Childbirth porn and the sexualization of women’s pain

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Women’s agony is sexy.

Consider the latest images making the rounds under the headline Photographer Makes Statement Against Caesareans In Brazil By Capturing Girlfriend’s Home Birth. For example:

Bochi labor

If you did not know that this woman was in labor, you might confuse the images with pornographic images of sexual ecstasy. That’s not a coincidence. The image is childbirth porn.

As C.K. Egbert noted a powerful, thought provoking piece entitled Eve’s punishment rebooted: The ideology of natural birth published last year on the website Feminist Current:

Women’s agony is sexy.

There’s something pornographic about the way we depict childbirth. A woman’s agony becomes either the brunt of a joke, or else it is discussed as an awesome spiritual experience… [W]e talk about the pain of childbirth — with few exceptions, the most excruciating, exhausting, and dangerous ordeal within human experience — as valuable in and of itself. Hurting women is sexy.

Wait! Aren’t women empowered by unmedicated birth?

Egbert doesn’t think so:

When people tout “natural birth” as an “empowering choice” (sound familiar?), they conveniently ignore all the women who have been harmed by these practices and for whom giving birth was (completely understandably and legitimately) one of the worst experiences of their lives. Natural birth advocates, just like many in the pro-sex movement, don’t seem to be concerned about the harm that women suffer through this practice or finding ways of preventing this harm from occurring. Women can choose, as long as they choose to suffer and see themselves as liberated through suffering.

It’s almost as if she knew the photographer’s reasons for publicizing these photos. Gustavo Gomes claims:

Our country has the highest caesarean rates in the world – around 50% of births in the public health system and shockingly 87% in the private system.

“Most of them are with no medical reasons, just because c-sections can be scheduled and are quicker for the doctors to operate.

“[W]e hope that these photos can demystify natural and home childbirths and encourage future mothers to avoid unnecessary c-sections.”

So Gomes publicized intimate images of his girlfriend’s agony to convince Brazilian women to make “better” birth choices. He believes, as Egbert predicted, that women can choose “as long as they choose to suffer and see themselves as liberated through suffering.”

Egbert rejects the notion that childbirth porn is good for women:

Natural birth advocates are not concerned with women’s welfare, because they are not advocating for safer and more effective forms of pain management; they argue they should be eliminated, because women’s suffering is itself a good… [T]he danger of anesthetic only becomes an issue — rather than a normalized part of medical treatment — only when and because it can be used to hurt women.

As she noted in the comments to her piece:

…[T]his isn’t about the best way to give birth. It’s about what significance we give to women’s suffering and pain, and how that relates to women’s subordination in general.

Why does Gomes think it is his prerogative to preach to women about the “right” way to give birth? Who is he to claim that women should not have the choice of elective C-section on request?

Here’s how I feel about that:

Mabel crotch kick

The bottom line is that Gomes isn’t normalizing unmedicated vaginal birth; he’s normalizing women’s suffering.

The inevitable result? According to Egbert:

If we normalize women’s suffering and refuse to provide palliative care, that is what women will expect. That is what they already are told to expect, given that they are socialized from infanthood to believe that their bodies are things to be used and hurt by men. They are bullied, coerced, told they are selfish or wimps or bad mothers. This ideology is pernicious in two ways. First, this will remove the motivation for finding safer and more effective means of pain management during birth. Second, if this ideology gains enough traction, we will likely regress to a society — as the UK has already done to a great extent — where women are systematically denied pain medication during birth.

  • Josmy J

    We have literally brought thousands of lives
    into this world and take great pride in following every little step of
    theirs through life. Many of our children have come back to us to bring
    the next generation into this world.
    The department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology is headed by Dr Sita Bhateja, our founder. Patients are attended to by her personally, around the
    clock. She is assisted by an experienced and capable team.
    http://www.sbshospital.com/

  • No one is asking you to refuse to give palliative care. They’re asking you to not drug up people automatically as a matter of course. I’m coming to hate the word “empowerment” for reasons I will not get into here, but it IS respecting of a woman’s agency to leave the choice to use drugs up to HER, the choice to decide whether to brave the pain up to HER, and not be paternalistic and boss her around and make her choices for her.

    YOU are the employee, NOT the boss, in other words. That is not a bad thing, either. You can hardly call yourself a healer in any capacity if you aren’t giving your patient room to navigate their own health issue.

    And as an aside, not every woman in labor suffers excruciating pain and I would venture to guess that most women who do suffer that degree of pain in labor are probably positioned wrong. In my own experience, if I was upright and moving around, my labor was much less painful. In fact, the first time I went into labor, when I got to the hospital they were ready to send me back downstairs to the lobby because I was talking with my husband in a normal voice and joking and laughing. Soon as they laid me on my back it became agonizing. I had a similar experience when I was birthing my daughter and no, rolling over from one side to another really didn’t alleviate it.

    I am not the only one who’s had these types of experiences. I’ve heard from other women who managed their pain just by changing position and they NEVER say “I felt better when I laid down on my back.”

    But God forbid you not be able to hook a laboring woman up to all manner of machines and then cut her open because the baby’s working against gravity and then not progressing. It’s not like you make more money from C-sections or anything.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      I guess you have trouble understanding irony.

      First you write:

      “it IS respecting of a woman’s agency to leave the choice to use drugs up to HER, the choice to decide whether to brave the pain up to HER, and not be paternalistic and boss her around and make her choices for her.”

      Then, in a move that can only be described as utterly clueless, you write:

      “I would venture to guess that most women who do suffer that degree of pain in labor are probably positioned wrong. In my own experience, if I was upright and moving around, my labor was much less painful.”

      You apparently think you know better than women themselves whether or not they are suffering excruciating pain and why. Impressive hypocrisy!

    • Angharad

      I feel like being “drugged up” has vastly different connotations than what really happens with an epidural. Epidurals don’t affect cognitive or emotional state nor have an adverse effect on judgment.

    • fiftyfifty1

      ” I would venture to guess that most women who do suffer that degree of pain in labor are probably positioned wrong”

      Well venture another guess lady. There was no position that the hospital didn’t encourage me to try…and yet I was in severe pain in every single one. I was never “drugged up”. What did happen is that when I asked for an epidural, I got one.

