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.


WantsToBeAMan Wed 28-Sep-11 01:47:50

I forgot to add-

The repercussions of childbirth are treated with shocking callousness ( I'm talking about crappy post natal care)
It's almost as if they imply, that if we have incontinence, a loose fanjo, uterine prolapse or in some of the horrendous cases things like clitoral tears it isn't important because we have a baby.
It just isn't important enough for HCPs to pay full attention.

Well, I don't know where to go with all this (am outside of the UK and gave birth outside of the UK so am not best placed for activism) but I throroughly agree with you. Giving birth to a child is one of the most powerful things a woman can do, so of course lots of things are done to her and the process to remove that power....

it's why some (feminist- minded)midwives refer to their work as 'catching' the baby, not delivering it. Because the mother delivers the baby.

glub Fri 30-Sep-11 23:29:34

so what if you're told this or that. you deal with it. for me it was learning about what was the crappy norm at the local hospital then listening to hypnobirthing cd's all the time and thinking round it. deal with it. i did it my way thanks horrid midwives trying to rush me, others ignoring me etc. much horribleness in my birth experiences but luckily i had my head right. supply and demand right? if everyone came in asking for waterbirths they might expand their waterbirth provision. i'd hope. but until you can afford some lovely scented dimmed lighted one-on-one midwife care then put up and shut up. there are worse things out there. i had to say no to my midwives a number of times on significant matters. women do get the choice of homebirth/waterbirth.
obviously the richer you are the more choice you get. money money money. a decent midwife will have the experience you lack. so it's hardly a matter of just 'catching' a baby. eg. don't put yourself in that position you'll squish the baby.
medical staff mess up all over the place not just in regard to childbirth.
so if you can't afford to employ someone to think for you then you're going to have to do it for yourself. it's your baby take responsibility.
but yes it might be nice if there was a little more regard for the mother rather than just the extraction of a live baby.

MrsKarbonara Fri 30-Sep-11 23:41:26

Hi Wants, are you new to MN or new to the feminism section? Interesting name grin

So sorry to hear about your friend. I think any issue that massively affects women is a feminist issue, so yes this is a big one. Women's autonomy over their bodies comes into many other debates as well ie abortion, rape etc.

Hmm someone waaay more erudite will be along shortly am sure.

<re lurks>

WantsToBeAMan Sun 02-Oct-11 15:11:46

Hi MrsKarbonarasmile

I'm new to MN actually. My name pretty much reflects my attitude;) I'd agree to be a man in a heartbeat if God was willing to grant me my wish.

KellyKettle Fri 30-Mar-12 07:35:10

Can I bump this thread rather than starting my own?

I came on here looking for some specific links to women's rights/care/support around reproduction. It is something I feel very strongly about but have no idea where to start.

I woke up this morning and read something on FB about someone having to pay about $60k (Australia) for an enquiry into the death of her baby during a homebirth, she was treated horrifically.

Then I read something else about abortion laws in Arizona will calculate the age of the fetus from LMP rather than conception which I understand will reduce the upper limit by 2 weeks compared to other states.

It just makes me want to do something. I have no idea what.sad

LegoStuckInMyHoover Sat 31-Mar-12 19:07:23

have you read any shiela kitzinger?

KellyKettle Mon 02-Apr-12 08:23:53

Only Birth Crisis.

PignutSalamander Mon 07-May-12 21:51:03

For a more inspiring outlook on childbirth look up ina may gaskin!
A word of warning for women who have already had traumatic birth experiences (like myself) her book spiritual midwifery will make you feel cheated. This is a must for all expectant mothers

AliceHurled Tue 22-May-12 09:54:46

Kelly I hear you. Have you heard of AIMS? They spoke at feminism in London and opened my eyes.

Books you might be interested in are indeed Ina may gaskin, and misconceptions by naomi wolf. There's others that they should lead you to.

There are Facebook groups too, 'one born every minute the truth' is good. Then follow links from there.

There might also be local stuff. If there are doulas where you are, in my experience some are often birth activists too, so it might be worth getting in their networks. You're not alone in this thinking at all.

learningaswego Sat 09-Jun-12 13:45:00

I am sorry about your friend, how awful.

Did you watch the 'Harlots, housewives .... 17th century britain' on bbc 4? In the 2nd one the female historian talks about how the role of the midwife changed as male doctors came onto the scene and the more dignified 'birthing chair' previously used during childbirth (makes the mother part of the process, used gravity) then became abandoned for the more vulnerable lying down position where forceps and other tools would be much easier to use if any complications arise with the baby.

I do think that in an age where people get antibiotics for much minor incidences it is RIDICULOUS that there is no better pain relief available for childbirth. If men had to go through such pain then I have no doubt other forms of relief would be available, or would be more readily given. I don't know anyone who has been in labour and got an epidural without hours of begging and fighting with the midwives.

Personally I felt bullied, vulnerable and alone in labour. I was induced and had to stay in overnight and when my contractions started and I begged for my mother/ partner to be called and be beside me. To this I was told that to call them would be selfish as she would see me in this pain.... and didn't I know what I was signing up for when I fell pregnant?

All the healthcare professionals I had during my labour were women, does this still make it a feminist issue or just another healthcare problem??

elizaregina Sat 16-Jun-12 22:48:51

I am horrified at the stories some women post about thier appalling experiences in CB. I know - that lots adn lots including me - had amazing care - amazing MW etc....

your in your most vulnerble state in labour with death being a real possibilty for mum and child so is there any room for shoddy - sloppy and down right vicous and nasty treatment?

