Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Birth fundamentalism

I was struck by a recent quote from a direct entry midwife about a "birth revolution" and I have heard similar language from homebirth activists before. Dianne suggested that it's more like a counter-revolution and that's definitely closer to what's going on. My claim is that homebirth advocacy is neither a revolution nor a counter revolution. It is a form of birth fundamentalism.

Obviously, fundamentalism is about religion and the analogy can only go so far, but there are several important characteristics of religious fundamentalism that sound like birth fundamentalism. These include:

The purported desire to return to the past, as opposed to creating a new future.
The longing for a mythical past that never actual existed.
The attitude toward modernism (in daily life or in medicine).
And the belief that anything ordained by God (or in this case by "Nature") is surely going to be good.

Fundamentalism, as the name implies, is purportedly about returning to the past, the "good old days". Birth fundamentalism also claims to be about returning to the past when birth was simpler, women "trusted" their bodies, and everything turned out fine. Of course, that past never actually existed. It is a figment of the imagination of the birth fundamentalists. Birth has always been considered quite dangerous, women never "trusted" their bodies (indeed they often drew up wills), and there was a tremendous amount of death and disability.

Just as religious fundamentalism represents a rebellion against modernism, birth fundamentalism represents a rebellion against modern medicine. However, birth fundamentalism has a symbiotic relationship with modern medicine. It can only exist in places where modern medicine is so well established, and has been so successful, that homebirth advocates literally have no idea what birth in nature is really like. Hence, the bedrock insistence that if it is natural, it is good; that nature "designed" women's bodies to give birth; and that if birth were not inherently safe we would not be here. All these claims are factually false and betray a profound misunderstanding about childbirth in nature.

Homebirth advocacy as a form of birth fundamentalism also makes sense in that it has an almost religious fervor. It is not about scientific evidence. Indeed, it often completely ignores scientific evidence. It places great emphasis on belief and "trust" as opposed to observation and experience. It encourages segregation of like minded women and it particularly encourages demeaning those who don't believe in or don't practice the tenets of homebirth advocacy.

Homebirth advocacy is a form of fundamentalism, with the serious shortcomings of all fundamentalisms.


0 Old Comments: