Childbirth and feminism

(51 Posts)
WantsToBeAMan Wed 28-Sep-11 01:42:05

HI, I'm new here smile
waves at everyone

I have been a doing a lot of research on childbirth recently, ever since I lost a very dear friend to an aneurysm while she was delivering her son.

I have come to the conclusion that childbirth is a deeply feminist issue.

For years, women have been told "How" to give birth. They've been told that the doctor ( very often male ) knows what is best. They have been told to grin and bear it, being overwhelmed by the whole experience is not acceptable.

Every time I watch a childbirth video on You Tube, particularly the ones in which the woman is placed in stirrups, I feel like even in the act of the most supreme sacrifice women are objectified. There is not much concern for her dignity and privacy, or her comfort.

Complaining about this gets comments like "grow up" or "women in labour don't care" or "well, that's how you have a baby". That may be true, but the experience can be made a lot more pleasant for the woman than it is.

The most deeply disturbing fact is the lack of choices when it comes to birthing methods.
I firmly believe in the concept of informed consent. Telling women "they don't know what's best for them" is insulting and infuriating. I feel every woman has the right to choose how she wants to give birth- be it a water birth, a home birth, or even a c section. As long as she is aware of the pros and cons, she MUST have complete control over her body.
As it is, women have to seek approval for their preferred method of delivery. They are "allowed" to have HB or ELCS.

I also feel that the birthing process is more about the mother than the baby. Before people throw things at me, I will clarify.
I meant, that the mother has to live with the memory of the day. We don't remember the day we were born right? I know so many women who suffer from extreme PND because of traumatic births. I feel like there is focus on the baby's safety, but not really on the mother's.

I remember when I read about Baby Alexandra Campbell and how the doctors ended up killing her with forceps. There was a similar story about a little boy.
In both cases, the mothers did not consent to the use of forceps and they were used regardless. This disrespect for a woman's autonomy over her body is atrocious. I also wonder if this issue would have been brought up at all had God had mercy on the babies and they had survived. The act of disrespect towards a woman's body would have been the same, but it would never have been spoken of.

Women should have the right to refuse ANY intervention during labour.
In a matter of life or death, things may be different, but even then I vote for women having the final say.

Thoughts?

Flisspaps Sun 04-Nov-12 11:58:24

I'll just mention that you don't ask for permission for a VBAC or homebirth - you are not 'allowed' to have one by the medical professionals. The mother makes the decision, medical professionals can only advise. If you're told you cannot then you're not being told the truth.

MsAnnTeak Tue 16-Oct-12 15:43:20

My eldest DD and myself were present when DD recently gave birth. I'd had stressful/traumatic deliveries myself, felt it important I was there to protect my daughter, knew what she wanted and was prepared to ensure she had it. Her labour was short, midwives were brilliant and a fantastic experience.

IamtheSnorkMaiden Mon 30-Jul-12 22:36:53

Health care providers/midwives/doctors cannot perform any examination or procedure without consent from the labouring woman, however 'consent' is a grey area. How do you know that the woman understands the risks and benefits of whatever is being offered/suggested when she is in the throes of full blown labour and may have been for hours or days, leaving her exhausted and dazed?

I know lots of women feel railroaded into various interventions, or that they had no control during their labours and births of their babies because they were not able to make clear-headed decisions due to pain or tiredness or 'white coat' syndrome making them anxious.

On the other hand I have lots of midwife and doula friends who do their best to make sure that they make themselves familiar with the mothers' birth plans and communicate well during the labour and NEVER perform any procedure without consent. If a mother declines an examination or intervention it is her choice and it is documented on her notes. I don't know, however, how they word their request to perform these actions. Watching programmes like 'One Born Every Minute' it's clear that often midwives say 'I just need to examine you...' and assume that consent is given.

Whether a birth is medicalised or natural/intervention free, it should always be with the mother's fully informed consent (where possible).

I wholly agree that childbirth is a feminist issue. Menstruation, the reproductive cycle, fertility, conception, pregnancy and birth should all be taught to young women (and men) so that we do not feel in the dark and fearful of what lies ahead when we have a baby and so that we can make informed choices about the care we receive during labour and birth.

HmmThinkingAboutIt Sat 28-Jul-12 09:09:52

Sorry ES, been away for a few days, and wanted to reply to this, as I think its an issue that needs to be talked about a lot more.

