Natural childbirth has always been about keeping women in their place

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Yesterday I wrote about Sheila Kitzinger’s acknowledgment that many feminists consider natural childbirth to be deeply anti-feminist because of its baseline assumption that agonizing pain is good for women, and its glorification of women’s reproductive organs ahead of their minds, talents and characters.

It’s hardly surprising that natural childbirth is deeply retrograde and anti-feminist. The philosophy of natural childbirth is and has always been about keeping women in “their place,” pregnant, at home and restricted to the domestic sphere.

Grantly Dick-Read, the creator of the philosophy was explicit about his sexism.

According to Dick-Read:

Woman fails when she ceases to desire the children for which she was primarily made. Her true emancipation lies in freedom to fulfil her biological purposes…

And:

…[T]he mother is the factory, and by education and care she can be made more efficient in the art of motherhood.

Grantly Dick-Read’s theory of natural childbirth grew out of his belief in eugenics. He was concerned that “inferior” people were having more children than their “betters” portending “race suicide” of the white middle and upper classes. Dick-Read believed that women’s emancipation led them away from the natural profession of motherhood toward totally unsuitable activities. Since their fear of pain in childbirth might also be discouraging them, they must be taught that the pain was due to their false cultural beliefs. In this way, women could be educated to have more children.

Pain in childbirth served a very important function in this sexist discourse: it was the punishment that befell women who became too educated, too independent and left the home. The idea that “primitive” women had painless childbirth was fabricated to contrast with the painful childbirth of “overcivilized” women.

In other words, the philosophy of natural childbirth was created in reaction to early feminist victories in acquiring political, legal and economic rights.

As I wrote yesterday, women like Kitzinger decided to make a virtue of necessity. If they were going to be judged by the function of their reproductive organs, then they would glorify those organs and concomitantly demonize technology which was, in their minds, a product of men. No longer would the purpose of childbirth be to produce children; its purpose was expanded to produce birth “experiences” that validated women for placing the function of their reproductive organs at the heart of their self-image.

The philosophy of natural childbirth locates a woman’s virtue in her vagina, and exults in her agony.

Hence Kitzinger wrote:

Birth isn’t something we suffer, but something we actively do, and exalt in!

And:

In achieving the depersonalization of childbirth and at the same time solving the problem of pain, our society may have lost more than it has gained. We are left with the physical husk; the transcending significance has been drained away. In doing so, we have reached the goal which perhaps is implicit in all highly developed technological cultures, mechanized control of the human body and the complete obliteration of all disturbing sensation.

And:

In most societies birth has been an experience in which women draw together to help each other and reinforce bonds in the community. Now that eradication of pain with effective anesthesia is often the only issue in any discussion of birth the sacramental and social elements which used to be central to women’s experience of birth seem, for an increasing proportion of women, to be completely irrelevant.

Feminist philosopher Katherine Beckett, in Choosing Cesarean: Feminism and the politics of childbirth in the United States explains the feminist critique of natural childbirth:

The idea that women do (or should) savour, enjoy, or feel empowered by the experience of labour and delivery … romanticizes women’s roles as lifebearers and mothers, and assumes an emotional and physical reality (or posits an emotional and physical norm) that does not exist for many…

In short, some feminists perceive the alternative birth movement as rigid and moralistic, insistent that giving birth ‘naturally’ is superior and, indeed, is a measure of a ‘good mother’…

In other words, Kitzinger’s view of natural childbirth functioned to keep women in their place acknowledging that women are restricted to a certain role, romanticizing that role, and utterly ignoring the suffering that women endured because they were restricted to that role.

Pain in childbirth has always been about who holds power.

Men had the power to insist, through religion, that women’s pain in childbirth was a form of divine punishment for their sins. They could and did withhold anesthesia from laboring women.

Then came a woman who was more powerful than all the clerics and doctors, Queen Victoria.

In her role as Head of the Anglican Church, she had the power to declare that childbirth anesthesia did not violate a divine plan for female punishment. She used anesthesia in childbirth and she liked it.

Queen Victoria was not a feminist, but the early feminists who followed in her wake a few decades later considered that easy access to childbirth pain relief was a political issue. Increasing access to pain relief in labor reflected women’s growing political power. That is precisely what Grantly Dick-Read feared.

But it was not just pain relief that liberated women from “their place.” Technology of all kinds, from antibiotics to blood banking to safer C-sections liberated women from the fear of death in childbirth. And the benefits of technology were not limited to childbirth itself, but extended to infant formula that liberated women from breastfeeding if they wished it, and the oral contraceptive pill that liberated women from endless unwanted pregnancies that sapped their health and prevented them from taking their place in the larger world along side men.

The philosophy of natural childbirth makes women slaves to their biology and therefore renders them merely handmaidens to men, unable to take the reins of political, legal and economic power. Natural childbirth keeps women in their place, pregnant, at home and restricted to the domestic sphere. True, it glorifies their slavery, but it remains slavery nonetheless.

  • Iasme

    I’m not surprised that an ideology of naturalism is being used to bolster a highly reactionary movement. Oldest ideology in the book, and quite a fallacious one too. The cultural enshrinement of giving birth at home, especially as it is consciously formulated by these fascistic movements, is bound up with a very patriarchal, pastoralist notion that the reproduction of the husband’s household takes place on his private estate – and that the task of the mother/wife/cohabiting partner is to maintain his household, while not leaving the household and not participating in the public sphere. Hence the task of these reactionary movements was to senselessly increase the workload of domestic labour for women, contrary to the proliferation of science and technology that gave them the potential to not be a breeding sow and to support themselves economically.

  • kristina

    I work graveyard and it has been awesome with little kids. I am married, and my husband works “normal” hours. We only have to arrange for child care from 7am (when he goes to work) to 9 am (when I get home). My mom comes for those two hours the morning and then she goes to work at 10. Mine are 1 and 4. My four year old goes to prek and gets off at 4. My husband is usually at home by then, then I go to sleep 🙂 Am i exhausted alot? Yeah. But I also don’t have to pay for two day care bills!

  • Mariah Whiteman Runs Him

    If anyone has read the handmaiden’s tale that’s what the natural birth movement reminds me of

    • KarenJJ

      I haven’t read it, but it reminds me of a hazing ritual…

      • Inmara

        It may be a bit far fetched but the very idea that women need to go through “natural pain” to have “ideal birth” and “bond with other women” reminds of FGM. Which is basically done by women to other women, because “we went through this and why shouldn’t you” and it’s necessary to become “proper women”.

    • namaste863

      Read it in High School. That book gives me the creeps.

    • Scary book. Scary movie.

    • Steph858

      The most most telling scene is when Janine/Ofwarren gives birth at home, attended by Aunt Lydia and the other Handmaids of the area. Offred notes that “They don’t believe in pain relief” for childbirth. So a scene that today’s Natural Birth crowd would approve of.

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  • CanDoc

    (Typo alert: “would glorify ththose organs” in the paragraph that starts “As I wrote yesterday…”)

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Thanks!

  • RMY

    My impression is that midwifery itself is kind of anti-feminist, in how it’s all about sisterhood (next to no men practicing as midwives), lower pay, less training, and less prestige (for all but the big names) than the other baby-catchers (obstetricians). Additionally they have fewer tools they can use, and ethically they’re very bound to transfer anything that’s not textbook to an obstetrician (as they have neither the tools nor training for any amount of risk).

    I may be wrong, but that’s my impression.

    • No, you’re not wrong at all. It’s heteronormative, anti-education, White-centered pseudoscience.

    • DaisyGrrl

      I don’t think you’re wrong, but you might have a difficult time getting many midwives to agree. They’ve appropriated the language of feminism to bestow legitimacy upon themselves and their less impressive skill set. Of course, the lower pay, fewer tools, and more restricted scope of practice are all tools of the patriarchy trying to oppress the Sisterhood. That’s the slant my local midwives have put on it, anyway (they’re lobbying the province for the same reimbursement as family doctors).

      • RMY

        Yeah, it’s really too bad feminism has been infected with so much anti-intellectualism, I understand it was a response to how heavily sexism influenced science was at the time but it’s really hurting feminism by allowing idiots to use it as a banner inappropriately.

    • Something From Nothing

      In British Columbia midwives get paid substantially more than an obstetrician per birth.

      • Bombshellrisa

        Home birth midwives get paid more for far less expertise and actual work. If you spend an hour drinking tea with your client and then spend the whole labor knitting, holding space and napping, $3500 seems like a whole lot of money for doing nothing.

  • Angie

    I wish I’d had ‘the complete obliteration of the disturbing sensation’ of excruciating pain with my first, 30 years on the memory still makes me shudder!!

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      You just failed, that’s all.

