feeling weirded out by google’s suggested searches, which included items like “women giving birth in pain”, “women crowning in pain” and so on. Those particular suggestions seemed to deviate from the others as it was an image of pain, rather than the entirety of the labour process that was being searched for, and I have a very strong feeling that whoever is seeking out such images are more interested in seeing women experience pain, as opposed to being interested in learning about / seeing different experiences and methods of birthing.

          I’ve also seen comments left by men on both home and hospital birthing videos that are either sexual or spiteful (sometimes both). So there’s definitely no doubt in my mind either that men get off on such depictions, whether they are real or orchestrated in the media.

          Thanks so much for the links to those articles. 🙂

        • lizor

          Ok, this is my final addition to this digression. Yesterday I read Ursula K Le Guin’s introduction to her book “Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences”. It seems a relevant interpretive layer to the phenomenon I’m trying to describe:

          “By climbing up into his own head and shutting out every voice but his own, “Civilized man” has gone deaf. He can’t hear the wolf calling him brother – not Master, but brother. he can’t hear the earth calling him child – not Father, but son. He hears only his own words making up the world. He can’t hear the animals, they have nothing to say. Children babble, and have to be taught to climb up into their heads and shut the doors of perception. No use teaching women at all, they talk all the time, of course, but never say anything. This is they myth of Civilization, embodied in the monotheisms which assign soul to Man alone.”

          • marv

            Someone once said, “in all the universe there isn’t a well too deep for men to look into and not see their own reflection,”

  • Mira

    My first child’s birth, in a hospital, with pain meds, was painful, demeaning, and infantilizing. I chose out of hospital birth with my second baby to avoid having to give up my rights of informed consent and refusal, and had an almost pain-free birth. I would rather give birth to that 9.5 lb baby again than have my rotator cuff repaired again. My choices aren’t for everyone, that’s why they’re mine, but I don’t appreciate the assumptions made here. Not every birth is the most painful thing ever, and I chose what I did to maintain my bodily autonomy. No medal needed, no martyrdom achieved, just what was right for me and my family. If that means some people think I should turn in my feminist card, so be it.

    • Birthinator

      Exactly. Pharamceuticals might make birth temporarily “pain free”, but you can recover from 8 hours of pain, you can recover from tearing and stretching. You can recover your physical health and ‘normal’ everyday working body.
      Pain is fleeting. what is harder to recover from is being demeaned, infantilized and downright abused. What is harder to recover from is experiencing a loss of bodily autonomy. What’s harder to recover from is birth rape.

      • You make a good point. I would like to hope that it is possible to have a birth that is both pain free (physically) and also pain free (and non abusive) emotionally.

      • Daleth

        Actually, you may or may not be able to recover from tearing and stretching. It depends how bad the tearing and stretching were. Just ask the many women who suffer from fecal incontinence after 4th-degree tears, pelvic organ prolapse after levator ani avulsion (shearing off the muscle or muscles that support the pelvic floor–once either of the two levator ani muscles are torn off their anchor on the pelvic bone, they cannot be put back).

        • andeväsen

          True. Tears leave scars, and scars are friable.

          The majority of tears are not 4th degree, but I don’t think it is fair to say that your ‘normal’ everyday body returns for most women who have given birth, if by normal we mean pre-pregnancy. To a more or less degree, your body is altered.

      • C.K. Egbert

        As I said in my above comment, it is also not true that one can always “recover from pain.” Physical suffering can cause permanent psychological trauma as well. I also wouldn’t say that being able to “recover” from something makes it ergo unproblematic or not “really” suffering.

        I think to say “pain is fleeting” is actually very dismissive of the experience of physical suffering and the women who suffer–both physically and emotionally–from it.

  • Jen

    As someone who had an unwanted “natural” birth with my first who is now due “any day now” with my second I found this post quite timely. This may be a little discordant but here are my thoughts on this heated topic…

    First, I agree there is a sort of cultural rhetoric that glorifies women’s pain in childbirth, but only if you stoically embrace that pain. I did not, I complained, loudly, not just during but after. When people ask me if having a baby hurts I say yes, that the pain was crazy making and I couldn’t enjoy those first few moments with my baby because I was so mind-fucked from the experience I didn’t even care about a baby I very much wanted. Admitting that makes people uncomfortable, and I’ve had people say I shouldn’t tell other women this because it “gives off negative energy,” implying that just by repeating my experience out loud will somehow break some magical wall of positive birthing powers for other women, or scare other women into asking for drugs.

    Second, as a nurse I notice there is a stark difference in how pain management is viewed in laboring women. I really can’t imagine ever asking a patient who is requesting pain meds to power through it. In the two countries I have worked in attentiveness to pain, and timely pain management was paramount to good nursing care. Why should it be any different for women in labor? Also of interest to me, why are women asked to decide on their pain management strategy prior to experiencing the actual pain? No one going in for say tonsil surgery is asked to decide in advance whether they will require pain meds. I find it kind of gross that women are challenged to say they will “go natural” before they even know what the pain is like, and then when they are experiencing the pain are often encouraged to, “remember you plan, this is what you wanted!”. Ugh!

    Finally, I do think a lot of the movement toward more natural childbirth comes from anti-woman practices that were rampant, and sadly still do occur in the medical industry. Only compassionate and respectful care where women are truly listened to by their providers can bridge that gap. Women being forced to make the “choice” of going with a less safe and or more painful option in order to be treated with dignity during childbirth is not, nor will ever be empowering or feminist!

  • andeväsen

    Thank you for this much-needed perspective. I am a health worker and amazed that, like you say, while so much research and discussion is being had in the palliative care field about what consitutes a “good death”, how best to do our jobs so that all the people we care for experience a “good death”, how to keep the needs of the person in our care uppermost at all times etc., when it comes to the matter of giving birth, there is only the dichotomy of male medical establishment vs. normalisation of women’s pain-‘natural’ camps to choose from.

    Surely we can acknowledge that doctors as an institution have been dangerous to women, while also acknowledging that birthing is also a dangerous, life-threatening and painful undertaking.

    It’s one of the many pernicious deficiencies in our culture whose root cause is the devaluation of womankind. Literature marketed at women spends pages and pages shouting loudly at us on ‘how to get back your pre-pregnancy figure’, and precious little on the act of expelling another human from your own body itself. A painful act, experienced on a spectrum by women the world over and througout history, glossed over and ignored. We’re to talk about it privately amongst ourselves, if at all.

  • It would be prudent, I think, for you to do more research into the history of the modern maternity system before you write any more articles about Childbirth, the natural physiology of the woman vs the medicalized approach or the liberation/oppression of women in birth.

    I recommend you start by reading about 16th century midwives and other people involved in childbirth and move on to books about the doctors who began to villify those women. Then, continue your education with books/discussion about J. Marion Sims. After I think it would be a good idea to move into the 20th century and it’s transition from home birth to hospital births. Do please focus on what the original feminists said about liberation from eve’s sin and how that has contributed to the actual state of maternity care now (because this argument has been hashed long ago, so we know the consequences of this ideology). You can read up on the evolution of the system and how women are faring today because of these elements. I would also do some looking into how a birth in it’s most untouched state actually functions– the physiology may give you a better understanding for future articles. In particular, MicroBirth may be a good thing to look into– it’s a scientific documentary about what interventive childbirth is doing to the human microbiome and is coming out in September.

    You can start with the book Get Me Out, it’s a pretty good summary of the histories of birth– though I think it does primarily focus on the USA.

    • C.K. Egbert

      Birth in its most untouched forms means women suffer and women die. I’m against both.

      • hellzapoppin

        the idea that (dominant class) women suffer and die more in a natural birth setting (in a wealthy nation) does not make sense to me and i dont think it is statistically accurate either. i wonder about hospital safety claims – i have had two (TWO!) friends die on the c-section table, over-40 women who bled to death during the operation. supposedly this only happens in 1 out of more than 100000 births. supposedly being older means hospital is a must for safety. i dont really believe that anymore. untouched in healthy circumstances can mean less death.

      • hypatia

        I didn’t read her comment as saying that we ought to practice birth totally untouched, but rather that she was saying that you should read about it and understand how it works as a starting point from which to consider different interventions and their costs/benefits for women.

        Did you go and read any of the history she mentioned? I think that delving into that history and gaining a thorough understanding of it would enable you to argue your case in a way that doesn’t come off as propping up the patriarchal medical establishment (which, given your clarifications in the comments, it’s very clear you didn’t intend to do).

        • C.K. Egbert

          Sorry, I got snarky because I assumed the poster was a male and I felt that I might be getting mansplained. I really have very little tolerance for men talking about birth due to some experiences of mine (not personal; I’ve never been pregnant, but the way other men have talked about it in relation to a woman I deeply care about who was severely traumatized by the pain and for whom pregnancy resulted in permanent harm to her health).

          I haven’t had checked out these resources yet but you are right that it would be a good idea if I’m going to write on this in the future.

  • In order to progress & improve the way women are treated & the way they experience childbirth we need to change the conversation. This Homebirth vs Hospital birth/Natural vs medicated argument is old and tired and always comes down to a the same few snarky comments on both sides.(BTW the premise of this article is what once lead to the widespread use of twighlight sleep and the subsequent horrifying abuse at the hands of “care providers” that followed. Just reading about what happened to those women will make you sick to your stomach.)

    There is a clear way through this argument to progress the treatment of laboring women: Provide accurate& unformation, then Trust women to make their own decisions, be it with pain management or surgery, home birth with a midwife or unassisted. Trust that we are each competent in our decisions. Trust that our stories are true and valid and deserving of respect whether they are of suffering, pain, abuse or flowery and blissful.

    I am a natural birth advocate. I chose natural birth because I value it. I advocate for women who wish to have natural births and encourage those who are uncertain to learn about natural birth. But above all, I advocate for HUMAN RIGHTS in childbirth and womens rights to choose if/when/what any kind of medical support is right for their particular situation.

    (if this is a double post it’s because I received an error message & assumed my first message was lost)

  • hypatia

    I’m still thinking about this, and it’s still really bothering me, so I wanted to come back and respond to some specific points in the post.

    “The euphemistically termed ‘natural childbirth’ is often justified…”

    You’re staring from the position that natural birth *has* to be justified. The only way to arrive at this position is to have bought in to the patriarchal medicalized model of childbirth as the default or “correct” position, regardless of the brief lip service you pay later on to the fact that the medical industrial complex is not exactly feminist.

    I’ll grant you that the term “natural” is kind of meaningless/pointless here, and there’s no consensus among women or care providers as to what it even means in this context.

    “Meghan Murphy has already done an excellent job of describing why ‘choice’ is problematic.”

    That she has, on numerous occasions, but I’m not sure how her arguments are relevant to your point here. Women under the patriarchy are coerced into engaging in PIV, into becoming pregnant, into submitting to certain kinds of “care” during pregnancy and childbirth. That much we can agree on, but

    “But there are specific concerns with childbirth because — unless a woman is in a hospital with an anesthesiologist nearby, she isn’t in so much pain that she can’t communicate, and she isn’t being bullied by a midwife — she doesn’t have a choice at all.”

    Here is where you start to go off the rails. The goal here is to eliminate coercion and create meaningful choices, yes? And you think that adding a hospital and a doctor to the situation leads us closer to that goal? Seriously?! There are some deliveries which call for medical intervention, but the majority don’t, and for that latter category, adding in a hospital setting and a doctor (at least in the US) increases the levels of coercion and powerlessness a woman experiences exponentially. It’s very hard to take anything in this essay seriously when you start from a place of thinking that a birthing woman “doesn’t have a choice at all” without a hospital and a doctor (or, as you say in the comments, that pregnancy is a “medical problem”). Given my personal experiences (and the experiences of many, many other women) with medicalized settings vs. “natural birth” settings, it frankly comes off like gaslighting.

    And so much pain that you can’t communicate? Women experience different kinds and levels of pain during labor and birth, but I will tell you, mine hurt like hell. Didn’t stop me from communicating what I needed to when I had a med-free birth with my second child. What *did* stop me, with my first child, was being in a hospital where I felt completely objectified and infantalized and was treated by nurses and doctors as being incapable of actively participating in my own birth process. I felt bullied by hospital staff, but never, not once, by my midwife.

    “The condition of birth means that a woman is exceptionally vulnerable, and it is not only reasonable but obligatory that she should expect compassionate, attentive, and excellent medical care.”

    Which is exactly what I received with my midwife at the birth center, and which is exactly the opposite of what I received at the hospital with an OB.

