The birth rights movement betrays both women and babies

17804813 - illustration depicting cutout printed letters arranged to form the word betrayed

It is both sad and ironic that the natural childbirth movement, which is supposed to empower women, has ended up disempowering them. Organizations like Human Rights in Childbirth and the Orgasmic Birth movement imagine that they are liberating women to experience the fullness of natural birth. In truth, they are imprisoning women in a view of birth that is in its own way every bit as constraining and unnatural as the medical model of birth.

Psychologist Helena Vissing addresses this irony in the chapter A perfect birth; The Birth Rights Movement and the idealization of birth in the new book A Womb of Her Own; Women’s Struggle for Sexual and Reproductive Autonomy. The chapter is dense with the language of psychoanalysis, but is worthwhile reading in full nonetheless.

The birth rights movement has replaced one oppressive model of birth with another equally oppressive model: the idealization of birth.

Vissing starts with an analysis of what she terms the “birth rights movement.”

… In the Birth Rights Movement, birth is seen as a decisive moment in a woman’s life and is viewed as having crucial impact on the baby and the attachment process. Mainstream obstetrics and hospital birth practices are fiercely criticized and understood as oppressive, profit-oriented, and inhumane.

Sadly, while the birth rights movement has empowered some women, it has disempowered many more. How?

I assert that the idealization of birth is an illusory solution …. On the individual level, it serves to protect against anxieties about the body. On a cultural level, this defense fuels the ideological fight. When the rightness of birth choices is debated in a heated atmosphere, it happens at the expense of maternal subjectivity and emotional integration. Mothers’ subjective experiences of their reproductive rights are used as testimonies in current discourses on birth rights and thereby become underpinnings in an ideological debate…

Simply put, in its insistence on idealizing childbirth, the birth rights movement ignores the experiences of a substantial proportion, perhaps the majority, of women. And it doesn’t merely ignore them, it actively derides them.

Indeed:

… [T]he Birth Rights Movement may be reproducing the oppressing tendencies it sets out to fight.

The primary problem is that the birth rights movement replaces what it views as the faulty model of “industrialized” labor with the equally faulty model of idealized labor.

I suggest that the idealization is fueled mainly by two elements of the Birth Rights Movement’s philosophy: bio-essentialism … and the use of (maternal) subjective accounts…

Vissing articulates the fundamental principles of natural childbirth:

The term “natural” is widely used in the Birth Rights Movement, coined in the term “natural childbirth” by Grantly Dick-Read. In the idea of “normal” or “natural” birth, the birth process is seen as an inherently natural biological, psychological, and potentially also spiritual process, that, if left undisturbed, will unfold itself. Natural childbirth proponents have argued that the unnecessary or questionable interventions, like excessive fetal monitoring and induction that can lead to a cascade of interventions, are disturbing to the natural process of birth.

This idealized view of birth has nothing to do with the reality of birth:

What is understood as the “natural” and “normal” here is quite far from the realities of general childbirth practices. Using the terms “normal” and “natural” create an implicit judgment of women who need or chose to use medical technology and interventions in birth.

Birth stories are used to reinforce this unnatural view of childbirth.

The challenge of asserting maternal subjectivity becomes further problematic when there is idealization at play, as it is namely the idealization of the maternal that makes it hard to connect with the reality of the mother subject (Benjamin, 1988; Parker, 1995). I therefore find it concerning to see mothers’ subjective experiences widely used in literature of an ideological nature. Mothers’ subjective experiences risk getting lost in the ideological discourse because they are fitted into a specific narrative and used as underpinnings. With that we lose the voice of the individual mother’s intrapsychic and complex experience.

How does this hurt women?

In the idealization of birth, the negative aspects are split off and understood explicitly as the result of an unhealthy and/or abusive obstetric system and implicitly as a woman’s failure to assert and empower herself. In the Orgasmic Birth narrative, we are offered the fantasy that childbirth and motherhood without any boundary pressure is possible. From feminist psychoanalytic perspectives, this has dire consequences for maternal subjectivity. A woman will have a hard time expressing ambivalence and anxieties in a philosophy that understands negative feelings as symptoms of an oppressing system that should be resisted. A childbirth philosophy that places responsibility on the mother, whether directly or indirectly, as in the exaggerated focus on a woman’s potential control over the birth, is concerning.