      (right?)

      • Angie

        I guess I did, failed to savour, enjoy and feel empowered, I am a bad mother.

        • yugaya

          Sheila Kitzinger says you did not want that child enough to get a dancing orgasm out of your birth. Pain in childbirth according to her has “positive or negative meaning depending on whether the child is wanted”.

          • Angie

            She could have a point, I was having twins and was quite scared at the prospect of how the hell I was going to cope (pretty badly as it turned out, 2 months of staggering about in a coffee stained housecoat).

          • Cobalt

            That’s actually doing quite well with two newborns in the house!

          • Sarah

            That’s what I do even when I’ve not just given birth.

          • Angie

            Yes Sarah thinking about it nothing has changed 30 years on!

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            This is abhorrent.

  • Bugsy

    “In most societies birth has been an experience in which women draw together to help each other and reinforce bonds in the community. ”

    Yep. Because the female OB who attended my son’s delivery, the female OB I had for the 9 months pre-delivery and months post-delivery, and the female nurses I had all didn’t draw together to reinforce support for me. It must have been a complete illusion in my drugged-out state of being.

    And another point, does she mean to suggest that birth cannot be overlooked as a critical place for female bonding? What about parenting itself, a much longer state of being? I would take that bonding over pain-induced bonding any day. My role as mother has brought me closer to my own mother, and I can’t count the number of women who’ve supported me through rough parenting days. I guess the only reason I’ve bonded with them is because I had a pain-free birth…if I knew better, I would have instead sought out pain-induced birth bonding.

  • This is deeply evocative of marxist feminism, which treats women’s position as the means of production (of offspring) as the primary mode of sexist oppression. Interesting.

    • yugaya

      Communism got a lot of things wrong but it got women’s rights right in my home country/region – that was probably the consequence of insisting that there were no intellectual, class or any other differences that mattered in a society of equals. It leveled the playing field with other intentions in mind, but women did profit in terms of property rights, access to education and work. Feminism there was rooted in the women first establishing their presence in WWII liberation movements and being in real positions of power and authority because of that. Things like passive and active voting rights, additional legislative protection, equal pay and reproductive freedom were cornerstoned after the war with constitutional changes as well as systematic support.

      In terms of feminism, communism worked great for stomping out gender inequality. For a while. 🙂

      • Inmara

        May I ask which is your country/region? I’m from Baltic countries myself, and I can agree with you that the formal side of Soviet Era legislation and practices was really ensuring gender equality (like legal rights; free daycare and healthcare which allowed women to return to work; praising of women who did “manly” jobs etc.). Unfortunately, in real life it was not that thorough – women basically were expected to carry out their Soviet citizen duties by working full time, and then to fulfill household duties without any help from men whatsoever, also returning to workforce after having a child was not an option but an obligation (actually, I don’t know any SAHM among mothers of my peers). Due to heavily regulated pharmacological industry, healthcare and anything else, and presumption that “there is no sex in Soviet Union” access to birth control was scarce, and abortions were horrifyingly common (my mother had several between birthing my brother and me (14 years) and as a result also several miscarriages). But yeah, as a heritage from all this we have free healthcare for children up to 18, free hospital births and daycare, so it’s better than what many mothers have in US and even in Western European countries.

    • Alcharisi

      Quite agreed. One of my more unpopular opinions is that Shulamith Firestone was pretty much right about this.

  • lawyer jane

    I actually see a kernel of truth in the idea that the eradication of pain/medicalization of childbirth disrupted the cultural supports that used to surround new mothers. With childbirth (somewhat) painless and extremely safe now, people seem to care less about taking care of new mothers – it’s off to work you go, no rest for you, missy!

    • Cobalt

      There is a fair balance somewhere between acknowledging and respecting our biological realities and being chained to and defined by them.

      We aren’t there now, for sure.

    • That can be a critique of capitalism though, right? Its all about isolating people so they buy stuff to offset the psychological consequence of a lack of community. Personally though, even mothers who did not suffer at all during child birth can use community support, especially post-partum. My mother had to travel out of state to help me with my newborn and it was somewhat sad to me that there wasn’t any female established support networks to deal with a newborn. Its impossibly hard at times to lack sleep and care for a baby effectively.

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        This is SO true, and one of the reasons I had a hard time after DD was born. I desperately wanted a feeling of female support/community as I became a mom for the first time while dealing with recovery and so on, and I didn’t have it.
        We have several friends who are pregnant right now, including one who’ll be a first-time mom without family in the area. DH and I have already agreed that when their baby comes, I’ll spend a night a week for a while over at their place helping while he wrangles DD at home–i.e., a Friday or Saturday night when he doesn’t have to be at work in the morning so he can let me come home and get some sleep before I take over with DD. (And yes, of course we ran this by the expectant parents first, and they do want our help. ;)) I would have loved so much to have something similar when I had DD. Wish we could do more (we’ll be bringing meals, too), but at least that’s a little community support for them.

    • Dr Kitty

      I could absolutely get behind a movement that said that giving birth was special and sacred and should be a time for your community to come together and support you.

      I just do not see why in that context “giving birth” has to be so narrowly defined as to mean “at home, vaginally, without analgesia and access to modern medicine”.

      If it is birth itself which is the important central event, then the details of the process itself are irrelevant.

      Otherwise, people like Kitzinger, who feel that the baby was thrown out with the bath water when medicalised childbirth reduced the cultural supports for labouring mother, end up not just keeping the baby, but, to stretch a metaphor, deciding that the baby doesn’t need a bath at all and a little dirt never hurt anyone, and that approach is clearly flawed too.

      Working to make sure that every woman, no matter what her birth preference and experiences, is supported by her community, that’s a worthy goal.

      Working to make every L&D fit the same NCB mould in order to access community support…not so much.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        I just do not see why in that context “giving birth” has to be so
        narrowly defined as to mean “at home, vaginally, without analgesia and
        access to modern medicine”.

        I prefer just calling it “having a baby”

        It includes everyone – adoptive parents of all sorts, fathers, siblings, whomever.

        How that baby comes is immaterial to the big issue, which is now there is a baby to take care of, and community support is wonderful.

        • yugaya

          “I just do not see why in that context “giving birth” has to be so narrowly defined as to mean “at home, vaginally, without analgesia and access to modern medicine”.

          Because it is a niche product that needs to borrow some authenticity in order to sell better:

          “There is a powerful urge to get in touch with what they believe is a more “real” world, and it’s leading us to a place where signs of realness take on greater value.”

          http://www.fastcompany.com/3002249/story-behind-stuff-consumers-growing-interest-real-products

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            “There is a powerful urge to get in touch with what they believe is a
            more “real” world, and it’s leading us to a place where signs of
            realness take on greater value.”

            I don’t have a clue what that means.

          • yugaya

            “Natural birth” aka “real birth” sells better in current birth consumer climate. 🙂

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            Yeah, I guess I am just not getting the “real birth” part…

          • yugaya

            I don’t get the appeal behind “natural” for that matter. There’s plenty of things out there I would never wish to experience in its natural form or the way “our ancestors did it”.

          • KarenJJ

            There is a song called “I lied about being the outdoors type” by the Lemonheads. I feel like I could apply that to my parenting – “I lied about being an attachment parent-type”.

            “Always had a salary
            Always paid the rent
            Turns out that my staying home has lead to discontent
            Can’t tie a mobi-wrap to save my life
            I lied about being the AP type

            Never spent a night with a baby in my bed
            The closest that I came to that you kicked me in the head
            Then I broke down in tears in the middle of the night
            I lied about being the AP type.

            Too scared to trust myself and just do what works best for us
            I’d read my Dr Sears, knew babies just weren’t meant to fuss
            I lied about being the AP type
            I’m now using formula so you don’t gripe .

            I can’t show my face at my AP parent’s group
            My cloth nappies are in the bin and filled with poop
            It’s just as well as I didn’t make my own baby wipes
            I lied about being the AP type.

            Just give me my pram, my baby’s bottle and a wine
            I lied about being the AP type. “

          • yugaya

            Perfect! And I always had a soft spot for Dando. 😀

          • Amy M

            That’s because its full of paradigm synergy. The real ask here is: How impactful is it, within the community, for a woman to give birth like a Neanderthal? Will it cause everyone to orientate their key priorities on attaining this state? We need to credential everyone’s experiences, because they are equally credentialed, but some should be more credentialed than others.

            /end jargon. (yes I DO have a notebook full of business-y jargon that I use for entertainment during meetings.)

          • KarenJJ

            bingo!

      • Cobalt

        Totally awesome. This part is my favorite:

        “I could absolutely get behind a movement that said that giving birth was special and sacred and should be a time for your community to come together and support you.