    “When people tout ‘natural birth’ as an ’empowering choice’ (sound familiar?), they conveniently ignore all the women who have been harmed by these practices and for whom giving birth was (completely understandably and legitimately) one of the worst experiences of their lives.”

    When people tout hospitals and doctors and the only way a woman *can* have a choice, they completely ignore all the women (and there are a lot of them, given that the vast majority of US births happen in this setting) who have been harmed by these practices and for whom giving birth was (completely understandably and legitimately) one of the worst experiences of their lives.

    “Natural birth advocates, just like many in the pro-sex movement, don’t seem to be concerned about the harm that women suffer through this practice or finding ways of preventing this harm from occurring. Women can choose, as long as they choose to suffer and see themselves as liberated through suffering.”

    This assertion, made sweepingly in regards to anything under the umbrella of “natural birth,” just betrays a total ignorance of natural birth practices. Have you even researched this or read any books about it? If you are talking about some specific subset of advocates or practices, fine, name them so we can discuss that, but your sweeping statement here is patently wrong. This is as absurd as saying something like, “Women can be feminists, as long as they are willing to sleep with every guy they meet and see themselves as liberated through letting men use their bodies.” I mean, that statement describes a specific sentiment held by a subset of people who consider themselves “feminist” but it has nothing to do with feminism as I understand it.

    And again, it’s condescending and gaslight-y to essentially tell me that my “choice” to have a med-free birth after having been traumatized by the medical system basically just makes me a dupe of the patriarchy. I experienced pain in the hospital setting, and I experienced pain in the birth center, but only one of those experiences caused me to suffer. I would expect a man to talk to me this way, not a radical feminist.

    “If we normalize women’s suffering and refuse to provide palliative care…”

    Who is doing this? Like, really? Because there is enormous pressure on women in the US to submit to a hospital setting, complete with an epidural and an often cascading series of interventions that the doctor insists they “need,” regardless of how the women feel about these interventions or whether they’re actually necessary. *This* is the setting is which women’s suffering is normalized. Again, if you are trying to refer to a subset of natural birth advocates, please be specific, because otherwise, this is a straw man.

    “given that they are socialized from infanthood to believe that their bodies are things to be used and hurt by men…”

    Like doctors under the patriarchal medical model, for example, who treat women like objects to be acted upon instead of people who understand their own bodies and are capable of directing their own births.

    “They are bullied, coerced, told they are selfish or wimps or bad mothers.”

    Yes, I was called selfish for wanting to have my second child outside of a hospital setting and for wanting to give birth my own way. And I felt bullied and coerced to submit to my role as passive and helpless observer and to accept unnecessary interventions when I gave birth in a hospital with my first child.

    “First, this will remove the motivation for finding safer and more effective means of pain management during birth.”

    I agree that the above are good goals, but you are normalizing medical intervention and pharmaceutical pain relief. You mention (in the comments) that you are aware there are other kinds of pain relief and that natural birth advocates and midwives are practicing them (you mention hypnobirthing as an example), so why do you seem to be saying here that natural birth and pain relief are somehow mutually exclusive (never mind the fact that “natural” birth does not necessarily mean without drugs)? Pharmaceutical pain relief is a valid option for anyone who wants it, but so are other methods of coping with pain for those who don’t. It doesn’t follow in any logical way that practicing these other methods will preclude finding even more ways to respond to pain effectively. The patriarchal medical establishment doesn’t give a crap about women. *That’s* why the research isn’t being done, not because midwives and natural birth advocates are finding alternatives to having to deal with that establishment.

    “if this ideology gains enough traction, we will likely regress to a society — as the UK has already done to a great extent — where women are systematically denied pain medication during birth”

    From what information I could find about this happening in the UK (that didn’t come from conservative American websites fear-mongering about nationalized health care), it seems that this is a problem stemming from NHS policy and budget issues. Insofar as midwives are denying pharmaceutical pain relief to women who want it, that’s totally unacceptable.

    I did find an article in an Australian publication about a male professor/midwife in the UK saying the typical misogynistic curse-of-Eve things about birth pain and motherhood, but you’ll notice that the Australian College of Midwives disagrees with him.

    http://www.news.com.au/national/midwife-tells-pregnant-women-to-take-the-pain/story-e6frfkp9-1225749575022

    “unlike what natural birth advocates would have you believe, all pain has a purpose”

    Um, yes? This is pretty much a central part of preparing for a med-free birth, and every natural birth advocate and midwife I know of talks quite a lot about the purpose of pain in childbirth, which is to alert you to what is happening in your body so that you are able to prepare as needed. Moving naturally in response to the pain helps align the baby and allows your body to prepare for birth. Toward the end of the process, the pain and pressure of the contractions alert you to when you need to push.

    “the purpose is to tell us when we are sick or injured”

    The view of birthing women as “sick” is perfectly in line with the misogynistic medical model of birth. Pregnancy is a major event for a woman and her body, but it is not a disease.

    “And if a midwife says that this pain is different from pain that occurs in response to injury, she obviously knows nothing about birth: childbirth is extremely dangerous and can, quite literally, tear a woman’s body apart.”

    What are you even talking about? Labor pain =/= pain from injuries, and describing these different types of pain accurately has nothing to do with the denying the reality that birth can be dangerous for women. Your rhetoric here is very similar to that which doctors use to bully women into interventions they don’t want or need. Framing birth as inherently dangerous and horrific is just as bad and unhelpful for women as pretending like it’s always completely safe.

    “Others argue that the pain is just like exercising or running a marathon”

    I’ve heard people use marathons (as opposed to sprints) as an analogy for labor, but I have never heard anyone say it’s “just like” labor. Nothing is just like labor. My midwife suggested imagining contractions as waves in the ocean in the sense of learning to “ride” the waves instead of trying counterproductively to swim against the current (e.g., tensing up, holding your breath, forgetting to practice pain management techniques, etc.), but that doesn’t mean she was suggesting that having a baby is just like going for a swim.

    “But according to this ideology, if a woman is in pain, even if the pain is extreme and prolonged, pain management is no longer necessary.”

    How did you get from the fact that labor pain is different from pain due to injury and analogies that help women understand what to prepare for to this? That’s quite a leap you made there. Pain management is an integral part of preparing for a med-free birth and was covered extensively by my midwife, my birthing classes, and the books I read about natural birth.

    “It is also not part of healthy bodily functioning for a woman: pregnancy and childbirth is inherently dangerous and damaging to a woman’s physical and psychological health. Often the damage to her body is permanent.”

    You’re echoing the bullying and fear-mongering of the patriarchal medical establishment again. Pregnancy and birth *can* be dangerous for women; that doesn’t mean that they always are, in every circumstance. What you are doing here is pathologizing women. Damaging, like damaged goods? Where have I heard that before?

    “If we are take ‘naturalness’ as reverting to a time without medical technology, then ‘naturally’ many women would die in childbirth and ‘naturally’ many infants would die before reaching adulthood.”

    No kidding. That would be why, apart from certain misogynistic religious groups and people who advocate for “unassisted birth,” which is a completely different creature than simply choosing for forgo pharmaceutical pain relief, NO ONE I know of advocates for a form of “natural birth” that involves behaving as if we were living 500 years ago. That would be why certified nurse midwives use modern technology like hand-held Doppler fetal monitoring to make sure that the baby isn’t under too much stress (which can indicate problems for the mother as well), and why any midwife worth her salt has a detailed protocol for transferring a woman to the hospital should the need (or desire) arise.

    Also, this is incidentally the exact same argument my OB used to coerce me into agreeing to an epidural.

    “‘Natural birth’ advocates also claim that pain medication is ‘harmful’ to the woman and the fetus and prevents her from having proper attachment to her child.”

    Again, let’s be specific here, because neither the midwives I worked with nor any of the books I read claimed anything of the sort, though they did discuss evidence for the benefits and drawbacks of different kinds of pain relief, which is not remotely the same thing, and which did not involve any shame or judgment about any of the available options. Saying that “natural birth advocates” do this without qualifying just who it is you’re talking about is like saying “Feminists are in favor of legalized prostitution.”

    “But if we value women as human beings, we cannot claim that the welfare of the fetus trumps a woman’s right to bodily integrity and appropriate medical care.”

    Obviously, I agree. Tell that to doctors, who routinely violate women’s bodily integrity with invasive, unnecessary, and unwanted interventions. No woman should be made to feel that her wellbeing is secondary or unimportant by anyone: midwives, doctors, or anyone else.

    “Natural birth advocates are not concerned with women’s welfare, because they are not advocating for safer and more effective forms of pain management; they argue they should be eliminated, because women’s suffering is itself a good.”

    Yes, and feminists love prostitution. All of them, without qualification.

    “And while feminists applaud efforts to give women support and comfort during the birth process (e.g., emotional support, more home-like birthing environments, etc.), this is compatible with providing women pain medication.”

    IF THEY WANT IT. You keep forgetting that part. There are reasons to use methods of pain management besides pharmaceuticals, if one wants to do that, other than “pain is awesome, screw women.”

    “Once again, the danger of anesthetic only becomes an issue — rather than a normalized part of medical treatment — only when and because it can be used to hurt women.”

    I understand what you’re trying to get at here, but step back a minute and look at your framing. Anesthesiologists are the ones with women’s best interests at heart? And midwives are the ones who want to hurt women? Really?

    I mean, can we just name the problem here? Because “sex-positive” types like to say that radical feminists are the ones causing all the suffering of marginalized women in the sex industry, and we like to remind them that MEN are the source of women’s suffering, not other women.

    “Suffering is neither necessary or sufficient for women to feel attachment or accomplishment as mothers”

    No, and I can’t think of anyone who would argue that it is, besides misogynists (see the professor in the article above, for example). I have no doubt that misogyny exists among natural birth advocates, just like it exists among leftist movements, civil rights advocates, and even feminists. Our culture is pretty well saturated with it, so unless you also want to condemn leftist politics and feminism, maybe we could just acknowledge that the goal here is to root the misogyny out of the movement, not root out the movement.

    “To be clear, a woman’s right to refuse (or agree to) any particular medical treatment is never at stake. I am not arguing against informed consent or women’s autonomy in making medical decisions.”

    You say this, but then

    “The question is whether we normalize and provide adequate palliative care, or whether we coerce women and deny them palliative care.”

    you argue that pharmaceuticals ought to be “normalized” (as if they’re not already!) and “provided” (without that important qualifier: to those who want them). You’re creating a dichotomy here between medicalized treatment and coercion which completely and totally stands reality (as it exists currently in the US) on its head.

    “However, the natural birth movement is not taking back medical practice to benefit women; instead, it is returning it to an earlier and darker time when women were told that labor pain was Eve’s punishment.”

    Again, unless you’re going to be specific, this is a straw man akin to claiming that “Feminism is not working to benefit marginalized women in prostitution.” This claim could be true or totally untrue, depending on whom we’re talking about. Since it’s absolutely true of some (and one could easily argue most, at least in the West) feminists, should we just reject feminism whole cloth? Because you very much seem to be arguing for the eradication of the natural birth movement, even though you claim later that you’re actually advocating not for either/or, but for the “best of everything.”

    “Childbirth, subordination to men, sexual harassment and sexual violence—these are normalized by women, because through systematic abuse they have been given no self, no identity, outside of the system of oppression.”

    Right, so should we vilify women and paint them as “bullies” in broad strokes, like you’ve done here with midwives? Or should we name the damn problem and work to fight *that* (hint: it’s not women)?

    I realize that my response here is coming off as angry and combative; I had a strong reaction to the post because it was so reminiscent in so many ways of the patriarchal crap we get shoved down our throats by the male medical establishment. I have no doubt whatsoever that was not your intent, and I liked your essay about consent very much (and needless to say, I love Meghan’s work, which I have followed for years). I’m very much interested in opening a dialogue about how best we can support pregnant and birthing women and mothers as radical feminists and make sure that women in these situations have meaningful choices. Natural birth practices have a lot to offer women who do not want to be objectified and coerced by the medical system, but they are certainly not a panacea, and I’m sure there are factions within natural birth advocacy, just as there are in other movements, that are indeed misogynistic and shitty. So I’m hopeful that we can talk about those problems and about solutions without throwing out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak.

    • C.K. Egbert

      I’m going to reply here and hope others read this post, because I think I’m repeating myself and that is not productive.

      First, some clarifications: I’m taking “natural birth” to mean those that argue against the provision of pharmaceuticals, even when this is necessary to alleviate a woman’s pain because other forms of pain management are not effective (after reading the responses on this thread, I don’t feel that it is uncharitable). If by “natural birth” you don’t mean “without medical intervention/pain medication” but “without unnecessary invasive procedures,” then we are just operating with a different definition (although I think women should be permitted to choose an “invasive medical procedure,” e.g., a C-section, if they would prefer that over a vaginal birth, which might just be a substantive disagreement).

