Midwives, women and abuse

Abuse word on wooden cubes. Abuse concept

Lawyer and birth rights activist Bashi Hazard refuses to answer the question I posed:

What’s the difference between a doctor who performs a painful exam over a woman’s protests and a midwife who denies an epidural over a woman’s protests?

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The ugly truth is that Hazard and Hill aren’t interested in what women want; they’re only interested in what they and their friends want.[/pullquote]

In the meantime, journalist Milli Hill, always desperate for attention, has joined the fray.


I don’t really understand who ultimately gains from all the effort though? What is their goal – or who is getting their pockets lined – or both?


Well, take the NRA for example. How do you manage to keep selling guns to teenagers when your community is coping with 30-40 school mass shootings a year? By keeping the public on side through floods of “emotional messaging”: (1) Affirm their outrage (2) Tell them what to think

They seem to be under the mistaken impression that the bullshit with which they baffle their gullible followers will work on me.


Feminist academics have been exploring midwifery abuse of power for decades.

Among the most influential commentators on the subject are Ellen Annandale and Judith Clark, authors of the widely quoted paper, What is gender? Feminist theory and the sociology of human reproduction published in Sociology of Health & Illness Vol. 18, No. 1, 1996. The paper is long and filled with academic jargon, but has important insights that have created controversy among feminist theorists:

…[T]he lived experience of midwifery … is revealed only as the largely unresearched antithesis of obstetrics. An alternative is called into existence in powerful and convincing terms, while at the same time its central precepts (such as ‘women controlled’, ‘natural birth’) are vaguely drawn and in practical terms carry little meaning.

In other words, contemporary midwifery is unscientific and based on reflexive defiance. How did the it get to this point? Annandale and Clark believe that it starts with biological essentialism. Biological essentialism perpetuates women’s oppression by validating men’s belief that women are emotional and irrational. Or as Annandale and Clark write:

… Thus … reproduction is still centred for women and put on the agenda as if it were central to all women’s lives. This may serve to lock women into reproductive roles which may be politically problematic since the centrality of reproduction, contraception and childbirth to biomedicine is transferred to women’s experiences. This may be the reality of their experience, but equally importantly, it may not. To a certain extent this may be seen as an unavoidable consequence of a critique which appears as if it must engage the dichotomies of biomedicine to develop its own narrative.

Not only are the assumptions of biological essentialism wrong, they are also elitist:

… The charge of elitism evidenced in the privileged white middle-class voice of much research, and the silence around differences between women, applies well to Barbara Katz Rothman’s influential 1982 work … which ends with an implicit call for a home-based natural birth experience …. This is made in joyous terms with little recognition that many women may not be in the position to avail themselves of such an ‘alternative’ even if they wanted to.

Annandale and Clark ask a critical question about the new midwifery. Are midwives “with women” or exploiting women for their own ends?

If we conceive of power as a fundamentally male preserve we are led to gloss over ways in which women may exert power over others, including other women. In these terms, as recent institutional reforms stimulate community midwifery midwives may begin to consider the notion of affinity with women embedded in such concepts as ‘continuity of care’ … as masking the potential exploitation of midwives by their clients.

This is what Bashi Hazard and Milli Hill refuse to acknowledge. And because they cannot accept that midwives could abuse their power, they feel free to ignore the women who are abused by midwives.

One Twitter commentor wrote:

This happened to me and it certainly felt like assault. Midwife/doctor whoever is denying the pain relief, there needs to be serious concequences, it is a human right to have pain relief during childbirth, and in denying pain relief they are deliberately violating a human right.

Another wrote:

I’d also like to see them pulled up for ‘too early to have an epidural’ or the ‘let’s see how it goes’ routine. It’s nonsense- childbirth will generally get worse before it gets better and these tactics are designed to get the woman past the point of being able to have one.

The ugly truth is that Hazard and Hill aren’t interested in what women want; they’re only interested in what they and their friends want. And they’ll say and do anything — no matter whom they hurt in the process — to get it.

They know their position is indefensible so they try to divert with name calling and lies. That won’t work any more.