    • Roadstergal

      “but it IS respecting of a woman’s agency to leave the choice to use drugs up to HER, the choice to decide whether to brave the pain up to HER, and not be paternalistic and boss her around and make her choices for her”

      Um, are you of the opinion that women in hospitals are having epidurals forced upon them? Hate to break it to you, but you have to consent to have one, you usually have to ask for one, and plenty of women who want one can’t get one due to midwives that feel entitled to make the choice whether or not to ‘brave the pain’ for them.

      All Dr T wants is for accurate information to be supplied to women in order for them to make truly informed choices.

      I still don’t get this ‘brave the pain’ bullshit. Nobody thought I had to ‘brave the pain’ of my root canal. I just got adequate anesthesia and got that sumbitch taken care of.

    • Sarah

      Why do you think yours and your friends experiences of what was more or less painful can be extrapolated to the general population? If you’re going to make a vast claim like most women with excruciating pain are poorly positioned, you need a bit more in the way of proof than your anecdote.

    • violinwidow

      You’ve bought every natural birth trope there is, haven’t you? Where’s your evidence that women are drugged automatically as a matter of course? You don’t have any, because there isn’t any. Because informed consent.

  • Lion

    This is off topic, but I thought it would give some perspective about what we are fighting for in a developing country http://www.health24.com/News/Public-Health/Saving-South-Africas-dying-babies-20150827

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  • Outi

    I hope this kind of picture does nothing to promote home births. You can clearly see the woman is in pain and who wants to be in pain? I’m of course biased due to the fact that all my kids have born through c-section.

    • Gene

      I had three vaginal. 1st was partial epidural: felt everything on one side. Very weird. 2nd was a completely failed epidural and baby was 11lbs. Let’s just say I’ve blocked everything. 3rd I got a bolus through the epidural and it was COMPLETELY PAIN FREE! Seriously, I felt nothing.

      Guess which birth was my favorite? Go on, guess!
      (Hint: I think the last anesthesiologist should be nominated for doc of the year)

      • moto_librarian

        My catheter dislodged during transition, and by the time the anesthesiologist arrived, I was complete. Baby looked good on the monitor, so she fixed the catheter and gave me a bolus. Completely pain free delivery. It was amazing!

        • Kelly

          What is a bolus? I tend to have epidurals that don’t completely work.

          • A one-time shot of anesthetic into the epidural space.

      • Daleth

        (Hint: I think the last anesthesiologist should be nominated for doc of the year)

        A friend of mine telling me about her childbirth experience (one kid) told me, “By the time the anesthesiologist arrived, I would have given him a blow job for that epidural.”

  • Gatita

    From the comments of the Feminist Current blog post. It’s really creepy in light of Ina May’s button-touching rationalizations:

    leslene della-madre Jan (@Jan4Matt) • a year ago

    I lived on The Farm in Tennessee for nearly 11 years. I gave birth to my two daughters there and was an apprentice midwife with the very well known midwife, Ina May Gaskin. So….I have had a lot of experience with birth and mothering and the “natural birth” thing. When I lived there, we thought that getting married, getting pregnant and giving birth were the most radical things women could be doing. Geez….but that’s what happens when you live in a cult with a male leader who is considered the “head midwife.” The Farm was a patriarchal heterosexist hierarchy, which I didn’t know then. Women who didn’t want to get married or pregnant or who were Lesbian (and not “out” of course) were marginalized and often “used” to help the women who did have kids. However, I was a student of spirituality and shamanism before I went to The Farm and learned a great deal about energy and the unseen worlds. It is absolutely true that the experience of pain in childbirth can be experienced as transformative, in the right context. It is where belly-dancing originated–for women. No question about it. And this is definitely not the same as bdsm–it’s just not about that. Bringing a new soul into the world is in the realm of shamanic experience, not kinky self-centered bdsm. It can be one of many spiritual experiences in a woman’s life. But certainly not man-datory. I didn’t want drugs, nor did I feel I needed them during birth bc of the way I learned to think about energy. Of course if I was going to have surgery, like for my hysterectomy later in life, I would never think of not having drugs. That said, I think that motherhood in patriarchy is a lot of hype and harmful to women as well as is the extreme heterosexism that is a part of the whole natural birth thing. On The Farm, there was an unspoken vibe that birth giving was some kind of initiation. I feel Gaskin gained notoriety on the backs of hundred of women giving natural birth, risking our lives, in the backwoods of Tennessee ( we did have our own ambulance and docs on The Farm). The midwives were hailed as the wisest of the wise and a woman’s birth was really about the midwives–who was going to be there, who the Gaskins thought should be there, etc. Stephen Gaskin, could, in fact, show up at any birthing he wanted to without asking and touch any a birthing woman how he felt she needed to be touched if he thought she needed something that he knew better than she because he was the “head midwife.” A birthing woman had no choice who was coming nor could she have who she wanted to be at the birth. It was all determined by the midwives. Talk about bullying! At 67, I can look back and see that promoting marriage, pregnancy and birth were not what the planet needed then or now. What we need is serious education about overpopulation, patriarchy, misogyny, heterosexism AND parthenogenesis (the ancient shamanic ancestral way of pregnancy). Midwives now need to be talking seriously about overpopulation. Seriously. Natural birthgiving has become so romanticized, and I take responsibility in promoting that view as The Farm became a worldwide leading proponent, and still is, and the heterosexism around it all is suffocating. I have taken my midwife training and have applied to end of life–since those practices have been coopted by patriarchy as well. So much has been taken from women and coopted by men and patriarchy. So much was burned in the flames of Alexandria and the Inquisition. But our DNA holds the secrets of women, and we are rising again. But the lies of patriarchy must not be a part of that rising.

    • Mattie

      Wow, that is eye-opening, and sounds terrible

      • Gatita

        This part is especially creepy: Stephen Gaskin, could, in fact, show up at any birthing he wanted to without asking and touch any a birthing woman how he felt she needed to be touched if he thought she needed something that he knew better than she because he was the “head midwife.” A birthing woman had no choice who was coming nor could she have who she wanted to be at the birth. It was all determined by the midwives. Talk about bullying! Sounds like a description of a sexual assault.

