Childbirth, privilege and narcissism

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Nothing screams privilege like patting yourself on the back for refusing the childbirth interventions that an impoverished woman would walk 5 miles through the jungle to get for her child.

Nothing says narcissism like imagining that the internet should be impressed with you because you did something that poor women in developing nations do each and every day … or die trying.

If it’s not an accomplishment when a 15 year old Afghan child does it, it’s not an accomplishment when a privileged white woman does it.

That’s what I thought when I saw this celebration of egotism and self absorption on CafeMom, Mom Gives Birth to 11 Pound Baby At Home the headline blares as if this were an achievement on par with curing cancer.

The accompanying text is equally ludicrous:

Giving birth is a tremendous accomplishment no matter where and how it happens, but giving birth at home … to an 11-pound-baby … with no pain meds?! That’s just plain superhuman. It’s also what one mom and doula named Natalie did — and lucky for the rest of us, birth photographer Laura Fifield documented the once-in-a-lifetime event for all the world to see!

Giving birth is no more of an accomplishment than having a menstrual period. Millions of poor women give birth around the world each day, at home and without pain medication. They have no other choice. No one publishes any articles about the “achievement” if the mother in question is a 15 year old Afghan child forced to labor in agony, facing an astronomically high risk of maternal and perinatal death.

Nothing to see there, right? Where’s the accomplishment in that?

Let’s be honest. It’s only a “tremendous accomplishment” when a well off white woman does it, has a professional photographer document it at the cost of hundreds of dollars, and posts it on the internet.

I have news for all those precious, privileged snowflakes: You haven’t accomplished a damn thing.

This an accomplishment: a rural Indian woman braved a raging river in her 9th month of pregnancy in order to give birth in a hospital.

Yellavva used dried pumpkins and gourds as bouyancy aids to swim nearly a kilometre from her river island village to safety in southern Karnataka state.

She … wanted her baby born safely – there is no medical centre in her village and she did not want to give birth at home…

When Yellavva crossed the river last Wednesday, she says its swirling waters were rising 12 to 14 feet and even experienced swimmers would have hesitated to get into the water at the time.

“I was scared. But it was for my child that I got the determination to get over all my fear and cross the rising river waters,” she told BBC Hindi.

A poor mother threw herself into a raging torrent and risked her life in the hope that she could save the life of her baby. That’s an accomplishment!

In contrast, pictorials that tell the stories of privileged, white narcissists who risk their babies’ lives for bragging rights is not an achievement; it’s absurd.

Pretending that refusing pain medication in labor is impressive is like pretending that avoiding pain medication for a root canal is worthy of praise.

Imagining that a large baby transiting your large pelvis is an accomplishment is like imagining that your large breasts are an accomplishment; you had no control over either one.

Bragging about a stretchy vaginal introitus that didn’t tear is like bragging about not having bladder control issues after childbirth. You were lucky, not skillful.

Pretending that unmedicated homebirth is an accomplishment is a slap in the face, to the millions of women who have no choice but to give birth at home without medication, and face the horrific risks that entails.

Pro-tip:

If it’s not an accomplishment when a 15 year old Afghan child does it because she has no choice, it’s not an accomplishment when a privileged white women does it because she has the tremendous good fortune to have access to all possible choices, even irresponsible ones.

  • Jenna D

    It IS an accomplishment for those 3rd world women, though.

    And yes, you do have control. You can either not get pregnant, or, after getting pregnant, get an abortion or even kill yourself. With all the shit women go through in pregnancy and childbirth, it IS an accomplishment that they don’t kill themselves.

    All women. Whether they get pain relief or not. Whether theyre in first world countries or third world countries.

    Anyway, I was wondering what you thought of laboring in water. Not birthing, just laboring.

  • anh

    I was so deep in the woo with my daughter and I suffered through 20 hours of labor with no progress in the name of my pride and whatever nonsense. As I was almost screaming through a contraction I thought of my Polish grandma who suffered through 2 horrific homebirths and then 2 difficult hospital births. and I remember thinking “I need to be strong for her!” and I swear I heard her voice, clear as day in my head “Anh, I was strong but I wasn’t STUPID!” and I realized what a snot nosed kid I was being. My bopchie would have been delighted to have a safe magical option to take away her pain. It was the height of arrogance and ignorance to refuse an epidural when I clearly needed one

    • Wasnomofear

      Yes! I had a precipitous birth center “experience” with my first, but I was so deep in it that I couldn’t see how awful and dangerous it was, and how lucky that we were both fine. Fortunately, I ran across this site while “doing my research” in my second pregnancy, and the woo fell away.