      Second, I’m taking it as a given that the medical establishment is problematic to the extent that it is insensitive to women’s pain and insofar as it violates informed consent. This is why I don’t talk about “consent,” because I’m assuming that women always have the right to refuse any medical treatment, but that they should not need to beg for it or feel ashamed for wanting it. As I’ve said before (severe) pain is suffering, even if not all suffering is pain, and thus it is important we respond in a way that affirms that person’s value (see my response above) and we cannot discriminatorily decide that pharmaceuticals/medical technology are problematic in the case of childbirth but not other cases (e.g., we can’t say drugs are bad during childbirth but okay during appendectomies).

      Lastly, I’m trying to show how we (discriminatorily and problematically) think of pregnancy/childbirth differently than other types of pain/harm or health issues.

      I think people are taking me to say that I’m only in favor of pharmaceuticals as a way of managing pain. That’s not the issue: the issue is whether we think of women’s suffering as a bad thing that should be prevented or alleviated, versus thinking of it as some great spiritual experience or just part of “normal life.” To normalize women’s pain alleviation, as we should, the strategies for pain management need to actually work (i.e., they significantly decrease a woman’s pain to the point that it is not causing her any distress). Fetishizing “natural birth” (as I’ve defined and described it in the article) creates stigma around the provision of drugs, when the provision of drugs might be what is necessary to alleviate a woman’s pain. In this way “natural birth” normalizes women’s pain rather than telling women that they are owed a birth experience that involves as little pain and distress as humanly possible. We have a serious problem whenever this is not women’s experience and thus we are obligated to see the ways in which the conditions of women’s choice and our social norms/practices have allowed this harm to occur (this goes for the medical establishment as well).

      “That she has, on numerous occasions, but I’m not sure how her arguments are relevant to your point here. Women under the patriarchy are coerced into engaging in PIV, into becoming pregnant, into submitting to certain kinds of “care” during pregnancy and childbirth.”

      Yes, and her arguments are relevant to the extent that I don’t think women claiming “natural birth” is an “empowering” experience is sufficient to think that it is therefore unproblematic. It is generally discussed as a “choice” but, as we all know, this is not about how someone feels about an individual choice but how that choice is made possible and how the conditions of that choice affirm women’s value or contributes to problematic norms/practices.

      “Here is where you start to go off the rails. The goal here is to eliminate coercion and create meaningful choices, yes? And you think that adding a hospital and a doctor to the situation leads us closer to that goal? Seriously?! There are some deliveries which call for medical intervention, but the majority don’t, and for that latter category, adding in a hospital setting and a doctor (at least in the US) increases the levels of coercion and powerlessness a woman experiences exponentially. It’s very hard to take anything in this essay seriously when you start from a place of thinking that a birthing woman “doesn’t have a choice at all” without a hospital and a doctor (or, as you say in the comments, that pregnancy is a “medical problem”). Given my personal experiences (and the experiences of many, many other women) with medicalized settings vs. “natural birth” settings, it frankly comes off like gas lighting.”

      I don’t disagree that hospital situations can be coercive/dehumanizing. I disagree with you on the conditions of having a meaningful choice. Unless a woman has access to pain medication when she wants it, then it is not a meaningful option for her (insofar as you think that it is a choice that shouldn’t be stigmatized and degraded, and a choice that should be available, this presents a problem for you). She does not have access to pain medication when she wants it if she has to get herself transported to a hospital first, and expecting a woman in labor to get herself transported to a hospital, praying she doesn’t get there too late for the pain medication to be administered, is simply unreasonable. And as someone stated earlier on this blog, it’s also unreasonable to think that women are going to know whether they want it before they experience the pain itself. Making it unreasonably difficult for women to access pain medication is not going to address the problems with hospitals being coercive, but it will potentially prevent women from getting the pain alleviation they want (if women can have access to the same quality of pain medication outside a traditional hospital setting, then I’m all for it–this is why I bring up the analogy to hospice care, which admittedly is not well developed).

      “Others argue that the pain is just like exercising or running a marathon”

      Sorry, this wasn’t clear. I mean that people think of it in the same way: that undergoing something painful because one “wants the experience” or because it is a means to an end (I’ve heard the “exercise” analogy made with regard to habituating oneself to painful/degrading sex acts as well).

      “But according to this ideology, if a woman is in pain, even if the pain is extreme and prolonged, pain management is no longer necessary.”

      I mean pain management as in doing what is humanly possible, with the woman’s full consent, to alleviate the woman’s suffering (just vocalizing one’s pain doesn’t really count as pain management to me, so I’d distinguish between that and something like self-hypnosis). Once again, I think we use widely different standards when dealing with a woman’s pain rather than other types of pain, and this is subordinating (not to mention the people who promote the idea that pain medication is just automatically evil. I really don’t understand that). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from people–often men–claim that childbirth is just “natural” and that somehow makes our indifference/double-standards justifiable.

      “You’re echoing the bullying and fear-mongering of the patriarchal medical establishment again. Pregnancy and birth *can* be dangerous for women; that doesn’t mean that they always are, in every circumstance. What you are doing here is pathologizing women. Damaging, like damaged goods? Where have I heard that before?”

      Thank you for alerting to me to the fact that “damage” is very ill-chosen, so substitute “harmed” which is less dehumanizing. I keep hearing this argument, and I’m not sure why acknowledging the facts is “pathologizing women.” (In fact I don’t think we sufficient research how it can harm or effect a woman’s health, mentally and physically. Consider that we are just now acknowledging the prevalence and severity of postpartum depression.) I am concerned that thinking about pregnancy/childbirth differently from other potentially harmful/painful conditions normalizes the pain/harm they experience as just a “part of life.” Another reason I don’t think this is pathologizing women is because pregnancy is clearly the result of human action–it is not something that just happens in a healthy woman. And even if it did (say, menstruation) I don’t see why it would be pathologizing to admit it can be painful and have adverse effects, and that warrants some sort of response from a healthcare perspective (not taking healthcare to mean “traditional patriarchal medical institutions”) to ensure it doesn’t have those effects (e.g., ways of managing the pain safely, making sure one doesn’t become anemic, etc.). I am very pale and have to wear sunscreen so as not to get sunburned and to decrease my risk of skin cancer, but admitting this is not pathologizing pale skin.

      I don’t think the way that the medical establishment manages women’s pain during birth is anywhere near adequate. I don’t think that the medical establishment is anywhere near being sufficiently attentive to women’s pain or health at all, and I certainly share your distrust with it and I sympathize that the experience can be extremely dehumanizing to women. But not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” to me means that we tell women, clearly and consistently, that they are owed a life free of suffering or violence, that their suffering and health is of prime importance, and that we treat them in a way consistent with this message.

      • ” I keep hearing this argument, and I’m not sure why acknowledging the facts is “pathologizing women.”

        The reason people get their feathers ruffled when you speak of childbirth as a dangerous health condition is because that is the language healthcare professional “oppressors” use to coerce and restrict womens choices. “you must do this or your baby will die” (when its not true) or “if you care about your baby…” etc. The dangers are often played up in order to restrict choice and make women compliant. Here in the US there are cases of women being forced into C-sections (a few who managed to escape physical restraint to give birth vaginally proved the procedure about to be forced on them by court order was in fact unnecessary) The more research you do on this subject (I’ve been at it for 11 years now) the more multifaceted personal and political aspects you’ll see. Most of the “natural birth advocates” who are staunchly against hospitals (versus advocating the full range of choices) have become that way after abuse during their own medically managed births — some of which is so severe they walk away feeling raped. It’s not always forcing medical proceedures, though… there are cases of women who transfer from homebirth denied pain medication as punishment for choosing out of hospital birth, or young mothers being told “maybe you’ll keep your legs closed next time” So, I agree that these abuses need equal attention, but most of us (in the US anyway) have seen far more medications& procedures forced or coerced on women than we see them being withheld. In addition, for those of us who choose natural birth, value it, genuinely feel empowered by it despite the pain, all this emphesis on danger & suffering undermines our experience and our ability to birth how we choose — it is used to restrict options for midwifery care and to pain women who birth unassisted as “selfish and reckless” because we can’t possibly be capable of making decisions about complicated medical conditions, right? This thinking is why we talk about birth as a natural process, something we are capable of making decisions of versus something like brain surgery that absolutely requires help.

        • C.K. Egbert

          I think we need to be clear that there is a distinction between the idea that “choosing” to be in severe pain is somehow “empowering” versus feeling that one is being treated like a human being is empowering (I don’t think all that involves being treated like a human being means “autonomy and choice,” either). We have to be careful not to confuse the two.

          I respectfully disagree that pregnancy/childbirth is fundamentally different than other types of conditions which “clearly need intervention.” I actually think that dichotomizing the standards of care prevents us from addressing the larger systematic problems with healthcare system; even if what one needs is brain surgery, the patient needs to be fully informed about all risks and benefits, they need to be treated as an active partner in their care, they need to be able to make decisions about their care without coercion or stigma (including coercion because of broader social norms), and the care they receive should be administered in a way that demonstrates empathy and respect. I think we agree that the hospital system wouldn’t be as bad if it was better at treating people this way (granted, no one likes hospitals) and a holistic, strongly patient-centered paradigm is we want for healthcare in general (we’ve already seen this type of change in mental healthcare and to some extent with hospice care).

          • The woman who enters into childbirth (regardless of location) and any person entering a hospital for something like brain surgery absolutely require the same standard of patient-centered care (I think my wording made it sound like I believe the brain surgery patient shouldn’t have the same opportunity to make an informed decisions, and that is not the case) But there is a fundamental difference in that everyone NEEDS assistance with brain surgery (assuming they decide on having the procedure in the first place,) You can’t go home and do it yourself. In the current system, we are telling women “you can’t go home and do it yourself” and doing so by comparing birth to illness’ injury and medical procedures that REQUIRE assistance. Doctors are even denying vaginal birth after cesarean as if vaginal birth is a procedure (and one that the doctor must perform!!) a vaginal birth in a normal healthy pregnancy is no more a medical procedure requiring assistance than having a bowel movement, menstruating or ovulating. though there is a lot more pain involved (pain that can and should be medicated if a woman chooses,) birth is still a bodily function, not a pathology.
            *My* experience with childbirth and other types of pain is that there is a great difference, and though it was the experience as a whole — making my own decisions & preserving absolute autonomy by doing it alone — that was most empowering about my births, part of having control (for me) is feeling all the sensations that go along with it, and yes, it was empowering and exhilarating to feel what my body went through pain and all… It was like a trust exercise with my body which brought mind&body greater respect for one another (something I’ve struggled with my entire life.)
            There IS a reason for pain in childbirth that is beyond the body signaling that something is wrong and beyond the idea of Eve’s punishment. The pain of childbirth draws ones focus inward, creates movement and signals the body to change positions intuitively to the best or only position to allow the baby to safely move through the birth canal. Even the most skilled care provider is left guessing about things the body instinctively KNOWS and communicates through pain. Birth is more dynamic than, say, breaking ones leg. the pain of a fracture signals one to take pressure off the leg and care for it. the breaking process is over. During birth, the pain can actually help minimize damage to mother& child by its signals – take pressure off here, put pressure on there, stand up, sway from side to side, walk, squat, push, stop pushing — all things that help one give birth with less chances of complication or injury (baby becoming stuck, or perineal tearing for example.)
            Spiritually, I did feel a connection with the great feminine during natural childbirth — a connection to all the women who have given birth naturally throughout history who listened to their bodies and experienced both challenge and exhilaration… Had I reached a point where I was connecting spiritually with all the women who have suffered and died throughout history (either because of my mentality or because of physical circumstance) I’m not sure I’d feel that the pain was more purposeful and empowering than pain from surgery.
            The pain I felt after my tubal ligation, though nowhere near as painful, was very different. The decision to take control of my fertility by having the procedure done was empowering. Moving into a phase of my life in which I’d be able to give myself more attention and less to babies was empowering. The pain was not. at all. I didn’t feel that any kind of suffering was necessary to achieve that empowerment; If I could have had the tubal ligation done without experiencing any pain, I would have.
            My husband was in an accident as a teenager that caused severe back injury and has left him with the options of surgery (running the risk of permanent paralysis,) taking pain meds the rest of his life, or living with the pain. He chose to live in pain. He sees it, in some ways as a spiritual experience, and he’s empowered by his decision not to rely on constant (potentially addicting) medication. His choice makes him feel stronger and less like a victim. His pain has purpose, and I’d compare it in some ways to the pain of childbirth having purpose; the difference is, in his case the damage is done… the pain cant take him back to the day of the accident — it can’t keep him from crashing the car or alert him to position himself *just right* inside it so the impact of the crash causes less damage.

