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Childbirth rights globally

(153 Posts)
PeaceAndHope Sun 28-Jul-13 13:51:41

I've spoken about this earlier on mumsnet. I think that the rights of women while giving birth are an integral part of the feminist movement, and I know that a lot of you agree. Until even a few years back, these rights were thought to be limited to women being able to choose a home birth, a natural birth or a VBAC. I've always believed that it is equally a woman's right to choose an elective caesarian or an epidural, as long as it is an informed choice.

In the UK, I am seeing a more balanced debate about this now. Most of my feminist friends here agree that it is wrong to deny women the right to choose how they want to give birth, even if what they choose is artificial pain relief or a surgery. Her body and her choice.

Unfortunately, I haven't noticed a similar trend in other countries, particularly the USA. I have relatives there and so I visit the USA quite frequently and the attitude of the self-proclaimed "feminists" there really surprises me. A lot of them think that women should be denied epidurals and caesarians. They even think that women should be denied repeat caesarians and be forced to VBAC.
In fact, I was told by a friend that the American pregnancy forums will delete any post that speaks positively of an epidural and/or caesarian.

Americans IMO have always been more ignorant grin, but isn't this a bit extreme even for them?

I fully support a woman's right to have a hands-off, non-medical birth if she prefers that and I find it horrifying that women are being forced into caesarians or forceps without consent. But how will we solve this problem by denying other women their choices? The answer is to enforce an adult, sane woman's right to both refuse and request reasonable treatment while giving birth.

Some women want a medicalised birth and others want a natural birth. Why oh why can't we just leave all of them alone to make their own choices as adults?? And why does the American feminist movement align itself only to an all-natural birth? Doesn't that actually put pressure on women to do things in a certain way and maybe even set them up for disappointment if that does't happen?

For a movement with a motto like "her body and her choice" sometimes we sure like to tell women what to do with their bodies!

vesuvia Sun 28-Jul-13 14:57:13

OP wrote - "why does the American feminist movement align itself only to an all-natural birth?"

NOW, which is the largest organisation of feminist activists in the USA, has supported efforts to introduce legislation to prohibit "coercing any woman to accept any particular reproductive treatment option -- such as childbearing, cesarean delivery, or sterilization -- or denying her any options in treatment."


vesuvia Sun 28-Jul-13 15:02:31

OP wrote - "the attitude of the self-proclaimed "feminists" there really surprises me. A lot of them think that women should be denied epidurals and caesarians. They even think that women should be denied repeat caesarians and be forced to VBAC."

Can you give us any web links to some examples?

LeBFG Sun 28-Jul-13 15:04:18

I don't understand. I thought the Statesiders where all for medicalised births? And feminists were saying this trend originates in medical misoginism....thus there was a pro-woman movement to encourage natural birthing <admit to very little knowlege in this area>. Would be interested to know.

PeaceAndHope Sun 28-Jul-13 15:16:10


I stated what I did based on my interactions with women from different parts of the USA. I'm not sure how to provide web links to those ;) but I can illustrate my point better.

If you go on to any American feminist website such as ourbodiesourselves or, you will see that their is overwhelming support for women who want to choose home birth and VBAC (which is a very good thing). Unfortunately, there is not even one piece that supports a woman's right to choose the other options such as epidurals and/or caesarians. Or try the feminist corners of Babycentre Community USA and CafeMom (basically American versions of mumsnet). You'll find venomous opposition to women choosing a more medicalised approach to childbirth. Have you ever come across the blog by "TheFeministBreeder"? She is an American "feminist" who has made a living off telling people that women should be forced to have natural births and that they should be forced to breastfeed. She opposes formula feeding, elective caesarians and epidurals.

Thanks for the link to NOW. However, I don't think that it necessarily supports the right to choose treatment. It certainly supports the right to refuse treatment which is excellent and necessary. However, it states that women shouldn't be denied options in their treatment- this can mean many things. It doesn't (to me) necessarily mean that women have the right to choose a home birth, VBAC, caesarian or epidural. I would personally want these things spelt out more clearly.

Most feminist books which address the topic of childbirth- The Whole Woman etc. portray natural birth as the only acceptable way.

Anyway, this discussion is not meant to be an argument or a one-upmanship. I would rather you shared your own personal opinions on the subject and maybe even your experiences giving birth.

