Who hijacked midwifery?

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There have always been midwives.

Ever since our ancestors acquired the ability to walk upright, human childbirth has been fraught with extreme risk to both mother and baby. The first midwives were those who recognized that assistance in childbirth can minimize those risks.

They understood that something as simple as massaging a woman’s uterus after childbirth could prevent life threatening hemorrhage and that different fetal positions like breech posed specific problems that could be overcome with specific maneuvers. Over time they acquired knowledge of the pharmacologic properties of certain plants and gave extracts to women with the intention of starting labor or stopping bleeding.

Above all, ancient midwives were empiricists. Their very existence was predicated on the inherent dangers of childbirth and everything they did was devoted to preventing death and injury. They abjured magic incantations in favor of empirical observation. They noted what worked and what did not and faithfully strove to incorporate those scientific observations into practice.

Despite profound changes in the human condition, midwifery changed very little. Midwifery knowledge grew, of course, and that knowledge was supplemented by appeals to whatever forces were deemed to be in charge at the time (nature, gods, the Church), but the purpose always remained the same. And the faithful adherence to empiricism (as opposed to the often outlandish theories held by doctors up to the 19th century), ensured that midwives provided the best possible care to the women they served.

That was certainly what I understood midwifery to be when I entered medical school, and that view was reinforced by working extensively with certified nurse midwives in the hospital setting. I found them to be highly educated, very experienced and capable of providing a more personalized form of care. But in recent years midwifery has been pervaded by distinctive forms of feminist philosophy that rejects the traditional empiricism of ancient midwives in favor of philosophical theories. In fact, I think it is fair to say that childbirth in general and midwifery in particular have been hijacked by radical feminists.

These feminists were part of the second wave of feminists, who moved from insisting that women are equal to men (and therefore have the same rights) to insisting that women are different from men, and that those differences make women superior. Among the second wave feminists were two types of radical feminists that have profoundly changed the way that childbirth is understood. These two groups of feminists are biological essentialists and feminist anti-rationalists.

Broadly speaking, the biological essentialists are characterized by a belief that women are defined by their biology and that their biological differences should be celebrated. The premier biological essentialist in the natural childbirth movement is Sheila Kitzinger. The anti-rationalists are essentialists with a twist. In their view, empiricism and rational thought are the preserves of men, and that women have “different ways of knowing.” The premier anti-rationalist theorist in the childbirth movement is Robbie Davis-Floyd.

The essentialists and the anti-rationalists share quite a few characteristics. Almost exclusively Western, white women of privileged classes; they believe that they speak for all women because all women purportedly have the same needs and desires. They simply assume that they represent non-Western women and women of color, but have never bothered to ask them. They are sociologists and anthropologists. Curiously, they have little or no practical knowledge of childbirth or modern obstetrics, but don’t view that lack of knowledge to as a problem.

You can recognize them by what they say. The biological essentialists are fond of catch phrases like “trust birth” and “pregnancy is not a disease.” They insist that obstetrics has “pathologized” childbirth and they can display a shocking and callous fatalism by dismissing deaths with the dictum that “some babies are not meant to live.”

The anti-rationalists are distinguished, not surprisingly, by their anti-rationalism. They dismiss science as a male form of “authoritative knowledge” on the understanding that there are “other ways of knowing” like “intuition.” Many are post modernists who believe that reality is radically subjective, that rationality is unnecessary and that “including the non-rational is sensible midwifery.”

How do professional childbirth advocates line up? To some extent, all are biological determinists who deliberately conflate the is/ought distinction. Since childbirth in nature IS a certain way, it OUGHT to be allowed to proceed in exactly in that way at all times. Natural is understood to be superior and technology is automatically inferior.

The difference between biological essentialists and feminist anti-rationalists is primarily in their view of rationalism. Among the true biological essentialists are Henci Goer and Amy Romano. The biological essentialists are represented by organizations like Lamaze and the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM). They worship the “natural” on the assumption that biology determines what is best for all women. Nonetheless, they believe that science is non-gendered, valuable and the standard by which claims about childbirth should be judged. They freely quote scientific papers and insist that their views of childbirth are “evidence based,” even when they are not. They value empirical knowledge and advanced education.

The non-rationalists reject science as male, and unfairly regarded as authoritative merely because it is male. To the extent that science supports their beliefs, they are willing to brandish scientific papers as “proof,” but explicitly reject rationalism when it does not comport with their personal beliefs, feelings and opinions. They do not value empirical knowledge and reject rigorous education.

The grandmother of anti-rationalism among childbirth advocates is Ina May Gaskin; and the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA), which is in part her creation, is the primary organizational exponent of anti-rationalism in childbirth. Radical midwifery theorists like Soo Downe and Jenny Parratt provide the ideological underpinnings of anti-rationalism within midwifery. Also included under the anti-rationalist umbrella are the “freebirthers” like Laura Shanley and Janet Fraser, and the Quiverful movement that rejects rationalism in favor of religious belief.