        • Roadstergal

          I wonder how often it was _him_ poking at women’s ‘buttons.’ Ugh, creepy.

          • demodocus

            Just reading this presses my buttons, but not the same one that those loonies meant.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            Mine, too. In my case, it’s the ones that make me want to reach for the nearest blunt object.

          • sdsures

            I prefer sharp objects. It is a matter of taste.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            To each her own! 😀 Though to be fair, if anyone tried to “touch my button” while I was in labor, I’d like a good selection of each at hand…

          • sdsures

            *coughcough* Josh Duggar *coughcough*

    • Ellen Mary

      That is written by an insane person. Interesting points, but um, no. No CNM has any business talking to any woman about ‘overpopulation’. How would that go? ‘You really should get an IUD, yk, overpopulation’ or ‘Are you sure you want to carry to term? Overpopulation’. The author misses the point that no provider should ever talk to a woman about her fertility plans except insofar as they fit into THAT individual woman’s life. Not the movement, not the struggle, not the nation, not the globe.

      • Liz Leyden

        I agree with most of the author’s points, but the overpopulation thing bothered me, too. The point of the reproductive rights movement was that the woman, and only the woman, decides how many children she should have, and when.

        • An Actual Attorney

          And parthenogenis? That’s just cray craycray.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            When I read the part about shamanism, I pretty much dismissed all of it as meaningless blather.

          • Susan

            Yeah, I was reading it thinking…hmmm that’s sort of insightful…but shamanism that’s loony…gee, I am still the person that drank the Kool aid and always will be I guess!

          • Kq

            It is in fact possible to spit the koolaid out. But it takes time. Looks to me like this woman is still in her recovery. Her insights arw still worthy.

          • Wren

            Thank you! The parthenogenesis thing clued me in far more than the overpopulation stuff.

          • LibrarianSarah

            Did anyone else read that as pathogenesis?

          • demodocus

            Isn’t that where you have a child with no else’s dna?

          • Angharad

            Yes. It’s a form of asexual reproduction. Some lizards can do it but people just can’t.

          • Cobalt

            According to Bainbridge, people sort-of can. Human ova can begin cell division and replication in the absence of sperm. What stops these growing-but-unfertilized half-clones from turning into viable embryos is the lack of genetic information for placenta growth as placentation instructions are carried by the sperm . They literally cannot implant, and therefore have a 100% failure rate.

            http://www.amazon.com/Making-Babies-The-Science-Pregnancy/dp/0674012364

          • Angharad

            That’s really interesting! The human body is a strange and wonderful thing. Although I don’t know if I would say humans can do something if there’s a 100% failure rate.

          • Cobalt

            Hence the “sort-of”. We can start the process, but nature already has a check on its success. It’s still pretty cool though.

            That book is full of all sorts of neat information in addition to the standard human reproductive physiology explications, written for laymen with a scientific interest. There’s a lot of quirky checks on our reproduction. It’s a fun read if you’re into that sort of thing.

          • sdsures

            I am! Amazon linky, please?

          • Cobalt

            http://www.amazon.com/Making-Babies-The-Science-Pregnancy/dp/0674012364

            David Bainbridge
            Making Babies: The Science of Pregnancy

          • sdsures

            Thank you!

          • sdsures

            “Virgin birth! An ENTIRE religion built on an oxymoron!”
            ~Marquis de Sade, “Quills”

            😀

          • RMY

            I assume whenever parthenogenesis is mentioned they’re no longer talking about humans, but some species that’s capable of it.

          • sdsures

            It’s also the basis for Christianity.

      • LibrarianSarah

        She’s not “an insane person.” Sure she’s ovary deep into woo but not insane. When she said “midwives should talk about overpopulation.” I don’t think she meant midwives should talk about overpopulation with their patients but that they should talk about whether promoting birth as empowerment is a good idea considering that their are 7 billion people on this planet.

        Personally, I find putting a women’s worth in her womb moral suspect regardless of how many people are on this planet but that is just me.

    • Bombshellrisa

      Not knowing who is showing up during labor, having a male attendant, being touched-aren’t these the things that homebirthers argue are the things wrong with hospital birth?

    • sdsures

      “Stephen Gaskin, could, in fact, show up at any birthing he wanted to without asking and touch any a birthing woman how he felt she needed to be touched if he thought she needed something that he knew better than she because he was the “head midwife.” ”

      Oh sweet Jesus… :'( *slightly triggering, because I’m an incest survivor*

      The Farm sounds like the Manson Family!

      “But the lies of patriarchy must not be a part of that rising.”

      I fear we may have painted ourselves into a corner when we gave the Duggar family their own reality TV show and didn’t see the damage they were doing.

      • Anonymous

        Something like that happened to me while I was living in Israel with my now estranged in laws and their midwife best friend. For political purposes, I will refer to the area we were living in as the West Bank, to help you understand the fervent mindset on birthing mothers and Jewish babies by certain religious fundamentalist and militant, Zionist midwives. One midwife in particular practicing not even according to her own protocol for PPH abused me and my son not only during and after the birth, but for the whole week after. The torment didn’t stop as the village I lived in bashed me at every turn and we had to flee to the other end of the country, where we were still stalked and harassed. Then after moving back to the states, family that lived there that were connected to the abuse in Israel kept at it. My family JUST broke away from this people 1.5 years ago!!! http://healingmyheart.wix.com/healingmyheart

  • demodocus

    I looked up “pro-sex movement” on Wikipedia and I’m still confused. Does anyone outside the Duggars’ type of church and rapists think women shouldn’t enjoy it? I’m vanilla enough for even the pope emeritus to approve and I think that’s nuts.

    • T.

      Same. Who is hurt by, I quote “emphasis on safe sex and the importance of consent”?

      I am honestly confused. You want to have safe, consensual sex in any way you like? Go ahead. Who is harmed?

      And I say this as an asexual woman.

