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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!

PeaceAndHope Sun 11-Aug-13 14:32:10


There isn't a single blog post on any feminist website whether American or otherwise that talks about a woman's right to demand pain relief or an elective caesarian. Not one.

Feminists like Naomi Woolf have gone on record to say that elective caesarians shouldn't be allowed and there are plenty of other similar opinions that you will find both online and in the real world.

I am certainly not implying that all feminists think like that. Nor am I implying that their concern over unnecessary interventions being used forcefully on women is unfounded. I am merely saying that women like myself who were denied pain relief and the right to choose a caesarian often feel like our rights and feelings don't feature anywhere on the feminist agenda.

Be honest- when was the last time you saw a feminist supporting the right to request pain relief and/or a c-section? The agenda focuses only on natural birth.


I didn't mean to offend anyone. I agree that this is a privileged debate. But then so are things like hot water in the shower. The women in Afghanistan aren't allowed to bathe because the limited water available is used for men. So if you stop getting hot water in your shower, shall I turn around and tell you to stop complaining because it's a privileged problem? No, because by virtue of living in the first world there are certain things that one expects. It doesn't mean we don't care about the plight of women elsewhere!

Since you say that you are an American feminist, please prove me wrong. Do you think that women have as much a right to demand and get an epidural as they do to have a natural birth? Do you think we have as much a right to choose a caesarian as to have a home birth? Do you support the choice to have a repeat caesarian as much as a VBAC?

If the answers are 'yes', then why don't feminists talk about both sides of the spectrum instead of advocating for just one?

Bunnylion Sun 11-Aug-13 14:51:53

I'm not asking you for proof that all feminists think like that, I'm asking for a link to just one.

It's terrible that you were denied pain relief during labour, really terrible - but I'm sure it wasn't because of any debate in the labour ward as to whether you should be denied it because of any feminist ideology.

The right to pain relief is an issue that all feminists who I've personally discussed birth with agree is a basic right of any women. Any feminist who states she wishes to deny a woman a right to pain relief isn't a feminist, I've just not met any of these people who you are talking about - which is why I keep asking for a link.

Right now I feel like you are saying that some people are proposing removing the rights of women to pain relief during labour based on a bizarre feminist argument, I don't see it anywhere but again - link something that backs up your claim and I'd like to discuss.

Either way I believe we all strongly agree with you that pain relief is a basic right during labour and shouldn't ever be denied.

PeaceAndHope Sun 11-Aug-13 15:11:18


There is the real life example of Naomi Woolf (and quite a famous feminist at that). If you want another specific example, look at the blog of TheFeministBreeder (a self proclaimed American feminist) who has made a career out of shaming women who opt for epidurals, caesarians and formula. How much more specific can I get?

We have all had our own individual experiences in real life and on online forums. I have already told you that I have met American feminists face to face who think like this. The discussions we have had individually with feminists are our own specific experiences. smile The purpose of this thread is not to argue about that.

I could ask you for a link (just one link) that shows a feminist arguing in favour of an elective caesarian, epidural or the right to choose formula. You won't find it.You will only find them arguing in favour of VBAC, home birth and breastfeeding.

I am not entirely certain that the feminist movement is blameless in women like myself being denied pain relief. The rise of the natural birth movement is largely due to the efforts of feminists and this has indirectly (IMO) led to restricted access to pain relief with more and more women being told how "empowering" natural birth can be.

PeaceAndHope Sun 11-Aug-13 15:17:43

Here is an even more specific link-

An American feminist openly stating that she doesn't agree with women choosing elective caesarians or epidurals. Her concern about court ordered c-section is spot-on, so I won't argue with that at all. But she demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding as to why someone would prefer an epidural or a c-section. It isn't because we think that obstetricians know best, it's because we want a say in how our birth happens. She seems to think that a c-section can never really be a choice and most women who choose one are misinformed which I find highly offensive.

dreamingbohemian Sun 11-Aug-13 15:30:38

I'm happy to prove you wrong. I absolutely believe women should have the right to epidurals, elective sections and repeat sections. I totally agree that anyone saying women must have natural births and be forced to breastfeed is bonkers.

I'm not sure why you're focusing so much on blogs. Do you consider this forum here on MN to be a feminist forum? I've certainly seen plenty of women here say women have the right to epidurals etc.

I agree that the discourse you're talking about is problematic but I think it is essentially an activist/elite discourse that does not necessarily reflect the feelings of feminists generally.

I think if you were to approach this from a different direction, and look at women who do support pain relief, etc., you would find that many of them are feminists and support it for feminist reasons. Like the Skeptical OB -- this is a good recent column:

It kind of addresses your question of why people don't talk about both sides. These are not just medical issues but ideological issues, and thus they invoke questions of identity and agency and meaning. Also, at a cynical level, some people will advocate certain positions for attention or to gain relevance or funding.

Like the filmmaker, I've also done a lot of research in norms/ideology/propaganda and I find it so depressing that women's health is an ideological battleground, in a way that men generally don't have to deal with.

Basically I agree with your stance, just don't write off all of us American feminists because of what a few blogs say.

dreamingbohemian Sun 11-Aug-13 15:38:19


How are you defining 'a feminist'?

