You should be grateful

Dr. Amy, the SOB, strikes again. Linking to my “At least you have a healthy baby…” post, in a sneering fashion, of course — she never links to me except to denigrate me and people like me — she suggested that women should just be grateful that they’re alive, and their babies are alive, and that there are procedures such as C-sections that exist, which save lives. She hearkened back to the “good old days before obstetrics” in which many babies didn’t make it, and mentioned women in impoverished countries who do not have a choice in birth, and that they are grateful to be alive, and are grateful that they had the chance of a C-section. I’ve no doubt that this is true — in fact, I have mentioned it before on this blog. But that’s not the situation in America and most other Western countries.

Dr. Amy also mentioned women who undergo mastectomies to save their lives from breast cancer. I wonder if she would tell a woman to shut up and stop whining about having had her breasts removed if the mastectomy were done in error. That’s right — sometimes women are told they have breast cancer and need their breasts removed (or choose to have their breasts removed, for fear of the cancer they think they have), and find out after the fact that the diagnosis was wrong. Lots more women have C-sections for an inaccurate diagnosis or quasi-medical reason, than wrongly undergo mastectomies, but it still happens. I can picture her saying, in drill sergeant fashion, “Stop griping about losing your breasts, soldier!! You should just be grateful you don’t have breast cancer! It doesn’t matter that you never did have cancer — at least now you know that you never will have breast cancer at all! Suck it up!!” [Actually, I don’t think even she’s that heartless, but it’s a compelling image nonetheless. Of course, I could be wrong.] She did say that she thought it would be unlikely, impossible, ridiculous — something along those lines — for a woman whose life was saved by a mastectomy to mourn the loss of her breasts. Oh, really? Somehow I doubt that.

Should we be grateful? Yeah. Does that mean we have to just suck it up all the time when life hands us a plate of lemons? No, I don’t think so. When my father was killed in a car wreck, well-meaning people would tell me, “Well, at least he didn’t have to suffer.” Yeah, that was true; but he was still dead, and it didn’t take away the pain and grief. A few years later when my sister-in-law died from cancer, the same well-meaning people said, “At least you got to prepare, and got to say good-bye.” Yes, that was true; but she was still dead, and her two little children have to grow up without her. Death sucks. It’s just awful — no getting around that. Look for the silver lining — yeah, fine; but that doesn’t mean the cloud isn’t there.

I knew a man who lived through the Great Depression — I think he was a teenager at the time. One time, he complained about eating the same meal for the third time in a row (something like potatoes or cabbage). It was all the food the family had and could afford. His father took him out behind the wood-shed and taught him to be grateful that he had food to eat, and not to complain about his mama’s cooking any more. Right now, there are people in this world who are hungry. Knowing that does stop me from complaining about food… when I think of it. But a lot of times I don’t think about it. And I know that a lot of people don’t hesitate to complain about food in a restaurant that is slightly over- or under-done, or just not to their liking, or whatever. Do I automatically think they’re terribly shallow because they complained that their steak was medium-medium-rare instead of medium-rare, when there are people in this world who have never even seen a steak? No. The fact that some people are suffering in this world does not mean that others ought to likewise suffer. [No, I’m not saying that it’s “suffering” to have a steak cooked wrong. It’s called an analogy, not an equation.] The fact that we’re all not living under the rule of a horrible despot means that, yes, we should be grateful to live in a land of freedom, but does not mean we cannot keep trying to improve our land.

Some time ago, I saw that Dr. Amy on her SOB blog wrote something in favor of universal health care. Some of you probably agree with this; others may not. That’s not the point of this post. I wonder what she would say if I said, “Aw, quit your complaining about health care — you should just be grateful that you live in a country where it’s available, no matter what it costs. Do you know there are people in this world that live and die without seeing a doctor?! Or that they can’t afford medical care, even if there was a doctor around them??” Does the fact that children die of tetanus in Africa or snake bites in India mean that we should just be grateful for a tetanus vaccine and antivenin, and not try to improve our medical knowledge or technology? Are we reaching for “average” or are we reaching for “excellence”?