      • Mattie

        Fellow ace here, so not in any way experienced on this. However, I do try and listen to the people who do have experience…so people in the S&M communities, sex workers, and women who have (and enjoy) sex. Consent always comes up as the most important thing, and it is SO important to act when consent is not present, however just because someone is doing something you yourself wouldn’t do…you can’t go round saying they can’t possibly have consented (a common theme in anti sex-work arguments), it’s patronising and harmful to the people that are being exploited or abused.

    • Valerie

      I think the author is referring specifically to S&M, which the pro-sex movement supports along with any other safe/consensual sexual activity. She doesn’t seem to think that women can really consent to kinky sex, which she sees as abuse. I don’t think it’s a great comparison.

      • Roadstergal

        Yeah – as per the conversation below, I think consensual and well-communicated S&M is the antithesis of the mindset at work above. (And the best dom I was ever with was a domme, so whatever.)

        (Also, if anyone wants to kick a few bucks this way – I like the idea of improving the FSF:
        https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ask-first#/story)

    • Ellen Mary

      Look up Belle Knox if you want to see the issues with the ‘pro sex’ movement. Is she empowered by participating in a exploitative industry in which her first film features her being beat up? In which she had to ‘consent’ to having sex with a 50 year old man in order to avoid paying a ‘kill fee’. In which she funds her own travel & essentially operates as an independent contractor when she is essentially an employee? In which she is lied to by her ‘agent’? Those are just some of the issues.

      • Valerie

        If you have to put “consent” in quotes, it’s probably not really consent. The problem isn’t the details of the activities (sex with an older man, rough sex, etc), but with actual coercion. Just like it would be just as wrong if a pornographic model was pressured into vanilla, hetero sex if she was only comfortable doing solo sex on camera.

        • T.

          Ditto.

  • Liz Leyden

    Somehow, I can’t see a photo of a woman laboring in agony encouraging women to have a drug-free vaginal birth. It’s a powerful inspiration to have a medicated C-section.

    • Ellen Mary

      We have to engage with the idea that at least some of the ProCesarean movement is predicated on deeply misogynistic ideas about the value (or lack thereof) of a woman’s vagina post childbirth. Yes, women are free to care about their pelvic health. However, it is really disingenuous to pretend that real BS about hotdogs & hallways does not drive at least some of the fear of vaginal birth.

      • Wren

        Personally, that did not drive even a little of my fear of vaginal birth, a fear I still had when approaching my VBAC. I was pretty much afraid of pain, with a little fear leftover for something going wrong and one or both of us not surviving the birth. The fear of me not surviving was far greater in my second birth, as I feared leaving my son without a mother. Fear that sex wouldn’t work? Not an issue. Maybe sometimes having a mother who shares a bit too much is actually a good thing?

      • Angharad

        I’m sure it is a factor for some women. Personally I had an extremely difficult recovery from my vaginal birth. It was hard and painful enough that we’ve indefinitely put on hold having more children because our insurance won’t cover elective c-sections. I had heard about tearing but never expected it to be so painful for so long. I don’t think it’s fair to imply that women are choosing c-sections based on unfounded sexual concerns when there are a number of real possible negative outcomes of vaginal birth, including impact to sexual function.

        • Wren

          Very true. I know more than one woman who has actually required surgery to repair the damage from a vaginal delivery. One put it off until she was done having children, while the other had it done immediately and insisted on a C-section the next time around.

      • fiftyfifty1

        “it is really disingenuous to pretend that real BS about hotdogs & hallways does not drive at least some of the fear of vaginal birth.”

        Why do you dismiss the real experiences of women? An actual woman with actual pelvic floor damage to her own body first described the hotdog and hallway. Sure it’s a humorous analogy, but better laugh than cry, no? I myself have shared before on SOB about how I agree 100% with the hotdog and hallway metaphor, except in my case I extend the metaphor by describing that there is a big piece of furniture (my prolapsed uterus) blocking the hallway. I can valsalva my cervix to the level of my hymeneal ring, Ellen Mary. Got that? So screw you for labeling my experience “bull shit” .

        • Dr Kitty

          Once you have seen a women in her 30s with a third degree uterine prolapse after two vaginal deliveries, where intercourse is impossible and a ring pessary is only a temporary fix before a hysterectomy, the idea that vaginal childbirth causes only minor changes which can be remedied with Kegels is rapidly dispelled.

          I doubt my patients with severe prolapses, major incontinence and sexual dysfunction as a result of childbirth are sharing their stories with their friends. They are usually mortified. Just because you haven’t heard of these things happening in your circle of friends, doesn’t mean that it hasn’t.

          Sure, most women have minor transient issues with loss of pelvic floor tone. But, some have severe incontinence and prolapse which can be apparent immediately or only years later.
          Some have chronic vulvodynia or dyspareunia caused by tears or episiotomies.

          It is reasonable to say that most women will not suffer sexual dysfunction, pelvic organ prolapse or severe continence issues following childbirth.
          It is unreasonable to dismiss concerns about those problems though- they happen, they are devastating and yes, they are avoidable with CS.

          • Mattie

            That is quite literally terrifying to me…and not something I had ever heard of, is there anything that can be done to prevent it or is it just ‘bad luck’. Obviously c-section prevents the possibility, but not everyone wants an elective section, and some people would face more risks from surgery than the risk of prolapse but is there anything in the way vaginal births happen that can be changed to reduce the incidence of prolapse, in your opinion?

          • Sarah

            I’ve a friend in a similar position to Dr K’s patient, early 30s. She and I are very blase about that kind of thing, so I know all the fun details. Another one of those vaginal deliveries that will end up costing the NHS infinitely more than an ELCS would’ve.

          • Siri

            Not “blase”, surely; that would mean you thought it was no big deal. Perhaps you mean that you talk about such things openly and frankly? No one could be blasé about pelvic damage, surely?

          • Sarah

            We are blase about discussing it. Because talking about it is not a big deal for us.

          • Daleth

            The only things that prevent it are (1) pure good luck, (2) the extreme bad luck of giving birth to a very premature (i.e. very small) baby, or (3) a c-section.

            That’s it.