          • Daleth

            Having a normal, healthy pregnancy in no way indicates that you are going to have a normal, healthy labor and vaginal delivery. Most labor complications arise spontaneously and have nothing to do with how the pregnancy went or how healthy the mother is overall.

            So it’s really not accurate to say that “a vaginal birth in a normal healthy pregnancy is [not] a medical procedure,” because it depends–some of them are. Sometimes it takes a ventouse or forceps to get the baby out vaginally. Sometimes it rips the mom’s perineum so badly that there is no longer any separation between anus and vagina–that’s plain English for “a fourth-degree tear”–which leaves her fecally incontinent and requires complex surgery that doesn’t always work. Sometimes a complication develops that requires a cesarean or a blood transfusion or the immediate presence of a neonatologist.

            That’s why people give birth in hospitals, because no one knows whether those complications will happen to them, and if they happen at home you and/or the baby are in serious danger. Just google “Hurt by Homebirth” for myriad examples.

            As for VBACs, the reason some doctors and hospitals won’t do them is that even for the best candidates there is a high risk (about 1/200) of uterine rupture, which almost always kills the baby (and can also kill the mom due to bleeding) unless an immediate c-section can be performed. But to do an immediate c-section, you need 24/7 anesthesiologists on site and immediate access to a fully equipped and staffed operating room. Not all hospitals or doctors can offer that, and if they can’t, then they can’t ethically (safely) offer VBACs.

          • bella_cose

            I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why, but many of the comments here going on and on about how empowering natural childbirth is, including the pain involved, and how spiritual and boundary-pushing the experience is, are starting to remind me of how practitioners of BDSM sound. I just find it really disturbing.

          • C.K. Egbert

            I probably am going to anger people here but…I believe the way we glorify pain during sex (e.g., BDSM) and glorify pain during birth are two sides of the same social norm (the normalization/glorification of women’s pain) which structures our experiences. That’s why I mentioned the depiction of women in childbirth as pornographic: a woman’s suffering is depicted as either amusing or else romantic and wonderful (the male is usually depicted as happy/in awe, so the male perspective structures the representation). In both cases I think that it functions in the same way as pornography does, to habituate us to “eroticizing” women’s pain.

            If people take the position that pain can be empowering, then I don’t think they can consistently attack the BDSM position. In BDSM, at least theoretically, a woman would have greater control over how much pain she suffered, for how long, and what injuries she sustained as a result. Although I’m not denying a woman’s agency, in a very real sense a woman in labor cannot decide how long she labors, how painful the contractions are, or whether she has complications or injuries. Because women have more obvious opportunities to control her situation in BDSM–unlike birth, where sometimes it is outside anyone’s control–it seems that BDSM can be just as empowering (if one thinks pain and choosing to be in pain can be empowering) than childbirth.

            I believe it is substantively wrong to say that pain is empowering, but someone taking that view also undermines their own ability to critique other social norms and practices.

        • waitinginvain

          good comment, but I wanted to add that people don’t just walk away “feeling” raped, they actually were raped in the process of giving birth.
          Although “a woman who is raped while giving birth does not experience the assault in a way that fits neatly within the typical definitions we hold” and “a penis is usually nowhere to be found in the story and the perpetrator may not even possess one”, nonetheless “fingers, hands, suction cups, forceps, needles and scissors…” are used to rape women in the name of “health” and “medicine” or birth.
          (quote from Amity Reed)

          “A vulnerable woman, who is powerless to leave the situation, is at times held down against her will, has strangers looking & touching at private parts of her body, perhaps without appropriate measures being taken to acknowledge her ownership of her body or to preserve her comfort levels. Perhaps she has fingers or instruments inserted without her consent, and sometimes against her consent…” ( http://birthtraumatruths.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/when-birth-becomes-a-violation/ )– that is RAPE, no matter that it happened in a hospital, that is as much a rape as any other rape involving an instrument or non-penile object, that is to say, 100% a rape.

      • hypatia

        I recognized that what you mean in this post when you refer to “natural birth” is birth without pharmaceutical pain meds, so that’s the definition I’m trying to work with also, though I acknowledge it may have grown confusing, given the fuzzy terminology. Apologies if that’s the case. I agree that a woman should have access to all options, including a c-section if that’s what feels right to her; we don’t disagree there.

        “I’m assuming that women always have the right to refuse any medical treatment”

        Do you mean you’re assuming that this *is* the case, or that it *should be* the case? Because I completely agree that it should be, but to say that it is right now is totally at odds with reality (in the US). Women who give birth in hospitals but don’t want certain interventions (whether that’s pain meds, episiotomy, pitocin, whatever) have to fight tooth and nail to have their wishes respected and are often bullied into having interventions they firmly didn’t want.

        “they should not need to beg for it or feel ashamed for wanting it.”

        100% agree with you.

        “As I’ve said before (severe) pain is suffering, even if not all suffering is pain”

        This is probably just an issue of semantics at this point, but I don’t agree that all pain is suffering. That’s subjective. Abusive pain is certainly always suffering, and pain that isn’t inflicted on you by someone but just happens (like falling down and breaking your arm) certainly can be suffering, but many women on this thread have explained that while birth may have been painful, they didn’t suffer. This point of view is as valid as that of those who did suffer in natural birth. Certainly no one should be denied treatment for pain if they want it or if that pain is causing them to suffer.

        “thus it is important we respond in a way that affirms that person’s value (see my response above) and we cannot discriminatorily decide that pharmaceuticals/medical technology are problematic in the case of childbirth but not other cases (e.g., we can’t say drugs are bad during childbirth but okay during appendectomies).”

        Maybe we are misunderstanding each other here? Because I certainly wouldn’t argue that “drugs are bad,” just that we shouldn’t assume that women need them/must have them in every case. That’s up to the individual woman to decide (or it should be). The way the medical establishment handles people, and especially women, is absolutely problematic in contexts besides childbirth, but I think we’re on the same page with that.

        “I don’t think women claiming ‘natural birth’ is an ’empowering’ experience is sufficient to think that it is therefore unproblematic.”

        Women calling something “empowering” (particularly in the context of prevailing liberal feminist points of view) is certainly not sufficient to decide it’s therefore not problematic, absolutely. It’s our job as radical feminists to consider both women’s personal experiences *and* the material reality (via structural analysis) and see how they square with one another (that second part is obviously what makes so-called “sex-positive” arguments fall apart). What I think you’re missing in your analysis is the historical and cultural context of midwifery, “natural birth,” and the medical establishment. Second wave feminists have talked about it quite a bit, and about the oppression women who want to have natural births face from the prevailing culture. I think if you did some reading on that, a lot of the pushback you’re getting would make more sense.

        “I disagree with you on the conditions of having a meaningful choice. Unless a woman has access to pain medication when she wants it, then it is not a meaningful option for her (insofar as you think that it is a choice that shouldn’t be stigmatized and degraded, and a choice that should be available, this presents a problem for you).”

        You’re making assumptions here that aren’t correct. Giving birth at home or at a birth center does not preclude the option of getting meds if you want them; birth centers and midwives usually have protocols in place in order to very quickly get a woman to the hospital for just this situation that do not involve a woman having to drive herself anywhere.

        “She does not have access to pain medication when she wants it if she has to get herself transported to a hospital first, and expecting a woman in labor to get herself transported to a hospital, praying she doesn’t get there too late for the pain medication to be administered, is simply unreasonable.”

        Nonsense. That may be true in some cases, but in mine, they could have literally had me in the delivery ward in less time than it would take to page the anesthesiologist and have her/him get the meds and equipment ready. Maybe it’s lack of direct experience, but you seem to be seeing black and white on things that actually aren’t.

        “it’s also unreasonable to think that women are going to know whether they want it before they experience the pain itself.”

        Pregnant women are often encouraged to make a “birth plan,” which helps their wishes to be respected once they’re actually in labor and don’t want to have to explain everything a hundred times. The birth plan is (ideally) made with the total understanding that circumstances can change, and your mind can change, and that’s okay.

        “if women can have access to the same quality of pain medication outside a traditional hospital setting, then I’m all for it”

        Me too.

        “(I’ve heard the “exercise” analogy made with regard to habituating oneself to painful/degrading sex acts as well)”

        What the hell? That’s messed up.

        “I mean pain management as in doing what is humanly possible, with the woman’s full consent, to alleviate the woman’s suffering (just vocalizing one’s pain doesn’t really count as pain management to me, so I’d distinguish between that and something like self-hypnosis)”

        Vocalizing actually can be a form of pain management. I used it, and it helped. It’s not just yelling “Ouch!” or something, though; it’s an actual technique I learned and practiced beforehand (a kind of very low “ooooooohhhh” in response to contractions that actually has helpful physiological effects), along with meditation/breathing techniques, focusing in on particular senses (for example, focusing only on sounds or only on a small detail of something you’re looking at), massage and counter-pressure techniques that my partner could do, and so on. All of these things helped. Being immersed in warm water is also very effective at pain alleviation for many women.

        “Once again, I think we use widely different standards when dealing with a woman’s pain rather than other types of pain, and this is subordinating”

        I agree.

        “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from people–often men–claim that childbirth is just ‘natural’ and that somehow makes our indifference/double-standards justifiable.”

        Yeah. I am definitely not arguing that something being “natural” means we therefore shouldn’t manage pain, or that pharmaceutical options should be denied to someone who wants them. (Next time a man tells you that, you could try telling him that if a bear were to rip off his balls while he was camping in the woods, that would also be “natural.”)

        “Thank you for alerting to me to the fact that ‘damage’ is very ill-chosen, so substitute ‘harmed’ which is less dehumanizing.”

        This is much better, thank you.

        “I keep hearing this argument, and I’m not sure why acknowledging the facts is ‘pathologizing women.'”

        It’s because you’re using the language of the patriarchal medical establishment when you talk about it, not because you’re acknowledging the facts. Again, having a better grasp of the history at play here would help you avoid using the problematic language. Lia Joy does a good job of explaining this above.

        “I am concerned that thinking about pregnancy/childbirth differently from other potentially harmful/painful conditions normalizes the pain/harm they experience as just a ‘part of life.'”

        The place you’re coming from here is not wrong, but the path you’re using to get there is problematic; it does pathologize women, and it’s because of the history involved and the attitudes and beliefs at play within the prevailing culture of medicalized birth (in the US). I’ll just re-emphasize here that reading up on this stuff will help a lot.

        “But not ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ to me means that we tell women, clearly and consistently, that they are owed a life free of suffering or violence, that their suffering and health is of prime importance, and that we treat them in a way consistent with this message.”

        Absolutely. I think we are coming much closer to understanding each other now. Natural birth is not inconsistent with these goals, *unless* we are dealing with a form of “natural birth” advocated and practiced by misogynists, and we can all agree that misogyny needs to be eradicated from ALL care and practices relating to women.

        • C.K. Egbert

          Hypatia–Once again, thanks for all your comments (and everyone else as well), they’ve helped me see where I should have been clearer and more thoroughly informed. I’m writing here to explain some of my motivations.

          You’re right, I’m taking informed consent as what should be the case, not what is the case (I was the teaching assistant for a bioethics course, and I was pretty appalled by what I learned, so I know this is not something we can presume is the case in healthcare now).

          I think the main part where people are pushing back on me is the normalizing women’s pain/harm bit and I understand completely the desire not to pathologize women’s bodies. I have to admit that I’ve known several women who’ve had life-threatening complications and the approach was to keep the woman alive to carry the fetus even though it was obvious the pregnancy was harming her health and often the interventions were themselves harmful or caused her suffering. So that’s why I’m pushing back strongly on the idea that it’s just a “part of life” or “normalized”: a precondition for doing something about a harm is not seeing it as unavoidable or part of life.

          Yes, the exercise metaphor was used in a discussion I had in which I was arguing against normalizing (thinking of as unproblematic or just “how things are”) pain during intercourse, and at the time I was called insane, immature, too afraid of pain, and told that no one would ever agree with me. So I’m glad you think it’s messed up.

          Thinking of pain is suffering is motivated by my desire to deny a mind/body duality on any level, to emphasize the normative importance of pain, and to not invalidate anyone’s experience for whom pain itself is suffering. I think the idea that “pain is subjective”–while true to some extent–is often used as a means of victim-blaming/invalidation, and to deny the importance of our bodily experiences. I’m also wary of stating the point that pain is subjective: certainly it is (no one but you experiences your pain), but I often see it used to avoid empathizing, be relativistic, or just excuse behavior that clearly does harm someone (it’s not like we don’t know what those things are).