I think there is a tendancy for there to be an attitude that women should "do as they are told" and there is also a tendancy to be do the whole process of childbirth as a one size fits all thing. It all lends itself to creating a culture of judgment and women feeling out of control or powerless.

The problem being that too often you get midwives saying things like "I'm going to do an internal now" rather than asking or allowing a woman to have a choice to decline, and doing internals as routine just because it suits them rather than because its actually needed.

I think the net result, is that in certain circumstances it leads to a break down in trust and the relationship between patient and carer. If you put this in the context of a woman who has for example been sexually abused or raped at some point in here life, then then you can start to see why this might be a problem or why they might not trust a person in a position of authority.

In cases where the woman concerned knows her rights and knows she can refuse, then a midwife not asking but telling or over using internals ends up being a little bit like the boy who cried wolf, with the woman either believing she is being forced or that a lifesaving examination is just another routine internal.

On the whole, I do think the problem is about a lack of individual care and a lack of understanding of women who have particular extra needs and anxieties. Its an attitude that needs to be changed from political leaders, to hospital policy makers to the general public.

Over the last year or so I've been on MN, I've increasingly become aware of just how misunderstood phobias of medically related things are. And I've become more aware of how irrational behaviour under those circumstances is actually very rational and understandable (and therefore perhaps treatable or at least managable) but very neglected.

In the scheme of things its regarded as a low priority and cost is usually used as an excuse. However the irony is that happy patients get better more quickly, and in the case of childbirth, due to the hormones involved a woman with less anxiety is far less likely to need intervention (and therefore in turn have less long and short term complications which are costly). Its a real false economy and very short sighted.

EclecticShock Tue 24-Jul-12 20:27:51

The only thing that would make me refuse something would be that I could die with high probability and leave my son motherless. I can't see that any other intervention would make me refuse.

The epidural thing, it was an issue, they really didn't want to do it but I insisted along with DH and refused the induction drugs without it... But i feel pain relief, especially when the only side effects are to the mother, is completely justified at any stage.

EclecticShock Tue 24-Jul-12 20:22:38

I suppose I am biased towards medical profession due to my parents and friends working in it, at the same time, I know they don't always get it right. I really can get my head around turning down an internal examination when giving birth. However, I would also take advice and be induced if I went over term and I know the dangers. My mum lost so many babies, I never really thought about what I wouldn't do to have a healthy baby, only what I might have to do.

EclecticShock Tue 24-Jul-12 20:19:33

My experience was not good, midwife was agency and incompetent. I had to argue for water birth and then for epidural but I remember agreeing to ventouse but wasn't asked about being cut. To be honest I went in thinking whatever happens happens, you've cant escape internal examinations (in fact I had to beg for one as they didn't believe I was 10cm). I hate the thought of operations but I knew it was a possibility. I guess I made the decision to do whatever it took to have a healthy child, when I got pregnant.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding something here... I just think most of these things are part of giving birth sometimes. Its not an easy thing always. My mum had recurrent miscarriages and was in hospital for 6 months of her pregnancy with both myself and my brother. She has a stitch put in to prevent miscarriage and was on full bed rest. I guess I just thought nothing could be as hard as that.

HmmThinkingAboutIt Mon 23-Jul-12 22:58:37

I think its a difficult one. I think in the majority of cases a woman will ultimately always do what she thinks is best for her child. However what she considers to be best for her child might differ from a medic's professional opinion. People have different priorities and experiences in life - I don't think its right to discount them. I do really believe that women will almost always put their child above their own needs, but what they view to be this doesn't necessarily match the 'average woman' and what others would consider be the priority.

VivaLeBeaver Mon 23-Jul-12 22:58:31

Its not a regular occurance. Very infrequent to such an extent that you actually think the baby might die and thankfully I've never seen it go that far even though I've been worried it might.

VivaLeBeaver Mon 23-Jul-12 22:56:20

Thats the $64 million question?

Wouldn't it be quite patriarchal and patronising to assume they can't make an informed decision. Wouldn't you be frustrated if as a woman you said to a man that he couldn't stick his hand up your vagina even if by not allowing him to do so he said your baby might die, if he then did it anyway because he said that in such a state you couldn't make a rational decision.

How can you differentiate between someone who isn't thinking clearly and someone who is thinking clearly but is just making a different choice from what would be considered usual.