In promoting an idealization of birth, in rejecting the real experiences of the majority of women, in pretending that those who don’t experience an idealized birth have themselves to blame, and in refusing to acknowledge that different women have different views and values, the birth rights movement has become everything is claimed to despise in the medical system. They have merely replaced the patriarchy with the matriarchy and used their power to oppress rather than to liberate.

  • keepitreal

    It’s not about the babies. It’s about the goddess. Belly painted, goddess-tribed gathered and no problem with sacrificing a dead homebirthed baby to the herd. Baby helped momma get her golden Oreo. Sick.

  • Helena Vissing

    How can I get in touch with Amy Tuteur? I can’t find an email on this blog. I want to correct the info about my title. I am not a psychoanalyst. I have a PsyD in Applied Clinical Psychology. I want to make sure I am not being misrepresented here. There should be an accurate bio in the book.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Sorry about that! I’ve fixed it.

  • J.B.

    I think that all women giving birth should have doulas. Not to promote natural birth but to have a non medical person in the hospital with a woman and to give her partner a break. Hospitals are antiseptic scary places and having a layman’s explanation of what is going on and a human touch is a good thing. Nurses have specific medical concerns and aren’t in the room the whole time. A friend who had had C sections got some of that human contact through a helpful nurse anesthetist, and found having someone fill that role reassuring.

    I didn’t have pain relief – not because I thought it mattered to the outcome of labor but because I have had bad reactions to pain relieving drugs. I was fine and the doula did have some useful techniques.

    • yentavegan

      My experience has been that my husband became the focused intelligent parent during my labors/c/sec’s. I believe having a hired female assistant would have undermined his connection to me . He was the clearheaded go-between for me and the hospital staff. 27 years later when he was deathly ill in the hospital I rose to the occasion and became his conduit. We share that in common.

      • J.B.

        Maybe a better way to do it (and perhaps available at some hospitals but not offered as a service to me) is availability of a patient advocate – someone who knows what the hospital is doing and when to give you a heads up. Declinable of course, but if you come in to the hospital with one other person there are times when one party needs to eat or pee. When my husband’s blood sugar gets low he is inclined to pass out. So when waiting around for me to have minor surgery, he went off to eat and when he got back I had been wheeled off.

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      It’s good for women who want them (or even for other areas such as the cancer ward). As for me, no thanks, I’m going to feel more comfortable with the medical personel than a random stranger. Maybe it was my time as a candystriper or that my dad was a respiratory therapist, or the repeated trips for asthma attacks as a little kid, but I’m fairly comfortable in a hospital.

      • myrewyn

        Totally agree. And I also spent time as a candystriper! Awesome experience.

    • AnnaPDE

      Let’s rather say, “should have the option to have a doula”, please. I really don’t want or need anyone to “translate” medicalese to me, thank you very much, and one more person to not insult by being a smartypants know-it-all would have been the last thing I wanted.

  • myrewyn

    Argh. I get that they’re trying to be positive for the rare woman who has to give birth unexpectedly on her own but this article is awful. I think it’s time for a letter to the app developers.
    http://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/emergency-labor?iid=mobileapp_dailyfeed_pregnancy_expertarticle_tri3

  • Liz

    “Women say a lot of things when they’re distressed with pain.” Silly ladies giving birth don’t really know what they’re talking about, because pain makes you say things you don’t mean, like stop the pain. This is demeaning and patronising and tragic on every level. Especially given Milli Hill’s article questioning if birth pain is actually real, or caused by a lack of support. Either women are made complete morons by their birth pain, or the ‘maginary pain can be willed away by happy thoughts and scented candles. Can’t have it both ways. http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/true-stories/baby-nixon-tonkins-mother-denied-caesarean-by-midwife/news-story/41d29a37112fbdeaf2a002bed15d7e84

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      I doubt anyone in that much pain is completely rational. Few people prefer very high levels of pain to pain medicine. Even my mother had an upper limit, though in her case, it was terminal cancer, not childbirth.

      • Liz

        I’m sorry you went through that with your mother. My father had terminal cancer but in the end it was the copious morphine they gave him that tipped the scale. It’s hard to watch someone in that much pain.

        I just feel so sad and furious for this family’s loss.