          I don’t think you or anyone else is using the subjectivity of pain in this way, but I do want to point out to people the ways in which some ways of framing or talking about things can be harmful (as you’ve pointed out to me). I think I may come across as attacking people or telling them that they are saying things they are not, because I’m trying to point out that the way they say things or their framing of things could have problematic implications. I can be very confrontational and aggressive in my approach, though, which is something I’m working on.

          Longer response than I expected, but thanks again for your feedback.

    • andeväsen

      I am assuming this is US-centric. It doesn’t describe the situation elsewhere exactly.

      I have worked in the UK (as well as developing countries in Asia and Africa who likely were not the target audiences of CK Egbert given they are not part of the natural childbirth movement in the same way as developed countires) and the situation is slightly different here.

      In the UK in our publicly funded health system, pregnant women now, thanks in part to campaigning from organisations like the National Childbirth Trust, can choose between the male-establishment ‘medical model’ of giving birth in a hospital delivery ward and midwife-led model of a birthing centre or midwife led unit. And after giving birth once, for their second planned pregnancy women are now encouraged – by health staff within the health system – to consider home birth. We (as health workers) are advised to tell women that from the second pregnancy onwards and provided no other complications arise during the pregnancy, a home birth in the UK with a skilled midwife attending is as safe as giving birth in UK hospital.

      Even having chosen the hospital route, medical interventions are aimed to be kept to a minimum. A friend of mine gave birth in a midwife-led unit and after a long second stage she experienced a third-degree – to the anal sphincter – tear. At her second pregnancy she asked her male consultant whether she could have a C-section as the memories of her first birth were traumatic. She was ‘invited to reconsider’ this choice, and over several meetings this man successfully persuaded her to try vaginal delivery again, telling her that her and her baby’s health would be less harmed by vaginal than by a C-section delivery.

      This has a been a very recent (in the last 3-5 years) paradigm shift within our health service towards minimising interventions at birth. However this does not, in my view, solve or even start to address the casual misogyny and casual internalised misogyny directed at pregnant women from health workers throughout the pregnancy and birthing process, and in fact in most interactions women have with the health service.

      The interventions or lack of interventions aren’t the main problem, it is the persistent assumption that women – empty vessels for the next generation as they are – are a nuisance to be overcome in the business of bringing out babies. This leads to their cries of pain being dismissed as irrelevant or else being reframed as empowering.

      • bella_cose

        “At her second pregnancy she asked her male consultant whether she could have a C-section as the memories of her first birth were traumatic. She was ‘invited to reconsider’ this choice, and over several meetings this man successfully persuaded her to try vaginal delivery again, telling her that her and her baby’s health would be less harmed by vaginal than by a C-section delivery.”

        That is seriously scary. That is exactly why this blog post needed to be written, and more people need to be writing about this subject. That sounds rather similar to anti-choice clinics talking a woman out of an abortion, for her own good. In your example, how is spending several visits convincing a woman to go against what she wishes to do, not a form of coercion? If this counselor had given her all the information on her choices as soon as she asked, and she still wanted a c-section, that should have been it. He shouldn’t have spent several sessions wearing her down. Oh, sorry. I mean “persuading” her.

        • bella_cose

          Also, my sarcasm isn’t directed at you, in case it came off that way. I just don’t understand why no one listens to women. I’m frustrated, no, more like absolutely furious, by the lack of weight our needs, desires, ideas, etc, carry in the world.

          • andeväsen

            You didn’t really come off that way. I know. I have to say, my radical feminist epiphany did occur during my basic training on the maternity wards – for me it was eye opening. I knew I was a feminist before, but after watching woman after woman tear and cry and bleed her way through labour it really hit home exactly how heavily the cultural scales are weighed against us. I was like, women have to painfully alter our physical selves in order to bring forth the next generation – and instead of basic respect let alone thanks, the mothering class has been despised, kicked down, belittled, infantilised. Womb envy surely must lie behind misogyny.

        • andeväsen

          I agree with you. This is the reality of the “choice” pregnant women in the UK have today. Whereas in the past steering/persuading/coercing women towards interventions in childbirth was the norm, today it is the coercion towards the opposite. I’m sure the doctor in question considered himself to have “good communication skills” and worlds apart from the overbearing patronising obstetricians of the previous generation, but what continues to be prevalent is ‘exceptionalising’ the process of childbirth, the thinking that as a biological process that women undergo, its effects on the body both short and long term are somehow different and less important to manage, compared to other biological processes. The National Childbirth Trust, a UK organisation which advocates for the de-medicalisation of birth, operates under this idea, and the medical community have now embraced it too.

        • Daleth

          Bella-Cose, you’re right, it is scary indeed, and it’s happened to me too. I’m expecting within a month or so and on three different occasions, with healthcare providers of both genders, I’ve had them trying to talk me out of a c-section–even though I’m carrying twins and one of them has been breech on almost every ultrasound.

          They tell me “vaginal birth is totally doable as long as it’s not the first baby who’s breech!” –and they use totally juvenile scare tactics to warn me against c-section: “You’ll have an incision you have to keep clean, and it’s painful, and you’ll have to come back to the hospital so we can check how it’s healing, which is really inconvenient when you have new babies to take care of.” I shot that scare tactic down by saying, “It’s probably also really inconvenient and painful to have a third or fourth-degree tear, and I imagine that’s a lot harder to keep clean than an incision on my belly, no?”

          So long story short, it took FOUR tries for me to finally find a sympathetic doctor in this practice, who said whether to get a c-section was totally up to me and who acknowledged the problem: “As doctors, if you ask about c-section, we will tell you the risks. We have to do that, but… some of the people here will tell you in ways that might feel a little… coercive.” Bingo!!

          And if it took ME four tries, as a woman carrying twins where one of them is usually breech, I can’t imagine how hard it would be for a woman who wanted a CS but was carrying a head-down singleton.

          • Daleth

            And PS, I’m in the US. At least in the UK women now officially have the right to a maternal request c-section. There’s a whole process they have to go through (described here: http://www.rcog.org.uk/womens-health/clinical-guidance/caesarean-section-maternal-request-query-bank) but if at the end of that process they still want one, the OB is supposed to either agree to do her c-section or refer her to an OB who will do it.

          • Wow that is crazy. I never though that doctors would try to coerce a woman carry twins into having a vaginal birth especially with one of them being breech. I hadn’t realized that women having vaginal births was such a big thing. Your experience sounds almost like people have a religious belief system about the “goodness” of vaginal birth.

            “I shot that scare tactic down by saying, “It’s probably also really inconvenient and painful to have a third or fourth-degree tear, and I imagine that’s a lot harder to keep clean than an incision on my belly, no?””

            Good for you. And good for you for persevering through four doctors to get what you needed.

          • Daleth

            Isn’t it insane? My doctors practice out of a major university hospital with the best NICU for hundreds of miles around, which I’m sure is why they’re so confident that VB with them is safe for twin moms even with one breech.

            And also, as the best maternity hospital/NICU for hundreds of miles, they attract all the most complicated and dire cases in the region. Which means they have a slightly high c-section rate (not above the national average, but close to it).

            So I think they try to keep their c-section rate down, since idiotic members of the media (hello, NY Times and Consumer Reports) have recently gotten in the habit of rating hospitals as good or bad based solely on their CS rate (which I think is stupid–I care a lot more about their rate of mortality, morbidity and complications than their CS rate).

            And to get their CS rate down, they wave the vaginal birth pom-poms at every pregnant woman who doesn’t absolutely critically require a CS. “Totally doable! Way more convenient for you! Yay VB!”

            But it reaches a point of dishonesty when they’re comparing uncomplicated VB’s to complicated CS’s, or warning me about Big Scary Risks of CS while not mentioning the Big Scary Risks of VB, and even downplaying those risks when I mention them.

            I doubt my experience is typical but it may well be typical for moms delivering in big, excellent maternity hospitals with great NICUs and highly skilled doctors. But however skilled the doctors and great the NICU, it is NOT THEIR DECISION, it’s mine!

      • hypatia

        Thanks for adding this perspective, andeväsen. I’m coming at this from a very US-centric perspective, so it helps a lot to hear about what you are seeing in the UK.

        • andeväsen

          Likewise. It helps me too to know what’s going on elsewhere.

    • Hypatia, I think your points are right on but one I want to respond to — taking into account that your intention was not to bash unassisted birth, (and that I’m spinning this off a little beyond the discussion here,) it’s a broad misconception that I don’t want to leave without rebuttal.

      “That would be why, apart from certain misogynistic religious groups and people who advocate for “unassisted birth,” which is a completely different creature than simply choosing for forgo pharmaceutical pain relief, NO ONE I know of advocates for a form of “natural birth” that involves behaving as if we were living 500 years ago. ”

      I’ve spent 11 years pretty deeply involved in Unassisted birth circles and gave birth to 3 out of 4 of my children unassisted. Besides a few women on the outer fringes (of an already fringe minority) most of whom have been deeply wounded by obstetricians and/or midwives, Women who birth unassisted neither behave as if we were living 500 years ago, nor advocate unassisted birth as right for every woman or every birth (my 4th birth was in a hospital under the care of midwives because I felt that was the right choice for that birth and I’ve only ever received positive feedback about that choice from any UC advocates I interact with)

      Unassisted birth is about taking responsibility for your child’s birth, and having control over your setting away from prying eyes, coercion, bullying and people who think they know better than you about what you & baby need. We have the option to transfer to a hospital for pain relief, emergency care or support if we need it, and contrary to popular belief, the vast majority women who choose unassisted birth WILL go in if they need or want any of these things. It’s really not “a completely different creature” than midwife assisted homebirth — maybe a different breed, but when women who choose midwife assisted homebirth are painted as “selfish” (or taking birth back to the dark ages) and then choose to do the same (usually with the same arguments made against them) unassisted birth it’s frankly quite mind boggling. (to use your analogy: It’s like the swimsuit model who insults the hooters waitress who insults the stripper who insults the prostitute “I’m not so bad, look at HER”

      If anyone reading this is interested in looking beyond the rhetoric & becoming more educated on WHY women choose unassisted birth I’ve explained in further detail here: http://thebirthingsite.com/birthing-styles/item/351-unassisted-birth-explained-and-why-i-chose-it.html

      In addition, in this day & age with the information available on the internet, the average mother would be more well-prepared to perform her own C-section than the average dr 500 years ago, not to mention having adequate nutrition, clean water and basic hygene, so even the fringe within the fringe who believe in forgoing ALL medical care at ALL cost are well beyond the “dark ages” of childbirth when doctors believed the uterus traveled around the body, women should “lay in” in soiled sheets for days after giving birth, or routinely went from autopsies on diseased corpses to vaginal exams. There is simply NO subset or movement within modern western society that can come close to the outright insanity documented in birthing rooms throughout history. NONE.

      • hypatia

        Lia Joy, you’re completely right. I realized that after I commented, and I’m cringing at how I phrased that. Unassisted birth is admittedly something I don’t know much about, and clearly I’ve got a blind spot there. I appreciate your offering this useful information.

    • Daleth

      You’re staring from the position that natural birth *has* to be justified. The only way to arrive at this position is to have bought in to the patriarchal medicalized model of childbirth as the default or “correct” position

      If by natural childbirth you mean childbirth without pain medication, yes, sorry, that does have to be justified. Is there any other physically excruciating situation where we pressure people to forego pain relief, or where we basically blame people for feeling pain at all by telling them that they can choose to experience it as “empowering” or “ecstatic”?

  • I’ve only read some of the comments – and commented on some as well – but there are a lot and, admittedly, I stopped after awhile. Perhaps I will go back and read the rest later… not sure yet.

    Perhaps this has already been stated but this article gave myself – and many others – the feeling that we’re being considered brainwashed products of misogyny. Perhaps that was the case, perhaps not. Only Ms. Egbert would know her true intent here.