      My grandmother had four babies during the twilight drug years, and, while in the woo, I asked her about it, fully expecting to hear how awful it was and how she’d hated it. When she told me it was great, I just thought she was brainwashed by lack of other options. Now that I’m out of the woo, I can take her at face value, thank goodness! Especially since I’ve actually had one unmedicated, and one with an epidural, and yep – if I was pregnant again and the only choices were nothing or twilight, I’d go twilight! Unmedicated put me in a nonresponsive fugue state. I’d ignore contractions when I should have been pushing because it hurt so much that I’d decided I didn’t want a baby any more… And that made sense in that state of pain!

      • Laura

        My grandma hated having to choose between being in excrutating pain but awake to see her babies, or be knocked out and wake up to everything being done. She wanted to be present. I can’t say I blame her because I would have had a hard time choosing too. Thank heavens we have better choices now–with an epidural, I was able to be present and not be in pain. Win-win.

  • lyra

    I got banned from a forum for pretty much saying the same thing. Hundreds, if not thousands of women a DAY give birth at home with no meds. That is actually the NORM across the world, not hospitals and epidurals. These women think they are special, when they are just average. I’d laugh, but that would be cruel because the majority of those women want to birth at a hospital with epidurals, or don’t want to be in the position to be birthing at all.

  • Amazed

    These women never fail to make me laugh, sitting on their makeshitf thrones and acting like they’re the goddess Hera or something.

    You know what was an achievement? My grandmother succeeding to keep her baby alive and thriving when her milk dried up 40 days postpartum. Cow milk, sheep milk, bread soaked in wine – they were all great because they FED THE BABY! And it was an achievement in the terms of them not being optimal food but managing to keep him out of infant mortality stats.

    ‘course, she’d just call it mothering but if we have to weigh mothering “achievements”, this was was for sure trumped the narcissist’s because it included months of constant work and yes, fears.

    • MaineJen

      That reminds me of the story of my grandmother’s birth…my great grandmother had all of her babies at home in rural Minnesota in the 1920s. She was rh-, and had already lost several children to rh incompatibility. They would either be stillborn or would die shortly after birth. She had also recently lost a 3 year old daughter to pertussis.

      When my grandma was born, it was thought she would die too, because it was obvious she was rh+ just like all the others. But my great grandmother refused to give up on her (so goes the family lore), wrapping her and warming her near the oven and carefully nursing her. I have no idea how she kept that baby alive, but I’m grateful that she did!

      To me, efforts like that are heroic. When I think about how flippantly some of these midwives and women treat things like rh incompatibility, I get furiously angry. If my great grandmother could see how easily such things are treated today (a couple of injections and everything’s fine!), she’d think it a miracle.

      • Amazed

        What a sad story. And even the happy ending is somewhat sad because it was the only happy ending out of many. Yes, she was indeed a hero, helping her baby with her wits and will and not just leaving her body to do what it would have done anyway, will or not.

    • Mel

      My husband’s Oma gave birth to a 3 pound 3 oz little girl (who survived and lives down the street from us) back in the early 1950’s so we were worried about how she would feel when she saw pictures of our son.

      She was looking at all 1 pound 6 oz of him and was amazed because he looked so healthy! She kept saying that he wasn’t skeletal, that he had muscles and his skin was not broken.

      For Oma and Opa to keep up their hope in a foreign land where they didn’t speak the native language while their daughter was fighting for life — that’s real courage in my book.

      The saddest part – this was before the days of medical interpreters and the were the only Dutch speakers in their area of Canada. When the doctors discharged their daughter, Oma and Opa thought the doctors had given up hope and were sending her home to die, but Oma and Opa weren’t going to let the baby die. (Turns out she was ready to go home – but damn I wish Oma and Opa had known that.)

      • Amazed

        Oh my, I wish they had known as well!

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    I remember seeing one time some woman boasting about having a baby despite being only 7 cm dilated. I was like, huh? How is that something to be proud of?

    Not surprisingly, she has since had cervix issues and has had problems in subsequent pregnancies.

    • myrewyn

      OW!

    • sdsures

      Owwowowow!

  • fiftyfifty1

    “once-in-a-lifetime event”
    Pshaw. For my great grandmother, giving birth at home to an 11 pound baby without pain meds was a SIX-in-a-lifetime event. And 5 of them were even born living. And then she died in early middle age of complications of diabetes, so never saw most of them grow up.

    • 3boyz

      Hmm. Makes you wonder if she had GD in her pregnancies. The fact that she had such big babies and went on to develop diabetes makes it sound likely. GD runs in my dad’s family, and I’ve now had it 2 out of 3 times. The first time I had it, my doctor screwed up and didn’t diagnose it till after I had the baby, so it was completely uncontrolled and he was quite large, though thankfully not 11 lbs. Also without pain medication, but that’s only because the labor was too quick and we barely got to the hospital in time. Not fun. With the next baby, I was diagnosed in the early third trimester and was able to properly control it- yay modern medicine. And though I’m not pregnant at the moment, I am taking care of myself because thanks to science, I’m aware of my high risk of developing Type 2 and I am aware of what I can do to reduce the risk.

