An Act of Motherhood

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.

Feeling fierce at 37 weeks last year.

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.

7 thoughts on “An Act of Motherhood

  1. re: your final note/aside: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about pregnancy and illness, because of my current rough pregnancy. My longstanding annoyance at hearing pregnancy framed *as itself an illness or disability* has not been changed by this experience. But that doesn’t prevent me from taking my pregnancy-related physical challenges and miseries seriously. I think of myself as pregnant AND sick–my body is responding to pregnancy this time with various symptoms that are keeping me from functioning normally or being basically ‘well’–not as pregnant-therefore-sick. I’ve been pregnant AND well and have found it interesting (though deeply unpleasant) to contemplate the differences from this new perspective …

    • Thanks for commenting! I am interested in your thoughts on the idea. I’m glad you have a well experience to compare it to and I remain totally curious about the whys of how hard this pregnancy has been for you.

      As I was writing, I was thinking about women with preeclampsia and PUPPS and things like that and didn’t want to sound like I was treating those real illnesses too dismissively or cavalierly.

      • Yes, totally, and I thought of HG too. A number of readers who’ve dealt with (and been hospitalized for) HG during their pregnancies have come out of the woodwork at my blog to offer incredibly helpful support even though I’m not actually experiencing that disorder, so one blessing of this pregnancy has been becoming far more aware of the details of what people who are *really* sick as a result of pregnancy go through (especially in terms of being misunderstood and not taken seriously, and also not getting the practical support that’s so necessary). I’m thinking of doing a series of guest posts on this sort of experience, maybe while I’m doing the postpartum thing in a few months?

      • Oh yeah, I’d thought of HG too and then forgotten. My first doula had severe HG and it was an eye-opener for me that pregnancy wasn’t a dance through the roses for everyone! That would be an interesting series of guest posts for sure.

  2. Pingback: this week in pregnancy (challenges-of-balancing-work-with-this-pregnancy edition)

  3. This stood out to me but in a way that was different from what you said. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much we want to control birth and it’s outcomes. While I think there has been much good because of the control that has come with medical advances with it has come the mindset that we can control every outcome especially via medical resources. The thing is there is still so much about birth we can’t control – that are incredible forces of nature coming together or sadly falling apart. My last baby came early at 24 weeks. I had to chose between a cesarean where he might live or a vaginal still birth. To have that choice is something I don’t take lightly and am grateful for but it didn’t blind me to the reality that even with the control we have gained there is much in life we can not control. My boy lived for an hour and a half which I am grateful to have had. The surgery ended up being necessary and probably saved my life as well (the extent of the damage to me was not known when I was asked if I wanted a cesarean for the baby). But in the end we have no idea why everything happened and there was no way to control and/or prevent it. I think one of the first steps in taking birth back remembering it is an act of motherhood is to let go of the need for control over the outcome. That and recognize motherhood as more than the moment a baby is finally in a mother’s arms but also in all the moments along the path as well as all the ones that didn’t lead to happy photos with a new little one.

    • Thanks for your perspective! Really great points. I’ve written quite a few posts about about birth and mystery (and control). We can definitely be lulled into a false sense of control/security–or feel as if we’ve “failed” when we don’t get the “right” outcome when we’ve done all the “right” things.

      I’m so sorry about your son. I’m glad you were able to spend some time with him.

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