Yesterday I posted a link on the Mamafesto Facebook page to an interview with midwife and author Ina May Gaskin. The interview, part of the Feministing Five series, was a wonderful read, and showed how Ina May connects feminism with her passion for natural birth. In the interview, Ina May describes how her fervent belief in handing back power to women in relation to birth was quite revolutionary when she was getting started.
Another three or four years later, I was lecturing at Yale and I thought people would be excited about the midwifery portion because the women in my village found it so empowering that we didn’t have misogynistic obstetricians that were so prevalent back then jamming forceps into us and pulling our babies out. Instead, we could give birth ourselves. I was booed off the stage and I thought what are these young women reading? This doesn’t feel like feminism to me. What could be more feminist than taking back the power to give birth on your own terms and saying, “No, I don’t want a male obstetrician who is really misguided into thinking my body is some sort of defective design brewing around my legs and yanking my baby out with instruments before I give him a chance to show him what I can do?” There was no choice then. I guess we started a revolution in birth because I wrote a book with the help of a lot of community members and it became the first big selling midwifery book in the country and has been credited with helping nurse midwifery get off the ground. – Ina May Gaskin
Throughout the interview, Ina May talks about the various ways that feminism was both influential and essential throughout her life and career. She also brings up something that does often get overlooked:
You have to put mothers into feminism. I think second wave feminism found the motherhood question so difficult that it shied away from it and so the only part of reproductive rights had to do with abortion rights. Yes, we have to have that but we also have to have choice in how we give birth, with whom, where and how. – Ina May Gaskin
Ina May’s thoughts echo the same ones spoken by Ani DiFranco when I interviewed her last month:
I think I understand more that feminism comes out of the experience of motherhood. That’s what feminism is. Which is not to say that you have to give birth, or even be female to embody it. It just means that the experience of being of feminine mind and body, and ultimately giving birth and being a mother, is at the center of feminism. – Ani DiFranco
For me, the idea of natural childbirth seamlessly meshes with the ideals of feminism. An important tenet of feminism rests on the promotion of reproductive rights. A lot of the focus surrounding reproductive rights lands on the side of birth control and abortion, and rightfully so, as attacks on access to those rights are never-ending. However, that doesn’t mean that we should dismiss how reproductive rights also extend to pregnancy and birth.
Unfortunately, what could have sparked a healthy discussion (or even debate) regarding reproductive rights, somehow devolved into an “us vs. them” argument within the comments at Feministing. The comments shared weren’t anything new. In fact, they continue to rehash arguments that seem to be age-old.
To be clear, there seems to be two paths these arguments end up taking:
1. Child-free vs. Child-bearing (or “breeders”)
2. “Natural” (and the variety of ways that is defined) vs. Medicalized birth.
So, I have to ask…Why? Why the hostility, anger, defensiveness, and accusatory tones that frequently follow articles/interviews/blog posts about birth? Why does there have to be such heated divisiveness with regards to this topic? One aspect that I hold firm to within my feminism is that it has allotted me the right to choose. While I will certainly share knowledge, information, and/or advice/suggestions with anyone who seeks it, or seems unsure, I also respect their right to choose.
The inherent judgement that oozes out from feminists surrounding birth can be rather ugly, and I can’t understand why it continues to be perpetuated. While some (or many) women may not make the same birth choices as I did, I have to hope that they did the research and came to their own conclusions that worked best for them.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t think there are over-arching problems within our medical society (Anyone who has seen The Business of Being Born will get a pretty good grasp of what I’m referring to), but just like I have to have faith that a person who chooses abortion does so with a full understanding of that choice, I have to have faith with those that choose their birth options.
Would I like there to be more information available at every socio-economic level about those birth choices and their impact on both parents and babies? Yes! Would I like our society to look at birth less like a medical procedure (akin to surgery) and more like a natural aspect of life? Yes! Will I judge a woman who decides that giving birth in a hospital is where their comfort level lies after researching her options? No.
So, I really can’t understand those that take a 5 question interview with a woman who is both a pioneer and a legend within her field, and reduce it to another “us vs. them” argument. The judgement that is flung (on both sides) is nothing new, and sadly continues to be hurled (possibly harming innocent by standers attempting to form their own ideas on the subject).
With all of this in-fighting (and, at times, exclusivity, or notion of hierarchy based on personal choices) within feminism, it is only a matter of time before wider cracks begin to form within the base of the movement.
I hate when it becomes an “Us vs. Them” debate. As a feminist, I’m already an “Us” pitted against a majority “Them.” Why drag that mentality into the movement?
I’m not advocating for a kumbaya-let’s-all-hold-hands-and-hug-it-out solution. I think debate is healthy, important, and crucial to keeping the movement alive, vibrant, and progressive. However, that doesn’t mean we need to continue down a path that promotes judgement and condescension.
Let’s try and find a way to discuss birth in a context that supports, educates, and informs women. Let’s try to find a way to infuse birth into the larger scope of reproductive rights. Let’s try and escape this “Us vs. Them” mentality and try to find a way towards continuing to give back the power surrounding birth to women (in whatever form an individual chooses).