Yes, we should be grateful for all the blessings we have — I don’t deny that. But there is still room for improvement. There always will be.

Since I assume that Dr. Amy is a loyal reader of my blog, I’ll speak directly to her:

Amy, have you ever complained about your rice being dry, or burnt? Or that your cake was dry? Or your beverage of choice didn’t have enough alcohol in it? Or was too strong? Or that your lemonade was too weak? (Never thinking of the people who would have gratefully consumed the food, since they were starving.) Or that you couldn’t find your favorite socks? Or that you “didn’t have anything to wear” when you actually had a closet full of clothes? Or you didn’t like some pair of shoes any more? Have you ever said that you “needed” a new article of clothing, or car, or hairstyle? Have you ever complained about getting a spot on your clothes, regardless of the fact that you had a closet full of other clothes that were stain-free? (All this despite the fact that many people in the world have one change of clothing, or not even one presentable set of clothes.) Have you ever complained to your hair-dresser about how your hair looked after a haircut? (When many people don’t have someone to fix their hair.) Have you ever complained that your car didn’t get good enough gas mileage (never thinking of people who don’t even have cars, or whose cars get much worse mileage than yours)? Or complain about the huge bill to repair your air conditioning (little thinking of the people in Africa and India and elsewhere who don’t even have air conditioning)? Have you ever complained about the cost of cable or satellite or cell phones, never thinking that there are millions of people who would love to be able to have any of those things, and/or be able to afford them if they were available? Have you ever been a little miffed that your husband or someone else in your family forgot your birthday or anniversary? (Never thinking of the people who never get anything for special occasions, because no one can afford to give them anything. Or the orphaned children in Africa, whose Christmas gift is that they get to eat a dish with meat in it — because it’s too expensive otherwise, but that is the one time per year they actually get meat. Or the women who have lost husbands, so get nothing for their anniversary.) As your children grow up, do you complain about the cost of schooling (if privately schooled, or for college) or how much it costs for a wedding, or the cost involved in sports? — never thinking of the people who have lost children, and will never get to see them play a sport, go to school, or get married. Have you ever wished you could lose a few pounds, never thinking of the people who have starved to death, or who would love to have enough food to be fat?

Would you ever counsel a woman that as long as her husband doesn’t beat her, she should be grateful just to be married? That not being married to an abusive husband should be her goal? Or do you think women ought to have goals set at least a tad higher? Should women just passively accept having a jerk and a lout for a husband, or should she just be grateful to have all her teeth and not too many black eyes?

In short, yes, we should be grateful. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a little (or a lot) of disappointment when things don’t go the way we want them to. My father died years before I got married. It still hurts (a little, now; not a lot… most of the time) that he was not able to walk me down the aisle. I got a bit jealous when my friend got to choose between her biological and step father (actually, she chose to have both of them escort her down, because she was close to both); and still have a pang when I see other young ladies walk down the aisle with their fathers at their wedding. Does this mean that I want their fathers dead? Certainly not. Does this mean that I want the girls/women to hurt like I did? No. But it does mean that it still hurts. And, yeah, I agree with Dr. Amy, that it is because we live in such an age that we can assume a certain outcome. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s a good thing — a very good thing — that we live in a country and at a time where we can assume that mothers and babies survive birth. It’s a good thing that we live in a country where we have enough food and clothes to go around. It’s a blessing that not all others have. But that doesn’t mean we have to live off burnt potatoes and spoiled rice, just because others do. It doesn’t mean that doctors should have free reign to perform unnecessary C-sections, just because they can be done quickly and efficiently, and some mothers and babies can and do die without necessary C-section. And it doesn’t mean that mothers can’t feel sad that they had and/or needed a surgical birth.

