This is a guest post from Cath Janes, the author of Birth Muthas, published in Standard Issue Magazine in response to Milli Hill’s gaslighting extravaganza The myth of the painful birth – and why it’s not nearly so bad as women believe.
Janes was shocked when Hill demanded that Standard Issue Magazine offer her the right of reply and even more shocked when the magazine gave in. Here is her response.
I’d been in blissful ignorance of Milli Hill until ten days ago, when I saw that she had written in The Telegraph about how “In an average eight hour labour, a woman can expect to be ‘in pain’ for only around 23 per cent of the time”. So when I was asked, by online mag Standard Issue, to respond in my usual truthful voice, I happily did. That was when Milli Hill made sure I would never be unaware of her again.
“In all of my years as a journalist and editor for national magazines and broadsheets I had never heard of this happening before.”
Well, Hill certainly wasn’t thinking positively on the day my piece was published. Very publicly, on Twitter, she began calling me unprofessional, claiming I had misrepresented her, demanding the piece be pulled and asking why I hadn’t given her the right of reply when I wrote it. It was stunning, not least because in all of my years as a journalist and editor for national magazines and broadsheets I had never heard of this happening before. An inherent right of reply to an opinion piece? The only upside was the dozens of messages I received from editors and journalists, all equally as stunned as I.
Standard Issue pulled my piece off its website upon Hill’s request, giving her 24 hours to write a right of reply which would be published alongside mine when it went back up. Except there was one difference; what was very obviously an analogy about injured troops had been removed at Hill’s demand and THAT is what you can read in my full piece here. I stand by that analogy with every fibre of my childbirth-broken soul. That’s because it was, I repeat, analogous and in no way descriptive. I don’t think I could state that any more clearly than I did in the piece and I do here now.
That Standard Issue decided to accede to Hill after the requested piece was published is one thing. As furious as I am about it, and as much as I have never heard of this happening before, I understand that Standard Issue has to operate in the way it feels is best for itself. We have parted ways because I no longer want to write for it and I now know of several other women who don’t want to write for it any more too.
What is quite another thing are Hill’s actions. For all of her claims that I had misrepresented her, her reply to my Standard Issue piece was hardly worth the wait. In fact it caused substantial hilarity amongst the many women who were following this debacle and I know that because they contacted me in support.
I’ve always been searingly honest about my experience of childbirth and the resulting PND, PTSD and career-ending breakdown. You can read in my piece about how the lack of honesty about what really happens during birth contributed significantly to this. I too believed I would get through my otherwise average labour with brilliant support and positivity and, more to the point, so did the hundreds of women who have since contacted me via social media and parenting forums. For balance, though, two women have told me that they feel there may be something in Hill’s theory even though they believe it to be flawed.
I’m a feminist who believes that women should always be empowered but only if that is underpinned with honesty. That is why I disagree so vehemently with Hill. I believe that to tell women that they are not feeling any pain at all for 77% of an average birth is to mislead them. Yes, the maths may be correct (for Hill has done the maths) but in terms of the emotions of panic, exhaustion, worry, fear and shock and the physical reactions of vomiting, breathlessness, tearing, cutting, bleeding and defecating it is not. Maths should never explain away the deeply personal process of giving birth and it should never be used to lull women into a false sense of security.
I’m not alone in feeling Hill’s ire or seeing her attempt to explain herself. She asked the Telegraph to change the headline that accompanied her original piece and has now told me that she didn’t expect Standard Issue to publish what she had written for them either. It’s good to know that I’m not alone. What isn’t good is that through her misguided, repeated and defamatory insistence that I have been unprofessional I have had to block her from my social media and private email accounts and am now considering legal action. The fact is that Hill and I will never agree on this issue and, in the belief that debate is good, I am fine with that. Whether she is good with her critics’ opinions being expressed is another thing. I’ll let you know after this too has been published.