Friday, June 16, 2006

Women angry about "natural" childbirth

Two very different women talk about their anger toward the "natural" childbirth movement, and the sexism of the men who started it:

Amananta describes herself as a radical feminist. She believes that the The Origins of the “Natural Childbirth” Movement are Racism, Classism, and Sexism:

The "Natural Childbirth" movement was started by men. Men who claim the pain of childbirth is either all in our silly little heads or not really all that bad, and if we would just be good little girls and do some deep breathing techniques and other relaxation techniques, we could give birth much better and we'd realize we were just being spoiled and selfish for wanting pain relief drugs because the most important thing is the fetus/child which we are birthing and what's a little "discomfort" to that? ...

It disturbs me that feminism has embraced this male-originiating movement which denies women's feelings. It is true that the male dominated medical establishment has gone way too far in managing birth, ... But the litmus test now given to women is that of pain medication. Indeed, when people say "a natural birth" nowadays, they mean "one without any pain relief whatsoever." It is now a popular opinion that breathing methods are a perfectly acceptable way of dealing with the pain of childbirth, which can be horrific, ripping, tearing, cramping pain that goes on for many hours or even days, pain so intense that it has been used as a benchmark for agony for thousands of years. It is incredibly difficult these days to find a dissenting opinion to this. Women are now held to a suspiciously macho-seeming posture of talking about how they went through 12-36 hours of labor with no medication and loved every minute of it. Women who talk publically about how the pain was bad and they couldn't handle it are treated like pariahs. How could they be so selfish as to demand relief for their pain when it could have had an effect on their precious baby! ...

Amananta quoted approvingly from an article by Nina Shapiro on Salon, Give Me Drugs! What's so feminist about a painful childbirth?. According to Ms. Shapiro:

[A]fter making my way through prenatal yoga, childbirth education class and a heap of pregnancy books, I discovered a childbirth culture that makes women embarrassed to want pain relief -- one that worships the "natural," unmedicated birth as an experience verging on the mystical. This birth culture is extremely influential even though it is out of sync with women's obvious needs: Although 80 percent of pregnant women opt for epidural medication when they feel the pain of labor, many feel guilty about having "failed." Some even require counseling.

It's a culture that has been shaped by an array of professionals, including doulas, who offer labor and post-partum support, and midwives... It has brought into the mainstream not only birth-education classes but also birth plans (a woman's instruction to her hospital on everything from her delivery position of choice to the kind of lighting she prefers), prenatal yoga, birthing tubs to soak in during labor and birth art ...

To be sure, the culture has many good points. Most pervasive among feminists, it has encouraged women to wrest back control of their pregnancy and birth from patronizing doctors. The medical establishment has been forced to pay attention, accommodating women's desires to be conscious for the thrilling moment of their babies' arrival and to have their partners in the delivery room to support them. It has also challenged unnecessary medical interventions, such as inducing a baby early so that a doctor can deliver during office hours.

Yet at some point, the movement became almost as proscriptive and patronizing as the establishment it was fighting against. Natural birth ceased to be merely an option and became the "right" kind of birth -- a sign of true womanhood. It is taken for granted in this culture that every woman should go into labor intending to take as much pain as she can stand -- and maybe more. Never mind that there's nothing particularly feminist about women in pain, or that the use of childbirth pain medication began in the first place because an earlier generation of feminists had fought for it. That was when feminism produced the suffragette; today, it gives us the earth mother.
I will save the comments of Amananta and Ms. Shapiro on Grantly-Dick Read for a future post. Evidently, the originator of the "natural" childbirth movement was a sexist and a racist and this helped form his view of childbirth.

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