    • Heidi_storage

      For me, pain takes away all of my dignity and agency.

      • Liz

        It’s a horrible situation to be in. I hope you had/have someone advocating for you.

        • Heidi_storage

          Thanks! The anesthesiologist took care of the problem, and I enjoyed the rest of the births.

    • MaineJen

      What a nightmare it would be, to be begging for pain relief and have a midwife or doula say “Wellll, that’s not what you said you wanted before. Why don’t you try to stick it out a little while longer!” That is exactly why I didn’t seek out midwife led care. I didn’t want anyone to talk me out of it.

      The pain of contractions is beyond anything. You literally can’t imagine what it’s going to be like before you go through it. And no one can give you an end point; no one can tell you “It will be over in an hour,” because you could have hours and hours of labor still ahead of you.

      Empowering women means LISTENING to them.

      • Liz

        Exactly this.

    • Roadstergal

      Hey, if a woman is so distressed with pain that she can’t trust her judgment, reducing that pain would be job #1, wouldn’t it?

      I mean, if you’re an empathetic human being.

      • Liz

        You’d think so. I mean I get that healthcare workers are human and capable of mistakes. But it’s like there’s a culture in parts around childbirth being painful and that’s life, nature, whatever, so get over it, it’ll pass. Or worse, it’s something we deserve.

  • yentavegan

    A deep kernel of a truth I am ashamed to say about myself…I wanted to believe that I would have survived giving birth 500 years ago and my children would have thrived without any medical intervention. Holding on to this belief liberated me from the guilt of being the beneficiary of unearned privilege. So the natural birth movement appealed to me because it gave me a platform to prove my genetic sturdiness. ( However, in reality I needed all sorts of low level interventions and two c/sections ..so 500 years ago evolution would have selected me out)

    • Mel

      I can see the appeal of that mindset.

      A thought that has been bothering me since my son was born is that he’s thriving in spite of being born 14 weeks early because he was lucky enough to be born in the US close to a regional NICU hospital. If he had been born on the same day in Syria or entire swaths of the developing world, he’d be dead.

      • Spawn was born at 26 weeks, yes? When I graduated nursing school (1967) he wouldn’t have had a chance.

      • Sarah

        No doubt that’s true. We are so very fortunate to have modern medicine.

    • Allie

      That’s nothing compared to the existential crisis induced by contemplating my smart, beautiful, funny IVF daughter (who shouldn’t exist – according to Dolce & Gabbana, anyway). I’ve given up trying to understand privilege. Now I just focus on be conscious of it, being thankful for my many blessings, and helping others whenever I can.

      • StephanieA

        There definitely is a sense of superiority among mothers who get pregnant easily. A woman I know told everyone who would listen about how her third child was conceived with a Nuvaring in place, and she felt just so guilty for being so fertile when so many other women have trouble getting pregnant. Eye roll.

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          Nah, that’s just Nuvaring. My sister got pregnant twice with it, and she had fertility issues to start. (now it’s a moot point)

        • Lilly de Lure

          Ah, the Fertility Humble Brag – even though thankfully the ivf worked for me I still feel all stabby when I hear it.

    • MaineJen

      Oh, it’s quite a fun “what if?” game to play…”Would I still be alive if I had been born 200 years ago?”

      In my own case…I’d still be alive, but I would be half-blind and I’d have no teeth left. And who knows if my kids would have survived birth/babyhood…my water tends to break very early, hours/days before labor starts, so who knows what infections may have crept in there?

      I’m very thankful to be living right now!

    • Heidi_storage

      My mom wouldn’t have been alive if she’d been born 20 years earlier, probably (she was a small preemie born 1939). I would have had a good chance of dying from Rh incompatibility if I’d been born more than 30 years earlier than I was (1982; my mom was already sensitized from her pregnancy with my brother).

  • BeatriceC

    OT: Leo, my Senegal parrot has been in birdie ICU since Tuesday. My vet is excellent; one of the best avian vets in the US, if not the world, and he’s stumped. He changed his antibiotic today hoping that it will have more of an effect since his white blood cell count hasn’t gone down at all. He’s being tube fed to hopefully keep him alive long enough to figure out what’s wrong. I love all my birds, but Leo is special. He’s far and above my favorite. I’d be upset if any of my birds were sick, but this is devastating.

