Some time ago I read a clever essay by Jeannie Babb Taylor called “May, 2052.” It is about birth in the future and is told from the perspective of a grandmother who gave birth in 2007, sharing with her granddaughter how birth was “back in the day” and the granddaughter being shocked by how horrible the birth climate was in the “old days” of 2007). Side note: in some ways this story reminds me of a piece that I reprinted with permission of LLL called A Fantasy, which is a satire about birth and breastfeeding that I’m still not convinced won’t actually come to pass.
However, I was struck afresh by the power of the closing lines in May, 2052 (when discussing how/why things finally changed):
We insisted on dignity. We did not let doctors push us into inductions or surgeries just to accommodate their schedules. Women who still used hospitals refused the wheelchair and the gown that were presented at check-in. Women refused to be starved, or to have their veins punctured with unnecessary IVs. Mothers refused to let doctors break their waters or insert electronic monitors in the baby’s scalp. When we pushed our babies into the world with our own fierce power, then we refused to let them out of our sight.
…Eventually even the medical community came to recognize that birth is an act of motherhood, not an act of medical science. Today a laboring woman is not regarded as a body on a table, as if she and the baby needed some doctor to ‘deliver’ them from each other. Today women are honored as life-bringers.
Don’t you just love that? Recognizing that birth is an an act of motherhood, not an act of medical science… So true.
I can’t write about it in-depth, but I began thinking about this today after speaking with a mother who had received very, very questionable (to the point of thoroughly bizarre) breastfeeding advice from her doctor. When I could not help but express my dismay at the suggestions she had received, I had the distinct feeling that she was not able to even consider that possibility that her doctor might have been wrong. I wish I could write about the actual circumstance because it just boggled my mind and made my heart cringe. Breastfeeding too is an act of motherhood, not an act of medical science, and not one that “belongs” to anyone except for the motherbaby unit.
However, returning to the act of motherhood, vs. medical act, I also have this quote saved from the older book, Who Made the Lamb:
“Tom [her husband] laughed at this idealism. ‘You don’t understand,’ he said, ‘Pregnancy is not regarded as a process of creation. It’s a disease of the uterus.'” [emphasis mine]
What a (culturally) still true and unfortunate sentiment: A disease of the uterus. This is absolutely how many within the medical system and the general population continue to view pregnancy (and birth is the excavation of the disease). This reminds me of our “friendly” neighborhood doctor testifying at the Capitol against the midwifery bill several years ago stating that pregnancy can be viewed as a foreign object in the body and therefore “babies are like tumors that need to be removed.”
I look forward to the day when our acts of motherhood are celebrated and valued, the motherbaby bond is accepted as inviolable, and pregnancy is a state of health and well-being.*
Note: I am aware that pregnancy and birth take a physical toll on most women and that for some pregnant women, “disease of the uterus” might feel like an apt descriptor—I’m speaking in more general terms of the emotional and cultural climate surrounding pregnancy and birth.