Natural childbirth and victimology

The most over-used concept in natural childbirth discourse is “empowerment.” But an equally important concept, one that is rarely spoken aloud, but underlies natural childbirth advocacy, is victimization. To a greater or less extent, NCB advocates take it for granted that they are victims … of men, of doctors (almost always portrayed as men), of other women, and just about everyone else in the universe.

They are victims, dammit, and that’s why they are “traumatized.” And anyone who questions or rejects their exalted victim status is promptly accused of victimizing them.

The celebration of their “victimization” serves several important roles in the NCB cosmology. First, and foremost, it guarantees moral superiority. As Sommer and Baumeister explained in the book The human quest for meaning

… [C]laiming the victim status provides a sort of moral immunity. The victim role carries with it the advantage of receiving sympathy from others and thereby prevents [one’s own behavior] from impugning one’s character…

In the world of NCB advocates, being a victim means never having to say you’re sorry, even when your behavior is obnoxious and disrespectful.

Second, the insistence on “victimization” serves to simplify the world by creating a false dichotomy. For NCB advocates, women giving birth are either empowered or victimized. Not only is there no middle ground, but the possibility that women might feel neither empowered nor victimized is not even recognized.

Freud purportedly said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” That aphorism applies to the way that most women view childbirth. Giving birth is just the process whereby a child emerges from inside the mother. It has no meaning beyond that and certainly does not have anything to do with the way the mother views her agency within the world at large. In contrast, in NCB advocacy, the actual birth of a child is secondary to the mother’s feelings about her performance during that birth.

Third, the insistence on “victimization” presupposes an old fashioned, sexist view of women. Only men are doctors and scientific knowledge and technology are inherently male. In the world of NCB advocates, there are no women doctors or scientists. Science is “too hard” for mere women and since they can’t be expected to know or understand science, they are free to reject it. Women must glorify the functions of their bodies because they have no achievements of their intellects.

That belief has its highest expression in homebirth advocacy. Medical school? Too hard. Midwifery master’s degree? Too hard. College? Too hard. Solution? Give yourself a pretend “degree” to masquerade as a professional even though meeting real professional requirements is too hard.

Who has convinced NCB advocates that they are victims? Strangely enough, it is male doctors, the exact same people who have purportedly victimized them. From Grantly Dick-Read, the father of natural childbirth, who believed implicitly in the inferiority of women, through Bradley and Lamaze, right down to Odent who claims that viewing a wife giving birth will render a man impotent, the leading exponents of women’s victimology are men who view women as capable of being nothing more than victims.

This faux sense of victimization has led NCB advocates to create faux “empowerment.” In the world of NCB advocacy, you can be “empowered” by being obnoxious and disrespectful to healthcare professionals, and no one can hold you to account because you are a “victim.” You can be empowered by pretending that reading books written by laypeople makes you “educated.” You can be empowered by ignoring medical advice. And, with homebirth, you can be empowered by hiding from anyone and anything that might not agree that your ignorance, defiance and denial mark you as “empowered.”

When you are an NCB victim, the fact anyone others don’t agree with you, or at least validate your feelings of victimization, is viewed as a form of re-victimization. Doctor thinks he knows more about obstetrics than you? He’s victimizing you with his technocratic hegemony. Nurse asks you if you would like an epidural? She’s victimizing you by attempting to destroy your opportunity to be empowered. Other women bottle feed? They are victimizing you by refusing to validate your decision to breastfeed.

Victimization is so central to NCB advocacy that it is possible that NCB cannot exist without encouraging and validating victimization.