    • Spamamander, pro fun ruiner

      Hoping for the best. I’ve never had birds, but any pet is part of the family, especially ones so long-lived and intelligent.

      • Roadstergal

        +1 to that. 🙁

    • StephanieJR

      *hugs* I sincerely hope little Leo gets better. It hurts not to know how they’re doing, especially when they can’t communicate, and birds and exotics being so different and difficult.

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      I’m sorry that Leo is having problems! Crossing fingers that new antibiotics do the trick.

    • Empliau

      Any update? We’re pulling for you and Leo 🙂

      • BeatriceC

        It’s been a busy day. I’m just now checking into this blog. Leo is home. He’s in a little hospital cage set up and I have to supplement his diet with baby bird formula via a syringe if he doesn’t eat enough during the day, plus he’s still on antibiotics and needs a heat lamp to maintain his temperature, but at least he’s home. MrC was making fun of me a little because I gave him several bowls of all his favorite foods including fruits, veggies, nuts, and other dry stuff to entice him to eat as much as possible.

        http://i301.photobucket.com/albums/nn67/mmsw1/Mobile%20Uploads/IMG_2351_zpsacob096p.jpg

  • Hannah

    OT: my complaints about registrar at my 24 week check are making progress. I had 26 week check on Weds, and midwife was PISSED that he’d refused to refer me for the GD test. She called direct to schedule it while I was in room, and managed to get me in for this morning! Also lady in OB reception in hospital was lovely, has put on my notes that I am to see consultants only as suggested (thank you for the idea, I wouldn’t have thought of it, being less familiar with the system here!), and gave me phone number for formal complaint line for hospital. Having some trouble reaching them, but at least it’s getting there and I got my GD test 🙂 Two weeks til next growth scan and appointment now, and midwife’s anger at registrar has me feeling much better 🙂

  • Guest

    “A childbirth philosophy that places responsibility on the mother, whether directly or indirectly, as in the exaggerated focus on a woman’s potential control over the birth, is concerning.”

    This. I can’t tell you how many times I have been essentially blamed for having had c-sections (always with the implication that a c-section is a tragedy). Did I see a chiropractor? Did I try acupuncture? Did I do a liver cleanse? Did I insist on waiting past my due date to see if my situation would change on its own? Did I try using [insert any number of herbal remedies and supplements]? All these questions imply that my ‘tragic’ birth experiences could have been avoided had I taken action, had I tried harder, or had I been more ‘educated.’

    For the record, I loved my birth experiences, and I resent being told that 1) my experience was unfortunate, and 2) it’s my fault that things went badly.

    • Hannah

      This is exactly why I refuse to call it ‘natural’ or ‘normal’, even on my babycentre forum. Natural has become conflated with good, as has normal, and my subtle rebellion is to never refer to it as anything other than ‘vaginal’. Because what’s abnormal about having a second option to keep things safe?

      • Empress of the Iguana People

        I like to say “the more common method” because uncommon ain’t so bad 🙂

        • Roadstergal

          “Aye, lady ’tis common.”

          • LaMont

            Then why seems it so particular with thee? 🙂

      • Who?

        I call vaginal birth ‘the old fashioned way’, as opposed to ‘through the sunroof’.

        • Gene

          The dukes of hazzard and/or knight rider way? Awesome!!

          (Revealing my age)

          • Roadstergal

            Knight Rider FTW.

          • Who?

            Never seen either and very happy to defer to whichever those who know more on the topic (be it 70s tv or childbirth) suggest.

          • AnnaPDE

            Ha, I’ll steal that Knight Rider idea. I’m usually calling it “via the custom made escape hatch”.
            Fun fact: My oldest friend only found out at age 12 that there are other ways of being born than via CS. She thought my sister and I were trying to gross her out when the topic came up thanks to her new, not-really-male hamster having had babies overnight, without a doctor present…

      • Allie

        When I was pregnant, people kept on asking me “how” I was going to have the baby and whether I would have her “natural.” I interpreted “natural” to mean “drug-free,” to which my response was “hells no!” There are no heroes in childbirth, with the exception of the anesthesiologist : )

        • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

          When they asked me those questions I said”Knock me out and wake me when it’s potty trained” mostly kidding…

          • Allie

            Too soon. Wake me for college graduation ; )

    • fishcake

      Thank you. I hated being told that my C-section was a bad thing. Didn’t these people who were telling me this see that my daughter was here, and doing great?