        I just do not see why in that context “giving birth” has to be so narrowly defined as to mean “at home, vaginally, without analgesia and access to modern medicine”.

        If it is birth itself which is the important central event, then the details of the process itself are irrelevant.”

        But the whole thing is pure truth.

  • Islanddoc

    I think the main problem I have with the natural childbirth stuff and Sheila kitzinger in particular is the idea that because they found they could cope with the pain of childbirth or even found it a pleasurable experience this is true for everyone, ie everyone experiences the same thing it’s just your attitude that is different and if you can’t cope with or enjoy the pain it is your attitude that is wrong. It’s unbelievably self centred to think that all human physical experience is like your own. Why can’t they understand that we are all different, with different physical experiences of contractions probably due to many complicated factors, pain receptors prostaglandins etc. not just your ‘positive thinking’ also different lengths of labour, positions of baby all mean that some women sail through and others are desperate for pain relief. It is not a moral issue, just like treating period pain with painkillers isn’t a moral issue. Some get period pain and others don’t! Sorry this is a bit of a rant but I think this is such a fundamental problem actually with pain control in general but childbirth in particular, it’s not your pain threshold or how well you cope it’s that people experience different amounts of pain and it is so arrogant to think just because you were ok everyone should be!

    • Ceridwen

      I still hate periods every bit as much as I did when I was younger, but I no longer get any cramps at all with them. Funny how little my attitude has affected it. It’s almost as if it were related to physical changes in my body as I’ve aged and had a child and not due to how I “feel” about it.

      • Wren

        My cramps disappeared for years, but now that my youngest is nearly 8 they seem to have decided to return. Ugh. Honestly, I’d take my labour with my second over again in place of a year of period cramps.

    • IT IS ALWAYS RETROSPECTIVE! That is what drives me crazy. I did a critique of The Business Of Being Born on my ex-home birthers website and there is an awful lot of footage of women in terrible pain and hating every minute of child birth in the movie, but the moms look back on it and try to justify it. They take about 45 minutes buttering up the audience about why that was at all acceptable. It takes a lot of integrity to see these experiences for what they were- needless suffering for an ideological reason. It is so much easier to pretend it was okay or even beneficial, the whole NCB community will support you if you present it as being a good thing. Saying “I made a mistake” is hard enough, but “I made a mistake about my child’s birth” is too painful for a lot of people, and understandably so. Its just hard to learn from the past if you cannot admit fault.

      • JJ

        Yes. I had three homebirths, the first was extremely painful and long but I also had a healthy baby so it did help cancel a lot of the issues out at the time. I really could not believe I survived that horrendous labor. Now that I know hospitals/epidurals are safe I feel very angry about the needless suffering and risk I went through. I am also angry that during my 3rd preg at 9 mos pregnant, I coughed so much for a month that I would cry and my ribs were dislocated. I got a F-ing bottle of liquid herbs. I needed a real medicine but CPMs don’t have any so then I guess I did not need any!

        You are right. It is very painful to face that homebirth was the wrong choice because I suffered and sometimes I think “what if one of my children was not here with me because of the NCB brainwashing” I can hardly hold it in my mind without stating to cry even though they are all here and healthy.

        This baby will be born in the hospital. I love my OB and actually talked to her at my appointment today about how NCB effected me so terribly. That heartless doctor listened and told me the multiple ways that they could address my pain, even though she thinks my baby will come fast because of my previous birth. She approves of me taking nausea meds and she said that flonase was safe too. I am just so happy to have care providers give me effective solutions to my suffering, unlike in NCB where I am supposed to tough it out for the baby’s sake and use what little they had to offer.

        • nomofear

          Blessings to you! I had my first in a freestanding birth center, which isn’t much removed from homebirth, and then, like you, I found the truth during my last pregnancy. We induced in the 39th week (I was worried that spontaneous labor would be too fast to have time for an epidural), and it was wonderful. I’m so grateful that my first child came out unscathed from the NCB foolishness, and eternally grateful to Dr Amy for maintaining this site, which I found while looking up Ina may Gaskin during the first trimester of the second pregnancy. I hope you have time for the epidural and that it works. I know everyone and each time can be different, but I’ll tell ya, even the initial huge needle for the epidural didn’t hurt.

          I even put baby in the nursery with formula both nights and got lots of recovery sleep – again, thanks to knowledge from here, I knew that a little formula at the beginning wouldn’t hurt breastfeeding, and it would help avoid extreme weight loss and jaundice.

          All that to say, I bet you’ll have the best time. Hey, it might even be a “healing birth,” right!

          • JJ

            Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Amy M

    I don’t know what SK is talking about–women still bond over the shared experiences of birth and motherhood. One of my friends at work who had a child before I did told me her epidural was great, and suggested I get one. I had always assumed I would get an epidural, should I give birth, but after I did, I could compare notes with my friend.

    After I had my babies, I talked about birth with friends and my mom–not obsessively, just because we’d all been there. My mom had no epidural, it wasn’t really available back then—some of my friends had one, some had Csections–none of us were claiming our way of giving birth was superior. And the children—several different ways of viewing child-rearing, but we all experienced the obnoxious 3yr old stage, and the funny things that kids say.

    • Medwife

      I am nearing the end of a call shift and a couple of amazingly beautiful, joyous deliveries- both with effective epidurals!- are fresh in my mind. I’m glad no one is here to tell those women and their loved ones that they just had cold, loveless, mechanical medical procedures. So ridiculous!

  • demodocus’ spouse

    I totally get it, for I savor my plantar fasciitis (foot pain). As an obese and flat footed person, my feet don’t hurt if I sit around all day but the more I walk, the more they hurt. Such a wonderful feeling to know that in my case, more pain = less gain (of weight). It’s practically transcendent!

  • Ellen Mary

    It is a little more complicated than all this . . . Marriage and motherhood liberate some women from wage slavery . . . Also there are valid questions to be asked as to why the ‘sphere of power’ is necessarily outside the home and why mothers WITH infants would be excluded from it . . . Why maternal/infant separation is a prerequisite for power . . . I think the advent of home computing allows women to leave the domestic sphere without physically leaving it . . .

    • Ennis Demeter

      The real golden rule is whoever has the gold makes the rules. Women have always played a huge part in the economy, but when their labor is unpaid, they wield less power. Ask any divorced stay at home mom if that’s not true.

    • N

      I agree with you. Thank you for those words.

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      A woman who chooses not to work outside the home is taking a huge risk with her future financial security. She is dependent on her husband (or wife or whoever else is supporting her) entirely for financial security. If he dies, divorces or deserts her, or loses his job she will find herself in desperate need of a job without either the experience to make her a desirable employee or the youth to promise a long career which will be worth the time invested. Her skills may be badly out of date. She will have few contacts to help her find a position that suits her. She may still have children who need support and care.

      In short, being a housewife and mother is a high risk job. Do it if you want to, but understand that you are taking risks.

      • Ennis Demeter

        Exactly.

      • theadequatemother

        yes…being a mother is a risk factor for poverty in old age….primarily because of the association with time out of the workforce.

      • Ellen Mary

        I will be a worth 10x our salary if my husband dies. Term life insurance is very affordable. If he leaves, well that is what child support & alimony are for. I would need a job, sure. And to be honest I always keep a foot in the work force, although it is nominal. But don’t frame it as higher risk than it is.

        • Ellen Mary

          Oh I mean your assumptions are quite sexist. First, being a mother, running a household is valuable experience. Age discrimination in employment is illegal & I find employers more receptive as I approach 40, not less. People don’t only hire young women. Actually the workforce is full of women in their 40s, 50s, & 60s.

          • Bugsy

            It’s valuable experience, yes, but it’s not something that all employers appreciate. I hired for years while I was working, and while we would certainly have considered a mom returning to the workforce, the reality is that the jobs for which we hired needed specific expertise and a specific set of skills that, frankly, would have been surprising from a stay-at-home mom.

            It’s not to say that all jobs are this way, nor that I’m undervaluing being a SAH mom. I’m one myself. However, no matter how much I consider my SAH mommy hood to have made me the jack of many trades, it unfortunately falls short in giving me the necessary expertise to be competitive in many modern job fields.

          • Cobalt

            Exactly. It’s not that the skills picked up caring for children don’t have worth or value, it’s that they don’t necessarily translate to other fields, especially if paired with a lack of other skills.

          • fiftyfifty1

            ” It’s not that the skills picked up caring for children don’t have worth or value,”

            Although actually it is. The skills picked up caring for children *literally* do not have worth or value– they do not translate into $ in the job market. You will never find a case where a job candidate is offered more because of their years as a stay at home mom. The best you can hope for is that it won’t be held against you and you’ll be offered a job at all.