    As I stated previously in one of my replies to another comment, of my five children, three were born in hospitals. My first (a cesarean) and my second (a highly medicalized VBAC) were both very traumatic to me. After the latter, I actually made the statement that having been raped before by someone I trusted, I know what it felt like, and that birth felt exactly the same. I felt bullied through the pregnancy by the OBs in the practice. Scare tactics were used even though there was no evidence that anything was wrong. In both of my first two births, I felt like a child being told what to do. I was treated as essentially nothing, worthless. WIth my VBAC – that I wanted to have naturally (i.e. vaginally, no pain meds, no unnecessary interventions), I was given pitocin – that I had previously made clear I did not want – “just a little” and “just for a little bit”, both of which ended up being total lies. When I finally insisted on having it turned off, I was informed that if I did not allow the nurse to turn it back on, the doctor would section me when she came in. No reason or need. But, again, I was just the little patient, expected to do as I was told. When I finally relented to the epidural, my nurse was ecstatic because I was easier to control. Once it came time to push, the OB actually yelled at me for grunting and breathing noisily as I was attempting to push. Again, I wasn’t being the good little girl, I guess. I truly wanted nothing more than to kick that bitch in the head, but knew that I needed to be that good patient. Naturally, she got me back by stitching me up so tightly that it hurt to use the toilet for months. That was a nice touch.

    I will also say that my last two (home water birth and home dry birth) were my largest babies at 10 lb 13 oz and 11 lb 11 oz, respectively. Because I was able to move into positions that felt right at the time, I managed to avoid tearing. At all. Even though I did with my other smaller babies. In fact, after both of their births, I actually had to be told to calm down and take it easy. I was exhilarated and even, yes, empowered. Not because of any pain – which, as one previous poster pointed out, DOES NOT ALWAYS EQUATE TO SUFFERING – but because I did it. I did something that the previously mentioned OB would have sectioned me for. I was able to immediately start the bonding process. No baby was being whisked away. In fact, my midwife (CNM, for those keeping track at home) prefers that only mom or dad, but especially mom, hold baby for the first day or two, just to help increase likelihood of bonding. That’s fine with me because I don’t have to worry about people traipsing through, expecting to hold baby. In fact, when it’s in our home, we get to determine who we do and don’t want traipsing through. 😉

    I guess what I’m saying here is that I resent the implication that I have been brainwashed. No, that’s not true. I *was* brainwashed to trust in the so-called “experts” to know what was best for me. I resent the implication that I – or others like me – are brainwashed into choosing natural (drug-free, vaginal) birth.

    I do wish that Ms. Egbert would kindly spend some time with us “natural birthers” as well as some midwives before drawing her conclusions. I do wish that she would find out why our need/desire/wish for such takes place. In many cases – at least the ones I know personally – we choose the natural method because we feel better taken care of and safer.

  • “The author was not “demonizing an entire set of ideas and practices”, at least not how I understood it anyway. Obviously, it’s a very emotional subject for some, and that emotion is perhaps making an objective reading of the post impossible. I think that’s understandable too, although not helpful, unfortunately. I think it might be earlier for me to read it objectively, only because I don’t have children, so I haven’t had any personal experience with the issues surrounding childbirth. I have seen what my friends and family members have gone through, and I can’t say I’ve seen any consensus over women preferring natural childbirth. I do think most women don’t like the cold, clinical feeling of a hospital room though.
    Personally, if I ever do have a child, I’ll forego childbirth and have a cesarean”. …bella_cose

    If you don’t think the author was demonizing an entire set of ideas and practices, indeed you don’t understand that her post is little more than an ill-informed screed against anything attempting to bypass the insult of relinquishing all control a woman’s body over to the “authorities” of the medical industrial complex. It’s not just the clinically cold aspect of hospitals. It’s the paternal treatment women will experience in one of these male owned and run birth rape centers.

    Having a cesarean isn’t foregoing childbirth. C-sections were used to save the life of the mother or the child as a last resort. Now, it is just one more boutique choice sold to women who don’t need one as a scheduling convenience, downplaying the fact that it is major surgery that increases the profits of doctors and hospitals, and requires a much longer recovery time than a normal vaginal birth.

    You may want to avoid any of the discomfort involved in vaginal birth, but brace yourself because once the pain killers wear off, you will have to deal with the pain and discomfort that accompanies major surgery. And, you will be dealing with that on your own, often being kicked out of the hospital the same day. You will then get to deal with trying to take care of a newborn with a painfully stitched-up belly, leaving you with about a six-inch long scar for the rest of your life.

    It’s pretty easy to be objective when you have never undergone the very subjective experience of childbirth. You’re goddamned right it’s emotional and until you’ve gone through it yourself, only relying on the anecdotal experiences of your friends and relatives, it is your “objective” condescension, ignorance and belligerence (you couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate screen name) that is not helpful.

    @ morag: “…not all women want to hear about your special breeder status” and mothers are ready to pounce on “…an open invitation for another womam (sic) to talk about her pregnancy ad nauseum (sic). BREEDERS?! Status? Good grief. That’s right up there with George Wills saying women raped on college campuses are making victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges. That’s just grotesque.

    The majority of the commenters here don’t have the intelligence to understand what Egbert wrote? Could you possibly be more insulting? If women talking about their birth experience makes you nauseous, that would be your problem, not mothers. You don’t want to hear it, change the channel.

    @ C. K. Egbert: You must be heavily invested in the medical industrial complex. I can’t think of any other reason you would be so bent on bad mouthing everything that could help keep as many women as possible out of the clutches of ghoulish Western medicine.

    Yes, ever since The Inquisition, when ignorant men literally burned the oral tradition of women’s knowledge of healthcare to the ground, the invasive “healthcare” instituted by men has harmed more than helped people for hundreds of years. We can’t know for certain what the health of peasants was like before The Inquisition because thousands of years of the wisdom, knowledge and experience of women was destroyed.

    We do know that life for common people was better before the church and royals began their shock and awe war on them with their double whammy of (1) enclosure, the euphemism for theft of the resources (forests, wild game and farmed fields) the people held in common in order to sustain life, and (2) the capitalist concept of primitive accumulation, the euphemism for rape, plunder and pillage.

    Historians (men) have declared the period before the church and the royals gained sovereignty The Dark Ages. Dark for whom?

    As far as I can tell C.K. Egbert, bella_cose and morag, you are three women who have no (lowly subjective and ladybrained emotional ) personal experience with childbirth, therefore, you have some gall to be instructing mothers about a damn thing. You have no standing in the matter. Come back after you’ve been through it yourselves before telling us breeders what to think and do. Period.

    • bella_cose

      So, now we’ve resorted to insults and name calling? That’s very productive. I guess we should all just shut up because you’re upset, and apparently that’s too much for you to handle in an adult manner.

      You know, it sounds like you’re saying that we who disagree with you, can’t have an opinion on this subject, because we haven’t personally experienced it. Does this standard also hold true for other subjects? If I’m not involved with prostitution or pornography, am I not allowed an opinion on the sex industry? That’s just not logical, or practical.

      • hypatia

        Of course you can have an opinion on it. As a woman, even a childless one, you’ve got a stake in women’s health care, just like all of us have a stake in the sex industry, because all of us are dehumanized and harmed on the basis that women are things to be bought and sold, even if we have never been prostituted.

        Nonetheless, positionally is important here. Certain privileged women in the sex industry would have us believe that their voices are the only voices that matter, but the vast majority of women in that industry are not so privileged and do not agree with them that prostitution is harmless (or can be made that way by “harm-reduction” models), “empowering,” etc. Think Rachel Lloyd of GEMS. These survivors of the industry are often the ones working right in the trenches, and they have taught us what we know about what that industry is like for women. We combine their valuable insight with structural analysis in order to develop solutions like the Nordic Model.

        You saying that you can be more objective about birth because you haven’t experienced it is like the male therapist who tried to tell me that my violent ex was not abusive and that I was too emotionally entangled in the situation to see it clearly. Or like the anti-choicers who insist that women are psychologically harmed by abortion, while ignoring the voices of the millions of women who say they were not psychologically harmed by their abortions. Or like every trolling dude on every comment board everywhere who accuses us of being “emotional,” “shrill,” “hysterical,” etc. when talking about women’s issues and insists we can’t be objective about rape or abuse because we ourselves are survivors of rape and abuse. To be perfectly clear and avoid confusion, I am not comparing you *the person* to any of these assholes, just your rhetoric to their rhetoric. I’m trying to illustrate what the problem is with insisting that having direct experience with something precludes objectivity about that thing. It’s anti-feminist, and it’s used against women every second of every day.

        • bella_cose

          I’m so tired of you misreading any comment you don’t agree with. Personally, I think it’s completely reprehensible for you to accuse me of being anti-feminist, as a way to bully me, and any other woman you say it to, to shut up. Also, by using that tactic, you’ve lost all credibility in my opinion.

          • hypatia

            Now you are the one misreading. I am not accusing you of being anti-feminist, and I am certainly not telling you to shut up. I am trying extremely hard to meet you in the middle, and I’d appreciate it if you could do the same.

          • bella_cose

            I wrote that before I read a different response from you. I think we are closer to meeting in the middle now.

    • C.K. Egbert

      Mar Iguana–Thanks for the commentary and other commentators who’ve pointed out some problematic ways that I’ve been talking about this. I see now that my language was imprecise and over-generalizing and that led to a lot of confusion. If I’d known what I do now, I would have written it very differently.

      My intention was to analyze some problematic attitudes around the idea of “natural birth” and demonstrate how they are inconsistent with our attitudes toward other health conditions. While pregnancy/childbirth has a special status because of the way it affects women, I think that gives us more reason to be wary of ways in which we have different standards of care. My argument is that having different standards of care or having different attitudes toward pain/harm with regard to pregnancy/childbirth as opposed to other health issues is discriminatory.

      I took it as a given that anything that violates informed consent is problematic and the purpose was not to argue against the problems of the medical industrial complex (although there are many). Instead I’m examining ways that we talk about birth can potentially contribute to patriarchal attitudes and coercion (such as the natural/non-natural dichotomy).

      The problem is that the conditions of women’s choices are such that hospitals often violate women’s autonomy and that in non-hospital settings women often don’t have access to pain medication. I understand women that want to forgo traditional hospital settings because their autonomy has been violated, but what is problematic is that women seem to be in the bind of either not having access to pain medication or not feeling in control of their bodies.

      My only stake in the “medical industrial complex” is that I argue that drugs should not be stigmatized as a treatment option for women if we think that it is acceptable to use drugs in any other circumstance to alleviate someone’s pain.

      It sounds like childbirth wasn’t very painful or distressing for you and I would want every woman to have a similar experience. Sometimes, as with your experience, drugs are not necessary for that to happen. Sometimes drugs are necessary. I’m not pretending that the medical industry has done enough–by any stretch of the imagination–to provide adequately for women’s safety, health, or palliative care during pregnancy/birth or in any other situation. What we should normalize is not “medicalization” but the expectation that during pregnancy/birth a woman’s health is going to be prioritized, that birth is not going to be painful or distressing, and that a woman has a right to access whatever resources she needs to ensure that happens (obviously complications arise and so pain/distress may be unavoidable, but it makes a difference if there is firm assurance that we are doing everything we can to fulfill that expectation). Women should not expect that pain or harm to their health is part of the natural order of things or “business as usual”, something that they should accept, or something that is good or empowering (which is why I made the analogy to sexual norms)–that is all I’m arguing against, not alternative methods of providing women with a good birth experience other than the traditional medical model.

      I have no personal experience (as in it has been my experience) with birth and I never plan on getting pregnant, but I also have no personal experience with sexual or physical abuse either (and I’m hoping for that to continue to be the case). The norms/practices still determine my life as a woman and, more importantly, as a feminist I’m concerned with women in general.

      Thanks for the feedback.

      • hypatia

        Thanks for this, C.K. I have a feeling that if you re-wrote the essay now with the added awareness you’ve gained, my comments would be entirely positive. You make many good points in this response, and I’m with you.

      • Thank you for your humility, and the lively conversation sparked by the original post… though I argue against inflammatory language & the whole home vs hospital (natural vs medicated) debate, sometimes its good to get people riled up — it’s better than staying quiet, because here we are, learning about one anothers experience and talking about things that NEED to be talked about!!

      • I do appreciate your willingness. C.K., to review some of your assumptions and over-generalizing and thank you for that. It shows a lot of character on your part.

        As for my experience not being very painful or distressing, that’s not true actually. The one contraction I wasn’t able to ride because I had to deal with that damned enema was unbelievable and the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced before or since. So, I think labor could have been as painful for me as it is for any other woman; I don’t have some kind of high tolerance for pain. I am thankful that I learned Lamaze and have used it to deal with both physical pain and mental stress (the number one killer in my opinion) since I learned it 37 years ago.

        Lamaze is not self-hypnosis, it’s more like a type of transcendental meditation. M&Ms, meditation and marijuana, have pretty much kept me out of the clutches of ghoulish Western medicine. That and a tubal ligation since The Pill failed me and I never, ever wanted to have to go through the abort-or-not decision again. Ever! Like others here, I had no desire whatsoever to become a mother.