            And there is no sure fix for it, either. There are surgeries that can be done, but they don’t always work, and even when they do they may simply improve the situation without returning you to your former (pre-childbirth) state.

            Fears about this were one of the reasons I chose a c-section over my MFM’s recommendations that I “try for” a vaginal birth. (I was with MFMs because I was carrying mono-di twins, but in other ways I was low risk bc slim and healthy).

          • Mattie

            I mean, not every woman who has a vaginal birth…even to a large baby is gonna experience prolapse, some don’t even experience pelvic floor problems. Is that just the ‘pure good luck’?

          • Who?

            Maybe it’s the same ‘luck’ that allows some people to deliver quickly and smoothly? Which is why those who crow about how hard they worked to get their ‘normal’ delivery are somewhat missing the point.

          • Daleth

            Yep.

          • Who?

            I think it must happen quite a lot.

            We’ve got a couple of new ads on tv here. In one, a number of women aged early thirties to early fifites, emerge from their attractive homes with running gear, dogs, kids, sports equipment, bikes etc, set free to converge on the local parks and do what they ‘should’ be doing by this fab new product, which is more absorbent than a panty liner but very discreet, to absorb their leaky urine.

            The other depicts a woman looking pleased and relieved as she pulls on improbably okay looking disposable undies and then heads out to play soccer with her teenage daughter.

            Apart from my apparently predictable tv habits, this would seem to reveal some need out there, among a younger age group than we’re accustomed to think about.

          • Mattie

            Interesting, yeh that does suggest a need =/

          • Kelly

            I think you can have some risk just from the pressure of being pregnant as well.

          • demodocus

            God knows I haven’t mentioned my (thankfully transitory) issues anywhere but anonymously here.

        • Sarah

          If a woman chooses to describe her body and her sexual experiences as a hotdog in a hallway, I can’t see how anyone has the right to tell her that her feelings and description are BS. Your body, your words.

      • Who?

        How is it mysogynistic to care about the state of a woman’s vagina? Surely it is a positive to want any body part on any person to be as good and comfortable as it can be? If a woman wants a cs for that reason, why is that not valid?

      • Dr Kitty

        Ellen Mary, you might be surprised at the number of female patients I see complaining of painful or unsatisfactory sex after childbirth.

        Not “my partner says it isn’t as tight”, but “it hurts” or “I can’t climax” or “just doesn’t feel right”.

        It happens, it happens a lot, and it seems unlikely to be a lie perpetuated by pro-CS patriarchy, so much as women unhappy with the changes vaginal delivery has wrought on their anatomy.

        • My sexual responses definitely changed after my first birth — which was by C/S, and so there was no vaginal trauma. But in my 48 hours of contractions prior to surgery, there were a lot of PV exams, not all of them gentle.

        • Amy M

          TMI, I know, but after childbirth and since (6.5yrs), certain positions are no longer comfortable to me during sex. Used to be fine, now we don’t do them. It’s a not a big deal to me, my husband and I are fine with other positions/activities. However, if one of those positions was the only way a woman could climax, and she can no longer tolerate the position, that’s a legit concern.

        • Ceridwen

          I’m one. My partner doesn’t seem to find anything different (I’ve asked), but I do, and it was not a change for the better. I’m lucky that it’s not painful I suppose, but it’s just not the same and overall the effect is less enjoyable. At first I thought it was likely to just be hormonal, but it continued even after I stopped nursing, so it seems likely to me at this point that it’s a permanent change. It’s not enough to make me ask for a c-section for this baby, but it’s would be a totally valid reason for me to ask for one if that was my choice. And it has fuck all to do with hotdogs and hallways.

      • Kq

        Yes, Ellen Mary, my concerns about my own vagina are ALL ABOUT TEH MENS.

        ETA: I have stronger and more satisfying orgasms since my c section, with or without a penis involved (or even in the room). You really need to back the f*** down.

      • Sarah

        Do you not think some women might care about ‘hotdogs and hallways’ because they worry it will impact on their own sexual pleasure? It’s hardly unknown for women’s genitals to be different after VB, particularly multiple VBs. Quite rational for a woman to be concerned that this might be detrimental to her sex life. Because it sometimes is.

      • fiftyfifty1

        ” Yes, women are free to care about their pelvic health. ”

        …but I guess not free to talk about it or Ellen Mary will try to shut them down.

        Whether it be through legislation or misinformation or censorship, you can always count on Ellen Mary to try to limit women’s access to reproductive options (despite the fact that she has used many of them herself).

      • moto_librarian

        Bullshit. No one warned me about the potential damage to my pelvic floor. I am fortunate that my sexual function has not been impaired, but fecal incontinence is unbelievably embarrassing. True informed consent means telling the truth about pelvic floor damage. I am also over the lies that if you birth in the prescribed NCB manner that you will be spared from major tearing. If that were true, I wouldn’t have had a cervical tear during my “natural” birth. A lot of women who don’t plan on having more than 1 or 2 children might view a c-section as a better option if they were fully informed of the morbidities associated with vaginal birth.

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          And if you bring this up with NCB types, in my experience, you’re usually told it’s because a) you were told when to push and/or b) you didn’t give birth standing or squatting (never mind that in studies, this actually tended to lead to more tearing because of baby getting out faster), and if you just push when you feel like it while you’re standing/squatting (random aside: I guess this means no water birth, then?), then you won’t tear. Duh!

      • demodocus

        I know nothing about a “pro-cesarean movement;” my ob mentioned it as a potential possibility, just to make sure I didn’t completely freak out if it was mentioned in event of an emergency. When it came to it, even with the pre-eclampsia, I still had my kiddo the usual way. And even at 60%, vaginal birth is still the more common one. Nobody told me that having sex would be uncomfortable for so long before my scar healed enough.

      • Cobalt

        Even ifs a woman’s only reason for wanting a cesarean is to avoid the risk of loss of vaginal tone, and her only reason for caring about her vaginal tone is in the context of preserving all of her partner’s enjoyment of vaginal intercourse, that is still her choice.

        People are allowed to care about sexual enjoyment. People, even women, are allowed to enjoy sex and want their partners (even if those partners are men) to enjoy sex with them.