          • Wren

            I do know quite a few teaching assistants who have translated their skills aquired being a stay at home mum, and time they had to help in the schools, into a career. Some of those then work up to teaching. I am strongly considering that path myself, after nearly a decade at home. I know one former stay at home dad who has done the same and will be teaching physics starting in September.

            It’s not a brilliantly well-paid career, but it does happen relatively frequently.

          • fiftyfifty1

            “I do know quite a few teaching assistants who have translated their skills aquired being a stay at home mum, and time they had to help in the schools, into a career.”

            Yes. My mother was a teaching aid. She dropped out of school and stayed at home when we were children. Then when the youngest was school age she became a teaching aid. She worked all the way up the ladder and just retired after 31 years of service to the school district, making $20/hr.

          • Cobalt

            Not all value is financial, not all power is measured in dollars. I can do stuff with and for my kids when working at home that I can’t do when I am traditionally employed. The value of that is part of why I do it. Expecting an employer in an unrelated field to give me money for it would be ridiculous.

            I make a nice pie crust. My family puts value in that, but I wouldn’t expect an employer that wasn’t a baker of pies to give a damn. Ditto everything else I can do.

          • fiftyfifty1

            Exactly.

          • Wren

            I’m replying to this one, but really this applies to quite a few posts here.

            If a woman has the drive, brains and educational opportunities to work in a field like medicine or engineering, then yes, time out for caring for children is going to have a big effect on her career. Many women will never work those jobs though. If instead we are talking about a job as a cashier at Walmart, those years out may in fact be more valuable to the family and potentially to the woman’s skills than staying in the job.

            There is a strong middle class bias to the claims made here.

          • Cobalt

            True that.

          • fiftyfifty1

            But even Walmart likes to see a job history without gaps.

            Look, I’m all for deciding to stay home because a woman wants to, or because the family decides it improves their quality of life. But let’s not pretend it’s a good career move. Because it isn’t. And that’s true whether your potential highest accomplishment is head of neurosurgery or head manager at the local Burger King.

          • Wren

            I’m not arguing it generally improves career prospects, but when child care costs exceed income, which is a much bigger issue for working class women, it may not be helping either.

            Some women stay home out of choice. I was one. We could afford it, and financially we are better off with my husband being able to devote more to his career as I took all of the days with sick children, evenings he has to work late, etc.

            Some stay home because their skills prior to having children lead to jobs that don’t leave anything left after child care. Paying to go to work is just not a viable option for many families.

            Others fall in between.

            Claiming women who stay home are necessarily harming their careers neglects the career paths some women have. Many women would never have a high paying job regardless of time spent at home with children, and that’s actually ok.

          • fiftyfifty1

            “Claiming women who stay home are necessarily harming their careers neglects the career paths some women have.”

            Just about any job, including fast food jobs, have room to advance and make more money. Workers can become managers. But you don’t move up without being there to move up. One of my jobs is at a wrap around community school. One of the things we do is help the older students build resumes. Employers really do look at paid job experience. Steady employment, even at a menial job, means something to them. But being a mom doesn’t. You may have been the best SAHM in the world and made pancakes from scratch every morning. But you might have stayed in bed drunk all day. Like Janet Radcliffe Richards lays out in The Sceptical Feminist, the quality of stay at home work is not possible to verify, and therefore home experience is not valued by employers. Sure, SAHMs manage a household, and that’s no easy task. But mothers in the workforce also manage their households, no? And they have a verifiable history of showing up for work to boot.

            “Many women would never have a high paying job regardless of time spent at home with children, and that’s actually ok.”

            Actually I don’t find that ok. It’s why women get stuck with abusers and children grow up poor. It’s the cycle of poverty.

          • Wren

            Not everyone ever makes it to manager or is even capable or desires to.

            For every teacher who moves up into a better paid management position there are many who are happy to remain teachers. Preschool teachers near me make a wage not far above minimum wage and honestly, there is no way for them all to move up to management. Most, regardless of career breaks, will either remain in early childhood education or leave for something else altogether in which the skills of their current job are useless. Yes, they will have a better job history, but in many cases that job history will cost them financially as child care costs more than they earn.

            This is a somewhat lesser problem here than in some other countries due to better maternity leave here, allowing mothers to take more time off when child care is at its most expensive.

            As for the cycle of poverty, raise the minimum wage to a living wage for all workers. Even with the greatest will in the world, not everyone can work the high paying jobs at the moment. Someone will have to take low paid jobs and some of those will be filled by women, whether they take time off to be stay at home mothers or not.

            We have no family nearby (and very little even in the same country), my husband’s career dictates long hours and my field is not highly paid. The field I am moving into, slowly, is also not highly paid. At the point my maternity leave would have ended after my second child, I would have lost money to go to work, as childcare plus my commute would have cost more than my income.

          • fiftyfifty1

            “There is a strong middle class bias to the claims made here.”

            It’s actually the working class that has the most to lose from a woman not developing and maintaining marketable job skills.

          • Amy M

            Our first daycare provider was a (divorced) woman who ran a small daycare in her home, with a small number of children. She was licensed by the state, and had been doing that job for something like 25yrs. Then she had to close down—she was no longer earning enough to pay the mortgage on her house (due to the economic downturn that led to more SAHPs. SAHPs don’t need daycare.)

            While she was looking for another job, place after place rejected her for the “gap” in her resume. 25yrs of running her own business didn’t count as work for some places, and it didn’t count to the govt, since she tried to collect unemployment and they wouldn’t let her. Last I heard, she was working at a sporting goods store, and living with one of her sons.

          • Linden

            Perhaps in some fields, it is valuable experience. In mine (engineering), it is seen as completely irrelevant.

            If you have a single year unaccounted for in your CV, you’d better have a “good” reason, by the definition of the person who is interviewing you. And that person is almost invariably a man, almost invariably with some sexist notions about what is of value for the job.

            “I took a year out to cycle around the world!” may be seen as a good reason, when childcare and running a household isn’t. Don’t ask me why.

            Ellen Mary, I envy you your super-non-sexist world. Most of us live in the real one.

          • KarenJJ

            Same field. I’ve been checking out other jobs similar to mine in my location over the past few months and they all have “must be able to travel 50% of the time”. That’s one sure way to weed out anyone with caring commitments outside of work.

          • Bugsy

            Well-said. And to add to it, don’t forget the sexist female bosses/interviewers who have the attitude “I’ve given my entire life to this office – to hell with my own family – and so should you.” My former boss was like that – despite being a mother herself, she had zero concern for employees’ outside lives in any context. I routinely saw her condemn employees who arrived more than 2 minutes late, and after hearing her publicly berate a mom/long-term employee who was 15 minutes late to work _once_, I knew it wasn’t an office that would support my dual roles as mother and employee.

          • Medwife

            If I leave my job and don’t work for a certain period of time, I lose my active license. If I stop delivering babies for over two years, I am considered out of competency and have to enroll in a residency program. So bowing out for 5-10 years means bye bye career and all those student loan payments down the crapper. No thanks!

          • Cobalt

            Women over age 40 are seen as more hireable in some fields precisely because they are seen as more “reliable”- they aren’t likely to be wanting maternity leave.

          • Box of Salt

            Ellen Mary, “running a household is valuable experience”

            Only in a very narrow subset of employment fields.

            Face it, Ellen Mary: you have bought into the idea that women being at home raising children (dressed up for the new millenium as at least for the years the children are young) is good for society, for women, and, therefore, for yourself.

            Why are you surprised that many of us who post on this website disagree?

          • Amy

            I support your choice to stay home as best for you. But it is NOT sexist to point out the fact that even older people with years of experience in the workforce have a tough time finding employment, say in the case of downsizing or a geographical move. Doing that Facebook thing of calling your position of SAHM “chief chauffeur, head chef, COO of the family” is cute, but it completely disregards what goes into being a real chauffeur, chef, or executive.

            You’re absolutely right that the workplace is full of women in their 40s to 60s. How many of them *in recent years* re-entered the workforce after a 6 or more year gap? Yes, my mom was able to go this route in the 80s, but she never caught up financially to my dad and had to work eight years longer to get an adequate retirement package. She’s 65. Telling a young woman in 2015 she can sit out for several years with no career repercussions is a lie.

          • kristina

            I work with low to no – income people. Many of them are people in their 40s 50s and 60s who had successful careers and we’re downsized during the recession. I know a lot of ex – professionals who can’t find a job in their field and end up unemployed or severely under – employed. It may be illegal to discriminate based on age, but good luck proving it. I’m sure you know of people who were lucky enough or skilled enough to dodge that bullet, but I see the ones who weren’t. Don’t pretend that age discrimination doesn’t exsist.