    • Steph858

      This might be my mean side coming out, but my response to anyone who tries to treat my C-Section as a ‘tragic birth experience’ will be treated to the following response:

      “You pushed for 3 HOURS! And your contractions had been coming for 12 HOURS! Oh, you poor, poor thing. I’m so sorry you had such a poor birth experience – all that pain and suffering, which must have been causing you stress so can’t have been good for baby either. And it could all have been avoided with a C-Section. Having a C-Section without any trial of labour, now THERE’S an ideal birth experience. It hurts a little when the epidural goes in, but no more so than getting an injection always does. After that, you just lie back and think of England while the surgeons do their thing. It’s a little uncomfortable for half an hour, but not painful at all. Then you spend a week in bed being waited on hand-and-foot by hubby and/or the nurses. Bonus points if hubby can smuggle in a bottle of bubbly for you to wet the baby’s head with. Grab a magazine and pretend you’re at the beach. Bliss! I can’t imagine being turfed out the hospital just a few short hours after giving birth the painful way with nowt more than a couple of paracetamol and a leaflet on the benefits of breastfeeding; how barbaric!”

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      Without a c-section, my partner would have left the hospital alone. I consider that a more tragic experience than any loss of vaginal flora or birth experience or whatever else. (Also, if anyone cares, I made enough milk to supply a 19th century orphanage afterwards. So much for c-sections ruining your breast feeding experience.)

    • SporkParade

      This birth gaslighting nonsense drives me nuts. I once on Facebook strongly recommended against the childbirth class I took because it was full of misinformation and I didn’t find the pain relief techniques particularly useful. The woman who runs the class responded by inviting me over for a cup of tea so we could discuss ways my next birth experience could be better. Please note that I had never said I had a bad experience, just that epidurals are way better than Hypnobirthing.

  • Sarah

    I’m not massively keen on letting that lot have the term ‘birth rights movement’ to be honest. It should more appropriately be used by those who, like us, uphold a woman’s right to choices about birth, be that medicalised or otherwise. Which I think we are all pretty clear that the birth rights movement, as discussed in this article, does a poor job of. It reminds me of when totalitarian states refer to themselves as democratic republics.

  • myrewyn

    Sort of OT but I’ll put it here anyway. I had my 32 week growth scan yesterday. (So many scans when you’re over 40 but hooray for that view of healthy baby and placenta!) The OB who read the ultrasound was a male doctor, probably closer to the end of his career than the beginning. Grey haired and professional-looking, he probably looked to NCB activists like the picture of the cold surgeon they seem to think every OB is. While he read the ultrasound though, he was animated and enthusiastic. He got to the kidneys and exclaimed, “aren’t those just perfect kidneys? Those are beautiful kidneys. Here, I’m going to print you a photo of that.” And he wasn’t being facetious, this was a man who truly loves his job and he was excited about seeing each new structure show up normal on the US. I had to laugh at the kidneys because of course that’s important and I get that, but not exactly what I go into an appointment eager to see 🙂 He told me my baby looks quite perfect, good brain and nice fat around the tummy, and even a full head of hair. I realize that some women have had very bad experiences with impersonal doctors, but I have yet to meet one and I feel bad for the good ones, likely a large majority, who are now seen as a force to battle with.

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      Awe! He sounds like a cutie. Bet he talks to all the babies he meets and tries to get them to smile at him.

      • myrewyn

        I’m sure he does. My OB for my first two babies was much the same, and older guy who just loved babies. This time around I have a woman and I really like her too but I don’t have a strong preference.

    • fishcake

      I adore my OB. When I ran into her in the halls after my maternity leave (we work at the same hospital), I got butterflies in my stomach because I felt she took such good care of me, and therefore, such good care of my daughter too.

      • myrewyn

        I practically had an inappropriate crush on my last OB… it’s really something to be taken care of like that, isn’t it?

        • fishcake

          It really is. I’m glad you’ve had good experiences with your OBs too.

        • The Computer Ate My Nym

          I had an instant, inappropriate, and fortunately short lived crush on my anesthesiologist right after she put the epidural in.