      • myrewyn

        I’m sure my grandma had undiagnosed GD (see 14 pound baby story below). because of her, I gladly guzzled the drink for my glucose tolerance test.

  • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

    Those privileged idiots need to read this:
    http://jezebel.com/6-weeks-with-the-pregnant-refugees-of-piraeus-port-gre-1791628281

    In Greece alone there are an estimated 6000 pregnant women in the refugee camps.
    “The conditions at the makeshift refugee camp at Piraeus Port in Athens were bad in any weather. Torn, battered camping tents arranged under highway flyovers, on a stretch of concrete and in a massive, abandoned stone warehouse. Three rows of port-a-potties available for more than 2,000 people. Lines for everything—shampoo, the oily chickpea soup served for dinner, doctors, clothes, registration.”

    • Roadstergal

      And we can’t bring them in to live like humans because we’re skuuurred. 🙁 🙁

      • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

        Eh, I’m more scared of dying in rush hour traffic on I-95 on a weekend but that’s me…

      • sdsures

        In Soviet Russia, baby have YOU.

  • Steph858

    A humble suggestion:

    Whenever one reads a headline similar to “Mum gives birth to 11 pound baby at home,” imagine what it means is “Mum conceives 11 pound baby despite being blindfolded and restrained with handcuffs.” The latter is just as great an achievement as the former …

    • Roadstergal

      The latter sounds like a lot more fun.

      • Steph858

        And a lot less risky. Or at least the risks are borne solely by 2 (or 6) consenting adults.

        • Roadstergal

          It’s definitely less risky! As long as you don’t lose the key.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            Heh. The local cops used to occasionally hang out at the ER at which I volunteered as a teen. I overheard some stories they definitely did *not* realize I was listening to as I innocently made up gurneys with fresh linen. *grins*
            Pro tip: if you decide to use your duty handcuffs for Fun Adult Time, it’s strongly recommended that you both clean and oil the lock and have a spare key. Cos if you have to call 911 to get yourself/your significant other unlocked, and you work with the people who respond, you’re unlikely to stop hearing about it for, oh, then next decade or two.

          • sdsures

            For beginners cuffs, I recommend soft velcro cuffs with a lobster clasp. These are the ones I have, and they’re very soft and padded, and if you need to get out of them quickly, it’s easy. http://www.lovehoney.co.uk/product.cfm?p=30725

          • FormerPhysicist

            Pretty sure the ER prefers people coming in needing to get out of handcuffs to homebirths gone wrong coming in. Easier, less of an emergency, and worth a good laugh in the staff room. Heck, maybe the police can help the handcuffed without needing an ER. Embarrassing, but not life-threatening.

          • Mel

            The NICU staff certainly do.

      • sdsures

        Hubby and I love my soft handcuffs (lobster clasp). *blushes*

        • Roadstergal

          Ya, in response to the comments below – well, unless you have a specific cop kink, skip the standard handcuffs and use cloth cuffs with hook-and-loop closures. They’re fun, you can control the tightness more easily, and no key to lose!

          • BeatriceC

            We use leather bracelet style cuffs that close with a buckle, with metal loops to attach a hook or rope or whatever. Those are far more comfortable and more versatile. They can be hooked together or to something else, and quickly changed to suit one’s mood.

  • Gene

    As a bone fide member of the 11lb/5kg club…I received no medals. I’m not a better mother for it. I don’t think of that birth as any better or worse than my others. In fact, I preferred the next one as the epidural actually worked and was completely pain free. And, in retrospect, I should never have risked his life that way and wish I would have asked for a c-section. Spouse’s great grandmother, per family lore, gave birth to a 13lb baby in a dug out in Oklahoma. All I can say to that is OWW OWW OWW HELL NO!!!!

    Just because it is POSSIBLE does not mean it’s desirable or laudable.

    • myrewyn

      My poor grandmother gave birth to my father at home (as per usual in rural Wisconsin 80+ years ago) and he weighed in at a whopping 14 pounds on the local deli scale. I’m sure Grandma would have welcomed a hospital and an epidural or c-section. Of course the birth made the local paper — we still have the clipping — congratulating my grandfather and making no mention of the woman who actually performed this feat.

      • Spamamander, pro fun ruiner

        Oh yes, grandfather had SO much to do with it… oy!

      • Allie

        On the bright side, maybe the local deli scale was weighted, and he wasn’t actually quite that big : )

        • myrewyn

          For sure the scale was not exact but he was big for sure!

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      My MIL missed that club by 1 oz. She didn’t get an award, either