Guest post: Pregnancy, childbirth and parenting gave me an education in feminism


One of the best things about running this blog is the delight of witnessing women and men discover that they are great writers while engaging with each other in the comments section. Here is a fabulous example, written by thepragmatist in response to my post Natural childbirth, attachment parenting, and policing women’s bodies.

I told my husband that he would be a feminist by the time I was done having our child. He didn’t believe me. I thought I would educate him on the politics of birth… You know, the evils of over-medicalized pregnancy and obstetric interference. Oh boy, it was not him who was going to get the education. No.

What I didn’t know was that I would not be prepared for the loss of agency over my body: that my body would become public property and that I would also feel such despair and horror at the loss. I never realized when I walked into a midwife’s office to plan a home birth (and went home with Birthing From Within that day in my bag to read) that I would end up choosing a MRCS months later, because I realized it was right for me and safe for my baby. That I would meet a female OB/GYN who had utmost respect– more than anyone else– for my agency as a woman, changed my mind about obstetrics forever, and would become a fundamental part of my healing from other trauma. So much for the sexist OB/GYN disabusing the woman of her right to empower herself! Indeed, it was the OB/GYN who was instrumental in helping me understand what it was I really wanted and then manifesting it with me… Certainly not the midwife who told me “not to think about tearing because we have ways to prevent it” or the other midwife, who when I was having strong, regular contractions right before my c-section, told me, smugly, “Well, you can’t always have the birth you want” and refused to attend me and told me to go back to bed. No, midwifery didn’t empower me, science did. Science and reason. Control over my body. A physician with the real power to make that happen.

I learned, on encountering the world of lactivism and attachment parenting that I had assumed would be a good fit for me, as I imagined both feminist, that I was not good enough, not mom enough, not enough, no matter what I did. And that my experience as a woman engaged in the act of mothering was irrelevant to the discussion. I learned that NCB and AP were not only prescriptive but also fundamentally ablest. The final breaking point was when I — disabled by a number of issues — fought my way through many challenges only to be ridiculed for my parenting choices, again and again, some very hard to make. I realized I did not matter as a human being anymore in that context. And that the worse enforcers of this dogma were women themselves. They continue to be. At times derided for such things as “long science-fueled posts” or “normalizing c-sections” and my posts deleted if I dared tried to publicly support a woman in learning to appropriately supplement with formula or enjoy the birth of a child through c-section, for example. Asked to leave our community board for continuing posting “facts” when others would post inflammatory articles like, “Just Say No to Pitocin” and I would go, “Uh, yeah, but wait…” At one point I had 40 grown women devote a thread to informing me that I had completely ruined their forum, when I refused to leave it out of principle, having broken no rules. Later, those women went on to make a different forum where they screen people very carefully for access with intrusive questions to make sure they are sufficiently NCB/AP and topics such as combo feeding or sleep training are off the table, at all times. Sounds feminist to me… Worse yet is knowing that because they pass themselves off as feminist and evidence-based they lure in unsuspecting mothers-to-be who they then fill with misinformation about birth and parenting. Then later, my OB/GYN gets to deal with these women when they show up from home birth a train wreck and be demonized in the process. Avoided interventions but come out of it with perhaps an unnecessary c-section or a needlessly traumatic birth. But who needs to make good sound decisions based on at least a basic understanding of your own physiology, birth, and the interventions involved, and their risks and benefits, when you could sit in an echo chamber all day and blame obstetric intervention and read the same five books to each other?

Indeed, it was MY feminism most altered in its trajectory as I made controversial or unaccepted choices with my body and my baby, meeting my own and my child’s needs, being shamed and derided through out, realizing more and more I had been lied to, that the data was skewed, and that the story was rife with inconsistent, contradictory values, unrealistic (at times, inhumane) expectations and glaring misogyny. Religion, not science. Not safer. Not best practice. Lies. Nefarious too, because the major enforcers of NCB/AP in our community know that they are lies, and have confessed to me in private they know they are lies. Then I fully appreciated the anti-intellectualism but also how corrupt and anti-woman it really was. It wasn’t that my facts were incorrect, but that they were not in line with NCB/AP dominant paradigm. My facts were indeed, not the issue, they were perfectly true: they just did not want them shared.

