The ideology of Amy Tuteur: her baby, her body, her choice!

Core Values written on recycled paper

When my boys were small and were angry with me, they would respond with what they considered a devastating insult: “You are a poopy-head.”

Needless to say, it rarely produced the desired response. Instead I laughed.

I was reminded of that when I came across Milli Hill’s latest tweet berating loss father James Titcombe:

[S]ince you regularly align yourself with the ideology of Amy Tuteur, I consider it a great compliment that you find my ideological perspective unhelpful.

Needless to say, neither James nor I is devastated. I don’t know what James did when he read it, but I laughed.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]There is NO right way to have a baby.[/pullquote]

I also reflected that Hill, as usual, has got it completely backward. I have been deeply affected by the ideology of James Titcombe, not the other way round. His experience, and that of other bereaved mothers and fathers, helped me recognize radical midwifery theory for the arrogant, self-dealing, deadly philosophy that it is. And that in turn led to me to read more deeply about biological essentialism, feminism and medical ethics.

To the extent that James Titcombe might be aligned with “the philosophy of Amy Tuteur,” it’s worth spelling out exactly what that it. It can be summed up as follows:

Her baby, her body, HER choice!

My ideology is informed by my political liberalism. I believe that each individual has a different concept of the “good life,” generally knows best what will make him or her happy and should be allowed to pursue it to the extent that it doesn’t actively harm others.

So, for example, despite the fact that I happily raised four children within a permanent heterosexual relationship and consider it the ideal family arrangement, each individual has a different conception of the “good life.” It might be more, less or no children; marriage, cohabitation, celibacy; homosexuality or bisexuality.

Each individual knows far better than I what will make him or her happy; they aren’t in need of more “education” if they make a choice that is different from mine. And each individual should be allowed to pursue his or her aims to the extent that it doesn’t actively harm others.

As another example, despite the fact that I had four vaginal births (two with epidurals and two without), breastfed all my children, and considered that optimal, other women have different ideas about optimal childbearing and feeding. It might be adoption, elective C-section or gestational surrogacy. For those experiencing labor, they might view the pain as empowering or excruciating. For those who have the option to breastfeed, they might view it as difficult, distasteful or triggering.

Each woman knows far better than I what will make her happy; she isn’t in need of more “education” so she will make the same choices I made. And she should be allowed to pursue her aims to the extent that it doesn’t actively harm others.

As a result, I view the dichotomy beloved of midwives — between the technocratic and the midwifery model of childbirth — as both antiquated and fallacious. In my reading of contemporary childbearing/rearing philosophy, the central dichotomy is between biological essentialism and equality feminism.

It is the difference between viewing women as all having the same need for expression of their reproductive capacities vs. individual women — like individual men — as having different needs. It is the difference between postulating that all women are empowered by using their reproductive organs vs. acknowledging that many women find the use of their intellects and talents far more empowering than the use of their uteri, vaginas and breasts.

What does that mean in practice?

It means:

There is NO “right way” to have a baby. Some women find unmedicated vaginal birth empowering; others find it disempowering; still others feel something in between. All views are philosophically and morally equivalent.

Therefore, it follows that women who don’t find empowerment through their reproductive functions are NOT suffering from lack of knowledge or false consciousness. They don’t need to be educated or “supported” into making choices that are different than the ones they articulate.

It does NOT mean that births involving technology are to be favored. It means that NO specific form of birth is to be favored.

It does NOT mean that having a healthy baby is all that counts. It means that for some women having a healthy baby will be all that counts, and some women will find that a healthy baby is NOT compensation for being traumatized by labor or traumatized by their caregivers.

It means that the arbiter of clinical practice MUST be scientific evidence, not intuition and certainly not providers seeking validation of their own choices by patients mirroring them back.

It means that the arrogance of believing ‘doctor knows best’ should NOT be substituted by the arrogance of ‘nature knows best.’

It applies equally to breastfeeding. As between breastfeeding and formula feeding there is NO right way to feed a baby. Both choices are philosophically and morally equivalent.

That, in brief, is the ideology of Amy Tuteur.

Milli Hill — as well as Sheena Byrom, Hannah Dahlen, and the international clique of radical midwifery theorists — might disagree with it or even despise it; that’s their choice. But they have no right to mischaracterize it.