      • SuperGDZ

        While it’s possible that there are women who choose c-sections to maintain vaginal tone for the benefit of their partners, I think that this idea has been hugely exaggerated if not fabricated. I chose c-section and the thought didn’t even enter my mind. I wanted a c-section because I felt that the risks (to myself and my baby) of a simple, routine surgical procedure were more predictable and more acceptable than the potential risks of a vaginal birth. I did not want to run the risk, however small, of giving birth to a suffocated baby. I was appalled at the thought of any of my “sensitive bits” being torn up in the process of birth. I did not want to deal with prolapse, nor to spend the rest of my life trying not to wet myself (or worse) at inopportune moments. And then, to top it all, the videos promoting “natural” birth – all those squatting, squealing women…

  • EllenL

    I love this statement by Egbert:

    “Ritual hazing is often perpetrated by people who have suffered the same..”

    I’ve long believed that many women in the natural birth movement are motivated (at least in part) by the belief that “I’ve suffered, so other women should suffer, too.”

    I’ve seen women browbeat their friends, sisters, cousins into having unmedicated births. This is especially cruel when the victims of their indoctrination have never given birth before, and have no idea what they’re getting into. Women are being set up for suffering – often by the people they trust the most. It really makes me angry.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      I’ve long believed that many women in the natural birth movement are motivated (at least in part) by the belief that “I’ve suffered, so other women should suffer, too.”

      And a large number aren’t even hesitant to admit it.

      “Pain is part of the process of becoming a mother….”

      • sdsures

        They never mention the spouse getting his hand squeezed off.

      • Amy M

        Yes, and the suffering is supposed to continue after the birth. New mothers aren’t allowed to sleep. If a new mother does anything that might lead to getting more sleep (using formula, using a pacifier, sleep training), she’s told that 1)she’s selfish 2)she’s lazy and 3)whatever she is doing is harmful to the baby. The only exception I can think of is co-sleeping, which actually CAN be harmful to the baby, depending on the circumstances. Though co-sleeping can also lead to less sleep later on and marital strife (at least according to people in various forums like Kellymom), so maybe that’s why its acceptable. The more inconvenient and painful to the mother, the better its supposed to be.

        • Megan

          Dads and their wellbeing is never even discussed and doesn’t affect the baby in any way, of course.

          • Mishimoo

            My dude is being pretty vocal about that, as he had some mild PPD after our last and he wants more support for others. He was miserable, sad “for no reason” (according to him, but I think it was a valid reason) and clingy. Thankfully it passed because I was too tired to force him to go to the doctor. I’m just glad that he was/is open about it and that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We were lucky.

          • sdsures

            PPD is absolutely as possible for fathers/partners as it is for the moms. A lot of the time, even regular depression doesn’t seem to have a cause you can pin down (or that the patient can’t pin down). It’s so frustrating because as a person with depression, [insert personal experience here] you’d probably like to feel better, but haven’t the faintest bloody idea of how to actually go about it.

          • sdsures

            I feel so sorry for the fathers of these babies that never get mentioned by the Internet NCB Mommas.

      • sdsures

        “Pain is part of the process of becoming a mother….”

        The **** it is!

    • Megan

      I think this is true with breastfeeding for lactivists too, particularly those who struggled and went to great lengths to breastfeed. “I had to suffer through this and work my ass off and so do you.” I think that’s also why they refuse to acknowledge just how small the benefits of breastmilk are, because they worked so hard to do it and to admit it wasn’t for a big benefit would create a lot of cognitive dissonance.

      • Coraline

        Definitely agree with you, Megan.

      • Megan

        Come to think of it, this is probably true of most “intensive mothering” practices.

        • sdsures

          Funny how we never hear about “intensive fathering” practices, but there are websites out there that are geared for dads who are just normal guys wanting to be normal dads, not competitive dads.

    • Sarah

      I believe there’s a decent amount of research been done on the human tendency to value things more if we have suffered to get them.

      • Susan

        I think that’s very valid plus I think the release from the pain is a sort of a “high” and when that’s coupled with the amazingness of a brand new baby it’s easy to think the release from pain is part of why you have that immediate fall in love experience with your newborn. I may have once believed that the unmedicated part made the joy of birth more acute… I don’t believe that anymore, but I really don’t think most women really want others to share in their suffering I think its just as likely they want them to share in their joy. The truly sad thing is they may, as I once did, believe that women who have “natural” births have some monopoly on that.

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          I’ve never been in labor, so I’ll be happy, should I be incorrect in this comparison, to bow to the experiences of those who have. I have, however, had the misfortune to have had cluster headaches, the pain of which is described as comparable to that of childbirth or kidney stones by those who have experienced such things. I can say with certainty that when the pain of a cluster headache stopped, the absence of pain was like a drug: I felt sort of “floaty,” above the world, totally exhausted but so ecstatic because the pain wasn’t there anymore. I can only imagine this can also be true for childbirth, especially with the whole “oooh here’s the baby” factor.

          • sdsures

            Absolutely!!!!!

            I have chronic severe migraines that are almost as bad in terms of pain compared to cluster headaches (and unresponsive to the usual prophylctics). I get Botox every 12 weeks for it, and have been on it for about a year and a half now. The Botox is helping me a LOT but it does take a few cycles to kick in. I am so much more functional now than I was before it. Maybe by the end of this year we can think about reducing my valproate to see if the Boox manages the pain on its own.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            Ugh, my deepest sympathies on the migraines. I was seriously lucky with my headaches in that once I had a diagnosis, I was put on verapamil, which knocked the cluster dead in about 3-4 days. A couple of months later, I haven’t had a return yet. I know it’s early days yet, but I still feel gratitude every day I’m not in pain. I hope you find something equally easy and effective soon!

          • sdsures

            Verapamil is something left in my neurologist’s bag of tricks that we haven’t needed to try yet.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            Anecdata and all that, but for me, the only side effects while on it was a) a slightly “fuzzy” feeling the first 3 days or so of taking it, and b) a heightened sensitivity to alcohol, in that a single glass of wine after dinner would have me slurring. And, as I said, I had no more headaches after the first 3-4 days, so it really was a miracle drug for me.