PeaceAndHope Sun 28-Jul-13 15:20:19


Birth are more medicalised in the USA than they are here- so you're right about that.

It is a woman's right to refuse treatment and to have a natural, hands-off birth if that's what she wants- so again, you're right about that smile

However, my point is that the feminist movement should be about choices. It should be women themselves who get to decide how they will give birth and these choices should include less medical ones such as home births as well as more medical ones such as caesarians on request.

I would argue that medical misogyny is denying women choices and forcing any treatment on them. A medicalised birth in and of itself is not anti-woman, since many women would prefer it that way.

kalidasa Sun 28-Jul-13 15:40:53

I agree with you but perhaps in the States it is a matter of context? Because the majority of births over there are, in fact, very highly medicalised it is women who oppose that or want to have the choice of a more "natural" approach who feel they need to shout loudly about it. I agree that these blogs/websites can sound very shrill and one-sided read from the UK - where we are used to lots of NHS promotion of natural birth and breastfeeding and so on so it can seem like the "official" position - but perhaps they read differently and could even seem important and refreshing if every time you visit your OB/GYN they take an epidural/bed-bound birth/continuous monitoring (or whatever) for granted.

PeaceAndHope Sun 28-Jul-13 16:34:06


I see where you're coming from, but to be honest it isn't that straightforward to get caesarians or epidurals in the USA either. Some parts are quite pro-natural there as well (Oregan, Michigan, Ohio, the Dakotas, Wyoming etc.) and aren't really supportive of different choices.

I think in USA the medical establishment seems to think- if we force the patient to have a caesarian it's OK but if the patient requests it, we will refuse. In other words- patient has no power at all.

Bunnylion Sun 28-Jul-13 18:26:55

One reason that natural birth has been so strongly embraced by some feminists is because opting for a medicalised birth is sometimes because the woman doesn't think her body is capable of the one incredible thing that women are able to do. This equate choosing a medicalised birth as a woman saying she that is disempowered as a woman.

However the idea of removing her right to birth how she wants certainly wont empower her.

There are certain risks in medicalising birth. Culturally work needs to be done on how we view childbirth, so our choices are not based on fear alone.

PeaceAndHope Sun 28-Jul-13 19:06:29


"the one amazing thing that women's bodies are able to do" hmm hmm

I think women's bodies can do lots of amazing things other than childbirth. I would argue that reducing a woman's worth to pushing something out her vagina is a form of objectification. That is disempowerment.

Again, every woman will have her own perception of this. I didn't find pregnancy amazing or empowering. I felt like an incubator and the whole thing felt like I was losing control of my autonomy and body.

Breastfeeding is another amazing thing women's bodies can do, but I never once felt "disempowered" while formula feeding. I chose to formula feed- I was aware of the pros and cons and this is what I wanted to do. Had I been forced to breastfeed, that would have disempowered me and angered me immensely.

I agree that we need cultural change. However, the cultural perception is that women who birth naturally and breastfeed are the best mothers. I would like to see this perception change because it is untrue and damaging.

One reason that natural birth has been so strongly embraced by some feminists is because opting for a medicalised birth is sometimes because the woman doesn't think her body is capable of the one incredible thing that women are able to do. This equate choosing a medicalised birth as a woman saying she that is disempowered as a woman.

What kind of feminist position would that be? It's like being pro-choice and then listing the reasons for abortion which you personally think are acceptable. Once you've said that women deserve autonomy over their bodies then there cannot be "if" and "but" clauses to it (which feminists have been increasingly attaching). If she doesn't think a natural birth is right for her, then that's that. Why she thinks so is irrelevant. It's her mind to make up.

There are certain risks in medicalising birth. Culturally work needs to be done on how we view childbirth, so our choices are not based on fear alone.

Of course there are risks in medicalising childbirth. There are also risks in having a home birth and VBAC. So what? That's what an informed choice is all about isn't it? Choosing your risks?

I don't think women base these choices on fear alone. When I chose an elective caesarian, I did it based on my evaluation of scientific evidence. I preferred the risks of a caesarian.

There are certainly some women who are terrified of vaginal birth ( a condition called 'tokophobia') and that fear is not trivial. It is often a result of PTSD, sexual abuse or anxiety and should never be dismissed. Most tokophobic women do better with planned caesarians instead of forced vaginal births.

Bunnylion Sun 28-Jul-13 19:40:14

Blimey - I'm agreeing with you.

