Thursday, May 31, 2007

Women using birth stories to hurt other women

I have written before about the "meanness" of natural childbirth advocacy, using language to demean other women and their experiences. This meanness can extend to birth stories. Melanie Springer Mock captures this aspect of birth stories from the perspective of an adoptive mother, a mother who does not have a "birth" story to tell. The stories that make us real reflects Mock's belief that women tell birth stories to demonstrate that they are "real" mothers, in contrast to other, presumably less authentic mothers.
In a sense, this is what birth stories do: in many cases, they serve to undermine the value of other women's stories, of other women's experiences. I suppose that birth stories might have the power to bind women together, creating communities who have a shared experience of labor and delivering -- or not, as the case may be. Yet too often, the competitiveness of birth narrations challenge this possibility of community. Instead, the stories become self-focused, as their narration -- both those of birth and of adoption -- affirm for ourselves and others the rites of passage that attest to our maternity...

In the process, we attempt to confirm what it means to be a "real" mother, and our focus is obscured from the real center of motherhood: our children. After all, the delivery of children into our lives takes hours, maybe days; when we are blessed, our children remain ours for a lifetime. And over the course of a lifetime, we make many choices as mothers that are just as good, as fulfilling, as painful, as harrowing, as those first choices about pregnancy, about delivery -- even about infertility and adoption.

Giving birth to a child makes someone a real mother, no matter how that birth happens. Adopting a child makes someone a real mother, no matter what others say about the virtue of blood. But what matters most -- the fact we all know, even as birth narratives suggest otherwise -- is being present to our children each day after their birth... Those stories about mothering -- the good, the bad, the challenging, the exhilarating -- are the ones we should be telling each other, for these are the stories celebrating what makes us real.
I would add that birth stories do more than state who is a real mother. They also assert who is a better mother. Hence the choices made throughout labor and birth are supposed to be more than just personal preferences. The implication is that they demonstrate whether a woman is a good or bad mother. This is the genesis of the vicious lies about maternal infant bonding and medication in labor. Evidently, the birth story is too subtle a method for demeaning other women for some "natural" childbirth advocates tastes. The bonding lie deliberately hits them right in the face: women who choose medication CAN'T love their babies as much as "natural" childbirth advocates and their babies CAN'T love them back as much.


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