As far as I (and most women) are concerned biological essentialism and feminist anti-rationalism are two radical theories that have come and gone. Women are not determined by their biology and women differ in their needs and desires even if they share common biology. Anti-rationalism is the preserve of educated social theorists and uneducated laypeople. It is a doctrine of sour grapes: Rationalism does not support their opinions and rather than changing their opinions, they prefer to reject rationality itself. Anti-rationalism cannot account for the fact that some women not only believe in science, but they are scientists.

Ultimately, the natural childbirth movement is wrong, not merely in its scientific and historical claims, but especially in its underlying philosophy. Most women no longer accept that they are supposed to be defined and determined by their biology. They believe that just because something is a certain way in nature, it does not mean that it ought to be that way today. In nature “some babies aren’t meant to live,” but that doesn’t mean that we should withhold our technological expertise and let those babies die. In nature, women give birth in agony, but that does not mean that women ought to give birth in agony or that it is an “achievement” to do so.

Most women are not, and never were anti-rationalists. They do not view reality as radically subjective; they embrace science and become scientists and doctors themselves. They value knowledge and respect advanced education.

Midwifery has been pervaded and in some sense perverted by the biological essentialists and the anti-rationalists. Childbirth has been hijacked by radical feminist theorists, and it is time for the rest of us to take it back.

 

This piece first appeared in December 2010.

  • Jude

    I think midwifery has been hijacked years ago by obstetricians who came from the mortuary with no hygiene knowledge or interest, fortunately that has changed a bit now. And still we have men telling us about our bodies and what we should do about them. Here is a G spot, says man, that just about says it all to me, what have I ever told a man about his penis!!

    Since the year dot, some women have been scared by birth, scaremongering is common even among women who have birthed to other women who have not yet birthed.

    I don’t think it has much to do with feminism.

    I do believe though, in order to have a child, one should also have thought out the implications of pregnancy, birth and then the after bit, the child care. Children are not a fashion article, they are for life! I gave up work to in the antenatal period to prepare for birthing, to birth and then shock and horror, I stayed out of work to give my babies breast milk for two years each, to shower them in love and care in a way only I could do, for five years of their lives, I then worked part time while they were at school. Having children is a blessing and a privilege, it is not a right.

    • Young CC Prof

      Why does a woman need a natural childbirth to stay home and breastfeed her children? What does one have to do with the other?

      And can you please provide an example of things obstetricians do wrong today, rather than something they did wrong 150 years ago?

    • LibrarianSarah

      I think midwifery has been hijacked years ago by obstetricians who came from the mortuary with no hygiene knowledge or interest, fortunately that has changed a bit now. And still we have men telling us about our bodies and what we should do about them. Here is a G spot, says man, that just about says it all to me, what have I ever told a man about his penis!!

      And yet most OB/GYN’s are women now. Welcome to the 21st century. It is nice here we have phones that can play music, black people and white people can use the same water fountains, and in some states people of the same gender can get married. Please sit down your arms must be tired seeing that you just flew in from the 1950s.

      Since the year dot, some women have been scared by birth, scaremongering is common even among women who have birthed to other women who have not yet birthed.

      Yes those silly little women thinking that birth was scary and painful. It is not like women historically died from childbirth in large numbers. Oh wait…yes they did.

      I do believe though, in order to have a child, one should also have thought out the implications of pregnancy, birth and then the after bit, the child care. Children are not a fashion article, they are for life! I gave up work to in the antenatal period to prepare for birthing, to birth and then shock and horror, I stayed out of work to give my babies breast milk for two years each, to shower them in love and care in a way only I could do, for five years of their lives, I then worked part time while they were at school. Having children is a blessing and a privilege, it is not a right.

      Congratulations your family has money. Here is your fucking medal. By wearing it you can tell the world what an awesome “mama” you are and that everyone who can’t or won’t make the exact same choices you did doesn’t deserve to have kids. Enjoy!

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    I don’t know that I would call anti-rationalists and gender essentialists feminists anymore.

    Oh, both strains of thought grew out of radical second wave feminism for sure. But they were then rejected by feminism as being incorrect and anti-woman because, well, they are. Calling them feminist strains of thought is not helpful, especially because it’s really not true.

  • Amy

    I have to take issue with one thing– biological essentialism is generally understood to be an anti-feminist idea, and many (most?) of the writings from second-wave feminism work to debunk and overcome biological essentialism. I would classify members of the Quiverfull movement as well as other conservative religious movements (the Amish, the Twelve Tribes cult, the Hutterites in Canada) as staunchly anti-feminist, and I think they would agree with that themselves. After all, St. Paul’s writings in the New Testament are rife with admonishments for women to keep silent because they are different and more sinful than men. While there may be women who consider themselves feminist who are biological essentialists, biological essentialism at its heart is not a feminist principle.

    I do agree that anti-rationalism is a destructive philosophy of radical left-wing feminism, though. The “crunchy mamas” I know, and know of, certainly consider themselves liberal feminists, and base many of their arguments in favor of unsafe “natural” practices on the importance of reproductive choice (not to mention the specious “chemicals are bad because they are chemicals” argument).