          • Sean Jungian

            Me too! Instant and complete infatuation. I still remember what she looked like lol. I wanted to kiss her!

    • Roadstergal
      • myrewyn

        Haha I can only guess he had a recent issue with kidneys in a newborn??

        • Heidi

          We kinda had a kidney scare at our 20 week U/S. (I looked it up at the time and it almost within normal range so I didn’t fret much.) I think it’s really common for them to either appear or maybe just be a little too dilated, especially in boys but usually corrects itself later on in pregnancy and if not then, a few months after being born. IIRC, we did a follow-up scan at 30 weeks and all was well.

          • MaineJen

            My son had a dilated kidney on his 20 week ultrasound too. My doc explained that all was probably fine, that so much detail can be seen on modern ultrasounds that they sometimes pick up details like this that wouldn’t have been seen years ago, and that usually work themselves out in time. She was a straight talker, and really put my mind at ease.

            My daughter’s “ultrasound issue” was placental lakes…areas where the placenta is not as securely attached and form pools or “lakes” of blood (I think). It’s a common enough finding that it’s not an emergency, but does merit monitoring as it *can* lead to abruption. Same OB put my mind at ease about that as well, while also telling me what to look for in terms of abruption.

          • myrewyn

            I was diagnosed with subchorionic hemorrhage early in my pregnancy which is what that sounds like. Apparently it’s the cause of a lot of pregnancy “bleeds” but can also spontaneously correct itself which was what mine did. It was visible on the first two ultrasounds and then disappeared. I never bled.

          • MaineJen

            God that would have freaked me out…you don’t want to hear the words “hemorrhage” and “pregnancy” together.

          • myrewyn

            I was never really worried, because once again I had an OB who took the time to explain the finding, what I should watch for, and how we would proceed if I started bleeding. Funny how smart, compassionate people go into obstetrics…

          • Kelly

            Having gone through a few medical scares with myself and my children, if my doctor is not concerned, then I am not concerned. I love having competent doctors who have seen it all and who have a better sense of risk management than I do.

          • Lilly de Lure

            Snap! I did bleed but not very much (well, not untill 19 weeks but that’s another story) and mostly old blood but it was annoying AF as I’m rhesus negative and had to get an anti-D (Rhogam in the US) shot from the hospital after each one. I must have had most of the supply in Scotland pumped into my arm during that pregnancy!

      • Spamamander, pro fun ruiner

        Ahh but Weird Al knows what organ he truly loves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqDBB0no6dQ

    • Mel

      Oh, man. You reminded me of one of Spawn’s neonatologists. He looked super-imposing but was the sweetest human being on the face of the Earth.

      When Spawn coded as soon as he realized that the other neonatologist and assorted medical staff had the situation under control, he started explaining to me in a very gentle and easy to understand manner what happened with Spawn. He explained that all of the people in the room had a code pager and that if something like this happened again the room would be this full – any time of day or night, weekend, weekday or holiday. He also told me that young preemies do this – maybe even a few times – and it’s not a sign that he’s sick or has major problems – just that he was born before all of his systems were ready to go.

      Since I’m already tearing up, I’ll share the moment I knew what a great man he was. He’s on the transport team which covers all of northern Michigan and we overheard him talking with a pediatrician from a rural hospital where a 22 week-old baby was about to be born. Transport wasn’t an option unless the baby’s EDD was wrong; the baby needed to have a reasonable shot of survival. He explained what traits to look for to see if the baby was older than 22 weeks – but that if the parents had a 1st trimester dating ultrasound, the date was extremely unlikely to be off by enough that the baby had a chance of survival. He talked the pediatrician through the survival stats of a 22-weeker (pretty much 0% with lots of painful procedures) then spent as much time explaining how to keep the infant comfortable if they survived the birth until they passed away. He kept repeating, “Do not insert an IV. Do not intubate. That will simply hurt the infant and will not prolong life at all. You can blow oxygen by the face if it gives the parents comfort – it won’t hurt the infant. The best goal is a peaceful passing for the baby and as much comfort for the parents as possible.” He then gave the doctor the freedom to call back to the unit 24/7 – but also gave him his personal cell if the doctor wanted to continue contact with him.

      That’s real caring.