I have a 10″ scar down my chest. Very necessary. I don’t remember a time when my body was not scarred, since I had heart surgery at the age of three months old. It’s as much a part of me as the color of my hair and eyes. But that doesn’t mean that there was never a time I looked down at my chest and wished I didn’t have a scar. It also doesn’t mean there weren’t times when I felt a bit self-conscious when somebody new noticed and asked about the scar. It certainly doesn’t mean that I think it’s a good thing to carve up young babies who don’t need surgery. And while I would come up to a young mother whose child is about to have heart surgery and be able to talk to her from the perspective of a child who grew up with a scar, and tell her that (probably) her child won’t ever remember it, and will benefit from it, and will likely live and thrive after the surgery, that still doesn’t mean that her child won’t be hurt by the surgery, and that she won’t hurt by watching her child hurt. We can be intensely grateful for our blessings and still be somewhat or even intensely sad for the avoidable or unavoidable negative after-effects of those blessings.


17 Responses

  1. Hugs! It is ok to have conflicting emotions about one thing. In fact it is important to ALLOW such things. If Dr. Amy can’t understand that… well that is a shame.

  2. Seriously, don’t even bother with her. I don’t even know how anyone can take that crusty old bag seriously. She is like the butt of all the jobs in the Birth community. And seriously, for someone who has an “MD” she doesn’t have anything better to do but sit around and blog about people she doesn’t agree with?

  3. I’m sorry your post was used like that. To me, that’s just wrong- taking someone’s post and using it quote for quote as ammo. To use it as a springboard for a post, sure, but to quote it without permission, no.

    I had a guest post on my blog today from a woman that struggles with her feelings after having a c-section. In some ways, it affirms what you described. In other ways, it shows the conclusion of what most women who have lived through c-sections have come to.

    Again, I’m sorry that your post was used in an unkind way. I can understand where you are coming from and can’t imagine why others wouldn’t.

  4. Bravo!

    There is nothing wrong with feeling sad, disappointed, or angry when things do not go the way we hoped. Can trying to bring a wider perspective help? Yes, and we should strive for it. But as you pointed out, there’s barely a person in the world who can instantly bring a zen-like perspective to every disappointment they experience. When we do not give women time and space to process their disappointment and gain their own perspective at their own pace, they only feel frustrated and silenced.

    I hope Dr. Amy reads this post too.

  5. Amy sounds like a winner. In all seriousness, she doesn’t sound like someone who knows what she is talking about and I’m sorry you have to be the brunt of her hatefulness. Find something better to do with your life, Amy. PLEASE. Because no one is listening to you. 😉

  6. “In short, yes, we should be grateful. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for a little (or a lot) of disappointment when things don’t go the way we want them to.”

    Sure, but that’s entirely different than complaining about being “brutalized” or “mutilated.” The idea that a C-section is brutalizing or mutilating is purely socially constructed.

    In the paper Cesarean Birth Outside the Natural Childbirth Culture published in Research in Nursing and Health, the authors interviewed medically indigent women:

    “The women viewed cesarean birth as similar to and different from, as well as better and worse than, vaginal birth…

    In contrast to published reports of women agonizing over what might have been and blaming themselves for constitutional and emotional flaws, the majority of women accepted the cesarean as fate, and a few managed to display pride in themselves.

    The women emphasized the outcomes of birth rather than the process of birth, and frequently rated those outcomes high despite complaints about the process… Childbirth literature, oriented to the middle class model of childbirth, increasingly emphasizes the process of birth as separate from its outcomes. Women suffer when the birth process itself is not as imagined or desired. While failed expectations concerning the birth process is a major theme in the natural childbirth culture, the women in this study had few expectations or clear imaginings concerning birth-giving, and as a consequence were less likely to be disappointed. In fact, neutrality or an “it’s OK” feeling prevailed over intense joy or intense sorrow…”

    The critical finding of this study is that it is not the experience of C-section itself that leads to disappointment, feelings of failure, and psychic “wounding”. Rather it is the expectations encouraged by NCB philosophy that lead to these negative outcomes.