  • Anna T

    Not to be contrary, but just a few posts ago, I read here that “A bunch of old white men decided that childbirth is “better” when women experience it without pain relief, that vaginal birth is superior to cesarean section, and that foolish women should be taught that the pain of childbirth is all in their heads.”

    So… is it a bunch of old white men, or is it radical feminists?

    What I do believe is extremely important to remember is that in The Good Olde Days, they would gladly swap their “birth freedom” for all our interventions, in exchange for the safety we take for granted.

    I recall my mother-in-law’s stories about giving birth. It wasn’t hundreds of years ago – my youngest sister-in-law is 30 – but hospitals were far worse than they are now, in terms of bedside manner and comfort for patients. After birth, the women were put in large wards, 10 women in the same room, all throughout their hospitalization. They enjoyed far less “freedoms” and “patient rights” than today. Nobody thought to question the doctors. The women were told they must be induced, so they were induced (actually, it wasn’t even explained to them what the doctor is going to do. I only surmised it was an induction from what she told me). They were told to give birth on their backs, so they gave birth on their backs. They were told they must breastfeed their babies every 4 hours (BAD advice! Not nearly enough for newborns), so they breastfed every 4 hours.

    I’m not saying this is right. Good and safe OB care is very compatible with higher patient autonomy, and under the right conditions, a birth can be both 100% natural and 100% safe. However, my mother-in-law never thought to complain.

    Why, you ask? Well, she was born to a mother in North Africa who lost 7 out of her 14 babies. She, on contrast, “only” had 5 children herself, and they are all healthy adults today. So in her mind, she has only to count her blessings.

    I also have something to say about this one:

    “In nature, women give birth in agony, but that does not mean that women ought to give birth in agony or that it is an “achievement” to do so.”

    I gave birth without medication, and it was not agony. However, if it HAD been agony, I would have been glad to have options. If an epidural could help my excruciating pregnancy migraines, you bet I would have taken it.

  • Deena Chamlee

    I find it fascinating that a group can stir up so much discord within society by attending less than 2% of births. Think about it, judges are calling for stricter guidelines for midwives, 78 midwives are arrested in Texas for selling fraudulent birth certificates to illegal immigrants from Mexico causing terrific strife and discord there, approximately 128 midwives have been arrested for negligent care, 300 were arrested between the years 1982-1992 per court dockets, they blatantly defy ethics, they lie about data in published research, they lobby against licensure because licensure will not improve safety, some babies aren’t suppose to live is the cry defending neonatal deaths, water births are attended without large randomized trials and when called out on this asking for safety measures it is oppositional deviant dismissive ranting, national homebirth guidelines are felt to interfere with autonomy and to hell with safety for mothers and babies, deaths are crowd sourced on facebook,, a midwife is arrested for manslaughter and has at least 5 possible infant gravesites in the backyard of her birth center, and the mother of it all with honorary PhD crosses sexual boundaries with pregnant women intrapartum and their husbands.

    Feminists, biological essentialism, doesn’t begin to touch on such behavior in my opinion. I think it is much deeper and much more troublesome than radical feminist.
    And furthermore, no one can stop the madness, or so it seems. We can debate the state of affairs, intellectualize the rationale driving the madness, write daily post, analyze data that is available but at the end of the day the madness continues. It is almost as if we are all caught up in a very sick dance to everyone’s detriment.

    • Anj Fabian

      It’s anti establishment at its core. Ina May is obviously that. When others are told that they can contribute by using the establishment path, position and credential of CNM – most have excuses at the ready.

    • pinkyrn

      Nice synopsis.

    • Guest

      Deena, do you have a link to these midwife arrests? Did you put that info together yourself? I would like to read it!

  • Sue

    IN Australia, the overwhelming majority of MWs work in hospitals, providing ante-natal clinics, delivery and post-natal nursing care and managing deliveries, in consultation with OBs and anesthetists where indicated. They work in a regulated and audited system, using guidelines. MWs were one of the first nursing specialties in Aus to obtain advanced-practice status – using medications and suturing wounds, with medical referral when required. Many public hospital births are managed entirely by MWs.

    These people don’t shun education and intervention – they use them every day.

    Some cultural thing, however, seems to stop the professional nurse-specialist MWs and their organisations calling out the rogues. Can any MW here explain why that is, and whether it can change?

    • Anj Fabian

      Possibly because they see them as heroes, carrying on the mythical tradition of midwifery with intimate, one-on-one care and maintaining that close personal connection all through labor and sharing in that glorious moment of birth.

      Traditionally, midwives more often served the lower SECs, didn’t provide much in the way of prenatal care and were only called if things were not going well. Poor people don’t have money to spend on anything that they don’t NEED and if they could birth without an attendant who would want to be paid, they did so.

      Because the midwives were called out mostly for difficult births, they saw more than their fair share of complications and bad outcomes. I had a friend whose great grandmother who was a midwife in West Virginia whose boast was that she never lost a mother.

