Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How we get the Lowdown on Birth in our Culture

Today I contemplated the reason why am I so interested in pregnancy, birth, and birth culture. I think it is because in our modern American mainstream culture (which I am placing myself in) we do not have the same women's networks that existed in the past, and still exist in many cultures in the world. As a result, we do not grow up hearing about and actually seeing first-hand pregnancy and birth, unless maybe we happen to be the eldest child old enough at the time of our mother's later pregnancies to remember (but even then your mom may not be sharing every aspect with you).  I know there are exceptions, as there always are (extreme on the curve!) but from my perspective most people learn about birth when they get pregnant themselves.

I grew up with little knowledge of birth, the different ways to give birth, and all the different aspects of being a childbearing woman. All that I knew came from tv and movies, and the vague memory of the fact that my mom had my little brother in a hospital. I first heard the term "doula" when I took a Comparative Healing Systems anthropology course in undergrad, which prompted me to ask my mom more about her birthing experiences. Before taking this class, and reading Brigitte Jordan's "Birth in Four Cultures," I never realized that there were differences in birth experiences. I didn't know that you had a choice in where you could give birth, who attended your birth, that there were different positions you could give birth in, that in some countries medication is NEVER given, and so forth.

And from there I wanted to learn more. And learning about myself, and a situation I hope to find myself in in the future, and the capabilities of women around the world has made me want to tell others! Because I want YOU to know all this cool stuff that you probably aren't learning from your female companions and from the media. I want to share with everyone all the information that they may not receive from reading a childbirth book while they're pregnant, and to shatter assumptions that we have been accumulating from our society.

Speaking of childbirth and the media, I really want to get a chance to see this sweet documentary Laboring Under An Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs. The Real Thing, made by an anthropologist/childbirth educator!

for more info:

On the topic of where we get our information from, I want to share some of The Feminist Breeder's post called Mominatrix Says: “Consider yourself lucky, you c-section bitches.” about a portion of a sex advice book for mothers and pregnant moms-to-be called The Mominatrix’s Guide to Sex: A No-Surrender Advice Book for Naughty Moms....
I thought we had enough mainstream mommy authors giving us really uneducated advice about the supposed magical powers of epidurals and cesareans, but apparently there is room for one more.  I know Mominatrix thought she was being funny and clever when telling pregnant women to “save your cash for more useful items, like an epidural” but as a natural birth advocate, I find that statement highly problematic.  Actually, as a feminist I find that statement highly problematic.  Why must authors assume that their readers cannot handle labor, and suggest they save up for drugs before they even feel the first contraction?  Are we not selling our sisters a little short?
But it’s a flippant book, Gina!  What’s the harm?
Well, I’ve got a nice sized uterine scar on my belly right now thanks in part to a flippant mommy advice book like this one.  When I first found myself pregnant, I was just like the vast majority of pregnant American women who never get truly informed about the birth process, and instead spend their pregnancies watching “A Baby Story” and reading Jenny McCarthy books.  I got my hands on “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy” by Vicki Iovine, which told me that Lamaze was useless, as were all other birthing classes, and what I really needed to focus on was how quickly I could get the epidural.
Yeah — I got the epidural.  The epidural that only went down half my body, that caused me uncontrollable shaking, that shut down my labor, that necessitated more pitocin, which put my baby in distress, which then necessitated a nice, traumatic cesarean surgery.  Yep. That epidural. I’m so glad I saved my money for that epidural, instead of a birth class which would have informed me of the potential risks to my epidural decision.
But Mominatrix doesn’t seem to think that a cesarean is such a bad thing because, according to her, a cesarean means a baby didn’t come through your vagina and wreck it.  She complains that birth causes irreparable damage to the vagina and
“Quite frankly, women who have not had a vaginal birth will probably not experience as much of a change as those who have shot a baby or two out of their vag.  Consider yourselves lucky, you c-section bitches.”
She also says,
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you’ve birthed a few seven or eight pounders your vagina will not return to its trim and virginal state without some effort. And even then, it still might be somewhat of a lost cause.”
I would like to let unsuspecting mothers know that I’ve birthed a nearly 10 lb baby, and my vagina is just fine....
I tell you what really ruined my libido and my self esteem for a really long time were the debilitating, bleeding, excruciating, almost-required-another-surgery-to-fix hemorrhoids I suffered through after my cesarean, which were caused by the way they piled all my intestines back in my body (that’s right, did you know they pull all your insides out of your abdomen during a cesarean?)  Now THAT is sexy.
You know what DOES cause damaged vaginas though? Episiotomies, poor birthing positions (like the flat-on-back position so many ignorant medpros push women into), purple pushing (pushing when told to, instead of when your body wants to), and many other avoidable, outdated obstetric practices.
What I want people to get out of this is the understanding that these birth interventions so flippantly recommended in this book come with real risks, and real consequences that should never be left out of the conversation.  No, you should NOT be getting your birthing advice from a funny, tongue-in-cheek Mommy sex advice book — but that also begs the question why it’s there to begin with.

And I loved a comment she got on her post: "Okay I’m gonna be a little TMI here… but I actually enjoy sex more since I have birthed a baby out of my vagina! Is that strange?? I dont think it ruined my vagina at all, I think it made it better!"


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