If You Don't Support Women's Rights in Birth, Don't Call Yourself a Feminist
I recently read a post (and a slew of supporting comments) on a popular parenting blog about birth plans and why you shouldn't have one. Yes, you read that right -- why you shouldn't. I get where the author is coming from. Can birth be unpredictable? Sure. Can having a vision of your ideal birth set you up for disappointment if it doesn't go exactly as you had planned? Absolutely. The birth of a child is, after all, a day that most of us have thought of and wondered what it would be like since we were children. I know I did.
But you know what is likely even more disappointing than maybe not getting your ideal birth? Getting railroaded into unnecessary interventions during your birth because you didn't know you could say "no." Feeling completely and utterly unsupported during your labor and delivery because you unknowingly picked a hospital with an unprecedented 50 percent C-section rate. Suffering birth trauma or postpartum depression or anxiety as a result of what happened to you in the hospital on a day you spent years dreaming about, but no time planning for.
Here's what the post didn't say. That most women spend more time planning their wedding than they do the birth of their first baby. That unnecessary interventions that actually harm mothers and babies are happening at alarming rates in the United States. That the maternal mortality rate in this country is shockingly awful. That depending on which hospital you choose to birth your child, you may be pushed, manipulated, even threatened into receiving procedures that turns out are not the best thing for you or your baby.
With all that being said, should you do some research before you give birth? You better believe it. You better come up with some kind of birth plan before walking through those hospital doors. You better know your rights and then some. You better find a doula or two to back you up so you don't have to fight for yourself while you're trying to bring your child into the world. Should you have to do this? Should it be so hard to have a baby without feeling coerced or tricked or pressured? Nope. But it is. That's birth in America and if you didn't know well now you know. Telling women not to do their research, not to have a plan, not to stick to their guns and know their rights isn't just ignorant about the state of birth in this country, it's anti-feminist and it's wrong.
My first birth was like so many women's first births. It's a dime a dozen, like practically every birth story I hear. I thought I knew what I was doing, walked into the hospital and BAM. News flash, your birth does not belong to you. Get in the bed and stay there. Labor on your back until you can't take it anymore and your unmedicated birth goes out the window. Watch the doctor pick up the scissors and slice you open up to your ass before you could say "no -- don't cut me." When I compare birth stories with my mother's first birth in 1983, it'a strikingly similar. She had made a plan with her doctor, but when she arrived at the hospital her attempts to stick to her plan were made challenging. Upon her request to not be held hostage to her bed as her doctor had promised, the nurse looked at my father and said, "I guess we know who wears the pants in this family." Thirty years later, why are we still telling women they're control freaks for wanting some say in what happens to their bodies?
It took me years to process what happened -- that I literally should not have taken it lying down. In fact my initial response was like so many others. "I guess I shouldn't have set my sights so high." Then I started to educate myself about birth. Something I should have done before I ended up with birth like the one I had.
I had the right to change doctors when mine laughed at me for bringing up a birth plan. I had the right to walk the halls, not be strapped to a bed covered in monitors. I had the right to let my baby take her time. I had the right to refuse vaginal checks during back labor which is by far the most painful thing I've ever experienced in my life. I had the right to let my body open and my baby come out without an episiotomy that took months to heal. I just didn't know it.
When I read comment after comment after comment telling women that their healthy baby is all that matters, I get so angry I want to cry. Do people really believe this is ALL that matters or is it just something to say? To me, it seems like a cop-out. If birth doesn't matter, it's okay to have a lesser quality of care during and immediately after birth. It's okay to crush a woman's hopes of a positive birth experience. It's okay to tell her her body isn't capable.
But do people really feel that women's rights do not matter? That how a woman is treated in labor doesn't matter? That having major surgery without cause that often makes recovery far more challenging is no big deal? That a woman's first moments as a mother don't matter? And when I read comment after comment after comment from nurses and other hospital staff saying "we laugh at women who come in with their silly birth plans" I feel the same. How can you fault a women for wanting to know her rights when we have a maternal health crisis in this country? How can you laugh at her? It makes me think that people who work in hospitals should really do their own research about birth.
We all want healthy babies. Lets not get confused about that. But to say it's all that matters means that women don't matter. It means that birth doesn't matter. And no matter who you are and where you live, birth matters. Birth has always been important to women and it always will be.
We are lucky to live somewhere where women don't have to die in childbirth. We are lucky to have hospitals to provide life-saving procedures when a birth does not go as planned. But here's the thing -- it's still happening. Women are dying because of the very interventions that are supposed to be reserved for true emergencies. We are creating emergency situations out of thin air because we don't allow birth to happen and we call that empowerment? I don't think so.
My hospital experience led me to seek out a better birth and four years later, I had my son at home in a pool of warm water with my husband, two midwives and a doula by my side. My recovery was a breeze compared to that of my first birth and I bonded with my baby much easier this time. I was able to care for my child more fully in those early weeks, not having to struggle to sit down from an enormous incision down below. I didn't have bad feelings about my birth because I was fully supported throughout it. I don't believe this type of birth is for every woman. But for me, it was wonderful. I made the choice to take back my birth but it was not conventional and it is often highly scrutinized and misunderstood in our culture. I'm happy to go against the grain because for me, that experience was worth it. But women shouldn't have to have their rights taken away from them to come to these hard truths that the hospital might be becoming our biggest fear, not our ally.
Here's what I'd like to ask you to do, especially if you are in the habit of mocking women who know their rights in childbirth. Support choice whenever possible. Empower women. Listen. Learn. Don't be part of the problem. Don't tell her her birth isn't important or that she is stupid or selfish for caring about it. Be part of the solution. Maybe one day women won't have to make these birth plans that you feel only exist to annoy you. Maybe one day we'll live in a world where birth is safe. Don't criticize the woman who fights for her birth. Stand by her side and fight with her.