      A few seconds to reflect on that statement should ask and answer the questions “Never lost a mother? What about babies?”.

    • Hannah

      The system might be regulated but it is definitely influenced more and more by this ideology. I have heard countless utter horror stories from the Australian midwife-led system that I’ve repeated many times in comments here – including my cousin nearly dying, another recently needing a crash section and many, many friends who went well beyond 40w without an induction, against their will. There are definitely midwives in even the regulated system shunning intervention to the detriment of their patients.

  • Dr Kitty

    11 years of medical school and post grad training means that when you tell me you have intermittent, fleeting, electric shock sensations on one side of your forehead, I can tell you that you have Trigeminal neuralgia, which is treated with antiepileptic drugs.

    And then you can tell me Google says you have a brain tumour so I need to book you an urgent MRI (because CTs have too much radiation) and you’re not really a tablet person, so you’ll try a nerve strengthening diet you found on the internet while you wait for the result, and I need to educate myself and not rely on big pharma to cure my patients*

    Fun.

    Heartily sick of “educated” people thinking they know my job better than I do.

    * not a real situation, some details changed, gist of the situation preserved.

    • Mac Sherbert

      I have decided that people just make up their own reality. You see this across professions. In the teacher world we have parents that insist that even though little Johnny is 2 grades behind, hits the other kids and generally can’t function in the regular classroom he is just FINE. There’s no need for testing and interventions. If we would just not push him, let him play all day and make sure he eats some special diet while at school there wouldn’t be any problems at all.

      • Dr Kitty

        Yup.
        When I explain the available drug options and their chances of working, how often you take them, and possible side effects, and the patient says “I was thinking more something I didn’t have to take every day, that always works, and doesn’t have side effects” and looks expectantly at me like I’ve been holding this magical drug back, and I’m keeping it just for the few who think to ask for it.

        Nope.
        I didn’t offer it because it doesn’t exist.
        We’ve talked about your options, now pick your poison.

        Sorry, bad day, managing expectations downwards is not fun.

        • Mac Sherbert

          You are allowed a bad day. It’s maddening trying to deal with people in lala land, especially when you care about the outcome. I have walked out of meetings and asked my Administrator why the University forgot to send me my magic wand along with my degree. Clearly, someone messed up the paper work because I still haven’t gotten it!

        • Sue

          ”something I didn’t have to take every day, that always works, and doesn’t have side effects”

          Suggested response: “I have exactly the thing. It’s called placebo. It might not reverse the pathology, but it will help you feel better.” (Would the patient accept that?)

          Irony font – that’s what the alt med people do deceptively – they just don’t tell you.

          • Mishimoo

            And they charge exorbitant prices for it.

      • pinkyrn

        So actually it is the teachers fault. Which requires less work on the parents side of things.

      • LibrarianSarah

        My personal favorite is “I don’t want to label him/her. My response to that is “You gave the kid a name didn’t you?”

    • namaste863

      I can’t believe that people won’t listen to those who have devoted countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars to becoming experts in the study and practice of medicine under the tutelage of the best medical minds in the country, but WILL listen to a talk show host an an ex playboy bunny. Can you lovely folks put this phenomenon into Dick and Jane terms for me? Because clearly it is beyond my ability to comprehend. Smh.

  • Amazed

    OT: Trust nature, they sing so sweetly.

    A few hours ago, I witnessed such a downpour in my home city that I cannot describe it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a furious rain. A neighbourhood was literally drown. The pictures are horrifying. At least 10 people died, I just heard from the news.

    Trust nature, my ass. When are they going to realize that nature is a bitch who should not be trusted?

    • Hannah

      My mantra recently has become “But nature is trying to kill you”. I mean, that’s the entire basis of natural selection. Nature tries to kill you, you have to fight to survive.

      • Anj Fabian

        Nature will kill you any way she can.

        Our job is to be alert to those attempts and thwart them when possible.

        If I was all natural, my first child would have been stillborn and I’d be minus several teeth.

        • Hannah

          If I went all-natural, I’d have been dead six/seven years ago from kidney failure. Nothing like your immune system trying to kill you to cure you of any “nature is good” instincts!

          • The Bofa, Being of the Sofa

            You folks are way overthinking this.

            For example, eating takes a concerted effort on our part. Unless WE undertake the task of eating, we would die. That’s how fundamental this is. Natural will kill us, unless we take it upon ourselves to oppose it.

          • KarenJJ

            Yep – and the little buggers look like they’re giving it another go, based on some recent tests. Back to the specialist for me.

        • Amy

          Pre-children, I’d at the minimum be close to blind (I’ve got horrible vision without my contacts) and possibly already have committed suicide (pretty severe depression, controlled with meds, therapy doesn’t do much). My older daughter and I wouldn’t have survived childbirth, so the question of whether or not much second daughter would have survived her labor complications or panic episode that landed her in the NICU are moot.