        • Bombshellrisa

          It’s not just death. Even with insurance and any benefits that get paid, having a spouse become disabled is a hit financially.

          • fiftyfifty1

            Especially if the disability is not something clear cut and easy to prove. I have a husband and wife as patients. Husband was a loving husband and father as well as a good provider in a solid technical field. He was diagnosed a few years ago, finally, with an intermittent autoimmune syndrome. All his flares except one have consisted of nothing more than bad canker sores. The one exception, unfortunately, was an automimmune encephalitis that left him with personality changes that have made him argumentative. His intelligence and skills are intact, but he can’t keep a job because he gets frustrated and tells people off. It’s been impossible to prove. He now bounces from unskilled job to unskilled job (he has burned all his bridges in his technical field). His family still loves him and have learned to work around his personality changes. Wife is glad to finally have a diagnosis and have people understand that what happened was real and that she didn’t just marry a good-for-nothing. But that doesn’t change that they still live in poverty.

          • Bombshellrisa

            Yes! This.
            It wasn’t brought up but if any of the children gets injured or had a major illness, that can break a family financially. There is a local family that is upper middle class with both parents working and one of their girls fell out of a second story window while playing, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury. She is recovering slowly and making progress, but one of the parents has to be with her all time or they have to hire help. She had lots of therapy and doctors appointments. The community is helping out and there is a go fund me for them, but it’s not like that will cover everything.

        • The Computer Ate My Nym

          So you’d be ok for 10 years, all else being equal. That’s great, but what if he died when you had small children? Or children around age 10 who will be in college when the money runs out? Or leaves and refuses to pay alimony and gets a better lawyer than you so convinces the judge that he shouldn’t have to pay alimony. I don’t mean to denigrate your choice and if it’s right for you that’s wonderful, but it is a risky choice. Much like, say, coal mining is a risky choice of career, in a different way. That isn’t to say that it’s not the best choice in some circumstances or that it can’t be done safely most of the time with reasonable preautions. But it is a risk and that risk shouldn’t be ignored.

    • Cobalt

      “Why maternal/infant separation is a prerequisite for power”

      Well, what kind of power do you want? Running a household carries great power (and responsibility), but it comes up short in financial power.

      Most employment is not very compatible with simultaneous immediate responsibility for a child. There’s a physical limit to the number of things a person can do at a time, that’s why childcare exists.

      Everyone has to work for the power they personally value.

    • Amy

      A women who has the ability to choose to stay home was ALREADY “free” form wage slavery. The real issue here is the reaction society has when women choose not to stay home. In less-liberated times, women couldn’t get hired in professional positions, period– those who had no choice but to work for a living were stuck as domestic help or factory workers. Women from the middle and upper classes were expected to stay home.

      In the last century, what has changed is the range of professions where women can expect to be hired. Yes, many women are still stuck in a form of wage slavery; so are poor men. Marriage and motherhood doesn’t change that unless a woman who’s got few/no employable skills finds a partner who can support her and their children.

    • Liz Leyden

      I’ll take wage slavery over complete financial dependence on my spouse.

      • Wren

        As is your choice.

        Until recently I was completely financially dependent on my spouse for nearly a decade, and even now my wages wouldn’t cover my food, let alone everything else my kids and I need. It really has not been that terrible. Yes, I recognise it is a risk, but to be honest so was having unprotected sex with him to make our kids.

        • Mel

          My mom was financially dependent on my dad for years. Even as she re-entered the workforce, she could never come close to my dad’s salary and benefits. She did worry about what would happen if Dad left or died, but she also knew that Dad was unlikely to leave without supporting us kids and that they purchased plenty of life insurance to cover the unlikely case of his untimely death.

          She knew it was risky, but to her, it was a risk worth taking.

          Mom also pointed out that my dad was well aware of how much replacing Mom would cost. She was caring for their young children full-time and covering day-care for 3 pre-schooled age children (two with disabilities) was cost-prohibitive on his salary. They had purchased a house at a low cost during an economic down turn and would be hard pressed to sell it for enough to provide for two families. Dad had shown his willingness to help out with his younger brothers when Grandpa R. died unexpectedly when Dad was 21. To quote Mom, “Dad may have wanted to get rid of me, but he’d never get rid of you kids.”

          I believe my husband is the same way. Our marriage has had some really tough challenges so far, but we’ve both been willing to work together and individually to stay together. He’s been kind and supportive to his family members during hard times. Shoot, I fell in love with him because he kept a lonely elderly man happy by talking to him about tractors during a concert we were at. He didn’t know the guy – we were seated at his table in a packed bar. But the man was visibly wistful and thrilled to meet a farmer he could talk to about the good ol’ days.

          Plus, the partnership agreement for the farm requires partner who is receiving a divorce to be bought out by the remaining partners – essentially liquidated – so that the divorce settlement can be completed without affecting the running of the farm. That is a freaking nightmare from a cash/loan standpoint – so the pressure would be on from the other partners to make it work…

          • Guesteleh

            Aw, I love the tractor conversation story. Your hubby sounds like a mensch.

            I quit my job recently to stay home full time and I’m very ambivalent about it for the reason Liz cited–being completely financially dependent on my spouse is hard. But OTOH, he was a WAH dad for more than six years so this is my turn to spend time with our kid. And his salary is nearly double what I can make (his business when he was at home with our kid wasn’t as lucrative). I get to spend the summer bumming around with our kid which is great! But also emotionally challenging and yes, risky from a financial POV.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            Agree 100% on the first paragraph. Also, bonus points for using the word “mensch,” a word which I, though I have no Jewish heritage that I know of, dearly love and think should be in wider circulation.

          • Wren

            We are both well insured. My husband had a minor shock when we worked out what it would cost to replace me, especially given the very long hours he often works. Finding childcare from 6 or 7 am to 10-11 pm is a struggle, at best.

          • Mishimoo

            My husband does rotating shift work, and had a similar realisation. He now tells people that he’d be completely unable to cope without me.

          • Cobalt

            That’s part of how I ended up at home. My time was much more cost effective spent at home than at a traditional job.

          • Mishimoo

            It really does add up to a lot of money, and that’s even before you take into account the things outside of the stereotypical SAHM role.

            I do a lot of the things that are ‘traditionally’ men’s work: I restore furniture and build things, I do the heavy yardwork (except for the bulk of the mowing), I do the renovations, I organise and deal with tradesmen*, I make sure that we’re getting the best deals on big ticket appliances/items, I move furniture, and I get rid of the creepy-crawlies that scare him.

            (*It was funny to watch one tradie that we had here recently. He was noticeably cool when talking to me, and very buddy-buddy with my husband. At one point, I partially emptied our large fishtank and moved it so he could complete his work. Since I’m a bad person, I’ve been giggling about the expression on his face when he struggled to move something he saw me move easily.)

          • L&DLaura

            I left my husband 3 years ago. I’m a nurse, I make a decent wage. However, daycare is a nightmare. As of right now, I am work 12 hour day shifts which means my kids need daycare from 6 am-8 pm as well as every 3rd weekend. I found a lady who has been willing to do this for me. But she’s moving in one year. I’m panicking.

          • Medwife

            What a stressful situation! It sucks when childcare plans fall apart,especially when your schedule is as weird as they can be in healthcare. Hopefully another good daycare option will surface in the next year. How old are your kids?

          • Wren

            I hope you find a workable solution.

            I have a good friend who is an OB with a husband who also works long hours. They broke down and went the nanny route, but it has been hard. I still end up stepping in to help with child care from time to time. Luckily her kids and mine get on brilliantly.

          • Ennis Demeter

            Remember that it is not only about a wage earner husband not deserting his wife. I’ll financially dependent spouse also needs to be able to leave her husband and not be destitute. This is what people mean when they say money gives people power. If your lifestyle is going to change for the worse if you leave a spouse, then that spouse has power over you.

          • Wren

            Even when my mother made significantly more than her second husband, leaving him was going to affect her lifestyle for the worse. He still brought in some income and provided child care after school for 3 kids (1 both of theirs, the other 2 of us just hers). Both of my parents took a hit financially when they divorced too.

            Being able to leave and keep a reasonable lifestyle is one thing. Being able to leave without taking a financial hit is virtually impossible for most married people, men or women.

          • Mel

            I agree. In my folks case, divorce would have been financially ruinous for both – mom for her lack of earning potential that predated her marriage; dad for loss of assets accrued during the marriage and child support that he would have paid

            A similar situation would happen between my husband and I. I have lost some earning power, but gain some liquidated assets. He has gained earning power – marriage is still seen as a requirement for adulthood in certain rural circles- but would lose assets.

