Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"It's not All About You"

Jennie Bristow explores maternal identity through the issue of homebirth in the online magazine Spiked:
So. Do you want to be the kind of mother who has a natural birth, breastfeeds for as long as possible, purees your own organic food and is suspicious of vaccinations? Do you want to be the kind of mother who puts pressure on your kids to succeed in everything, in order to give them the best possible start in life? ...

There is a wide choice of maternal identities out there on the shelf; but they all have one striking thing in common. Whatever identity you choose, it is All About You – what you want for yourself, your life, your kids. In today’s mummy culture, the ebb and flow of family life doesn’t really figure. Motherhood is transformed into an individual consumer experience, where you decide what you think it should all be about and hone your personality, friendship circle and nursery equipment accordingly. It’s like having a birth plan that begins with conception and lasts forever. And, as with birth plans, even the most painstaking Identity Work tends to get messed up by real life.
On homebirth:
Perhaps the most vivid recent example of maternal-identity-as-consumer-experience is the debate over home versus hospital birth, which has been reignited by the UK government’s pledge to give mothers a choice over where they have their children...

... But what is striking about today’s version of this old debate about natural versus hospitalised childbirth is the consensus that, whatever way you do it, childbirth should be like a mini-break on a health farm, or one of those off-the-peg ‘experiences’ that you can buy like hang-gliding or bungee jumping. The childbirth experience, it is assumed, should be pleasant, exciting and gratifying; and those who don’t get that experience have been somehow cheated. What, I wonder, has any of this got to do with having a baby?
Ultimately, fetishizing the birth "experience" sets women up for disappointment:
The fetishisation of the ‘birth experience’ is frankly bizarre. For a start, it has absolutely nothing to do with the baby: being, again, All About You, your choices, your birth plans. And it sets many women – particularly first-time mothers – up to fail, as they end up with long, difficult, painful, complicated labours that require hospitals and anaesthesia and obstetrical intervention. Through the fetishisation of birth, women are encouraged to construct their individualistic identities, egged on by the illusion of choice and control, only to have their first lesson in the messy, unpredictable reality of parenthood before they even get out of the delivery room.

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