I was simply explaining why some feminists see a natural birth as better than a medicalised birth.

And apologies that to didn't say "one of the amazing things a woman's body can do", obviously there's a lot of other stuff we can do as well. But my acknowledging that a woman is able to give birth and that it is an amazing thing that only women can do isn't objectifying our sex.

PeaceAndHope Sun 28-Jul-13 19:55:00

Oh I know you were! I was just addressing the reasons you had given to explain why feminists think the way they do about this. Sorry if I came off as militant smile

And yes, childbirth is an amazing thing that women can do. I agree. However, IMO too much focus on it can reduce women to objects which have been put on earth to push things out their vagina.

FreyaSnow Mon 29-Jul-13 11:35:03

The US feminists I have met face to face are strongly in favour of c-section as being the way they want to give birth.

I don't know why the opposing view has taken hold of the internet. I did read (although don't have the links anymore) that some of the legislation around miscarriages and defending the foetus from negative actions by the mother (and the mother being charged with criminal offences or taken to court to prevent her actions) were being used to prevent women giving birth without medical interventions, because hospitals were claiming they were acting in the baby's best interest by intervening. That would certainly then be a feminist issue around medicalised birth. That isn't a justification for people being against all c-sections, but debates often become polarised and over-simplified.

PeaceAndHope Sat 10-Aug-13 05:03:44


Really? US feminists (or any feminists) in favour of elective c-sections? hmm

I completely agree with the concern over how the miscarriage laws and forced medicalisation disempower women, but I don't understand why that has been misconstrued to mean that all caesarians are bad.

NiceTabard Sat 10-Aug-13 22:57:36

This has a huge cultural context that I am pretty ignorant of, not being from the US or having family or friends there etc.

I agree with you that informed choice is what is needed and women should be given this at all stages of pregnancy and birth.

I know that in most countries around the world this does not happen. And as you point out varies even within parts of countries as well.

For myself, I think that the whole pregnancy / birth thing seems to have been wrapped up in a huge amount of dichotomy, disagreement, argument and so on. And I don't really understand why. Women (and girls) should be able to decide when to get pregnant , and by whom, and how they give birth, and how they feed. And very importantly women should be given access to contraception and abortion. And also very importantly, should be given access to support if they develop problems due to pregnancy,... AHA going on a rant there!

OK birth.


On MN people get in massive arguments about "natural" birth vs not (and different people will define natural in different ways), and about feeding.

I say that however you give birth in the UK, it is relatively safe and there is really no difference between VB/CS or VBAC. Mortaility wise. I do think there is a problem with non mortality risks of VB not being "advertised" while all the risks of CS are. I think that is wrong and may tie in with what you are saying about the US.

The "natural" birth thing is prob a response to medicalisation as others have said.

BUT do you all know that the US has a really high rate of maternal/baby mortality????

So maybe that is to do with it - the insured are all being more or less forced into CS as that makes the money and the women without insurance are experiencing poor levels of care (or none? I don't know what goes on with medicine in poor US places TBH). So in those cases cheaper "natural" birth would be helpful? Is that where they're coming from???

NiceTabard Sat 10-Aug-13 23:04:41

article from amnesty about maternal mortality in the US

NiceTabard Sat 10-Aug-13 23:08:07

table from CIA on maternal mortality start from the bottom

Is this where feminists are coming from, that so many women are dying in a insured/medicalised culture that "traditional" midwifery skills might assist in certain communities where care in a medical environment is not available?

Am I being too optimistic??

KaseyM Sat 10-Aug-13 23:22:55

That is horrific. That your chances of dying are affected by your race or your income. Just awful.

NiceTabard Sun 11-Aug-13 00:08:00

Yes it is horrific. But probably a conversation for the politics topic!

I am glad of the NHS, we are so lucky here to have it.

Childbirth / mortality stats are interesting. Throws up a lot of conversation. Prob a bit wide for this thread though!

I can well imagine that in some areas of the states , denying women proper care / pain relief and so on is a foregone conclusion and a natural consequence of right wing/religious beliefs.

Adam and eve innit. Eve was punished by pain in childbirth. Lots of religious christian types see that as something that is required. Zero fuckage given by them on the hurty front.

Makes me want to go and inflict some pain. But, hah. I'm a nice person. I wouldn't deny pain relief to anyone. They would only deny it to women in childbirth, obv. I expect they get painkillers when they get a strong knee to the knackers. And I hope that happens a lot <evil> But still not really... And I doubt it does.