          • sdsures

            That’s fantastic!

        • sdsures

          “the release from the pain is a sort of a “high””

          I’m a chronic pain patient, and I wholeheartedly agree with this. If the pain is especially severe (as in childbirth, or whatever chronic pain a person might have), a sudden drop or elimination of that pain is very euphoric.

          I wonder if that’s where the loonies got their idea for promoting “orgasmic birth”.

      • sdsures

        That sounds like it could apply to a lot of situations. What comes to mind right away is an extra paycheck if you suffer through working more hours.

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      *nods* Yup. And I’ve gotten the distinct vibe from the becoming-a-CPM friend that she doesn’t think I’m a “real” mom because I had a CS and didn’t go through labor. *shrug* Whatevs. If the most glorious thing she’s accomplished is risking her kids’ lives by refusing basic medical care while being in excruciating pain, that’s her deal, not mine.

      • Daleth

        If the most glorious thing she’s accomplished is risking her kids’ lives by refusing basic medical care while being in excruciating pain, that’s her deal, not mine.

        That is so brilliantly put.

      • sdsures

        The most glorius goal for me as a mom would be making sure my kid makes it through the delivery, survives school and gets to be an adult without me screwing up TOO much along the way. (I am prepared to screw up, because everyone does, right? Is there a textbook I can study so I don’t screw up?)

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          If there was, I’d totally buy it. As it is, I’ve been going with “What would *insert good parent of my acquaintance do in this situation?” and then trying to do it. So far, DD doesn’t seem to traumatized…time will tell. I’m still scared every day that I’m Doing It Wrong, not patient enough, etc. Ugh.

    • sdsures

      It DOES resemble hazing, doesn’t it? I’ve gotten that vibe a lot from reading these stories.

  • Tara Coombs Lohman

    At the first hospital I worked in we had a woman from Argentina who had a primary elective c-section because to go home having had a vaginal delivery as an upper-class Argentinian, she would have been looked down upon. She told the nurse that only “the poor” had vaginal deliveries and the middle and upper class women were expected to keep their perineum intact for their husbands’ pleasure. The implication being that husbands might stray after their wives’ vaginal delivery. That concept grossed me out far more than any pictures of a woman in labor.

    • Daleth

      middle and upper class women were expected to keep their perineum intact for their husbands’ pleasure…. That concept grossed me out…

      It grosses me out too, but then, consider the fact that it is probably much more socially acceptable–particularly for women from Catholic or otherwise conservative countries–to say that than it is to say “I want to keep it intact for my own sexual pleasure.”

      Both are true, but one of the truths cannot be spoken.

      In other words you likely were not getting the whole picture, and it would be a mistake to take her statement as “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” about why she wanted a c-section.

      • Sarah

        Quite possibly…

    • Roadstergal

      Even if this is the case (I don’t know one way or another how representative this is), how is a boy getting off on his girlfriend’s pain, away from medical care, sharing the images with the stated goal of changing the minds of other women, going to help anything? It’s just a different flavor of male control of women.

      I’m reminded of the UK OB who said she didn’t give informed consent about the risks of CS vs VB to her patients, because then ‘too many’ would choose CS. If you give full informed consent and a woman chooses CS, that’s her right.

    • SuperGDZ

      Frankly, I think that if a woman wants a c-section she will say whatever she thinks will get her one. Perhaps she was genuine. Or perhaps she just wanted you to go away and leave her alone.

  • Sarah

    Why would he expect photos of someone else’s homebirth to encourage, discourage or have any effect on any other woman anyway?

    Like, I know there are women who give birth at home. It isn’t my choice, and wasn’t even before I became a totally unsuitable candidate because of an EMCS, but whatever, some women do it. Fine for them. That has no more to do with me than the ELCS I’ll be having if I have another one has to do with his girlfriend.

  • ArmyChick

    My grandmother lost her youngest son during a home birth in Brazil. They were poor and couldn’t afford to go to the hospital. My father suffered oxygen deprivation during childbirth. He is a twin and thankfully that episode didn’t affect him as badly as it has done to many others.

    This photographer is clueless. My grandma would have loved to be able to give birth in a hospital… Because my uncle would still be alive. A c-section would have saved him.

    • Sarah

      Sorry to hear that.

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    • sdsures

      I’m so sorry.

  • Lana Muniz

    OT: If people aren’t doing this already, we should report GoFundMe campaigns for killer midwives. It just came to my attention that GoFundMe has a policy to prohibit:

    “Campaigns in defense of formal charges or claims of heinous crimes, violent, hateful, sexual or discriminatory acts.”

    Perhaps Indiegogo has a similar policy. Does anyone have links to active campaigns?

    • Daleth

      Awesome idea.

  • Mattie

    OT did any UK people (or people watching online) watch the C4 documentary Extraordinary Births the other day, I was cringing listening to some of the women talk 🙁

    • sdsures

      Not yet…but now I’m afraid to.

      • Mattie

        Free birthing couple, actual quote (on the phone to 999) “yeh, everything was fine, but now something’s coming out, it might be a cord or like the placenta” just in this dull monotone, no sense of urgency at all (everything was fine in the end, but urghhh)

  • Squillo

    I would like to hear a fuller explanation of how the photos “demystify natural and home births.” How are they meant to convince women not to have “unnecessary cesareans?”

    • Amy M

      Yeah, I would think they would actually have the opposite effect. If anything, they increase the mystery by not having any photos of the actual birth or the baby immediately afterwards. They could have gone out and borrowed a neighbor’s baby for those later baby pics, since we never actually see the baby going from point A to point B. I suppose the pics answer the question “How much will it hurt” for women who haven’t experienced childbirth, with the answer being “A lot.”

    • demodocus

      For one thing, you cannot hear her screaming, oops I mean vocalizing, in a photo

  • sdsures

    I wonder what the boyfriend would have done if the mother had had an emergency? Keep filming while they wait for the ambulance?

    • ArmyChick

      Not to mention, in Brazil emergency services response IS slow. They both would have died. (I lived in Brazil for 16 years. I suffered an accident and nearly died of blood loss when I was 8. I was taken to the ER by a taxi driver! The ambulance didn’t show up).

