Friday, July 21, 2006


Whether natural childbirth advocates wish to acknowledge it, or not, they project an air of moral superiority, either implicitly or explicitly. Google "natural childbirth" and superior/superiority and you will find quite a few articles by natural childbirth advocates on its supposed superiority. There are also several articles by women who resent such claims of superiority.

Here are excerpts from an article by Margaret Talbot in the NYTimes Magazine:
... My first baby, born after a 24-hour labor during which I had requested -- O.K., bleated piteously for -- an epidural, nursed avidly from the moment he breathed air. And I couldn't take credit for a conscious decision to forgo anesthesia this time; I'd simply been swept downstream by the sheer force of a shorter, more intense labor. I was glad to have experienced a different kind of childbirth this time around and grateful not to have been up all night. I was lucky to have had with me a midwife (and a husband and sister) who made an unmedicated labor seem possible, without ever implying that it was the True and Only Way. But that is not to say, as natural childbirth's cheerleaders do, that I was in some way a better person for it. It's not even to say that without anesthesia I was more alive to the miracle of birth. Pain concentrates the mind, but what it concentrates the mind on is pain...

Natural childbirth, according to Ina May Gaskin, the president of the Midwives Alliance of North America, is "hugely empowering." After a natural birth, she said recently, "you have so much power you feel you could do anything. Women go on being grateful for that birth and will go on remembering it as a signal event in their lives that changed them."

This sort of belief has a long and not especially humane lineage. In 1847, when Dr. James Young Simpson introduced chloroform as one of the first anesthesias for childbirth, moralists derided it precisely because it vanquished the pain that women were supposed to feel as punishment for Eve's transgression...

Today's natural childbirth purists don't see moral punishment in pain but they do see moral superiority in refusing pain relief. They do see labor as a kind of performance, for which a woman can and should rehearse, and in which she can comport herself more or less admirably. They see it, in other words, as an opportunity to define the self. Maybe they hold fast to this ideal for the same reason people climb Everest or paraglide in the Andes. They regard labor as an extreme sport -- an ennobling physical challenge that we pampered First Worlders are supposed to courageously endure and savor. Spurning the palliatives of modern medicine is part of the drill, an emblem of virtue...


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