    • Yeah, and a lot of women in the world are satisfied with husband that beat them up, just because they’ve been told to expect marital violence, and that they should just be satisfied if they have enough to eat and a set of clothes to wear. A lot of girls expect to be married off at 9-12 years of age, to a man 20-50 years their senior, and start having children nearly immediately. A lot of these same girls then expect to be left with half a dozen children (if they survive birth at all) when their much-older husband dies, leaving them penniless and helpless. Social constructs are all around us. They form us; we form them. It does not necessarily make it right or wrong when we have a reaction outside of our own particular social construct, just because it is a reaction within someone else’s social construct.

    • Ok, I just looked up that study — a study of 50 indigent women in 1986. That’s as good as you can do?

  7. Oh yeah, I forgot — Dr. Amy also said that C-sections are not traumatic (based on the study she cited in her comment above) — oddly enough, I would think that major surgery would almost be the very definition of “trauma.” And in response to a woman who said she was bullied into accepting unwanted interventions, she told her that she was not actually bullied. I guess she was a fly on the wall at this woman’s birth!

  8. “Yeah, and a lot of women in the world are satisfied with husband that beat them up, just because they’ve been told to expect marital violence, and that they should just be satisfied if they have enough to eat and a set of clothes to wear.”

    This is exactly what I mean. Natural childbirth advocates have completely lost perspective on C-sections. It’s not the equivalent of marital violence and it is foolish to suggest that it is.

    If you wonder why homebirth and natural childbirth advocates are not taken seriously, this is part of the reason why.

    • And your attitude shows why you and a lot of others like you are not taken seriously.

    • Why? You say that reaction to C-section is due to social construct. Fine. I’ll accept that for the sake of argument. But marital expectations are also due to social construct. What is the difference between social constructs for birth and those for marriage?

      Why should women have to learn or be taught to disassociate themselves from their birth experience (C-section), which is what the researchers concluded?

  9. Kathy, I think that you do an excellent job of describing the role and place of dissatisfaction *even in circumstances where one should be grateful for one’s situation.” To suggest that one cannot be grateful *and* dissatisfied simultaneously is to wildly underestimate the complexity of human emotion, in my opinion. And this is *especially* in regard to birth, where one can simultaneously be overjoyed by one’s child and saddened or traumatized by the way in which the child came into the world.

    And re: Dr. Amy and the study that she cites: I too looked at the study abstract (ONLY 50 women in the study???). It seems that if one were to extrapolate from the study’s findings, one should conclude that the best way to “cope with the reality of cesarean birth” is not just to remain outside of the “NCB culture” (I would LOVE to see how this ambiguous term is defined!) but also to seek “minimal preparation for childbirth.”

    So should we tell mothers that a lack of education and preparation is really the “best” way to (un)prepare for a birth?

    Furthermore, from a philosophical standpoint, it is important to recognize that just because something is “socially constructed” doesn’t mean that it isn’t *real*. Gender, class, and race are all social constructs, but they certainly aren’t figments of our imagintion and/or experiences or features of our lives that we can just try reallyreallyreally hard to rid ourselves of if we only liberate ourselves from our oppressive cultures!

  10. Kathy, don’t pay any attention to Dr. Amy’s words. She is a very callous person. I can’t take anyone seriously who thinks that vaginal birth and home birth are social constructs, particularly amongst middle-class white women. How abnormal that a human female might feel comfortable and safe giving birth in her dwelling and through her vagina – very odd that!

  11. Kathy, this was a great article. I really dont have much to say about “Dr” Amy. She is pretty much an example of why I am persuing childbirth and midwifery. Because its SAFE. The more evidence we have, the better.

  12. Someone that has a disabled child may have to mourn for the child that they imagined. They can be grateful that they have a living child while others have empty arms, but still have negative feelings about the disability. Does this make them shallow? No, it makes them human.

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