I knew a Dr once who wouldn't let a woman in labour have an epidural if it said in her birthplan she didn't want one. You'd try and explain till you were blue in the face that the birthplan was written before they'd felt a contraction but his argument was that the birth plan was written when they were thinking logically. How pissed off would you be???

damppatchnot Mon 23-Jul-12 22:55:43

The most difficult thing about the choices a woman makes about how to have or raise her child is criticism from OTHER mothers

Sisterhood? Nope

I had 2 cs and did not breastfeed and the snipes aimed at me

Both my children were happy healthy babies and I was a happy healthy mum. That's what matters

Popcornia Mon 23-Jul-12 22:55:07

Eclectic, what was your experience of giving birth? Did you feel that the medical side of the process was working with you, or did it hinder you? Were you ordered to do something that didn't feel right for your baby's sake, and did you do it or did you refuse?

I do think personal experience had quite an impact on where people stand on this sort of thing.

EclecticShock Mon 23-Jul-12 22:54:14

Viva, your experiences are depressing to me. Must be awful for the people involved and for you to have been there sad

EclecticShock Mon 23-Jul-12 22:51:52

When you're scared and in pain to that degree... How can you make an informed choice viva?

VivaLeBeaver Mon 23-Jul-12 22:51:11

People do act in ways they may not normally do when under extreme pressure/scared/in pain.

VivaLeBeaver Mon 23-Jul-12 22:49:59

I've seen it happen before, normally when a woman is so scared and in so much pain that you just can't reach her. Its often to do with internals/needing to assess where a baby is before knowing what needs to be done/can be safely done.

Someone punched me once, total fist in the face. She was out of control/panic, screaming at people. I was trying to get her to listen to me and I guess I misjudged the situation. Was quite close to her as I was trying to get eye contact and she punched me really hard! grin I thought she'd broke my nose.

EclecticShock Mon 23-Jul-12 22:49:27

Thanks both, certainly something to think about.

StarlightWithAsteroid Mon 23-Jul-12 22:46:57

Eclectic, Whikst most women woukd not dispute the idea that HCPs have their best interests at heart, childbirth is complicated and a very sensitive process. Our current systems and medical model of childbirth does not allow for the sensitivity of it.

HmmThinkingAboutIt Mon 23-Jul-12 22:46:22

ES - jehovah's witnesses would be one example. Or someone who had already had a child that had been injured by forceps.

Belief of various kinds - both religious and non religious - is a very powerful thing, that can be very difficult to understand.

EclecticShock Mon 23-Jul-12 22:43:18

To be honest, I hadn't thought this concept of women refusing help what would save their babys life.... I can see why it exists now, thanks to hmm. I still can't get my head around. What an awful choice.

StarlightWithAsteroid Mon 23-Jul-12 22:39:57

No midwives 'caught' nor 'delivered' either of my last two babies!

Just sayin.....

EclecticShock Mon 23-Jul-12 22:38:04

Aside from those situations though, don't most women want to do what they can to help their child survive? I would never turn down forceps or c section. I mean what situations are we taking abou where a doctor would suggest a course of action and a women would be justified in contributing towards the death of her child because she refused intervention. Sorry, just trying to get my head around it? Obviously, of it's life threatening to the woman, but in most cases forceps or c section isn't? Am I missing something?

VivaLeBeaver Mon 23-Jul-12 22:36:08

Its different in America, the fetus has rights there. Its why an alcoholic woman who drinks in pregnancy can be charged with a felony if the baby/fetus dies or is born damaged. Here the woman couldn't be prosecuted, though obviously if hte baby was alive social services would get involved. But thats because at that point the baby is alive and has rights.

EclecticShock Mon 23-Jul-12 22:31:20

Ok, I've obviously misunderstood how it works. Kind of shocked to be honest.

VivaLeBeaver Mon 23-Jul-12 22:06:07

I have looked afetr women where they've refused help/assistance/an intervention in labour and by doing so their baby's life has been put at risk. But we've had to respect the woman's wishes.

Its hard to stand back when you can hear a fetal heart plodding along at 50bpm when it should be more than double that. I've had to physically stop a Dr before now after a woman had yelled at him to stop. They weren't impressed. All you can do is tell the woman the potential implications of her decisions - not to bully her, but so she can make an informed choice.

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