I was naive, to be honest. I had not ever experienced women en masse, of my own age, in such an environment. Member of many topical message boards over the years, where evidence and argument were critical to discussion, this was so foreign to me that I could not understand it. Why would you not want to know what was going on in your body or how to improve your own medical care? And how could these, the birth duolas and educators, shut me down so completely, when they knew I was correct? Cynically, my husband pointed out I was embarrassing them in front of their client base. “But it’s still a lie!” I would shout. He was right. Correcting the “birth educators” on their misinformation was embarrassing for them, so they demonized me.

My husband did, indeed, become a feminist. He is proud to call himself a feminist. he became a feminist not because I educated him about Spiritual Midwifery. He walked with me through making enormous strides as a woman. From my MRCS came the first time in my life I felt power over my own body, as a sexual abuse survivor, and from there, so much more power came. In the moment that I said no to a vaginal birth and someone actually said, OK! I took new control over my body, my sexuality, my needs as a woman. A pivotal moment in my life. And I am told that I was powerless there. Oh no, not at all. Far from powerless. From there the seeds grew to face ALL the misogyny in my life around me and I stopped accepting anti-feminism from other people. I began to see that other women are the real enforcers in a way I never realized. Or wanted to realize. From there-in everything shifted. When my son was just about a year old, I walked into a police station and filed a report against a charismatic and popular serial sexual predator, thereby stopping him from hurting anyone else again, but risking the same social shunning. Yet I am not good enough for these women, because I fed my baby formula sometimes? I am not powerful? I am ten times braver, indeed. Women who are empowered do not need to empower themselves through their reproductive function or prove their worth through mothering. I learned that bit here.

It has redefined me. But it also makes me feel like a lone wolf, because I have been ostracized for my choices: from decrying the current parenting paradigm; for actually wanting to talk about the needs of mothers as human beings and not objects; and of course, worse of all, to suggest that women have the right to do what they need to do with their own bodies and have access to accurate information so they know what choices may be right for them. It has resulted in the kind of shaming and shunning usually reserved for promiscuous women or victims of sexual assault. Having also been that woman more than once, it feels the same to me. But never have I been so shamed as when I stood up for mother’s rights! Something you think would be fairly non-controversial, given how much those in the NCB movement promise women such rights in childbirth (and do not deliver), but those rights apparently end there. Because once baby is born, mother has no needs. Huge realization there that I was not actually with feminists. I’m not talking about mothers who “need” to neglect their children, but rather, that it is okay to take into account your own feelings and needs: indeed, it is critical. And indeed, it is the very same kind of shaming, and policing of women’s bodies: through shame and shunning the NCB and AP movement actively silent dissent and enforce prescriptive and gendered parenting roles. At one point, my husband got angry at the continual characterization as men as hapless idiots, incapable of nurturing. He is more of a nurturer, in spirit, than me.

It is really interesting how oppression of women is a continuum and central, always, is reproduction and the reproductive years. So it’s not shocking, really, when a nearby crisis pregnancy center puts on a NCB movie night to raise money to fight abortion and the feminists in the room can’t seem to put it together. Do they say hurrah or get angry? No, they say nothing at all. Eye opening! All around me women call themselves feminist and embrace this movement and they do not know what it is they are subscribing to. This week a film on Ina May is being screened at our local college. Facebook is abuzz. And I want to post, “Did you know she let her premature baby die for lack of medical care? Do you know she doesn’t understand basic female anatomy? Do you know that she judges women’s ability to birth on their emotional state? Why is this feminist? Don’t call it feminist. Call it whatever else you like, but not that.”

I know it would just be deleted.

The disenfranchisement of women’s right to their own bodies is not what I envisioned. I totally bought it: that it was a movement to liberate women. And I think in my mother’s time, maybe it was. They fought for maternity leave, rights in the workplace for mothers, and legalized abortion. But our fight for reproductive freedom has been hijacked and, in a sense, truncated. Misinformation and out right deceit regarding pregnancy and birth is rampant. The real risks of birth rarely discussed. And although we have the right to decide to end a pregnancy, the right to effective pain relief in labour and maternally-requested c-section are tenuous in many Western countries where other feminist principles are often adopted and extolled. The cultural and ideological creep is no longer creeping here in Canada: it is a tsunami, and there is very little push back from my feminist peers. Piggy-backing on the work of a generation of feminists who fought for reproductive rights, inserting itself into discussion on autonomy when it is exactly the opposite, and so many following blindly and unaware of its greater implications.