            Financially, we both lose in a divorce- but I probably hold more power since I could tie up his business while he can’t affect my career. I don’t know how we could be sure we are exactly equal- but I also waited quite long before marrying because I wanted someone I could trust and respect.

            Besides, he’s my next of kin. I trust him to make life-or-death decisions for me if I am incapacitated. By comparison, being financially dependent is peanuts in my book.

          • KarenJJ

            Divorce and farms is a tricky situation and can get nasty very very quickly…

    • Isilzha

      wage slavery? really? Or do you mean economic independence?

    • AllieFoyle

      Does your husband work outside the home? Shouldn’t he have the chance to be liberated from wage slavery too?

      • Ellen Mary

        My husband has a career that he would probably pursue even if not being paid. He happens to be specifically talented in a lucrative area. But between being a SAHM & being a cashier @ Target, SAHM is the more liberated role for sure. My DH would love to have his days free, but as the cookie crumbled, I didn’t have as much education in as lucrative a field. However, I did liberate him in a way by living frugally enough so that we became debt free. I have an issue framing SAHMothering as slavery when I otherwise would have an overt boss & work 40 hours a week at a job.

    • Guestll

      Sure, Ellen Mary. Tell that to many of the women of my mother’s generation, who didn’t get so lucky in the marriage sweepstakes and are now living in reduced circumstances. The majority of food bank users in my upper-middle class suburb are women over the age of 60.

      Marriage and motherhood for some women is just another form of slavery.

    • oh to see the phrase “wage slavery” shared in this space. bless you. Its a non-issue in most political discussions.

  • Cobalt

    “In most societies birth has been an experience in which women draw together to help each other and reinforce bonds in the community. Now that eradication of pain with effective anesthesia is often the only issue in any discussion of birth the sacramental and social elements which used to be central to women’s experience of birth seem, for an increasing proportion of women, to be completely irrelevant.”

    I am totally ok with this. So women used to bond over terrifying, dangerous, and painful bodily functions they could neither escape nor control. Now they can bond over a huge variety of work, school, and life experiences that were denied to them in the past. This is not a problem, it’s a solution!

    Kitzinger is mourning the loss of her leash.

    • MegaMechaMeg

      I personally choose to bond with my fellow women over you-tube makeup tutorials and video games. I call this a net positive.

      • Amy

        With me, it’s mathematics, politics, gardening, and Game of Thrones. All much more enjoyable than labor!

      • anh

        right? youtube has made me so glamourous!!

      • FormerPhysicist

        I watched my husband play Draken while I nursed and held our first infant. Fussy baby, so it was a LOT of hours. But so sweet, because we so wanted a baby and it was our first. Draken remains my favorite video game ever.

        I’m so over romanticizing breastfeeding. But I probably romanticize that videogame.

    • Mel

      Interesting choice of the word “sacramental”.

      If you are missing sacramental experiences, join a church; they tend to be good at creating / evoking sacramental experiences and at a much higher frequency than women can reproduce at.

      Likewise, the social and sacramental nature of birth is a very moot point if the mother dies. That seems obvious to me, but I’m noticing that NCB’ers seem to miss the obvious in favor of the obscure-and fantastical.

    • SporkParade

      NCBers are always going on about how birth is in “native” societies or how birth “used to be.” Why is it that they never come forth with actual examples? For example, all of the references I’ve seen to birth in the ancient texts of my culture talk about how agonizingly painful and deathly dangerous it is.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        NCBers are always going on about how birth is in “native” societies or how birth “used to be.”

        Birth “used to be” so painful 3000 years ago that it was considered a punishment from God.

        Don’t give me this shit about how wonderful used to be.

        • SporkParade

          Opening line from the first dirge sung by Jews after reading Lamentations on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem: “Oh God, Zion and her cities are like a woman having contractions.”

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            Oh God, Zion and her cities are like a woman having contractions.”

            Clearly referring to orgasms….

          • AllieFoyle

            I’ll have what Zion’s having.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            Allie wins the day, BTW…

        • Mel

          Related note: They don’t seem to really want to go back to the good old days.

          God also punished man through manual labor based agriculture. Are their husbands raising all of the family’s food by hand?

          Breaking the land by hand, turning the ground by hand, planting by hand, weeding by hand, watering by carrying water, gathering the harvest and preserving the harvest – all by hand. Maybe an animal if God really liked you – but no advanced metals and no engines.

          Oh, and the famines. Let’s not forget what happened when the rains didn’t come or the insects came in swarms.

          I’ve worked at raising enough veggies for my husband and I for a few years now. It’s very time consuming and I use plenty of modern conveniences

  • N

    Where I live it is mostly mothers that give up completely their job or go for part-time work. Dads continue to make careers and gain more and more. Isn’t it motherhood itself that makes women not take reins of power? No matter how I give birth? So if I wanted to get whatever power, wouldn’t it be better not to have children at all? As it is very difficult to combine motherhooh and career. It IS nature and we can not yet change the fact that MEN can NOT give birth.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Yes, it is motherhood itself. That’s why natural parenting (natural childbirth, lactivism, attachment parenting) are ALL about keeping women in their place. Together they insure that women must be home 24/7/365 and can’t possibly work outside the home.

      • Roadstergal

        I recently had a conversation with my NCB-loving friend that was basically the time I realized I had to step away and not be a friend anymore (which sucks massively). It was the conversation where she was condescendingly sniffing at the ‘pseudo-feminist’ (her term) notion that women can be proper moms and still have careers. It was just such a sad, infuriating, and somehow NCB-typical thing to say. And it didn’t even seem to bother her that she was indirectly insulting all of the career mums I work with, and my own career mum. Sometimes, kids turn out okay anyway, even if you don’t do what’s ‘best,’ was her attitude.

        Of course, she’s EBF/AP/co-sleep/homeschool, the 100% caregiver for the current baby and the one to come. Dad is just there for sperm and a paycheck. And when I tried to get a sense of why she chose the EBF/AP/co-sleep/homeschool/babywear/mum-only-caregiver route, she said that if you love your kid, that’s naturally what you’ll gravitate towards doing. It still depresses me to think of this conversation.

        • Bugsy

          Hugs, Roadstergal. It hurts so much to step away from friends who we lose to extreme ideologies. Hang in there.

          • Roadstergal

            Thanks, it’s just so… hole in the life, as it were. We had so much fun, we bonded over sci-fi and fanfic and all sorts of wonderful fun things, had the best conversations… ah well.

      • N

        … and I’m breastfeeding, attachment parenting,… and WORKING! It was MY choice to work only part time, as a teacher I can not make much career anyway. And my husband continues full-time AND does all the cooking, grocery shopping, and a part of the cleaning. (note: for the rest of the cleaning, I pay other women to do it for me.) So who is the slave? Why am I a slave? Why must I be home 24/7/365? No attachment parenting mother I know does. It is only that our babies have to stay with us for the first few months. And where I live those month are even protected by law for working mothers!

        • Amy Tuteur, MD

          But there are many lactivists and attachment parents who would deny that you are practicing attachment parenting. If the milk is not coming directly from your breasts and if you aren’t carrying your child around all the time, you aren’t doing it “right.”

          • N

            Ah, so that would be the answer as to why my kids turn out to be … just normal. Not at all special or whatever. I am not doing it correctly. But extreme positions are no good, not on one side, nor the other. I know a lot of La Leche League Leaders and IBCLCs and a lot of them work and are in no way that extreme. So I’m lucky not to be in touch with such extremists. They must be very rare than.

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            Keep in mind that I’m talking about the theoretical underpinnings of the movement; I’m not talking about what individual women choose to do.

          • Bugsy

            This. And my old friend Crazy Lactivist was a huge proponent of Attachment Parenting. I can tell N right now that her AP posse would criticize the choice to work…if not overtly, certainly behind N’s back. In many extreme AP circles, a true AP mom is one who does not work, no matter how part time. In their eyes, N would be a complete imposter AP parent.

          • N

            Ok. This Weekend I will attend to a big La Leche Liga Konferenz. I will perhaps have the opportunity to see if really they think I’m an imposter.

            Why do they than try and help mothers who want to return to work and continue breastfeeding? If the two things were not ment to go together?

            There is an ideology that can be turned to an extreme and as it seems it is by some “natural parents”. And there is individual choices and the respect of those choices, as each family is unique. And there are still injustices against women. We still are not 100% equal to men.

            We live not in America. Before your Barack Obama was made president, my husband and I talked like this: Wouldn’t it be a sign for progress and equality, if the next american president was black? No, they will never have a black president. What about a woman? That would be a sign! But no, they will never have a woman president either! So we were wrong. You have a black president now, what about a woman next time?

