Homebirth and narcissism: I bet you think this birth is about you.

I’ve been writing about homebirth for years, and I am continually struck by the level of narcissism within the homebirth movement. Rixa Freeze’s latest post, designed specifically to be shared with the freshmen in the college writing class that she teaches, is yet another exemplar of that narcissism. What could be better for her students than writing samples that are by her, about her, and involve homebirth?

Whether as mothers or as homebirth midwives, homebirth advocates continually place themselves as the center of every birth story. The baby is just a prop in a piece of performance art in which the mother gets empowered and the midwife birth-junkie gets her fix. Being an infant, the baby cannot serve as a source of narcissist supply. The homebirth must be acted out in front of others (hence the need for posting the video on YouTube) for the purposes of receiving praise and to demonstrate that the mother is an empowered “birth/warrior goddess.”

The most extreme examples, of course, involve the actual death of the baby. For women like Ina May Gaskin, Laura Shanley, and now Annie Bourgault, a dead baby is just the collateral damage of an empowering birth story with mom as the star. It is difficult to imagine a more heartless narcissist than Janet Fraser who blithely dismisses the death of her third child at homebirth as less traumatic than the “birth rape” that results in her first, living, child.

For homebirth midwives like Melissa Cheyney, Amy Medwin, and Karen Carr, dead babies are the inevitable (some babies aren’t meant to live) collateral damage of their selfless devotion to a woman’s right to choose (to risk their babies’ lives at) homebirth. They want to be midwives (trained or untrained, apparently it doesn’t matter), to get their birth fix, to be heroes and BFFs to the women they supposedly serve, and, by the way, to get paid for the opportunity to feel powerful, needed and fulfilled. It is difficult to imagine a more heartless narcissist than Lisa Barrett, who is literally live-tweeting her scorn DURING the inquest into two neonatal deaths over which she presided.

Rixa Freeze firmly established her role as narcissist when she publicly displayed the video in which her daughter nearly died in the wake of a homebirth. It’s the ultimate birth/warrior goddess event. Give birth to a baby who fails to breathe, then resuscitate. Did Rixa feel even a teensy bit badly that baby Inga was so compromised that she initially failed to breathe? Be serious! Those questions involve positing that it was Inga’s birth and we all know that it was Rixa’s. It was, is and always will be about Rixa.

Rixa’s piece is a classic of homebirth narcissism. The ostensible subject of the paper is what it means to be a woman. For Rixa, of course, being a woman is about pregnancy and birth.

When I was pregnant for the first time, I felt a strange sense of recognition for my expanding body. My belly stretched, my breasts swelled, my skin tightened. I felt, for the first time, entirely myself. This, I thought, is what a woman’s body really is. It was a great discovery, as if I had circumnavigated the globe and split the atom and solved global hunger in the course of an afternoon.

Oh, yes, this is exactly what college freshman want to know about their writing instructor!

Rixa goes on to talk about the baby inside, but even in a writing piece, Rixa cannot recognize that her children are separate individuals. She gives lip service to the idea:

There was a person inside me, hidden behind skin, muscle, and water. This person was half me and half my husband, completely reliant upon my body but entirely its own self.

But she cannot acknowledge the separateness of her children and herself, even after birth.

When did we become not-one-but-two—was it when her head emerged from my body? Was it when her legs and toes slipped out? Was it when, a few seconds after her birth, she lost her color and I gave her the first breaths of life? Even those breaths were not hers. They were mine, passed from my lungs to hers in the most intimate and urgent embrace either of us had ever known. (Note: obligatory narcissistic reference to her homebirth and subsequent birth/warrior goddess performance.)

She continues:

So I am not convinced that the act of birth marks the line between one and two. After birth, when our bodies were no longer tied together by umbilical cord and placenta, my babies still relied upon me for survival. My breasts were literally their lifeline. My youngest baby, six months old today, is still only nursing. I cannot leave her for more than a few hours at a time. Her rolls of fat, her dimpled bottom, even her hefty double chin came directly from my body. (Note: Me, me, me and did I mention, me.)

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything college freshman would want to know about more than the function of the instructor’s breasts!

The big finish:

We are more than one, but not quite two. I haven’t discovered the calculus to describe where one self ends and another begins…

Really? Who would have guessed that Rixa has trouble appreciating the boundary between herself and her children?

And that get’s back to the heart of the matter. Homebirth is often about narcissism. It’s about the mother, her experience, her feelings, “her” birth. The baby is just a prop in the ongoing story of a woman trying desperately to feel good about herself.

P.S. Rixa, do your students a favor and lose this writing “sample.” College freshman need to learn about writing, NOT about you, your breasts and your births.