Filmaker: natural childbirth is anti-feminist propaganda

Macro image of dictionary definition of propaganda

I’m not the only one who has figured out that natural childbirth is profoundly anti-feminist.

The New Inquiry interviewed film professor Irene Lusztig on her new documentary The Motherhood Archives.

Here’s Lusztig on the philosophy of natural childbirth:

I’m a filmmaker; I’ve worked a lot with propaganda and archives—my background is in communist, post­communist stuff… So when I was pregnant it became immediately, abundantly obvious to me that almost everything I was reading or seeing or being exposed to was telling me how to give birth or how to be pregnant or how to mother or look after my child. It was clear to me immediately that all of this is an intense space of propaganda.

On the “right” way to give birth:

I just found it helpful and reassuring to think through the intense ideological space of “the right way to give birth,” “the right way to mother,” “the right way to do this or that with your child.” There’s a constant idea that you’re failing, you’re doing it wrong—so for me I just found it hugely reassuring to ­understand that these things are completely culturally bound, historically bound. There is no wrong way to give birth.

On the misogyny of Grantly Dick-Read:

Grantly Dick-Read is the British obstetrician who coined the term natural childbirth and wrote the first books about it. His writing is a very explicitly Christian appeal to the experience of being inside the pain as a form of spirituality. It’s a Christian thing to do. That history has also been erased. It’s kind of ironic that the space feminists occupy now is a redeployment of this incredibly Christian and misogynist argument about women’s bodies.

On the history of pain relief in childbirth and the fact that women demanded twilight sleep:

… [T]he pain of labor is an abject experience of very intense pain. The language that’s used in these books and articles that feminists wrote advocating twilight sleep is basically human-rights discourse: Society has the obligation to give us women this thing that will take away this devastating pain that we experience. It’s a human-rights discourse of equality for women in the form of pain relief. Which is incredibly interesting set next to ­today’s feminist conversation which is all about natural unmedicated childbirth being the correct, feminist way of giving birth…

On inherently high rates of perinatal and maternal mortality:

People have asked me about the word pathological. People think of that as a very bad word, but it comes directly out of earlier writings about childbirth… It comes out of doctors struggling with incredibly high maternal mortality rates and high infant-mortality rates, incredibly high rates of vaginal tearing and bad maternal side-effects from birth, prolapse and all these things that still happen, actually.

Lusztig has identified the central ironies about contemporary natural childbirth: it is profoundly anti-feminist; it was created by misogynists who wished to control women; it is both ahistorical anti-scientific, denying as it does both the need for pain relief and the inherent dangers of childbirth.

There is one more point about natural childbirth that Lusztig doesn’t mention, although she alludes to it:

Natural childbirth advocates, who claim to be “educated,” appear to be utterly clueless that they are being manipulated by propaganda.