            I can’t believe that natural parenting is such an evil thing, like an evil doctrine one must follow by the letter. I can’t believe that accusing each other will help to get equality between men and women.

          • Bugsy

            It’s great to hear that you’re attending a LLL conference, and I hope that the moms you run into there are not as close-minded as the AP moms I unfortunately have met through my friend. I have no doubt there are lots of more open, less extreme moms out there, such as the ones I choose to call close friends and the moms I’ve met through this site. Have a wonderful time with at the conference.

            And just for the record, I’m not in the United States, either. It’ll be interesting to see if Clinton is elected. My personal feeling is that there’s enough venom against the Clintons and against women in power so that it will be a struggle, but I’d love to see her in office.

          • Amy

            Wish I’d seen this before I left my comment above!

        • Guesteleh

          It was MY choice to work only part time, as a teacher I can not make much career anyway.

          This is the problem I have with choice feminism. It presumes women’s choices are solely mediated by the individual’s preferences instead of the reality which is that all choices are made within a cultural and economic context. You can’t make much as a teacher–why is that? Could it have something to do with teaching being perceived at “women’s work” and therefore less valued? So it makes economic sense for you to stay home while your husband works full time but what if you’d been paid as much or more than your husband? BTW, I’m speaking as someone who recently transitioned to being a stay-at-home parent and all of these questions have been going through my mind.

          There are some hard biological realities women have to contend with–they get pregnant while men don’t. But the rest of it? Who is the primary caregiver, who is the wage earner? Very strongly influenced by culture and economics and structural barriers that keep women from advancing at work and funnel them into stereotypically female career tracks.

          • N

            “There are some hard biological realities women have to contend with–they get pregnant while men don’t. But the rest of it? Who is the primary caregiver, who is the wage earner? Very strongly influenced by culture and economics and structural barriers that keep women from advancing at work and funnel them into stereotypically female career tracks.”

            What about feelings? I myself couldn’t believe that I could love my babies so much that I didn’t want to return to school full-time. And BTW, where we live teachers are really well paid, AND my husband is a teacher too. We had the same income. Will have the same again as soon as the kids are bigger and I return full-time! So it was my heart that told me to stay with my children.

          • Guesteleh

            I don’t know you so I don’t want to seem as though I’m attacking you personally. But if your husband and you both made the same income, why were you the one who left your job? Did his heart not feel equal love for your children? Or was it more acceptable for mom to stay home because that’s what’s expected?

            Look, there’s nothing wrong with staying home with your kids. I’m doing it! But was it a completely free decision on my part? When my husband makes almost double what I used to earn and I was getting crap from my mother and MIL about working? I’d love to think I make decisions completely free of socio-economic influences but that’s not reality.

          • N

            Ok you win. Of course we are not completely free of our choices. We live in a society. And yes, it is still more common for moms to reduce work outside home, as for dads.

          • Amy M

            Did you guys ever consider having your husband stay home? Was that something he was interested in? (just curious, not snarky.)

            While both my husband and I were working when the babies came, he was teaching and had summers free, and I’ve always earned more. Then, a few years ago, he lost his job, and decided to go back to school to shift careers. As a result, he was a part-time SAHD, during summers, and a few days a week last year, (the children were in preschool.)

            From a financial standpoint, it would have been financial suicide for me to stay home, even if I’d wanted to. My husband had some great experiences being with the kids, but he was often bored and recognized it as a temporary situation while he prepared for a new career. We both love our children, infinitely and equally, but made choices that were based on our circumstances first, preferences second.

          • Amy

            That’s actually exactly why my husband and I both chose to continue working. I’m a teacher and have summers and school vacations free, AND I out-earn him. But he has better dental and would climb the walls staying home, not because he loves the kids less, but because it’s just not his temperament. Our entire family functions better with both of us in careers.

          • Bugsy

            Yep. My husband’s salary is almost 3x what my old salary was, and prior to my son’s birth, I had been hoping to leave that job to start a PhD anyway. The stipend I was to receive was less than 1/5 of my husband’s salary. A fantastic stipend for a PhD, but impossible to manage from a financial sense with child care and transportation costs to boot.

            I’m a SAH mom now. By choice mainly, but financially the other options just weren’t there.

          • Linden

            Amazingly, it feels like I love my baby son, yet I went back to work after three months and daddy is the SAHP. I obviously don’t, and have no heart etc.

            *expletive redacted*

          • Ellen Mary

            And the only way to make working outside the home sustainable is to keep childcare very affordable by underpaying teachers . . . I suppose the government could subsidize higher salaries & the do subsidize childcare for the lowest income workers, but mainly, women can afford to work outside the home by earning $20+ dollars per hour at their professional jobs and paying someone $5-7 an hour to watch their children. If you can’t make that, and you can’t get subsidy, then it doesn’t make a ton of financial sense . . .

          • KarenJJ

            I still think it’s crazy that the government does not fund quality childcare programs in the same way they do schools. Kids get a great start to life (and for some kids with dysfunction in their home life it might be better than what they get during the day at home), mums get back to the workforce and earn better money and pay more taxes and their training is not left to get outdated.

        • Amy

          I’d love to know how you’re able to teach only part-time. If you’re a classroom teacher, you pretty much have to be in school when the students are. The only part-time teachers I know teach elective/enrichment subjects such as art or music, or aren’t teachers at all but guidance counselors or school social workers.

          And you should know that while you consider yourself an AP parent…..many of the APers don’t. I’m speaking from experience here. Full time teacher, breastfed both my kids exclusively, co-slept, use gentle discipline (though we DO discipline), eat an all-natural diet, and did cloth diapers when the kids were in diapers. Because I vaccinate my children, send them to public schools, insist that they say please and thank you, and didn’t use elimination communication when they were little…….I’m shunned by the crunchy crowd, who have their own AP homeschooling co-op and get together to grind their own wheat.

          • N

            Where we live 2 teachers can share a class. And yes I can also choose to teach “only” music, gym, arts, science… without changing anything in my status.

          • Amy

            As a music and mathematics teacher myself, I think you misunderstood my modifier of “only.” I didn’t mean “merely;” what I meant was they are the *only* teachers who can realistically teach part time in every setting I’ve ever been in.

      • Liz Leyden

        I’ve seen too many stay-at-home mothers, including my own mother, become destitute single parents when Dad bolted. Only about 1/3 of women with court-ordered child support actually receive it.

        I didn’t intend to be a stay-at-home mother, but my job’s more flexible hours combined with the impossibility of finding day care for 2 infants meant I was the better candidate to stay home. I make almost twice as much per hour as Hubby, but he has much better benefits, so it’s a wash financially. I work part-time, and Hubby appreciates what I do for the kids because he does it 2 days a week.

        • KarenJJ

          My husband’s and my hourly rate is pretty much the same and benefits are the same. What is failing us is our industry culture, which is very male dominant and full time “work hard/play hard”. While culturally it was somewhat acceptable for me to work part time while we have young children, it doesn’t work so well for men. Part time jobs just don’t exist unless you are negotiating down from a current full time position. And to be honest, even then, the expectation is for a full time output..

          At my kid’s school there are other highly trained women that are full time stay at home mums – they are trained engineers, computer scientists etc that have opted out because they can’t work in this type of culture. The government has finally recognised that female participation in the workforce needs to improve, but they are now focusing on providing training to get SAHM into areas like aged care etc. This other, well-trained and untapped pool are being ignored. The battle for child care places, the culture of workplaces. etc . The lack of reduced hours options at workplaces and the constant management of workplace expectations (I’m forever having to go over this with people around me)… It is frustrating. I’m lucky that my skills fall into a niche that has been difficult to recruit for and have had some leverage from it, but for many employers it seems this type of work arrangement is too hard.

    • Cobalt

      Men cannot carry a pregnancy or give birth. They are completely capable of managing everything to do with the resulting child.

      Decisions about how the family gains income and handles the necessary work of the household are not inherently gender specific.

      • Alex Tulchner

        They are gender specific to the extent that the option to use formula has been mooted by “breast is best” campaigns and lactivists. If you genuinely believe that breastfeeding is the only responsible option – which far far far too many people do – a significant portion of the work falls to the female.

        • Cobalt

          The results of lactivism are a false constraint, though, and need to be tackled head on. The limitation isn’t inherent, it’s culturally manipulated.

          • Alex Tulchner

            Agree 100%.

      • momofone

        “They are completely capable of managing everything to do with the resulting child.”

        Absolutely. My husband has stayed home with our child since said child was born. He does 90% of the work at home, and was indispensable when I was breastfeeding and pumping, keeping pump supplies clean and ready to use/taking baby to my office when pumping stopped working/you name it. Truly, other than breastfeeding, there is no work related to parenting or household that he hasn’t done or isn’t willing to do. (This is definitely not the norm where we live.)