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      Agree. Also note that virtually every medicinal herb is medicinal because the plant is producing a toxin to try to kill you if you eat it. It’s not being “nice”, it’s trying to avoid having its leaves eaten. Digoxin, taxol, aspirin, vincristine, opiates…all plant toxins that we’re learned to use to our advantage. Not nature’s “blessing” us.

  • lucy logan

    not all anthropologists

    • Bombshellrisa

      Nope-just the loudest ones. Quite a few CPMs have been anthropology majors or had parents who were anthropologists. One local CPM states in her bio that she was raised by her anthropologist mother to “view birth as normal” (who doesn’t think birth is normal?) and studied anthropology with a view to becoming a midwife. Guess she tuned out the part where women and babies died.

      • Sue

        Death is normal too. So, why have health care?

        • Bombshellrisa

          And why even have a midwife at all if birth is so natural? After all, the only reason to have an attendant is to have someone guide you and if “your body was designed to give birth” and “babies know how to be born” then you don’t need assistance to do something “normal”.

          • Trixie

            Because you need someone to hold the space! Duh!

          • Sue

            I think I might start a ”supporting all bodily functions” profession. Anyone could pay me to ”hold the space” and knit while they menstruate, urinate etc, and I could have a sideline selling all the little doggie jumpers I would make. Anyone want to join me?

          • Amazed

            I’ll keep the reading space! I will NOT read 50 Shades of Grey to any labouring mother, though! I have standards!

      • lucy logan

        i dont know if its the loudest, but its true that anthros that study birth tend to be of this variety, unfortunately, since ideology is the motivation for doing so, but i can tell you that probably the majority of feminist and medical anthros regard these in similar way to amy friends

    • Trixie

      No, but the vast majority of CPMs who have advanced degrees have them in social sciences.

  • Trixie

    I don’t think we can lump Quiverful and other religious movements that eschew birth control in with the anti-rationalism that is the hallmark of so much NCB woo. They use a lot of the same terminology, but for very different underlying reasons.

    • Tabitha Ziegler Yaffe

      Agreed. The Quiverful families I know vary somewhat in their patriarchal structure and level of adherence to this belief system. However, if science and medicine are rejected, it is because they are “not of the Lord” or because relying on medical authority means that one doesn’t trust God to take care of the family. My family is somewhat on the fringes of this movement because we (husband and I) have decided not to limit conception and allow the Lord to be in charge of our family size. However, we do not reject western medicine, and would certainly take measures to stop conception if it is medically necessary.

      • Trixie

        I think a lot of Quiverful-type families choose home birth/CPM birth because of a perceived naturalness, and also out of financial concerns if they don’t have insurance. Also, becoming a lay midwife is one of the only career paths outside of marriage that a woman can have, as it doesn’t involve college, and is woman’s work (hence the one Duggar becoming a CPM).
        It is true that they use some of the same language about women being created to give birth, but they certainly don’t believe women are superior to men by their biological differences. And they are logically consistent within the Biblical framework they’ve set up for themselves.

        • Tabitha Ziegler Yaffe

          You’ve explained the Quiverful rationale for NCB much better than I have :).

          • Trixie

            Once in a while my Religious Studies degree comes in handy.

          • Bombshellrisa

            One of the CPMs here has a degree in religious studies-her patients are all “she has a degree, she went to college AND was a
            Medical assistant at an OB office”. So which part of the religious studies degree makes someone feel qualified to be a CPM. (Trixie, you might be overqualified to be a CPM!)

          • Trixie

            That’s perfect. We could discuss Kierkegaard during our hour-long appointments and I could horribly misapply his ideas about the Man of Faith to suit my agenda. My clients will know how truly educated I am! Then again, Fear and Trembling will be appropriate responses to my care.

            Plus I need a new garage refrigerator and I hate paying tax, so I could barter for one. Better deliver that fridge by 36 weeks, I like my beer nice and cold.

          • Alcharisi

            Hey, I have TWO degrees in religious studies, and I’m working on a third! I’m, like, WAAAY overqualified.

          • Trixie

            Damn, okay, I guess I have to be your assistant midwife then.

          • Bombshellrisa

            But the real question is: can you knit? Cause you can have all sorts of degrees that have nothing to do with midwifery and that is ok but if you can’t knit, you can’t be trusted to be a good birth keeper and hold the space.

          • Trixie

            I can crochet, but I can’t crochet hats. Is that good?

          • Stacy48918

            Well, hatting babies is birth trauma so you’re good!

          • Alcharisi

            Not really, alas. I tried very diligently to knit my fiancée a scarf once. I got about 8 inches in before finally saying fuck it.
            I can sew enough to do simple repairs and alterations to my clothes–does that count? (Or did I only need to put a piece of seaweed in the busted knee of my jeans?)

          • Amy

            I can knit! Bachelor’s in linguistics, master’s in mathematics. Those degrees are probably a little too “rational-ish” though.

          • FormerPhysicist

            I prefer to crochet. Oh well.

