The Disappearing Woman

Today when I was surfing other blogs, I came across an entry written by a woman who had just given birth. Apparently, she had some heart concerns, so they were monitoring her pregnancy and labor extra-closely. As much of a proponent that I am of natural birth, I’m fully aware that some women need extra care and interventions in order to be safe, so I’m not griping about the various interventions she had, per se. The thing that got me about her post is how much it was about “what they did to me” and “what they allowed me to do.” It was very interesting to see that, because I admit that I’m a “birth junkie” and read lots of birth stories, but most of the ones I read are from fellow home-birthers, and these center around the mom and what she did, not what was done to her. I understand that this woman needed things to be done to her, but it just really bothered me that in her own tale of her baby’s birth, the focus was on the interventions they did to her, and the machines they attached her to, and the nurses who didn’t allow her to push when she first wanted to; rather than on what she was doing, thinking, and feeling. The contrast between what I am accustomed to in reading birth stories and what she had to say was stark. She was a passive participant in her own baby’s birth. She just seemed so voiceless–almost as if she didn’t exist, or was just a machine to produce a baby, rather than a thinking, feeling human being.

This reminded me of an article I read–not sure what area of the country it was–about whether a local hospital did or did not require women who had a previous Cesarean to automatically have another one. A woman had been told by her doctor and also two of his partners that her hospital did not allow VBACs. But when she contacted the hospital, she was told there was no such ban. Apparently, she contacted her local paper (I’m assuming to get the word out), and it became news. So much for the background, now for the “Disappearing Woman” part. In the article, a doctor is quoted as saying that he had “performed a VBAC just last week.” Does that amaze you as much as it amazed me?? A male doctor had a vaginal birth?? And after a Cesarean?–that means this guy  must have been pregnant twice, and this is the first I’m hearing about it?? 🙂 Of course not. What the doctor meant was that he had attended a VBAC. Now, it could be a misquote, so I’m not going to come down too hard on the doctor, but if it was an accurate quote, then he needs to have his head examined! (In my totally unhumble opinion.) But I’m afraid it is an all-too-common occurrence among some people (especially medical professionals, and especially in the birth field) that all the focus is on them and what they do, and the pregnant woman is pushed so far into the background that she essentially disappears. Nowhere is it more obvious than in this quote, in which the doctor arrogantly says that he performed the birth, rather than the woman who had the contractions and pushed her baby out of her own body.

This is why I use the term “birth” rather than “deliver.” Birth is active–“I gave birth.” Delivery is passive–“the doctor delivered the baby.” The term “delivered” used to be applied to the woman–“she delivered her baby” which meant that she brought forth her baby of her own power. Once birth became medicalized (especially in the early 1900s, when twilight sleep, forceps and episiotomies ruled), then the woman was marginalized so that she was not an active participant in her own birth. Labor and birth became things that happened to her, rather than things she did. Even though the particular drugs and procedures have changed, the terminology and mind-set of the 1920s has stayed, rendering women as passive objects in labor.


One Response

  1. One reason why I enjoyed my unmedicated birth better than my epidural birth. I felt almost like I wasn’t there with my epidural. It was the machines and people telling me when to push. Very disconnected. Whereas with my unmedicated birth I was in control. I made the choices because I knew what my body needed.

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