Monday, October 5, 2009

Feminists, reproductive rights, and VBAC

So Feministing also posted a link to the article on Joy Szabo's VBAC challenge, and the comments section has gotten - interesting. I don't want to say that every Feministing commenter is in fact a card-carrying feminist (what, you don't have a card? I keep mine in my wallet, it's laminated and everything!) but the reactions of some of the commenters really surprised me.

Despite my better judgment and a pile of other tasks I need to do today, I have gotten into the fray. It just raises my hackles when women who in many other contexts would aggressively question medical/legal authority and advocate for a woman's right to make choices about her own body go off on the "Well, if her DOCTOR says it why would she put HERSELF and everyone else at RISK" line. As if your reproductive autonomy ends when you choose to continue a pregnancy, and you must willingly hand your body over to the medicolegal system. As if VBAC access in no way equates to abortion access. As if it's OK for a hospital to threaten to get a court order for unnecessary surgery, because "She's the one who decided to get pregnant and decided to have a VBAC, so she's got to live with the consequences. The hospital has to protect themselves". I'm glad there are other commenters who see the irony here, but shocked that there are those who do not.

I have so much more to say about the relationship of feminists/the reproductive rights movement to birth, but that post would take longer than I have at the moment. Suffice it to say, I think reading the comments on that post is educational, if nothing else, and offers food for thought about how to appropriately illustrate to those in the movement that birth issues are not related to reproductive rights - they ARE part of reproductive rights and just as important as any other.


Jill--Unnecesarean said...

Oh yeah. I saw that this afternoon. I couldn't even bring myself to comment.

Never underestimate the desire to preserve one's view of the medical hegemony by continually defending and privileging medical authority, even if it means selling out other women.

Never underestimate the furor of the subset of feminists who view mothers as inherently selfish and childish. Vaginal birth is, of course, a selfish preference based on one's moral code.

These commenters have been around awhile. They've seen plenty o' posts on the cesarean rate, the reality of the c/s (not just a quick and tidy preferred alternative to the banal curse of womanhood that is labor) and on midwives and it's still the S.O.S.

Dou-la-la said...

Dang it, now you done dragged me into it too. I made one comment so far and haven't even gotten to the end of it. I'd gobsmacked, really.

Jill. Truthiness in your every word, there.

publichealthdoula said...

@Jill: Good lord it makes me crazy. I envy you for being able to stay your typing fingers...I need to learn the same discipline because if I spent as much time on my lit review if I did on that comment board in the last 24 hours...anyway. I am just blown away by these attitudes and as you so accurately put it, the selling out of other women.

@Doula-la-la: My apologies! The comment I saw was great though...I do think some excellent arguments have been made.

Jill--Unnecesarean said...

I have been thinking about it. I don't know that it's fair or accurate to say that the attitude belongs to a subset of feminists, like there's an official club of Feminists Who Hate Women Who Have Babies.

It's more that it's still always surprising to hear women who identify as feminists argue against certain women with their minds completely closed to even the mere possibility that there could be oppression in medicine just as there are in all areas of society. It would be like saying that the U.S. is a racist society, but racism doesn't exist in schools because schools are good and therefore not racist.

The thing that gets me is that it's not just the cluelessness about the motherhood experience from women who are child-free... it's the glaring contempt for women who make a step toward reclaiming something uniquely female and the continued lack of willingness to listen.

The other thing that's kind of funny to watch is women argue with other women that if they don't get an epidural or a neat and tidy elective cesarean (yep, I've read it), they are putting themselves through pain for no reason and subjecting themselves to Eve's curse as some sort of moral crusade. This argument is founded in the patriarchal attitude that women are cursed to horrible births. So really, they are arguing in favor of traditional patriarchal attitudes about childbirth and unwilling to hear otherwise.

Dou-la-la said...

Further thoughts.

publichealthdoula said...

@Jill: I have been thinking about it too! I have been thinking how I was very much in the "medicine is awesome! more medicine!" camp of thinking before I started learning maternal child health/doula stuff. I could easily still be in that camp if I hadn't fallen into this area of interest.

I think while there is what I think an incorrect perception on the "other" side that it's women on "our" side who are embracing the Eve's curse mentality, I admit there are women out there sounding a little too self-righteous about how THEY would never poison their baby with an evil epidural for their own comfort (because I've read that too). So how do we make it clear or at least open the window of possibility to the idea that there might be other reasons to avoid interventions in labor? That there are reasons to be suspicious of medical authority, not just because you're a crazy hippie with a martyr complex? Because I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I was probably a version of those commenters 10 years ago.

Jill--Unnecesarean said...

Hey, I didn't mean to drop this thread!

"So how do we make it clear or at least open the window of possibility to the idea that there might be other reasons to avoid interventions in labor? That there are reasons to be suspicious of medical authority, not just because you're a crazy hippie with a martyr complex?"

You know, I stopped worrying about it for the most part. Since the latter isn't me, I don't feel compelled to defend, I guess.

I'm pretty respectful of the decisions people make about their bodies and I figure that there are some cultural scripts that people will never challenge. There are plenty that I'll never challenge in this lifetime but I'm working on it. :)

To answer your question, do what it is that you do. You respect a person's right to autonomy and yet can discuss health decisions from an epidemiological standpoint without any judgment. You're sensitive to and aware of the nuances of any situation. And you're nice.