How natural childbirth advocates justify shaming other mothers

eleanor roosevelt marian anderson

Shame is integral to contemporary natural childbirth advocacy.

It’s based on an entirely arbitrary standard devised by racist, sexist old white men, and perpetuated by well off Western, white women who have enshrined their privilege by making their personal preferences normative.

I’ve often satirized the passive-aggressive shaming that is so beloved of natural childbirth advocates (I’m so not judging you), but today I’d like to address it head on. Blogger Mama Birth has provided the perfect opportunity with her recent post passive-aggressively justifying passive-aggressive shaming in I Can’t Make You Feel Ashamed of Your Birth (Unless You Really Are Ashamed of It).

Fair’s fair, so I should acknowledge excellence when I see it: Mama Birth’s piece is a truly exquisite example of the genre, kind of like a double back flip in diving, simultaneously shaming women who don’t have unmedicated vaginal births AND blaming them for feeling ashamed!

Mama Birth recognizes that criticism of natural childbirth shaming is gaining traction:

Shaming is a hot topic in the birth world though, isn’t it? If you are dumb enough to have an opinion and share it then you are undoubtedly going to be accused of shaming somebody who did otherwise. If you state that formula is a poor substitute for breast-milk or mention that the cesarean section is a perverse form of birth control … or (gasp) talk about how much you loved your natural birth, then stand back. Because what happens next is you will be accused of shaming people.

But Mama Birth refuses to take responsibility for shaming others since it is THEIR FAULT if they feel ashamed, not hers:

Never-mind that the people who you have forced into feeling guilty because you had an opinion are full fledged adults who you have never actually met—never mind that! You got in their head, you twisted their emotions, you are now in charge of their brain…

Sure, it would be really nice and convenient if every time we felt bad it was actually somebody else’s fault. Then nothing would be our fault. And if we did screw up, the bad feelings that went along with it would not be our responsibility.

See, it’s not Mama Birth’s fault that you feel ashamed when she shames you. Your bad feelings are not her responsibility.

Let’s extrapolate to some real world situations:

If everyone took Mama Birth’s advice, people of color should blame themselves for feeling bad about being subjected to racist treatment. It’s not racists’ fault that African-Americans feel victimized by racist taunts; it’s their fault for taking those racist slurs to heart.


No one should be criticizing homophobia, since, according to Mama Birth, no one can make you feel ashamed for your sexual orientation unless you are really ashamed of it.


We could be free once again to refer to the developmentally disabled as “retards.” Sure they and those who love them might be offended, but objecting to the epithet “retard” just shows that those people are ashamed that they or their loved ones are retards.

Isn’t that convenient? Racists don’t have to feel bad about their racism, homophobes are free to feel good about their homophobia and natural childbirth advocates can continue to revel in shaming other mothers. Don’t blame the racists, homophobes or Mama Birth. It’s all the fault of the victims!!

Mama Birth quotes Eleanor Roosevelt in support of her creative interpretation of shaming. Roosevelt said:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

It’s a rather ironic quotation for two reasons. First, all her biographers, as well as many who knew her while alive, would argue that Eleanor Roosevelt was oppressed for most of her life by a deep and abiding sense of inferiority, having been constantly shamed by those she loved most.

Second, Roosevelt was NOT excusing those who shamed others. When in 1939 African American contralto Marian Anderson, one of the most celebrated opera singers of her generation, was denied permission by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to use its Constitution Hall for a concert, Mrs. Roosevelt did not advise Ms. Anderson that “no one can make you feel ashamed of your race unless you really are ashamed of it.”

What did she do?

On February 26, 1939, Mrs. Roosevelt submitted her letter of resignation to the DAR president …

On February 27, Mrs. Roosevelt addressed the issue in her My Day column, published in newspapers across the country. Without mentioning the DAR or Anderson by name, Mrs. Roosevelt couched her decision in terms everyone could understand: whether one should resign from an organization you disagree with or remain and try to change it from within. Mrs. Roosevelt told her readers that in this situation, “To remain as a member implies approval of that action, therefore I am resigning.”

Mrs. Roosevelt’s resignation thrust the Marian Anderson concert, the DAR, and the subject of racism to the center of national attention. As word of her resignation spread, Mrs. Roosevelt and others quietly worked behind the scenes promoting the idea for an outdoor concert at the Lincoln Memorial, a symbolic site on the National Mall overseen by the Department of the Interior…

On April 9th, seventy-five thousand people, including dignitaries and average citizens, attended the outdoor concert. It was as diverse a crowd as anyone had seen—black, white, old, and young—dressed in their Sunday finest. Hundreds of thousands more heard the concert over the radio. After being introduced by Secretary Ickes who declared that “Genius knows no color line,” Ms. Anderson opened her concert with America. The operatic first half of the program concluded with Ave Maria. After a short intermission, she then sang a selection of spirituals familiar to the African American members of her audience. And with tears in her eyes, Marian Anderson closed the concert with an encore, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.

The DAR’s refusal to grant Marian Anderson the use of Constitution Hall, Eleanor Roosevelt’s resignation from the DAR in protest, and the resulting concert at the Lincoln Memorial combined into a watershed moment in civil rights history, bringing national attention to the country’s color barrier as no other event had previously done.

The natural childbirth movement is approaching a cross-roads. The culture of shame that they perpetuate is being revealed in all it’s ugliness. Natural childbirth advocates can respond like Eleanor Roosevelt and provide powerful examples rejecting the use of shame in promoting their message …

… or they can follow the lead of Mama Birth and blame the shamed for their own shame.