PeaceAndHope Sun 11-Aug-13 00:09:19


The maternal mortality rates in the US are 24 per 100,000 (admittedly high for a first world nation). However that has nothing to do with the c-section rates.

The c-section rate in Australia is the same as the USA and their maternal mortality rates are less than 12 per 100,000 women.

The main problem in the USA is that until recently, there was no healthcare system in place that supported those who couldn't pay out of pocket or those who didn't have insurance.

Given that millions of women in the USA (especially immigrant women) are uninsured, it is no surprise that they don't get optimal care during labour and birth.

This has nothing to do with the medicalisation of childbirth, it has more to do with a lack of access to proper healthcare.

Perhaps a system where there are midwives as well as OBs might be beneficial, but that doesn't justify the attack on women who choose c-sections. The two are unrelated.

Bunnylion Sun 11-Aug-13 10:32:46

I'm 9 months pregnant, having my baby in the UK and DH is American. I have discussed birthing with a lot of America women recently and am aware of the US system of both maternity and general healthcare.

I've honestly not ever heard of any American feminist speaking in the way that you have said, lot of them think that women should be denied epidurals and caesarians. They even think that women should be denied repeat caesarians and be forced to VBAC .

Do you have a link to anything online where you've heard feminists saying that a woman should have her birthing rights removed and why?

Whether American feminists drop their logic when it comes to birthing or not, birthing rights are a very important feminist issue.

I know many women here in the UK who feel their rights were not treated with importance and their voices not heard during pregnancy and labour. In the US I know some women who have felt that birth is something that happens to them, managed by many men and women in scrubs, escalating medical intervention disturbingly quickly and possibly unnecessarily.

Both sets of women suffered unnecessarily due to the control, respect and decision making being removed from them - something I can't see any feminist wanting to add to, wherever she's from.

PeaceAndHope Sun 11-Aug-13 12:45:01


Visit any American feminist website- ourbodiesourselves, feministing, or any other. Visit any American parenting website- babycentre community, CafeMom or the American Pregnancy Association.
You will find an all-pervasive agenda against epidurals and caesarians.

I have spoken to many American women who identify as feminists since I lived there for a while. Their sole agenda is to discourage epidurals and caesarians. The rights of women who want to choose pain relief or an elective caesarian don't even feature on their list of things to address.

dreamingbohemian Sun 11-Aug-13 12:48:42

I'm American and a feminist and I honestly have no idea what you're on about. You talked to some people and read a few blogs and now you know what American feminists think about this? Really? Most of us don't blog and have never met you. I don't personally know any American feminists who would agree with the views you've put here.

To say Americans are ignorant, even with a smiley face, is bloody rude too.

I agree with a lot of what you say about choices but I find it odd you're focusing on the US when in my experience it's in the UK that women who want electives and epidurals may face more problems. There are maternity hospitals in the UK that don't even offer epidurals, I'm not sure you would find that in the US. As noted, it is this kind of context that explains the viewpoints of activist movements. Obviously if people want more choice and autonomy they will advocate for the things they feel are currently denied them.

At any rate it is a rather privileged debate isn't it? 99% of maternal deaths occur in the developing world and most of those could be prevented if women had access to proper healthcare. I'm not saying we shouldn't care about our rights at home, but I do wish sometimes we would remember how lucky we are instead of arguing over whose choices are better. Compared to most women in the world both choices are pretty damn good.

Bunnylion Sun 11-Aug-13 13:09:33

I'm aware of these sites and have just looked at all of them again to search for evidence of anything supporting your statement A lot of them think that women should be denied epidurals and caesarians. They even think that women should be denied repeat caesarians and be forced to VBAC

Providing personal opinion, education and statistics in support of natural birth isn't by default saying a woman should be denied the right to pain relief or caesarian. But feel free to detect link if I'm wrong.

I agree with dreaming that our level of care in both countries is far superior to the majority of women in the world, for which we are very fortunate. Bit I still feel it is worthy of discussion in the same way that acid atacks in Pakistan do not make our discussions on ladmags redundant.

dreamingbohemian Sun 11-Aug-13 13:34:12

Oh I agree, it's absolutely worthy of discussion.

I just think sometimes there is a bit of drama/hysteria on both sides of these debates that a global perspective might help alleviate a little bit.

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