Friday, February 18, 2011

Is the natural birth movement too narrow?

"A movement narrowly concerned with pregnancy and birth, which does not ask questions and demand answers about the lives of children and the priorities of government; a movement in which individual families rely on consumerism and educational privilege to supply their own children with good nutrition, schooling, health care, can, while perceiving itself as progressive or alternative, exist only as a minor contradiction within a society most of whose children grow up in poverty and which places its highest priority on the technology of war."

-- Adrienne Rich


  1. The issue is more complex than this implies. Radical movements almost never contain within them a clear, consistent and complete view of an ideal solution. Think of the natural birth movement instead as a collective cry of protest. The purpose of a movement is to exert pressure in the right direction, and I think it's doing that.

  2. Well, I certainly don't see the implication of simplicity but I appreciate your point that movement in the "right direction" is indispensable, even if that movement is imperfect. I guess I'm more comfortable being on the "Yes, this movement is 'good', but let's be sure we turn the light of ruthless deconstruction on ourselves in the process, too" end of the spectrum, because the alternative is to consciously make a choice to continue perpetuating a movement which is actively creating a wider rift in access and quality of care (though that is not its intention - I hope, anyway.) Actively creating a wider rift.. seems like harsh language, right? But after going from "fairy tale la-la-land" of thinking midwives and midwifery students are all a great, conscious, wordly bunch to realizing that we have some serious ignorance about racism in our ranks and eventually finding the internal fortitude to look more closely at the social dynamics coloring this movement, I am compelled to shine that light and call ourselves out on the shortcomings of this movement. Because my deep-dark secret is that I still have that flame of hope that we really are an unusually willing bunch when it comes to looking at hard realities, and that if we can find a way of honestly revealing the shortcomings that this movement can become even broader, more inclusive, and more fierce about protecting the rights of all mothers and families rather than just those of a select subset of society. Without that flame of hope I.. honestly wouldn't really want to be a part of it anymore, sad to say.

  3. Ouch...truth hurts. What work is this from, and does the passage have more to say on the topic?

  4. I found it ... in the Introduction to the 1986 edition of Of Woman Born. (in case anyone else is wondering!)

  5. Hi JMT! Thank you so much for commenting and following up on it yourself. I was really excited when I read your first response and intended to fully research the answer for you because I got the passage in quoted form heading another text myself, and am curious about the original writing, too. When I found the passage, it headed the chapter on "Reproductive Technology and the Politics of Social Control" by Eileen Leonard in the book Women, Technology and the Myth of Progress. I'd love to know the broader context of the original source if you have the book on hand.

    Just for kicks, i'll pull some of the ideas and quotes from the chapter where I found the quote:

    On Artificial Insemination -

    "The most common reason that physicials have rejected requests is that the patient is considered unsuitable for nonmedical reasons: She is unmarried (52 percent), immature (22 percent), homosexual (15 percent), or welfare dependent (15 percent). Half of physicians are likely to reject an unmarried woman even if she has least a male partner. Without a male partner, her chances of rejection rise to 61 percent; if she is a lesbian, rejection increases to 63 percent. Thus, AI is not available to all women, but restricted by physicians to the types of women deemed appropriate."

    "Significantly, 'courts have been willing to grant parental rights to sperm
    donors against the mothers wishes when no other man is playing the role of father...'"

    On In Vitro Fertilization:

    In this case, the fact that access to this reproductive technology is socioeconomically stratified is really a boon to marginalized women because IVF has abysmally low success rates and brings a lot of angst, turmoil, disappointment (and expenses) to the families who attempt it. Fertility clinics have dismal patterns of failing to provide informed consent and transparency of information:

    "Some [fertility clinics] define 'success' in terms of pregnancies per laparoscopy and then claim a success rate of up to 25 percent although they have had no live births."

    It then goes on to discuss the many documented shittinesses of going through IVF and the irony of the lack of access to fertility treatment for marginalized women given that women of color have higher infertility rates, but are also subject to all sorts of societal scorn about childbearing and sordid contraceptive schemes including non-consensual sterilization.

    There's more, much more. I could actually share the chapter if anyone is interested in the bigger read. Just send me a message.

  6. Wow, that sounds like a great read. I admit I have given much less thought to the situation where a woman wants a baby and is denied one (externally, I mean, not just because of fertility issues) than I have to the flip side of abortion rights. The issue did came up in the class I just finished on children with special health care needs, where we broached the topics of sexuality, pregnancy and parenting for people with severe cognitive disabilities.

    Thanks for the excerpts!