        On the rare occasion I’ve had to resort to seeing a doctor, I am considered a bad patient. The kind who questions everything, demands making final decisions and doesn’t just hand my person over to some asshole who thinks MD stands for Medical Deity. Bad patients stand a better chance of surviving Western medicine.

        Especially women, who are still, in the 21st fucking century, considered a pre-existing condition and most often not included in medical research separately from males, the standard human model. Then, literally adding insult to injury, were charged far more for health insurance than men until the ACA was passed.

        As for distress, I don’t know how any woman wouldn’t be anxious about childbirth, it being pretty much a life or death situation. I had never had a child before and had no idea if Lamaze was going to work or what was going to happen. Also, I had to deal with nurses who were just trying to do their job and had a hard time understanding that I didn’t need them or want them near me.

        Back then, those nurses had little to no experience with natural birth and had no idea of what I was attempting. I couldn’t do what I had to do if I had to fight them off, or even acknowledge they were in the room. Thankfully, my son’s father/coach soon took control of that situation and protected me from their pestering, and they paid a lot more attention to that male voice than to mine.

        The Lamaze instructor often said that there was nothing wrong with asking for pain killers if we thought it wasn’t working for us. There were ten couples in our class. Four of us were able to make it work when the time came. The instructor had a BBQ for us after everyone delivered, so we were able to share our experiences. The six women who asked for drugs were listened to, supported in their decision and not criticized in any way.

        My point in sharing my experience here was to show that it is possible to have a baby without pain and without drugs. I had no idea there are natural-birth facilitators out there telling women to just shoulder through inevitable pain, discouraging them from asking for painkillers. That is outrageous.

        • C.K. Egbert

          Certainly pregnancy/childbirth is always anxiety-inducing, but I think it makes a difference if the conditions of their care are such that they can be assured that everyone wants them to be as safe and as comfortable as possible and doing what they can to ensure that–without any misogynist preconceptions (just as parenting is always difficult, but it makes a difference if we value parenting and do everything as a society to support parents).

    • morag

      Please provide quotes where bella_code, CK, and I ever told mothers what to do, or said any of you were unintelligent. Use quotes of what we’ve ACTUALLY said, not what you THINK we’re saying. And really, you’re going to get butthurt over the word breeders, a term that lesbians and childfree women use to call out the privileges mothers get under patriarchy? Like it or not childbirth operates under patriarchy just like everything else. It doesn’t matter your personal reasons for having children, either way the patriarchy rewards women for doing what we’re “supposed” to do. I’m not arguing, however, that all mothers are treated the same nor that being a mother is not difficult. And don’t you dare question my womanhood and compare me to a rape apologist. A childfree woman being compared to a man, ie not a real woman, where have I heard that one before?

      If all of you can give personal anecdotes I can too. I’m Jewish, and I’ve seen generations of Jewish mothers raise their children in an antisemitic world only to have their motherhood erased and spat on by goyim. Of course Jewish woman aren’t real women anyway, and once they get too old to be manipulative harpy princesses they become overbearing yentas who emasculate men. So pardon me if I don’t cater to your feelings when I’ve witnessed how motherhood is worshipped and privileged for the very few. I never want to have children and I’m not going to suspend my critical thinking just because some women hate the thought that a feminist said something about childbirth they didn’t like.

      Remember, provide ACTUAL quotes where I’ve told another woman what to do and called any of you too stupid to understand the article. I’m waiting.

      • hypatia

        Saying that mothers have privilege under the patriarchy because they did what they’re “supposed to do” is like saying that “good girls” who don’t sleep around, always stay in groups, never leave their drinks unattended, and don’t dress “promiscuously” have privilege under the patriarchy because they do what they’re “supposed to do.” But “good girls” still get raped.

        HETERO women (I’m not one, though I might as well be because I have a male partner and people assume I am) have privilege under the patriarchy. MARRIED women (I’m not one of those, either, because I happen to believe that marriage is a tool of the patriarchy and refuse to participate in it) have privilege under the patriarchy. MOTHERS are judged and ridiculed and mocked and dismissed in ways I never could have imagined before I experienced it. Being a mother dealing with the family court system while trying to protect my child from an abusive ex is what led me to radical feminism in the first place. Try being alone with a newborn while living in shelters and hotels, try seeing how social services treat you when they come to make a report about whether or not you get to keep your kid since your restraining order triggered the system and now they see YOU as the problem for not “protecting” your child well enough (even though you left your abuser and are staying the hell away from him). Try sitting in court and watching over and over again as your abusive ex get a pass on dirty drugs tests, photos of your injuries, testimony from witnesses, and on and on because he wants to be involved with the child (never mind that his motivation is to use the kid to continue to try to control you), and in the judge’s mind, that makes him father of the fucking year. Meanwhile, your every action as a mother is scrutinized by the court for perfection, and if you fall short, watch out.

        Try having half the people you know tell you what a bad mother you are for leaving your ex and making your kid grow up in a “broken home,” while the other half tell you what a bad mother you are for not leaving sooner and putting your baby in danger through your pregnancy. Try figuring out how the hell you’re going to support yourself and your kid when child care is not available or affordable, work hours are not flexible, employers discriminate against moms (who make less than other women for the same jobs and are promoted less, while fathers make more than other men and are promoted more), and if you take one more sick day because the day care called and said your kid has a fever and is not allowed to be there, you are going to be fired. Try furthering your higher education under this arrangement. Try having everyone around you judge the fuck out of you for being single with a baby, or being unmarried with a baby, or having two kids with different fathers, or letting your kid/not letting your kid watch TV, play at the park, eat fast food, eat vegetarian food, stay up late, not stay up late, have too few rules, have too many rules, co-sleep, not co-sleep, wear clothes with stains on them or holes in them because your kid likes those pants and this shouldn’t be a beauty contest, having too many after-school activities, not having enough after-school activities. Or for you working a paying job, not working a paying job, working the wrong kind of paying job or the wrong hours, using attachment parenting, not using attachment parenting, choosing the wrong neighborhood, choosing the wrong school, choosing the wrong friends to have around, choosing the wrong toys for your kids to play with, letting them wear clothes or play with toys that aren’t the “right” gender–or worse than any of these things, basically the greatest sin you could commit short of killing them–dare to have needs and interests of your own that aren’t directly related to your kids.

        No matter what you do, you’re wrong, and the consequence for being wrong is ruining your child for life (and since your kid is your only purpose in life now that you have one, this basically means that you are completely worthless forever and ever and nothing else you ever do will have any value, to anyone).

        Read the comments on every news story ever where a kid managed to get out of the house and ended up in the street, or fell into a swimming pool. The common theme is “WHERE WAS THE MOTHER?” They never ask where the father was. They just judge the ever-living crap out of the mother, who ran to take the pot that was boiling over off the stove, or had to go to the bathroom for a second, or even–horrors–fell asleep while holding the baby from sheer fucking exhaustion. And the kid had never been able to unlock the door/gate before, and she reasonably though he was safe from whatever befell him, and sometimes shit just happens, and now she will have to figure out a way to struggle through her grief while the whole world judges her for her failure as a mother.

        If women are not people under the patriarchy, mothers are not even women. They are nothing but extensions of their children; they are expected to do nothing ever again but make sure their children’s lives are perfect in every way. Fathers, needless to say, are not subjected to any of this shit and are considered superheroes just for showing up at all.

        And mothers are shit upon from every angle: men, the media, legal systems, civil systems, public policy, employer discrimination, other women, and sometimes even radical feminists.

        • Thank you, hypatia. There is a deep and wide chasm between the glorifying lip service given to mothers and motherhood and the reality of the vile, insulting and often horrific treatment of them.

        • I wholeheartedly agree. I have not gone through the same hardships you have & have yet to experience the “privilege” of motherhood even as a middle class stay at home mom for the past 5 years. You can never do it right. expectations of mothers are impossible to live up to (try posting online that you smoked one cigarette while pregnant or left your baby in a car for 3 minutes while you paid for gas& you will get a taste of it. You’ll probably be called a baby killer who has no right to have kids! seriously.) You will never be good enough while your baby’s father will get a standing ovation for changing a diaper, seeing his kids on weekends or paying child support on time.
          I, too came to really come to terms with feminism and how important it is after having children… before that, I was honestly in a position of privilege believing that my lesbian/feminist grandmother was a bit of a man-hater, over-the-top in her views. i believed we were past the issues she complained about to a point of near equality…Ha! little did I know! Once i had kids a lightbulb went on “Oh F*** THIS is what she was so angry about!” Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf explains a lot about how motherhood can trap you in the house & turn you into something society all has a right to judge (moreso than i ever experienced as a single woman — not to say that no single woman could experience the same level of discrimination in different ways) and Stunned by Karen Bridson is another good read on the subject.
          Being taken care of financially by my husband, I’m afforded the privilege of not having to work full time, but the burden of not having much opportunity to do so. If he took off (not concerned that he would, but that he has the privilege of being able to) I’d be stuck with 4 kids, & qualifying for a $10/hr job at best — and *maybe* government assistance. I won’t even get started on the myth of the “welfare queen” Ick. I made the decision to raise my kids & put aside my aspirations for education &career for the time being, but it was an either-or choice and my independence has suffered greatly… I have no monetary worth & motherhood is NOT valued by our society the way a paying job is.

        • And… I just saw your post above about being a survivor of reproductive coersion… I was too, with my first baby & didn’t even recognize that there was a word for what happened to me til years after I was convinced by a string of elaborate lies to conceive a child (only to be verbally abused, manipulated and cheated on & paid a measly $20 in child support in the 2 years til my husband adopted our son and the sperm donor was let off the hook. that guy is still out there doing as he pleases (including fathering at least one more child, I assume with the same string of bullshit he pulled on me, with the addition, I’m sure, of a sob story about how he has a son out there who he can’t see because his mother is such a monster. ugh) while we are held to this impossible standard of parenting he’s completely escaped. (to be fair, we also get to experience all the joys of parenting without his intrusion on our lives so for that I’m grateful)

      • hypatia

        In 2012, 14.5% of all US women were living in poverty, while 40% of single mothers were. I don’t know of any other supposedly “privileged” group whose members are that much more likely to be living in poverty than the group they’re supposedly privileged over. Married women with children are less likely to live in poverty, but that would be because they’re married, not because they’re mothers.

        You are punching sideways at best, and it’s not helpful.

        • morag

          I specifically wrote “I’m not arguing that all mothers are treated the same nor that being a mother isn’t difficult.” But thanks for accusing me of horizontal hostility and playing the Oppression Olympics, without addressing the part of my comment where I talk about how nonwhite motherhood is not privileged like white motherhood is. So don’t try to school be about female oppression as if I’m not a woman living under patriarchy too. My womanhood has been denied b/c of my ethnicity and sexuality, and I’m not going to let it be denied by someone playing at radical feminism online. This is what I meant by my breeder comment, the idea that some mothers think they’re experiences trump all others that they shut down other women.

          I think we’re arguing at cross purposes, since in some ways you’re a marginalized mother. I’m getting sick of the fact that heterosexually partnered women take their anger out on other women when they find out that their man isn’t prince charming. Being called out on your privileges isn’t a value judgment, I’ve never said you were privileged like a man but I’ve been called one here multiple times.

      • Hold your breath.

        • Oops…was supposed to be a reply to morag.

    • Daleth

      Sorry, but this is biased and unfeminist:

      C-sections were used to save the life of the mother or the child as a last resort. Now, it is just one more boutique choice sold to women who don’t need one as a scheduling convenience, downplaying the fact that it is major surgery that increases the profits of doctors and hospitals, and requires a much longer recovery time than a normal vaginal birth.

      Since when is it your business to determine how other women “should” give birth?

      And do you even realize that nobody is guaranteed a “normal vaginal birth”? A normal c-section has a much SHORTER recovery time and far fewer (if any) long-lasting consequences than a vaginal birth that results in a third or fourth-degree tear. And nobody knows in advance which laboring women are going to end up with a third or fourth-degree tear. About 1 woman in 20 will end up with one. Some women don’t want to take the risk that the 1 in 20 will be them, and so they choose a c-section.

      Many other women (myself included) have a medical indication for a c-section–in other words, something about their pregnancy, their baby or their own health that makes vaginal birth higher risk than usual–and choose a c-section not because they know for a fact that their babies will be hurt or killed without it, but because they don’t want to take that risk. A few examples: breech baby, multiples, unusually large baby, past history of shoulder dystocia, etc. C-sections are safer for babies than vaginal birth is. Cord compression, head entrapment, shoulder dystocia–none of that happens in c-sections. It all happens in vaginal births exclusively, and regularly leaves babies brain damaged or dead.