        • Melissa

          OT: but I thought of it because of talking about homebirth and religious movements, A Missouri appeals court upheld a 108 million dollar verdict against a small religious group involving a botched homebirth that resulted in the death of the child and mother. Here’s the full court decision http://www.courthousenews.com/2014/06/18/homebirth.pdf which upholds the jury decision to find for 100 million in punitive damages. The details are terrible but also not uncommon for readers of SOB. 2 day labor, merc detected, and frantically looking in books about how to handle an actual emergency. Of course the religious aspect makes it different (hence the OT) since they called in a faith healer instead of a doctor (well, they did make a phone call to a chiropractor!) But that verdict certainly made a statement.

          • Trixie

            That is horrifying.

          • OBPI Mama

            oh my goodness, that link spilled my tears. how devastating.

          • Mac Sherbert

            I really wish I could unread that. That is horrible. Those people should be in jail. That poor woman would have gone to the hospital, if they would have let her.

            “John, he was involved in four home births that resulted in the death of the infants, and the death of one child and one adult who both suffered from a treatable illness or disease. Every death was the result of medical treatment being rejected in favor of faith healing,
            including John’s purported healing power.”

          • The Computer Ate My Nym

            That man needs to be in prison. Probably for life. He has killed before, he will kill again. Nothing will stop him but removing him from the population at risk.

  • Renee Martin

    Many of the biologically focused aspects of 2nd wave feminism were helpful and appropriate at the time they existed in, while anti-rationalism has never served women. The problem is that while these views evolved (biological essentialism), or fell out of favor (irrationalism), along with women’s opportunities, the MWery movement did not. The stagnation has caused these ideas to imbue other disciplines where they are dangerous to the very women they aim to empower.

    The second wave ideas that women should be celebrated for their female attributes, and an accepting of their own biology as both female and superior, was a necessary step in the progression of feminism. Until this point, women were seen as lesser than, because of these biological realities. Decades of childbirth- if they were lucky- put them at a serious disadvantage physically, as well as allowing them to be othered, and a millennia of this made women feel inferior.

    Learning to love, reclaim ownership and appreciation of, women’s bodies as they were (not a lesser version of a man), and for what they could do (whether they did it or not), was an important part of empowering women to consider themselves as worthwhile humans in their own rite. It gave value to all of the things that had long only been negative, oppressive, and even considered unclean (religion and menses). That these feminists called themselves superior was necessary to overcome centuries of self hatred and inferiority. (Of all the horrible things done to women, lets not bash them for wanting to feel superior! What a minor thing!)

    Even when women started breaking into professional fields and being allowed in colleges, they were seen as lesser if they displayed female attributes, or participated in roles traditionally female. They were truly successful so long as they were emulating men, and stereotypically masculine traits. Women were still just as denigrates and disrespected, and the roles that women fulfill were (and still are, in a lesser sense) still seen as lower, even with the lip service paid to motherhood. Biological essentialism gave voice to these women, allowing them to be female without shame, and gave mothers and homemakers an exalted place in the world (at least among themselves).

    Realizing how patriarchy encompassed everything, and how it used all available tools (religion, tradition, cultural values, science) to oppress women, was also vital. It still is. As far as science and rationality go, these were long used as cudgels to keep women in their place. Since we rarely got to participate in those fields (and our contributions were stolen and ignored by history), women did use “other ways of knowing”, as this is most had to work with. Women had also turned to nature to help them, and we have a long history of using what could be found in our environment.

    However, instead of accepting that women could participate in science and philosophy, that technology could be freedom from the oppression of nature, these feminists wanted to celebrate the opposite. Again, many were seeking to find a space for themselves that was free from male influence, and give value to the “old ways” used when they had no other options. If it remained a nod to history, this would be fine, but it became a foundation others (like lay MWs) built on.

    Sadly, this irrationalism does nothing to help lift women from oppression, or improve their lives. With the emergence of women’s studies, more discoveries of women’s contribution to science over the years, and more women being educated and participating, this view should have been wholly supplanted. The idea that modern medicine is wholly male may have been accurate 50 years ago, but this totally ignores the new balance of women in medicine. Yes, patriarchy effects everything, and much of medicine still underserves, ignores, or even harms, women. But the solution for this is not separation and irrationality, it is vigorous participation, as full participants, which is exactly what women these days are doing.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      I’m not sure that biologic essentialism gave voice to these women. It seems to me that it marginalized them. The appropriate response to the biologic essentialism of the “patriarchy” is not to celebrate it, but to reject it.

      The issue is more than theoretical. By embracing biologic essentialism, an entire group of women turned on other women instead of confronting historic oppression. What have biologic essentialism done to advance the cause of women and how have they improved the standing and self-image of women? I would answer that it’s accomplished absolutely nothing.

      • Anj Fabian

        I believe that one of the tenets of the biological essentialism movement is that feminists reject the roles as gestators and mothers.

        Feminism says that women can dictate if, when and how they will take on those roles. If your culture insists that women must embrace those roles without reservation, without conditions then feminism could seem very threatening.

