The “midwife of modern midwifery” Ina May Gaskin was interviewed recently at the blog Feministing, and instead of resulting in a shower of goodness around the beauty and wonder of natural childbirth, it stirred up a shit storm of controversies and anger about homebirth, attacks on Ms. Gaskin, and whole mess of judgements and shame against mothers who decide make any other decisions besides the rule-of-thumb hospital birth.
Ms. Gaskin says this about her connection to feminism in the interview:
During my first birth, I was subjected to insane treatment– mandatory forceps delivery. I came into contact with women a year and a half later who were saying,”This is not going to happen to us again,” and stayed at home to give birth the next time. They persuaded a friend who was a labor and delivery nurse to act as a midwife. These women came out of this experience so powerful, happy with the birth and baby obviously healthy and doing well. Instead of being scared afterwords in her new role as a mother, she was powerful and you could feel it. That excited me.
I relate to her statement, because of my own choices and, more, my mother’s birth story. They drugged my mom with scopolamine. Knocked her out. When she woke up from the drugs, she called down to the nurse and her first words as a new mother were: “Did I have a baby?”
Can you imagine this to be the case today? That in 1971 my mother was so drugged that she didn’t recall giving birth? Now, look, we can all make jokes about this because my natural delivery was no picnic (and I’ll get to that soon). Is there an envious side of me that wishes I was knocked out? Of course! Who wouldn’t like the stork to come, serve Mommy with a bundle of joy, no pain and the desire to make post-partum booty calls? Sure!
But my mother wasn’t given the choice. Drugs were her “choice.” And if we’re going to credit someone for reintroducing a safer element of chidlbirth to the greater society, then we have to credit Ina May Gaskin because as a feminist, she spoke out about her experience and created a dialogue about choice. Instead, that interview at Feministing became a debate of natural vs. epidural.
Avital of The Mamafesto wrote this about the comments over at Feministing:
One aspect that I hold firm to within my feminism is that it has allotted me the right to choose. While I will certainly share knowledge, information, and/or advice/suggestions with anyone who seeks it, or seems unsure, I also respect their right to choose.
My own experience is this. I had a midwife. Why? I heard of scary forced Cesareans. Of epidurals being given at 1 centimeter. Of forceps pulling babies out. These medical practices –though no question saved countless babies and mothers lives — frightened me. I wanted to have the option, the choice–which to me is the most basic feminist tenant as Avital wrote, as Ms. Gaskin wrote, a CHOICE–to start out with a natural birth plan. Not that my OB wouldn’t do this. My best friend had a natural childbirth with an OB–two, in fact! But I was looking for a different kind of birth. Someone to hold my hand the whole way, not question my judgement.
Joanne Yates of Avalon Midwives was there during my complications–the shrinking fibroid in my first pregnancy and the hyperemesis (aka severe morning sickness) in my second pregnancy which I wrote about for Babble here. Joanne and two other midwives in her practice worked with me even though I was in the hospital two times when I was pregnant with Elke because of dehydration, as well as pumped up on all sorts of anti-nausea drugs. There were doctors involved, yes. But it was my midwife who acted as my ADVOCATE. She helped me make decisions. She sat with me from the beginning of each labor and delivered both of my kids.
Jake was born 2 weeks late and then came out like a rampage. My water broke. Did my hard labor in the tub at the hospital. They pulled me out of the tub when I felt his head (that hospital wouldn’t allow water births) and then I pushed him out after two grunts. In total, it was 4 hours. Excruciating, but quick.
With Elke, I had been ill until five months then alternated vertigo and nausea until the ninth month. Elke came on her due date because my girl was ready to GO. My birth plan was a water birth. I thought it would be a welcoming, gentle entry for Elke considering my pregnancy and one of my best friends delivered her daughter at home in a tub with her midwife. She said it was a remarkable experience.
Once I got to the hospital, I was five centimeters. I wasn’t in terrible pain, but I began to chicken out of my water birth. I turned to Joanne and said, “Would it be awful if I got an epidural?”
“Honey,” she said, “after your pregnancy, if that’s what you want, do it.”
So I chose an epidural. My midwife helped me make that choice. And though being hooked up to the tubes and getting the spinal was pretty horrific, the pain in delivering was minimal compared to my natural childbirth experience.
I have nothing against doctors. This is not what I’m suggesting. But when I went to my OB who had been my doctor for years before my pregnancy, she wasn’t going with my natural childbirth ideas. “That’s not the kind of births I do,” she said. She suggested I go to a midwife. And I did. So again, I’m not anti-OB at all. I’m suggesting that a birth culture took over our society years ago to a) help women fight pain and b) save lives. Natural birthing got pushed to the wayside, and now people are still judging.
Why judge either way? Can’t we agree that giving birth comes in many forms? That they’re all potentially dangerous situations and that women can and should educate themselves along with their practitioner –whether it be a midwife or an OB–and that more, that this is a feminist progression of birthing?
Whatever your path is, can we agree that there are medical complications to both sides and that any introduction of choice is wise? But the next time you hear someone talking about a c-section, or an epidural, or a home birth, don’t sneer, don’t raise your eyebrows. Simply say, it’s your choice.