      That’s putting the infant and parent patients first – not a ideology.

      That’s love in action.

      • myrewyn

        Now I’m tearing up too. I’m gonna blame pregnancy hormones. Nah… what a great guy.

        • Sean Jungian

          I’m gonna blame YOUR pregnancy hormones for my tearing up ;).

      • Spamamander, pro fun ruiner

        Oh my goodness I’m a little teary now too and I don’t even have pregnancy to blame for it. I love that his concern was for making everything as peaceful and painless as he could for parents and the infant instead of heroic measures that would have just ended in more pain all around.

      • fishcake

        What a great doctor.

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      Awwww! He sounds like my OB! Mine loves it when moms bring “his” babies in to see him at any age. The first time I met him, he was tossing a toddler in the air and singing the “Spider-Man” theme song to said toddler so that very pregnant mom could finish paperwork without interruption. 😀

  • Amy M

    Interesting. I know this is focusing on birth, but I think the idea could be expanded to the experience of motherhood in general, especially for first time mothers. I think there is a cultural expectation that women will have their babies, “fall in love” with them, and [should] enjoy every moment. This could be even more so for women who struggled with infertility, because they finally got what they wanted, so they should be ecstatic all the time. Of course, in real life, parts of motherhood really suck—sleep deprivation, less time, less money, more messiness and often (at least temporarily) reduced sex drive. And that doesn’t even count PPD, which (of course) isn’t experienced by everyone, but can really create a dilemma for those who wonder why they aren’t enjoying their babies more. All this telling women how it should be doesn’t leave women a lot of room for their actual experiences, should they differ from the narrative.

    • Mel

      Freedom to express negative emotions was another secret benefit of being in the NICU. No one expects preternaturally calm, serene Earth-Mothers when your baby was born a trimester early.

      My husband and I “surprised” our NICU staff with how well we handled Spawn’s NICU stay. We let the know it was a combination of an unusually high pre-existing support network including both of us being in therapy prior to Spawn’s birth (and, God, it was nice to have a place where I could say “No, I know the NICU staff thinks Spawn is going to do fine, but he’s the size of a freaking pop bottle and my gut keeps telling me he’s going to die because babies who are born 3.5 months early haven’t survived through most of time!” and get support from a lot of people), Spawn’s grandparents who lived nearby AND had been long-term NICU parents themselves and a huge heap of white, middle class, highly educated privilege.

    • MaineJen

      I *hate* it when people say “enjoy every moment.” Really??? Enjoy dragging my screaming toddler out of the grocery store? Enjoy waking up to breastfeed for the 4th time since midnight? Enjoy cleaning poop off the back of a onesie…again? I don’t think so.

      On the other hand, I did enjoy cuddling both my sweeties (now 5 and 7!) in bed this morning. We overslept a bit, but it was worth it 🙂

      • Kelly

        I saw an article which described loving their cuteness and wanting to hug them tight and never let them go and then in ten seconds wanting to throw them out the window because they were so frustrating. I think that describes having children in a nutshell. Rarely are days completely great or completely bad. It helped me to live in the moment for the really good moments but know that just around the corner I would probably be holding on to my sanity as they acted like turds.

      • Amy M

        A couple weeks ago, I stumbled, barefoot and blind (didn’t put my glasses on), into my sons’ bedroom at 1:30am to see what was wrong, and stepped right in a puddle of puke. I did not enjoy that moment.

  • lawyer jane

    Challenging and thought provoking! I think it can be equally applied to breastfeeding:

    “A woman will have a hard time expressing ambivalence and anxieties in a philosophy that understands negative feelings as symptoms of an oppressing system that should be resisted. [E.g., claims that breastfeeding problems, or even just negative feelings about it, are caused by “lack of support”]. A childbirth [or infant feeding] philosophy that places responsibility on the mother, whether directly or indirectly, as in the exaggerated focus on a woman’s potential control over the birth [health of the baby], is concerning.”

    I think what makes the infant feeding discourse possibly even more potent than the childbirth discourse is that we DEEPLY believe that the mother is uniquely responsible for the health of her child, all the while while actual social welfare supports for families are falling apart around us. So it is incredibly tempting to shift ALL the responsibility for family welfare onto things the mother can do, such as breastfeeding.