      So back off and let women make their own medical choices.

  • hypatia

    Some of the sentiments being expressed here are just astonishing to me.

    Examples (paraphrasing):
    1. I’m more objective than you about this, since I have no personal experience with the matter under discussion.
    2. Talking about your personal experiences with the topic at hand is boring and annoying, it makes you “super special,” and not all women go through this or want to hear about it.
    3. There must be a “grain of truth” to this patriarchal narrative, or else people wouldn’t go along with it.

    I feel like in any other context, people would recognize these for the profoundly anti-feminist statements they are. I thought I was in the comment section of a radical feminist blog. Did I take a wrong turn somewhere and end up in the twilight zone?

    Compare number 2, for instance, to Julia Serrano’s rant about how “not all women have uteruses” and therefore it’s transphobic and boring for feminists to keep talking so much about reproductive issues, she’s tired of hearing about it, and they should be focusing on more important things.

    I never thought a radfem would remind me of Julia Serrano, but there you have it.

    • morag

      The things you listed were said by different commenters, and here by “paraphrasing “you seem to mean “take out of context.” And no I never said that everyone’s experiences were boring, just that the discussion turned into everyone’s personal storytime instead of discussing the article at hand. Funny, I thought this was a radical feminist blog too, but this is the third time I’ve been compared to a man. Take a look in the mirror, because you just called Julia Serrano “she.”

      Since you’ve only given paraphrasing and not actual quotes, I give approx. zero fucks.

      • hypatia

        I’m not sure how taking “super special” out of context makes it any less shitty than it was. Every person on here was discussing the article at hand, personal experiences (including the ones you shared) or not. But let me go ahead and quote you, since that’s what you demand: “not all women want to hear about your special breeder status.” Tell me exactly what that means besides “shut up.”

        If you want to stop getting compared to men, stop acting like them. Until then, I couldn’t care less if it hurts your feelings to be called on your shit.

      • hypatia

        Morag, you know what? Fuck it. I have said a lot of angry shit tonight, and you can reply to it if you want to, but I’m tired and I’m putting the hatchet away now. Just recently, I was in a thread elsewhere where some asshole tried to argue that using the word “breeders” was some kind of reverse homophobia or some shit. I’ve never actually objected to the word “breeders,” and that’s because of the reasons you mentioned (though I maintain that mothers qua mothers are not a privileged class of people). There’s no reason for you to come into a post about childbirth and then be shitty to women who share their experiences ABOUT CHILDBIRTH, but whatever. As I said to bella_cose, I don’t want to be angry at other radical feminists. I have more productive ways to spend that energy. You can give zero fucks, that’s fine, I’m done with this derail.

    • bella_cose

      When you get tired of accusing other feminists of being anti-feminist for disagreeing with you, perhaps you could could try, for just one moment, to imagine a world, where possibly, you misunderstood the intention behind a particular comment. Maybe you could entertain the possibility, however slight you may think it is, that you are actually the one being unfair.

      I support women, and I don’t care if I agree with them, or their choices. That’s the bottom line for me.

      • hypatia

        And maybe you could try to consider why it is that the things you’re saying are being interpreted as anti-feminist (by more than one person), not for disagreeing with me, but for using a particular trope that is frequently used against women and feminists. Which is not to say that *you* are anti-feminist, because you’re obviously not.

        Look, bella_cose, the bottom line is, I support women too, including those who don’t have kids and don’t want them and have to suffer the patriarchal shit they get for it. Your statement about objectivity was unfair, but I think we’re on the same side here. With all the shit we have flying at us from the patriarchy, it is especially painful to feel like we’re in the crosshairs of other feminists, too.

        I am really drained from participating in this thread and extremely frustrated by some of the comments, but I also feel like, for the most part, the more we talk it out, the closer we get to understanding each other. And we have to understand each other in order to work on solutions. So I am going to take you at your word on your good intentions, okay? Obviously we crossed wires somehow. It happens. Whatever. We’re all angry, and in the patriarchy, we all have a lot of good reasons to be. I don’t want to be angry at you, or at other feminists. I want to stand next to you and fight the shit that keeps us all down. So I’m going to try to go back to doing that now.

      • You can’t take it, don’t dish it.

  • morag

    Anyone going to address the part of my post where I talked about the intersection of race, ethnicity, and motherhood? Or how I specifically said that I don’t think mothers are privileged for just being mothers, but some mothers are more privileged along these lines? No? Fuck it, I’m done too. You can take all of your white, straight breeder privilege and shove it.

    • bella_cose

      I think you brought up an important point. I was having a conversation with a friend the other week, about women who choose to quit their jobs, and stay home to raise their children. I said something along the lines if that while I thought it was a choice women should have, I didn’t necessarily see it as feminist, or entirely a choice. I mean, it isn’t like men stay home in equal numbers. It’s still expected, for the most part, that if someone’s staying home, it will be the woman. She pointed out that for women of color, or women of lower socioeconomic status in general, it’s really never a option to stay home, and in that case, it could be seen as being subversive.

      I would think it’s similar with childbirth options. I don’t have any statistics, but I would guess the women, at least in the U.S., who are given access to alternative birthing options, are middle class and above. That often means white as well. I think that’s a huge problem.

    • OK, I’ll bite. Here’s the wonderful world of privilege white women live in: They get the bestest and mostest crumbs off their masters’ tables. They get the biggest targets on their backs to enable non-white men to stick it to the white man if they “score” one of their women. They get to be vilified by Middle Eastern fundamentalists for being sluts whose filthy influence “their” women need to be sheltered from, justifying their attacks on the decadent West. They get to be painted as uppity and ruined by feminism, forcing poor, widdle white Masters of the Universe to troll economically depressed, third world countries for women so downtrodden they’ll jump at the chance to marry assholes, and be good and obedient little wives. They get the honor of being the most highly prized by pimps because they bring in more money from the johns. They get to be discounted by non-white feminists and accused of the racism created by white men. They are cut no slack whatsoever if they fail to be the very best of mothers possible considering their privileged access to money and other resources. They get to be accused of possessing white, straight breeder privilege. I could go on, but I tire.

      Please, do continue to call mothers breeders. I want you to.

      Oh, and, by the way, I’m not white. Shove that. Sideways.

      • Thank you.
        Sincerely,
        a white middle class (bisexual, but married to a man) woman who recognizes I benefit from both white AND straight privilege while struggling to see any privileged status i’m afforded by producing offspring…

        I suppose I escape annoyance of people assuming, or suggesting I want children because I’m a woman? But also get accused of being responsible for overpopulation because I have more than 2.5 and taking slack for not being a good little housewife and all the other ways I’m a less than perfect mother… so can we all agree that our experiences, flavors of feminism & struggles are different but no less valid than the other??

        • Agreed, all our struggles as women, from radfem to handmaidens for The Man, may be different but no less valid. We are all in the same boat. And, while I love my son (unplanned as he may have been) more than life itself, I consider motherhood to be the most thankless job in the world regardless of one’s race or class.

    • Breeder privilege? Really? That’s a misogynist term to use for mothers, we’re surprised to see that on a feminist site.

  • Pingback: PODCAST: Reframing the ‘natural birth’ vs. ‘medicalized birth’ dichotomy with Ness Fraser | Feminist Current()

  • Jenny

    Between 1996 and 2013, maternal mortality has begun to rise again. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christy-turlington/misleading-evidence-why-m_b_5563898.html) Most natural birth advocates understand that it isn’t about withholding medication when it’s needed and it also isn’t about routine use of medication. Each birthing mother and her baby are individuals with varying needs.

  • To go back the original point in this blog, I’d like to add one more thing… I am in the midst of writing a book and a class that encourage natural childbirth and by “encourage” I mean that I want women to know that they are capable and strong and not to let others tell them otherwise — that they CAN manage the pain without medication (not that they must or should or that its right for every situation) and that they CAN have a positive, empowering experience giving birth — that it doesn’t have to be experienced as suffering (again, not that suffering can/will be avoided in all circumstances or that those who suffer did something wrong) and feeling vulnerable and hurt (emotionally) which I don’t see as contrasting feminism at all.
    Those of us who have had amazing, life altering birth experiences genuinely want others to feel that joy – to feel capable and strong and thrilled looking back on their experience… It’s not some made up propaganda that we bought into. Birth was spiritually uplifting for me- it helped me come to terms with the difficulty of mothering (at the time, in some pretty shitty circumstances) it’s not a fetish or a contest or anything like that for me. One of my births did involve a bit of processing & I suppose you could say ‘trauma’ because it was much more painful than the others and while it gave me more perspective on how it must feel for those who have a harder time than i did– and that it’s not necessarily something you can control, I valued the whole process for all the lessons it contained and that outweighed any suffering I felt for those hours of my life.
    I genuinely wish that more women felt the joy and freedom and strength that my births brought to me… the same could be said for those who had unneccesary pain and encourage women to get pain relief as soon as possible — or positive C-sections & encourage that experience….There is a “high” involved and it excites and motivates people to want to share the good side when there is so much negativity out there (don’t get me started on how TV portrays birth)
    I suppose it’s like a re-born christian (or jahovas witness etc) who evangelizes because their religion brings them true peace and happiness and that can be done with respect for other choices (you CAN feel the grace of god and see improvement in your life and if you don’t god still loves you) or it can be done in a pushy condescending way (you will go to hell if you do not embrace my religion.) or it could be said of vegans, or feminists or anyone who wants to share something that improved their life.

    • At the risk of those who disapprove of the marathon metaphor ripping it to shreds… I’ll put this out there:

      Some births are marathons, some are sprints; some have a nice comfortable pace and level ground, others have rocky terrain and many unexpected turns that throw you off along the way. Most humans are born with the ability to run, just like most women are born with the ability to conceive and give birth naturally. For some it comes easier than for others. Some people are born with a condition that limits their ability and others develop an injury or condition later in life (or in the midst of a race) that makes running more uncomfortable, dangerous or even impossible. When you find yourself among those for which running is no longer a simple, normal function, it’s not a question of whether or not you deserve to participate in the race. There’s no comparing your experience with those who run beside you with ease. It’s all about the lengths you’re willing to go to make it to the finish line.

  • Thank you so much for this article. I think it perfectly articulates the major problem with the natural birth movement. I wish there was a movement that was pushing women to simply feel empowered that they had children, no matter what delivery method they choose or are medically indicated to use.

    • andeväsen

      I hope feminism can be that movement. Giving birth – vaginally or per uterum – always involves a certain amount of sacrifice. Respect is due.

  • Rchen

    I read this with great interest and followed the comments with interest too. However because I recently have birth it wasn’t until now that I could continue a comment of my own. I just had my second baby. The first time I tried a natural birth method for coping with labor but it didn’t work very well for me. I won’t say which one because I don’t want to debate which way is best.

    I just wanted to point out that first time births are tough because it is hard to know what to expect and what you will want without experience. Subsequent births tend to go faster and you have the experience to know what works for you, therefore for most women, giving birth is better the second or third time.

    And most of all, as a nurse (not labor and delivery nurse) and someone who had a pregnancy complication that made midwife care a bad fit, I want to point out that hospital based care can be woman centered and respectful. The hospital where I had my son was great. The nurses let me take the lead in how to manage the contractions and supported my preferences. That went to a good deal of trouble to provide a variety of comfort measures to me before and after I gave birth. I listened to my body and they listened to me. I got an epidural because I wanted it and was pleased with it. There were no complications. I thought it went pretty much exactly as I wanted it too.

    Provided training and support people in the medical community can and do provide great patient centered care. Most of them are doing their job because they genuinely want to help. I have seen first hand some problematic things in the medical model of childbirth and seen some doctors and other staff disrespect women. I know the history of providing care to women during childbirth and how men tried to drive midwives out. However that doesn’t mean we have to have an all or nothing game now.

    Trained nurse midwives are great. Women should be able to access care from properly trained midwives and they should be able to help women access hospitals when they want pain relief that midwives don’t offer our need more complex care. Hospitals can offer more sensitive patient centered care in a more pleasant environment. Women should feel safe and respected wherever they choose to go or need to go for care. Best if all would be if someone developed a very safe method of pain relief that that consistently gave the same level of relief as epidurals that didn’t need an anesthesiologist to administer it so midwives and OB’s could offer it.

    For the record, if you are able to use non pharmacological pain relief during childbirth, then that is great. If not, that is great too. Personally I am glad there are options and hope very much that care for women during childbirth will continue to develop science based interventions to improve all dimensions of outcome, physical, emotional, etc and that the diversity of options will only increase.