  • Alex Tulchner

    Among women who have the option to use pain medication during childbirth, do you think that choosing not to is necessarily a capitulation to internalized sexism? Or can it be a legitimate choice? (This reminds me (in a good way) of some of Catharine MacKinnon’s scholarship on illusions of sexual agency. But I digress…)

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      It’s not necessarily a capitulation to natural childbirth philosophy. I have 4 children and had epidurals with two and nothing for the other two.

      What women should understand is that there is no benefit to enduring agonizing pain; theorists who wanted to keep women in their place or exalt the place they were restricted to simply made up that idea.

      • Wren

        Thank you for this comment.

        The attitude that going without an epidural could only be down to masochism or NCB beliefs is a problem too.

    • Cobalt

      Among adults who have a choice of breakfast cereals, is choosing to eat corn flakes necessarily a capitulation to Dr. Kellogg’s particular ideas on health and wellness? Can some people just choose corn flakes?

      • Alex Tulchner

        Yes, I believe they can. But Dr. Kellogg’s particular ideas on health and wellness – unlike the ideas of sexism and pain described in the article – are neither deeply and dangerously embedded in our psyches nor particularly interesting to scrutinize.

        • Cobalt

          That’s what happens when you try to apply the “this pain is good for you law” to everyone. Most of those with the power to reject it, do. Women didn’t have the power of choice in childbirth, men could abandon Kellogg’s regimen at will.

          Now, if he had been selling it as something for only women to suffer, avoiding strain on the class with the power, it might be a totally different story.

        • Fallow

          I didn’t plan on getting an epidural at first, but it had nothing to do with wanting to endure pain, or internalized sexism, or any NCB reasoning at all. It was because I have an irrational fear of all pain medications, and am always afraid I’ll either be allergic to them or become dependent on them. (My family has a history of allergy to some pain medication, and does have some people who are addicts.) I also was nervous about having a hole in my back, sure. But I had zero idealogical problems with epidurals, and thought they were a fabulous invention for women in general.

          My fear was temporarily conquered by my very long, exhausting labor. I needed relief THAT badly, that I was able to put a borderline-phobia aside to access it.

          Unfortunately, none of my friends who’ve rejected pain relief did it for similar reasons. They all harbor intense internalized sexism, or have a history of abuse that make them feel the need to “prove” themselves, or to equate pain with legitimacy, authenticity, and love. Another has a husband who would never permit his wife to be “weak” in any way, so he definitely pressured her to go without pain medication during labor to prove something about the kind of woman he would marry.

          • Cobalt

            “Another has a husband who would never permit his wife to be “weak” in any way, so he definitely pressured her to go without pain medication during labor to prove something about the kind of woman he would marry.”

            Asshole. Nicest word I could come up with.

          • Guesteleh

            I think the word you were looking for was misogynist.

        • Guesteleh

          You wouldn’t say that if you’d ever read The Road to Wellville.

          • Alex Tulchner

            Touche, Guesteleh. I hadn’t even heard of it. Looks like I might have underestimated both the danger and the intrigue…

    • demodocus’ spouse

      Mom chose not to use pain medication with her 2nd two. (The blizzard delayed her arrival at the hospital until it was too late for pain meds with the first.) She had a really high threshold of pain (i.e. not noticing the broken finger until she realized it was at a weird angle) and she didn’t like how many prescribed pain meds gave her nightmares.

    • DaisyGrrl

      A woman choosing not to use pain medication in childbirth is exercising legitimate agency. It becomes problematic, however, when that choice is based on incorrect information. Much of the information circulated by NCB advocates is either outdated or just plain wrong (eg: epidurals delay labour by hours, drug the baby, increase c-sections, inhibit bonding, etc). Additionally, by providing this inaccurate information, a moral value is placed on avoiding pain relief (a good mother will do what’s best for her baby and this means no epidural or other drugs).
      I would be far happier if every prospective mother was told the options for pain relief, along with the pros and cons for each, and have her decision respected.

    • theadequatemother

      in the province in which I live, the epidural rate is only 60%. But 40% of women in labour are not choosing against the epidural. Many are are forced to by the lack of anesthesia resources in smaller and rural centers. We don’t know what the gap is between demand and delivery because it’s not tracked…although that would make some sense as a quality measure (requests for pain relief that aren’t honoured). There is also a significant political advantage for the govt to listen to the NCB advocates and put resources into the home midwifery program and starting up birth centers. The advocates vote and are vocal. And those programs are sold to the public as being fiscally responsible. Improving access to epidurals is seen as frivolous. putting resources towards women’s pain is seen as frivolous.

      FWIW, when epis are readily avail, 80% of women will get one. Some of the 20% are again going to progress too quickly to have an epi. Some of the 20% are not going to want one. In my experience, most women go into labour thinking they will “see what happens” and then find the pain is worse than they imagined. The idea that you can get through it without a needle coming near your spinal nerves is attractive to most people. The idea of the epidural is unattractive to most people and its a big unknown…what will it feel like? How can I sit still? What is something goes wrong…? Those are the concerns of women who haven’t been indoctrinated by NCB. I have never had one of those women ask me about bonding or breastfeeding or the risk of CS/ forceps etc. during the consent discussion for epidural placement. The only time I specifically go into epidural NCB myths is when asked by the patient or a family member or when a midwife or doula or LDR RN speaks a lie in my presence. Then I correct them.

      I guess that was a long answer to say I’m not sure. The biggest problem with women who don’t get an epidural in my neck of the woods is probably limited access- a problem with a political solution that I see as incredibly misogynistic. of the ones that choose to go without I would say needle phobia and general unease + a faster or easier labour is more likely than NCB indoctrination. But that’s based on both my anecdotal experience and inherent biases.

      • Roadstergal

        “when a midwife or doula or LDR RN speaks a lie in my presence”

        I don’t know why I loved that turn of phrase so much, but it just makes me think of a very Gandalf-ish scene. “Do not speak a lie in my presence, for I will correct thee!”

      • Ash

        Per Medical Unversity of South Carolina, they have an average response time of 6.7minutes (from notification that patient requests an epidural) for a laboring woman. ~80% of deliveries w/ epidural. U of Miami, with an OB anesthesia fellowship, has about 80% as well. I have no doubt that supply of anesthesiologists makes a huge difference in the number of pts who receive epidurals. Some people consider this a bad thing, I certainly don’t. I doubt those same people are complaining that having a regional pain service readily available to mitigate postoperative pain.

    • Trixie

      I chose not to get an epidural because I felt claustrophobic in my own body when I couldn’t feel it. There was a certain point at which the tradeoff of pain relief would have been worth it to me, but I didn’t reach that point.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      Among women who have the option to use pain medication during childbirth, do you think that choosing not to is necessarily a capitulation to internalized sexism? Or can it be a legitimate choice?

      It depends why, doesn’t it?

      Choosing to not get an epidural because of an irrational fear of needles or it doesn’t hurt that much? That’s one thing.

      Choosing not to get an epidural because it is an “achievement” to go without or because it is an expression of your womanhood is a different story.

      • Alex Tulchner

        Definitely depends why. But stated reasons don’t always tell the whole truth – for example, I think relatively few women would say that they’re avoiding epidurals because they want to punish themselves for being too educated, but (the article seems to suggest that) they may nevertheless be subconsciously motivated by the sexist values that undergird that thinking. What I’m trying to figure out is whether and to what extent the choice to endure pain for its own sake can be separated from the social pressure to conform to sexist ideals, and how we know when the choice is an expression of empowerment and not arising out of a deep-seated desire to punish ourselves. Fear of needles is a great example of something that stands on its own. But is it necessarily the case that people who see it as an achievement are motivated by sexism? How do we determine which reasons are legitimate?

        • AllieFoyle

          Maybe the most feminist thing to do is to remove individual women’s personal medical decisions from public scrutiny. We don’t need to determine which reasons are legitimate. As long as a woman has accurate information and access to all reasonable options, the choice should be between the woman and her health care provider. As long as she’s not proselytizing or spreading misinformation, her values and motivations are her own business.

        • Roadstergal

          When I think of enduring pain for its own sake, whether it be running a marathon, getting a tattoo, or engaging in S&M, the thing I always think of is the freedom to say stop, this is too much. I’ll walk, I’ll come back next week, I’ll safeword. Birth is just so unpredictable, and once it starts, you can’t take a break, you can’t decide not to do it.

          • Cobalt

            In birth, the safe word is “epidural” or “elective cesarean”. Unfortunately, biology, environment, culture, finances, or plain bad luck mean the safe word doesn’t always work, and the escape is limited. As you said, you can’t just decide not to do it.