Friday, November 09, 2007


Homebirth advocates have a disturbing tendency to fetishize certain aspects of childbirth and motherhood. I have written before about the vagina obsession whereby the entire process of pregnancy and birth is reduced to the passage of a baby through the vagina:
What is so special about a baby passing through a vagina? Why are these women obsessed with babies passing through vaginas? What does it have to do with motherhood? I thought motherhood was about caring for, raising and guiding a child. What difference does it make to anyone whether or not that child passed through the vagina?...
Homebirth advocates act as if the essence of chidbirth is contained within the brief transit through the vagina. An "ideal" birth is nothing more than a vaginal delivery; any birth that does not include transit through the vagina not only cannot be ideal, but some homebirth advocates assert that it is not even a birth.

A similar phenomenon occurs regarding parenting itself; however, in this case, the fetish is physical proximity. In other words, the entire long, complex and emotionally fraught journey of parenting is reduced to physical proximity between a mother and her infant. In this view, the essence of parenting is literally binding your baby to yourself with baby wearing, breastfeeding and co-sleeping. Its proponents celebrate this view as "attachment parenting" where the word attachment has a dual function. The AP mother flaunts her (claimed) stronger emotional attachment to her child by literally attaching the child to her body.

Rebecca Kukla, a feminist philosopher, writes about fetishizing proximity in her book Mass Hysteria: Motherhood, Culture and Mother's Bodies. Reviewer Laura Newhart, writing in the journal of the American Philosophical Association describes this view:
... [I]n her discussion of the Fetish Mother, Kukla claims that, in the tradition of Rousseau, the contemporary cultural discourse around motherhood collapses into proximity, i.e., close bodily contact, and proximity collapses into the mouth-breast contact of breastfeeding. One striking example of contemporary cultural discourse where Kukla notes this synecdochic collapse is the American Academy of Pediatrics guide to breastfeeding, which goes far beyond the medical facts of the biological benefits of breast milk for the infant to include testimonial statements from breastfeeding mothers, genuine or contrived, where women claim that their infants know they come first in their mothers’ lives because they are breastfed.
Professional organizations are merely following the lead of consumer organizations on the value of physical proximity:
... [C]ontemporary pro-breastfeeding groups like La Leche League International and self-help books for new mothers like What to Expect the First Year actually function to constitute the normatively appropriate desires of new mothers ... [W]hile proponents of breastfeeding often idealize it by comparing it to a sanitized romantic heterosexual union between the mother and the infant, the real feelings of nursing mothers are often foreclosed and even forcibly silenced...
Fetishizing the vagina in childbirth, and fetishizing physical proximity in parenthood, are gross over simplications of complex processes. Yet it is precisely this simplification that provides comfort to proponents. It allows proponents to figuratively wear a vaginal birth or to literally wear their babies as a badge of superior mothering.


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