If you only consider feminists to be people who write on feminist blogs and have names like feministbreeder or have careers specifically defined by feminism, then yes, you may only find a narrow viewpoint among them.

But that is not a representative discourse. Or rather, it is representative of one current in feminist thought.

You are not likely to find organised groups fighting against their positions, because if you disagree with them, you are already sort of subsumed in mainstream practice, so there's no need. You won't find group blogs dedicated to arguing with them, you are more likely to find individuals like the Skeptical OB rejecting their arguments.

I'm pretty sure she's a feminist btw so there's your one link.

PeaceAndHope Sun 11-Aug-13 15:45:51


That is one of my very favourite blogs smile She is the sole voice of reason on the internet.

I am personally relieved to hear your opinion on women's healthcare and am pleased to announce that it is very similar to mine.

Bunnylion Sun 11-Aug-13 15:50:15

OP I think you'll find this paper interesting as a feminist view of medicalised vs natural childbirth - from page 258 . It supports and explains a feminist argument (that I think every right-minded person would agree with) of medicalised birthing and rights.

I understand what you're saying but it seems that you are really annoyed at some women supporting natural birth for feminist reasons. This does not mean there is a feminist argument or movement trying to deny anyone their rights during childbirth - which seems to be the conclusion you are jumping to.

As a side note - the "ignorant American" comment in your OP further suggests you are making bold assumptions that are not fully grounded once dissected.

PeaceAndHope Sun 11-Aug-13 16:08:51


You are slightly in denial. The traditional feminist agenda has supported exclusively natural birth, and some of the ramifications of that have been less than ideal. I have no issue with anyone supporting natural birth, but if you call yourself a feminist you have to support all choices- and those include epidurals and c-sections.

Bunnylion Sun 11-Aug-13 16:39:45

Once again - supporting one thing does not equate denying the right to another.

PeaceAndHope Sun 11-Aug-13 16:46:34


You are missing the point. Firstly, there are feminists who do openly state that the right to the other options is invalid (see the examples I have given you).

Secondly, promoting only one choice and pretending the other doesn't exist is harmful and inadequate. What if I solely promoted the rights of working mothers and completely neglected the challenges faced by SAHM? What kind of a feminist would I be then? A rubbish kind.

Bunnylion Sun 11-Aug-13 17:09:51

I'm not "in denial" nor am I missing your point.

The overwhelming majority of women, and medical professionals, agree that a woman should have the right to pain relief if she wants it - including you, me and everyone else on this thread and also everyone I've ever discussed birthing with in my entire life - feminists as non-feminists.

As a pregnant feminist who has done a lot of research into the area recently, I have not read of seen anything that suggests using pain relief during birth doesn't exist as you are saying is the case.

I do think that you are leaping to a conclusion that any feminist supporting and promoting natural wants to remove the rights of women who want pain relief, which is absolutely incorrect.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Sun 11-Aug-13 17:21:14

Can you find a link to Naomi Wolf's views OP? I find some of her recent views (especially re Assange) problematic. But your characterisation isn't what I recall her position being on sections so am interested to read.

PeaceAndHope Sun 11-Aug-13 17:41:51


Read her book entitled "Misconceptions".

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Sun 11-Aug-13 17:45:51

Where in the book? I haven't read it for years but my recollection is of her being against enforced and unnecessary medicalisation, not choice. I can dig the book out tomorrow but I'd like to know where to start looking as I don't much want to re-read the whole thing right now.

PeaceAndHope Sun 11-Aug-13 17:49:50


And I do think that you are being deliberately obtuse by missing the simple point that by supporting choices on only one side of the spectrum, some feminists are inadvertently doing more harm than good.

Like I have said repeatedly, there is nothing wrong with promoting natural birth. But promoting only natural birth is more harmful than beneficial.

While these women might not all be saying that other women should be denied pain relief or elective caesarians, I don't see them passionately defending this choice the way they defend VBAC and home birth.

In other words, they don't think that the rights of women who want to choose a c-section or epidural are worth fighting for.

You seem to think that the feminists you have met are representative of all feminist views.

The purpose of this thread wasn't to argue or start a one-upmanship.

PeaceAndHope Sun 11-Aug-13 17:53:28


You will have to make that effort yourself. I cannot give you a page number and exact line, as I myself read the book a couple months ago and do not have the chapters imprinted in my memory.

I do recall reading the view I have described earlier.

It's perfectly acceptable that she is against forced procedures (who wouldn't be), but like most feminist writers she has assumed that women who choose caesarians voluntarily don't exist. The same can be said about Jessica Valenti who wrote "Why Have Kids?". It's an excellent book otherwise, but she hasn't anywhere acknowledged the rights of women to demand pain relief and elective caesarians.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Sun 11-Aug-13 17:59:19

No need to be rude.

I think if you are going to assert that someone holds a surprising opinion you should be able to back it up with at least a chapter reference. I am perfectly willing to believe she says that somewhere. But equally that that might not be an accurate recollection. I am not going to take it as read.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Sun 11-Aug-13 17:59:22

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AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Sun 11-Aug-13 17:59:27

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AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Sun 11-Aug-13 17:59:32

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AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Sun 11-Aug-13 17:59:36

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AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Sun 11-Aug-13 17:59:39

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AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Sun 11-Aug-13 17:59:44

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AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Sun 11-Aug-13 17:59:47

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