  • doctorex

    As an anthropologist, a radical feminist, and a social theorist who is also a health disparities and health services researcher, I feel like we should be a bit careful here of painting all anthropologists and radical feminists with the same brush. The feminist critique of science, like the critique of eugenics, was an important moment in social thought. It showed us that a lot of scientific authority was resting on totally invalid criteria, and that even more, valid scientific authority and attention was not being equally distributed or adequately devoted to entire groups of people who very much matter. Anthropologists were early critics of the idea of the “noble savage.” The students I teach in anthropology class come out with basic statistical literacy, the ability to evaluate evidence and use it to build coherent arguments, and an understanding that a world exists that extends beyond the one with which they are familiar.

    It’s certainly true that there are some contemporary anthropologists, social scientists, and radical feminists who have gotten sucked in by the woo and now spout it out, totally misleading people into believing that their knowledge in those disciplines makes them uniquely qualified to question conclusions in medicine.

    But at the same time, just as medical doctors and other legitimate professionals are mortified when a colleague makes some kind of awful mistake that hurts people, there are a lot of us in those fields who are deeply ashamed when our colleagues misuse credentials to act like they are experts in things they actually know nothing about. For the most part, the radical feminist anthropologists I know despise nothing so much as they despise pseudoscience of any kind. I am proud to count myself among them.

    • sdsures

      I hope that anthropology can shed more light on ancient midwifery, to help eradicate the NCB thought processes that try to make people belief birth was safe just because it was “natural”. They didn’t have X-rays, CT scanners or ultrasound machines to tell if a baby was positioned poorly, whether a mother’s pelvis was shaped strangely or was large enough – I could go on. The point is that science has and will continue to keep proving NCB fools wrong.

      • meg

        Indeed. As a radical feminist myself, it becomes incredibly frustrating when current NCB advocates cite “natural” (aka “primitive”) birth as the ideal, often invoke racialized “noble savage”-type imagery of smiling women of color (generally in Africa) squatting in a hut, surrounded by encouraging villagemates, having a flawless non-medicalized birth, then merrily breastfeeding until the child is 5 as a form of birth control. They don’t realize that tens of thousands of women in the developing world would give their right hand to have access to even the basic kind of prenatal care (ultrasounds, blood pressure cuffs, etc) that they so arrogantly eschew as “unnatural.”

        • Sue

          Human endeavour to improve is natural.

      • DoulaGuest

        I think it’s also important to remember that the idea of “natural childbirth” varies widely, even amongst NCB communities. It can range from vaginal birth to unassisted-no-hatting-Carla Hartley-birth.

      • Sue

        Lack of technology was what made the ancient philosophers also the scientists, because one could only theorise on the basis of knowledge obtained from human senses.

        Our understanding of the human body has expanded dramatically with the ability to directly visualise and measure the way things work – from electron microscopy of the cell wall and organelles, to the concentration of electrolytes in the various parts of the renal tubules.

        The entire world has advanced in this way – few parts so the world – even the impoverished parts – don’t have mobile phones and motor bikes. They no longer rely on drums or runners to communicate, and few now rely on their own legs or animals for transport.

        Why, then, would it make any sense to ignore what we know about anatomy and physiology, and pretend that we have to rely on human senses?

        Does this weird group of radical-NCB-”feminists” cook over an open fire, or send a messenger for the midwife?

        • sdsures

          HAHAHA! Wouldn’t that be funny if it were captured on camera? But nooo, they must be able to live-stream video births for Youtube!

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      I didn’t mean to imply that all anthropologists and all radical feminists subscribe to natural childbirth. My point is that the people who hijacked midwifery are anthropologists and radical feminists and not people with basic medical knowledge.

      • almostfearless

        You might not meant to imply it, but until I read doctorex’s comment, I did feel that they were representing the mainstream thought in that field. Just something to consider for future posts, to highlight that they are borrowing this field of thought but are on the fringes.

  • Gene

    We had wonderful midwives where I went to medical school in the 1990s. My residency hospital had none (apparently, the state is very anti midwifery). My fellowship hospital had excellent midwives and my first pregnancy (high risk) was followed by a CNM at the OBs office. I wish she delivered babies (she only did prenatal stuff). I wasn’t even aware that woo existed among midwives (as I’d only really ever worked with hospital based CNMs). I’ve always seen woo among lay people. I collect home remedy stories (tie a coin around an umbilical hernia, rub cut onions on feet for fever, etc). And as I both breasted, made my own baby food, and cloth diapered (in a very crunchy state), it was pervasive. But I honestly thought we in the medical community were mostly immune except for a few fridge quacks. I honestly didn’t even know that CPMs even existed until about 2010.

    I think that woo in general has always been there. It has just spread further and faster because of the internet.

  • DoulaGuest

    Have you read “American Midwife 1876-present”, but Judy Litoff? I found it to be a very informative read on the division of midwifery at the turn of the century in this country as not only midwifery, but medicine, changed and childbirth began to move into the hospital. It discusses how doctors formed a more unified credential, and delegated nurses to act as midwives in low socio-economic areas of the inner cities and pushed out “traditional midwives”.

