Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The rhetoric of motherhood

I came across a fascinating article on the webisite The Mother's Movement, Resources and reporting for mothers and others who think about social change. The article, The Rhetoric of Motherhood, by Abby Arnold is a biting look at the social construction of motherhood as it exists today. The following quotes speak directly to the issue of natural childbirth and competitive mothering:
"The rhetoric of motherhood defines how we as a culture allow ourselves to think about mothers. It also defines how mothers are given permission by the culture to think of themselves..."

From the moment they either decide to try to get pregnant, or find out they have become so, mothers are told by many experts that they must be “natural.” This does not mean behave and parent in ways that come naturally. This means following a strict agenda of natural (attachment) parenting, that will, again, be the only sure-fire way to insure not only the healthy physical development of the child, but also the kind of adult they will turn out to be. Peggy O’Mara, the editor of Mothering magazine (note the title) wrote in the Oct. 2003 issue about what good friends she and her adult children are, a self-serving diatribe meant to be inspirational ... O’Mara states, in what could be the mantra of the natural parenting movement, “that the bonding and attachment of the early years provide a rich foundation for a lifetime of love.”

...Unfortunately, what is implied here—and in all the literature of natural parenting—is that this high intensity parenting is the only method that guarantees this love, this development. Or, as Dr. Sears, the man who gave the name “Attachment Parenting” to this high intensity style, says, “we have found that attachment parented children are likely to be: smarter, healthier, more sensitive, more empathetic, easier to discipline, more bonded to people than things”... He doesn’t say just how he found this out, or what the millions of non-attached children are actually like."

"These expectations of naturalness, and the dire consequences of not following the natural way, don’t just start with parenting the baby. They start with pregnancy, and especially to what is so frequently called “The Birth Experience.” For some women, labor and delivery goes like this: ... the woman contacts her doctor or midwife and goes to the place—home or hospital—where she has planned to give birth. Labor becomes uncomfortable and intense, but she manages... Perhaps someone comes in and suggests she needs stronger medical intervention, such as an IV, an epidural, or the baby monitor. “No,” she, or one of her devoted coaches says, “it’s not in the birth plan,”... And then she pushes and grunts, feeling more powerful than she ever has or will again in her life. The baby is born, [and] placed on the mother’s chest. They stare into each other’s eyes with mutual recognition and then the baby roots out the breast, latches on and sucks vigorously. The woman’s birth experience is complete.

For most women, it doesn’t. For most women, something—even if the something is nothing more than the overwhelming, unimagined intensity of the pain—goes wrong..."

"Assumption #1: That there is something to be afraid of in asking for pain relief.
Assumption #2: That a laboring woman in need of pain medication is able to “discuss” anything. Demand, rage, plead, roar or moan are more likely verbs here.
Assumption #3: That your attendant does not want you to have pain relief.
Assumption #4: That if you are strong you won’t need it.
Rock Bottom Assumption Guiding All of the Above: There is something wrong with using pain medication while in labor and you don’t want it.

The image of the laboring mother maintaining her power and control, where the pain remains manageable and support surrounds her like a warm bath, where medical intervention is solely devoted to enhancing the mother’s birth experience ... is held out to be the ideal, what all women not only should strive for but naturally,
automatically want... When they don’t get it, many women feel that they have failed, even when they deliver a healthy baby. Susan Maushart, the author of The Mask of Motherhood, says that the relentless focus on the woman’s “performance” during the “birth experience,” rather than the child it produces, creates “the greatest shift of all in our social construction of childbirth: that the “object” of the enterprise is no longer seen to be the end product (the baby) but the process itself.

... American women go into labor with an almost 100 percent statistical certainty that both they and their child will survive. This is the first time this has been true in human history and is in large part due to medical intervention. Yet the language of natural childbirth would have us believe that medical intervention is itself the danger."
I found the most compelling parts of Ms. Arnold's analysis to the identification of the social construction of natural childbirth and the self aggrandizing nature of natural childbirth advocacy. The most trenchant comment, though, concerns the relentless focus on a woman's "performance" during her "birth experience". It sometimes seems that the experience is more important than the baby.


0 Old Comments: