“As long as women are isolated one from the other, not allowed to offer other women the most personal accounts of their lives, they will not be part of any narratives of their own…women will be staving off destiny and not inviting or inventing or controlling it.” –Carolyn Heilbrun quoted in Sacred Circles
I recently finished taking a class in Ecofeminism, which makes connections between the exploitation and domination of women and the exploitation and domination of the planet. Naturally, as I also did with breastfeeding as an ecofeminist issue, I made many connections between the theme of the class and birth rights for women. The author of the book Ecofeminist Philosophy, Elizabeth Warren explains that when you are part of an unhealthy social system, you are likely to experience predictable, even “normal” consequences of living in that system: “This element of predictability explains the appropriateness of what I call the ‘Of course’ response: ‘Of course, you feel crazy when men say it’s your fault that you were raped, or that you could have prevented it.’ ‘Of course, your life has become unmanageable…’” we live in a culture that expects women to do it all and to always love parenting. If we look at our mainstream culture of birth as an unhealthy social system, I find the same response is appropriate. You really wanted to have a natural birth and then your doctor scared you into having an induction and you ended up with an epidural, of course you feel like you ‘failed.’ You feel healthy and beautiful, but now your doctor tells you that you’ve “failed” the GTT and are now “high risk,” of course, you feel stressed out and…like a high risk “patient.” You tried really hard to labor without medications, but you were “strapped down” with IV’s and continuous monitoring, of course, you felt like a trapped animal and like you had no other choices but medications. Of course, you feel upset and discouraged that your baby is ‘rejecting’ you and your breast after having been supplemented with bottles in the nursery. Of course, you are crying all the time and wondering if you are really cut out to be a mother, when your husband had to return to work after two days off and you are expected to be back at your job in five more weeks. And, so on and so forth.
“The ‘Of Course’ response affirms that those who feel crazy, powerless, alone, confused, or frustrated within unhealthy systems such as patriarchy are experiencing just what one would expect of them.” What the model of medical birth as an unhealthy social system reveals is that “no matter where one starts on the circle…one eventually comes round to one’s starting point. The circle operates as an insulated, closed system that, unchecked and unchallenged, continues uninterrupted…” How does one break free of an unhealthy system? “Getting the right beliefs by rearranging one’s thinking is an important part of the process, but it is not enough.” [emphasis mine. Here, Warren goes on to explore the issue of rape, but I have adjusted her words to be about birth instead] One can have the “right beliefs” about the prevalence of unnecessary cesareans, one’s rights as a childbearing woman, and the institutional nature of birth in our country and still experience an unwanted and unnecessary cesarean section. One can understand connections among faulty belief systems, language that devalues women, women’s bodies, and the birth process, and patriarchal behaviors of control and domination and still witness the catastrophic impact of this domination. “So, even if one must start with oneself and one’s belief system, one cannot end there. Since the problem is systemic, the system itself must be intervened upon and changed—by political, economic, social, and other means.” –Karen Warren in Ecofeminist Philosophy, p. 211. (emphasis mine)
Sometimes I honestly feel like I am one of the few people who really notices or labels the powerful systemic context in which women give birth in America. A lot of pregnancy and birth books and pregnancy and birth bloggers focus on individual responsibility and “education.” If women are always expected to “stand up for themselves” in the birth room and “get educated” so that they, personally, can prevent themselves from having unwanted interventions, of course our rates of unwanted interventions continue to rise.
“Through the act of controlling birth, we disassociate ourselves with its raw power. Disassociation makes it easier to identify with our ‘civilized’ nature, deny our ‘savage’ roots and connection with indigenous cultures. Birth simultaneously encompasses the three events that civilized societies fear–birth, death, and sexuality.” –Holly Richards (In Cultural Messages of Childbirth: The Perpetration of Fear,” ICEA Journal, 1993)