Actually, I do get to have an opinion on how other women give birth


Doula Carrie Murphy is shocked, shocked to discover that some women judge other women’s births. In her Jezebel piece You Don’t Get to Have an Opinion on How Anyone Gives Birth. Ever. Murphy declaims:

Giving birth to a human being—however it happens—is a visceral, memorable and profound life experience. Why do so many people feel entitled to pass judgment on the way that anyone else makes it through?

You know what I mean. You’ve probably done it, even. Whether or not you’ve had a kid, you’ve probably texted about that friend from high school’s TMI Facebook birth photos where you can basically see her vagina. You might’ve told the pregnant lady in the grocery store just how bad the pain is, so don’t even think about trying to be a martyr because you should definitely get the meds, honey. This social tendency has practically been ingrained as tradition: passing on advice, mostly unsolicited, is part of almost every conversation about birth.

Which is why it feels so necessary to issue this reminder: You don’t actually get to have an opinion about where or how or why anyone else gives birth. Ever.

Ummm, Ms. Murphy. I have news for you. Judging other women’s birth is NOT socially ingrained tradition. It is relatively new and it can be traced to the advent of the natural childbirth movement.

What do I mean? Here’s an example of how some women judge other women’s births:

The culture around birth in the United States is a damaging culture of fear, guilt, and shame. It is a culture that teaches us that once we become pregnant, we are no longer capable of making our own decisions, no longer the stewards of our own bodies. It tells us that our bodies are broken and can’t bring a baby into this world without the help of synthetic hormones or a scalpel, while simultaneously reinforcing the idea that childbirth should be a perfect and beautiful experience where we act like amazing warrior goddesses who don’t yell or poop or beg for drugs.

Who said that? Why none other than Carrie Murphy peddling the typical judgmental crap of the natural childbirth movement within the very same piece. You know, the movement that tells you that anyone who isn’t a natural childbirth advocate is promoting a “a damaging culture of fear, guilt, and shame.” The movement that tells you that anyone who suggests that preventive care in pregnancy might improve outcomes is claiming that “our bodies are broken” or that Pitocin is only given to women because obstetricians believe women can’t give birth “without the help of synthetic hormones” or that we perform C-sections because we can’t imagine birth without a scalpel.

Murphy is mad:

Making fun of, or decrying, or trash talking, what another woman wants for when she becomes a mother is a shitty way to be a human being. The backlash against birth plans and birth preferences—the attitude that these things are for silly, high-maintenance women who are setting themselves up to fail—is just another way our society tells women that they do not deserve autonomy over their own bodies. We know what’s best for you. Adjust your expectations.

And who might be responsible for this supposed backlash against birth plans? Why none other than yours truly!

The article that Murphy links in the above quote notes:

I recently read a post (and a slew of supporting comments) on a popular parenting blog about birth plans and why you shouldn’t have one. Yes, you read that right — why you shouldn’t.

I suspect she is referring to one of my most commented posts ever, Birth plans: worse than useless, with 1049 comments and rising, where I wrote:

Birth plans engender hostility from the staff, are usually filled with outdated and irrelevant preferences, and create unrealistic expectations among expectant mothers. But the worst thing about birth plans is they don’t work. They don’t accomplish their purported purpose, make no difference in birth outcomes, and, ironically, predispose women to be less happy with the birth than women who didn’t have birth plans.

That was taken by the original writer, and apparently by Murphy as well, as criticism of women who write birth plans.

According to Murphy:

The bizarre, bitter tendency to criticize individual women for their individual choices is part of a greater cultural misogyny, where we’re taught to direct our rage at each other, rather than at the limiting messages and systems that control our lives as women.

That is self serving hypocrisy. Murphy can stuff her piece with minor criticisms of the excess of the natural childbirth movement, but that doesn’t change the fact that what Murphy is really upset about is criticism of the philosophy of natural childbirth and the people who profit from it like Murphy herself. Natural childbirth advocates had no problem with criticizing women and their births until people started criticizing THEM. Indeed, Murphy is spewing demeaning, critical nonsense in the very piece where she is decrying criticism.

Instead of focusing our energy on the epic shittiness of the maternity care system in the United States, our 32.8% cesarean rate, the abominable maternal mortality rate, or the disturbing fact that black babies are twice as likely to die as white babies, we snark on each other’s “naive” birth plans or hand-wring over elective inductions.

But our maternity care system is not shitty. That’s just another self-serving lie made up by the natural childbirth industry. The US has one of the lowest perinatal mortality rates in the world. The mortality of black infants is not a reflection of our obstetric system; it is a reflection of our cultural history of racism, classism and limited access to high quality health care. Our maternal mortality rate is the result of women who aren’t getting high tech obstetric care and has NOTHING to do with our C-section rate.

What is really going on here? The tide is turning and women are beginning to take a long, hard look at the claims of the natural childbirth movement, both their claims of scientific superiority and the claims of superiority of natural childbirth advocates, and they are criticizing natural childbirth advocacy.

Natural childbirth advocates are hypersensitive of anything that even approaches criticism of them. My empirical claims about the demonstrated ineffectiveness of birth plans are perceived as criticism of women who make birth plans. Even worse, anyone who isn’t actively praising natural childbirth is portrayed as criticizing it, when nothing of the kind is happening. But that hypersensitivity is not surprising; indeed it is only to be expected in a movement that encourages women to believe that the type of birth they choose is a sign of the type of mother they are. Simply put, the absence of praise is viewed as criticism.

While natural childbirth advocates may be hypersensitive about criticism, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t being criticized in other ways. We are just beginning to acknowledge the pernicious effects of the viciousness of natural childbirth advocates in rating women and their births. They are wrong on the science; they are self-interestedly shilling for their own products and services; and their philosophy is fundamentally anti-feminist, judging women on the function of their bodies, not on the achievements of their minds or the contents of their characters.

Actually, I do get to have an opinion on how other women give birth … and my opinion is that there is no best way to give birth and that how other women give birth tells us nothing about what kind of mothers or people they are.

Not only that, but I feel perfectly comfortable judging other women poorly for thinking that their unmedicated vaginal birth makes them better than other mothers. How sad that they only recognized the harm of judging when they started being judged for their judgmentalism.