There are alot of very vocal women on here and I wish they would get toghether to lobby whoever for womens rights in child birth!

Flobbadobs Fri 22-Jun-12 15:07:04

I've given birth 3 times over a 12 year period ( last time 5 months ago) and honestly thought things were improving until I read some of the stories on CB here!
The first time I was really told what to do and being quite young and inexperienced I just did it without question & felt bullied afterwards... Second time I was much more assertive but the aftercare was appalling, breastfeeding was pushed to the extent that formula was not allowed on the ward! DD would have ended up in SCBU if a friend hadn't smuggled some in for me to get her blood sugar stablised.
The last time I homebirthed, had everything my way and had mimimum intervention. I haven't had baby weighed since her check up and have nly seen the hv twice.
I trust my instincts but found that many times the hcp's dismissed concerns or questions, seemingly in favour of a medicalised checklist with no room for individual concerns.
As mentioned by a pp, most of the hcp's I saw were women, in fact the most considerate helpful medical person I saw during pg3 was the male consultant who did the amnio.
I don't think it's purely a feminist issue, the whole attitude to childbirth needs to be readjusted. Of course the outcome everybody wants is a live healthy baby and mother, but the ends don't justify the means. Disregarding the mother's feelings and mental wellbeing as seems to be reported many times on the cb threads, things like "you can't do this, you must do that" has a detrimental effect on the mother and must impact on her subsequent ability to care for or bond with the baby afterwards

lastnerve Wed 04-Jul-12 11:13:16

I had a consultation yesterday and I asked not to be hoiked up in stirrups as I have hyper mobile syndrome which means being put in stirrups and being pushed against would probably make my knee sockets pop out,

I asked if it could be put in my birth plan that I would like to kneel when it comes to delivery, she looked at me like I asked her to give me her bank card confused.

AliceHurled Thu 05-Jul-12 20:54:58

Lastnerve, you can do what you like in labour. They have no right to force anything, whatever they might like to think. If your midwife is not being supportive you have every right to change, speak to your supervisor of midwives.

lastnerve Thu 05-Jul-12 21:04:26

it was a consultant she had a 'snooty' air about her so to speak.

yeah I was just surprised at her face.

lastnerve something someone said to me when I was pg and thinking about being 'allowed' to use the tub/walk around during labour, was "I threw a nurse out of my delivery room cos I thought she had a shitty attitude. Just be a big bitch. Stop with this British shit, you're in New Jersey now. BE A BITCH!" grin
As it was people were lovely to me in labour (gave birth in Manhattan), though the aftercare left a bit to be desired - but I do think that the fear, vulnerability and pain we experience in labour makes us nervous and deferential at the exact time when we seem to need to be pushy and a bit of a bolshy so-and-so just to get the treatment/respect/BEING HEARD that we want... I was lucky that DH was deeply involved in our birth prep and has a very feminist mindset, so was ready to advocate for me ... but it shouldn't be like this!

I delivered DS lying on my side, it wasn't bad smile

EclecticShock Sun 22-Jul-12 19:46:18

"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. "

Most women are not qualified to have the final day and why should they have rights over the baby's rights?

PosieParker Mon 23-Jul-12 20:43:48

Qualified? Wtaf?

VivaLeBeaver Mon 23-Jul-12 20:47:25

Because in uk law an unborn baby doesn't have any rights. That's why a woman's rights should take priority.

EclecticShock Mon 23-Jul-12 21:14:18

Of course an unborn baby has rights...(I assume you are familiar with abortion rules). And yes not qualified..... You can't possible understand the risk involved for both mother and child in such a fast paced environment without medical training. That is a fact.

PosieParker Mon 23-Jul-12 21:18:03

Abortion laws.... Nope the baby has no rights. Women, weird I know, have been giving birth since the beginning of humankind..... I think we know what to do.

EclecticShock Mon 23-Jul-12 21:35:12

Ok I see you are takif the term literally, however, causing the death of an unborn child past a certain stage is illegal. So refusing a cesarean and causing the child to die would be problematic. Plus, generally on these circumstances the outlook is not great for the mother. I don't agree that women should believe they know better than doctors in cases of life and death.

VivaLeBeaver Mon 23-Jul-12 21:43:24

I'm very familiar with abortion laws and I can assure you from a legal perspective a fetus has no rights. Causing the death of a fetus after 24 weeks would be like the woman in the news today who bought misoprostal over the Internet and took it at 38 weeks. A distressed woman who refused consent for a forceps would not be charged if her baby died. Silly to suggest otherwise.

HmmThinkingAboutIt Mon 23-Jul-12 22:01:22

ES, if unborn fetus's had rights even in birth, then it would mean the human rights of a woman were compromised and she could be abused in various ways. Its extremely important she retains her normal human rights, especially in childbirth as its her most vulnerable time in her life apart from her own birth.

Otherwise, doctors could have rights to do all manner of things from internal examinations without consent to much more serious, potentially life threatening procedures that would favour the baby over the mother (doctor could be being pressured by other family members to do this).

The only time that doctors can do anything without the mothers consent is if she has consented to allow someone to make decisions for her or if she is deemed incapable of making decisions. And quite rightly so.

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.

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 22:36:08

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 22:38:04

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?

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 22:43:18

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.

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.

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.

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

Thanks both, certainly something to think about.

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.

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.

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?

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

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.

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

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???

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.

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.

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.

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 20:27:51

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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