    In any event, I think it is easy to say that midwifery has been hijacked by NCB radical anti-feminists. They certainly seem to have the loudest voices, and the biggest PR campaign. But, less than 1% of births occur outside the hospital, therefore they represent less than 1% of the midwives who serve women. Do CNMs and CMs with similar ideas exist in the hospital as well? Of course, but I think that the majority of midwifery in this country and certainly world wide provide the care that you experienced working in the hospital, and to a far greater population of women. I think it is more of a question of organizations like ACNM taking back the image of midwifery, as a science and evidenced based discipline.

    • Renee Martin

      Hospital MWs may provide good care, but its undeniable that so many share the philosophical underpinnings of biological essentialists. It seems to be increasing.

      • DoulaGuest

        I think this is very much based by where you practice. In my state, this is definitely not the case. Meeting other midwives at the conference this year, I can say that this *is* the case. I agree with the above post that social media and internet can make if feel that way, but it hasn’t been my experience necessarily. It seems that midwifery is very much divided between medical and nursing theories, and the “theories” of people like Ina May-which are far more outlandish and garner more attention. It divides the ACNM as much as the NCB in my opinion, even more so as many CPMs seem to be working towards going the CNM route (I counted at least 4 in our HB community).

      • Sue

        There does indeed seem to be division of philosophies (grossly generalising here), with OB research tending to be more about medical safety and midwifery research more about the personal needs of the mother. These views can be complementary, and of course, there is overlap.

        What protects people in hospital, though, is that they are regulated and audited systems where workers are credentialed and held to account for poor practice. Hospital workers have to work in teams and collaborate with others – and almost all prefer it that way.

  • Zornorph

    I thought Ayla of the Mamutoi invented midwifery. She invented everything else!

    • T.

      She totally did. I mean, she did help other women give birth, didn’t she?
      And lets not forget she discovered where babies come from.

      • Amy M

        She domesticated dogs, cats (lions) and horses, why not give her credit for midwifery too? She became an official medicine woman in one of the later books, so I think midwifery fell under her jurisdiction.

        • Gene

          And still had time for excellent sex every, what?, six or seven pages?

          • Amy M

            With six or seven different people, at least in book 3.

          • Trixie

            It’s kind of surprising she didn’t also invent syphilis.

          • Sue

            I had to look this up. Must have bypassed Australia – or is it just me?

          • Mishimoo

            Also an Aussie, I had to look it up too. I have seen the books but never really got into them.

          • Gene

            It’s basically a five? book series that could be alternatively titled “hot blonde cave chick teaches the world, one penis at a time” or more simply “sex amongst the cave people”. Fifty shades of gray probably has more literary prowess.

          • The Bofa, Being of the Sofa

            I should probably check those books out…

          • AgentOrange5

            I remember these books as being incredibly boring, I stopped after book 3. I’m not sure why I didn’t stop after book 1, other than I thought all mature, cool people were reading these books. So I thought reading these books would make me mature and cool (I was in high school at the time, so my thinking was limited.) Her books could have had more sex. I remember the books as 100 pages going into great & boring detail about something Ayla was inventing, maybe 5 pages of actual storyline, then another 100 pages of Ayla describing the excruciatingly boring scenery around her cave, another 5 pages of actual storyline, then 100 pages of Ayla walking to get to the next village, then 5 pages of actual storyline. Wash and repeat until page 700 or so. These books were so unworthy the time I invested. Then again, if I hadn’t been reading them, I probably would have been calling up some boy that I wouldn’t even remember the name of today, so I guess it really didn’t matter.

          • Amy

            I can never look at the word “nodule” again after those books.

    • Kerlyssa

      She invented UC.

    • Sue

      Artemis(daughter of Leto and Zeus, and the twin of Apollo) is apparently, among other things, the helper of midwives as a goddess of birth.

      According to one source, the legend goes that Artemis was born one day before her brother Apollo. Her mother gave birth to her on the island of Ortygia, then, almost immediately after her birth, she helped her mother to cross the straits over to Delos, where she then delivered Apollo. This was the beginning of her role as guardian of young children and patron of women in childbirth. Being a goddess of contradictions, she was the protectors of women in labor, but it was said that the arrows of Artemis brought them sudden death while giving birth. As was her brother, Apollo, Artemis was a divinity of healing, but also brought and spread diseases such as leprosy, rabies and even gout. (!)

      That Artemis has a lot to answer for. Delivering her brother while only one day of age, however, beats any boasting I have seen on NCB blogs. It could just be, though, that Apollo just knew how to born, and Artemis claimed credit. Sounds familiar, no?

    • Amy

      What’s interesting is how in those books, which are all pseudo-feminist nature-goddess crap, childbirth is NOT painted as safe. Jondalar’s brother’s wife (it’s been years, I don’t remember the names) died in childbirth because the polio she’d gotten as a child stunted the growth of her pelvis or something. Mixed-race children born to cro-magnons had large heads and caused complications in childbirth. I feel like there was someone else who died, too, but I don’t remember who.