    • Sarah

      I believe Ruth Fowler Iorio’s husband wrote the book on that one.

  • Amy M

    I saw those pics earlier this week, and noticed a lack of pics immediately after the birth. In the version I saw, there was one where she was sitting on a bed, with no pants on, and a light colored sheet. No blood was evident, so I assumed that pic was taken several days later or that she was actually wearing underpants that aren’t visible in the pic.See link below

    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/photographer-captures-the-beauty-and-pain-of-his-girlfriend-giving-birth-at-home-10484779.html

    The reason given by the boyfriend, for no immediate birth pics, was that he was too caught up in the moment, didn’t want to spoil it, etc. I know its kind of wrong, but I had a fleeting thought that maybe they went to the hospital at some point after all, and that’s why there’s a huge gap in the pictures. Even if that’s not the case, they certainly tried to present a very sanitized view. Birth? Naw, its not that messy.

    • Medwife

      Now THAT would be something to demystify childbirth, showing unedited pictures of the third stage! Even a very normal third stage with no perineal or vaginal tearing, no hemorrhage, looks pretty ghastly to lay people.

      • Amy M

        Seriously. I cringe a bit when I read/hear people say “Birth is beautiful!” No, a new baby is beautiful. The love the parents have for their new baby is beautiful. But the actual birth? I think almost every kind of bodily fluid (except semen, which I truly hope is excluded) is involved, as well as some solids.

        • Roadstergal

          I actually think surgeries are really cool and interesting, but birth – nope. It’s just the risk of uncontrolled chaos to my second-favorite set of organs – I can’t even handle that idea vicariously.

          Last Week Tonight had Michael Bolton do an ode to the anus – it was about the IRS, but the metaphor was quite true. It’s one of those parts of the body that I really want to take as close to zero risks with as possible!

        • Medwife

          It is what it is. I’m human and if there’s an overwhelming smell of say, feces, I have a gag reflex like anyone. But mostly, I just care about healthy vs non-healthy. “Gross” does not apply.

        • Kelly

          I attended my friend’s labor and since she had a very good epidural and an easy labor, the entire process did not scare me at all. I do remember the sound of the episiotomy, that it never looked like the baby was moving, and that it did not look anything like I thought it would. I think it also helped that everything was kept clean and so there was not a ton of blood to scare me. We joked the entire time and I kept dropping her leg after a contraction. It helped me feel better about giving birth but I still don’t think it was beautiful or pretty. I also think that if anything traumatic had happened or if she did not have adequate pain management, my feelings would be different.

  • Young CC Prof

    OK, stuntbirth fathers are disturbing to me on a level that the actual women involved never reach. It’s one thing when a woman chooses to give birth without pain relief and without adequate care, it’s another thing when her partner chooses it for her.

    • sdsures

      Whoa. I missed that part. He demanded that she not have pain relief?

      • Young CC Prof

        No, I didn’t see any indication of that, but it still creeps me out when a partner is really invested in the whole thing.

        • sdsures

          Maybe he just drank too much kool-aid.

    • Roadstergal

      Is there any writing/statement/comment from the woman involved, or is it all coming from her BF?

  • sdsures

    Imagine if a person (male or female) was made to endure any type of invasive medical procedure without the benefit of anesthesia (local in the case of some neurosurgeries, such as deep brain stimulation).

    People wouldn’t stand for it!

  • sdsures

    Great post!

    “If you did not know that this woman was in labor, you might confuse the images with pornographic images of sexual ecstasy. “.

    Actually, I thought she looked like she was in agonizing pain. Oh, but wait, it’s not “pain” – it’s DISCOMFORT! 😛

    • Roadstergal

      Honestly, it looked like S&M porn to me – the look on the whip-ee’s face just after a strike…

      The difference between NCB and S&M is that S&M has a safe word.

      • sdsures

        I happen to like being spanked. I have a loving husband who loves spanking me. We enjoy it immensely.

        But this? This is exploitative.

        • Roadstergal

          Getting a sexual thrill out of a little pain is pretty common; getting a sexual thrill out of a lot of pain is less common, but still totally cool if everyone is onboard with the consent and safety issues. Making your girlfriend’s birth away from medical care something sexy for you is… disturbing.

          I wonder if he gets off on seeing her in pain – which again, is not a problem if acknowledged and negotiated, every masochist needs a good sadist. But if that was a motivator for this stunt – uncontrolled pain and a risk to the health of his girlfriend and his child – that’s not a healthy outlet at all.

          • sdsures

            Even if it was done consensually, there’s a safety element missing.

            The core message of a good BDSM relationship is “safe, sane and consensual”.

            I see no safety here. Some people in the BDSM scene enjoy being choked – but it HAS to be safe, and the top would need to be VERY careful and always be aware of when the bottom wants to stop. The bottom has the most power in a BDSM relationship, even when it seems like she doesn’t. Bottoms call the shots.

          • Roadstergal

            Ya, I realize my statement was unclear – I didn’t mean this situation would be okay with discussion and consent, but that they could find a mutually acceptable non-child-birth-y outlet for this sort of sexytime.

            On top of the lack of ‘safe’ for mom, you don’t have the kid’s consent, after all, and s/he’s a direct party to all of this. :

          • Spamamander

            Absolutely this. (As someone who has engaged in some pretty serious ‘edge play’)

          • Who?

            Thanks, I thought this too. All the husbands who attended their children’s births in our world were pretty devastated by the pain their wives went through in labour, and some were I think a bit traumatised by it. Feeling helpless when usually in control was a challenge for many of them.

            They all seem to have found a place for it-and all lined up for the next one (at least) but there was never any sense in which there was any sexual pleasure or arousal for them in it.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      She’s in the throes of “rushes”…

      • sdsures

        Oh yes, I’ve heard that term. *eyeroll*

    • Rosalind Dalefield

      I remember reading some idiocy by Sheila Kitzinger in which she insisted that contractions are NOT labour pains. My though was, okay, not labour pains, but they hurt more than anything you’ve ever experienced before…

    • Who?

      ‘surges’?