Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Birth Is A Women's Rights Issue

I obviously have birth on my mind, so please excuse the frequency of my posts on natural childbirth in these final days before my fourth little one arrives!

I was thinking recently about the evolution of childbirth over the past century. It always baffles me that at the turn of the 20th century almost all babies were born at home, and just one hundred years later almost all babies were born at hospitals. A pretty amazing switch, if you ask me.

What's most fascinating, though, about the advent of hospital births and modern obstetrics in the 20th century is that it was propelled by middle- and upper-middle-class women at the turn of the last century who found liberation in medicated birth. These were women who had been told, just as their mothers and grandmothers before them, that painful childbirth was their inevitable burden, the mark of Original Sin they must bear. Women of the early-twentieth century saw the availability of anesthesia for childbirth to be an enormous leap for women's rights, the ultimate female liberation.

It's interesting that many of the women who now reject hospitals for home births, and tout the benefits of natural (drug-free) childbirth, are doing so for many of the same reasons that led their female ancestors to abandon home births in the first place: women's rights.

I really think, in today's culture, that birth is fundamentally a women's rights issue, and that many doctors and hospitals routinely violate women's rights with their policies and expectations for birth. I hear, over and over and over again, birth stories from women that detail these violations; stories of hospital interventions or procedures that lead to less-than-ideal, and in many cases traumatic, birth experiences. I hear women telling of how they were "blamed" for such births because they were told their pelvis was too small, their uterus was too floppy, or some other ridiculous reason that leads women to doubt their feminine power and maternal wisdom. It's outrageous, really. And then I hear these same women, myself included after my first two births, exclaim that they have no choice but to return to a hospital for a subsequent birth because of the trauma of a previous one, (hemorrhaging, c-section, etc.), without fully recognizing that perhaps it was the hospital experience that caused that trauma in the first place.

If we care about women's rights then we need to care about birth. We need to recognize the potential hazards of hospital births and the violations of women's rights that frequently occur during the very vulnerable time of pregnancy and birth, and we need to be the next wave of women to say no to the hegemonic practices that lead women to endure these indecencies.

Birth matters. It matters not only for maternal and infant health, but also--and perhaps more importantly-- for helping women to regain control of their bodies and reclaim the evolutionary wisdom that put mothers in charge of their babies' well-being.


  1. Awesome post! Couldn't agree more! Good luck with birth #4!!

  2. This is a great post!
    You might be interested to know that there is an international grassroots movement called "Human Rights in Childbirth."
    They hold a conference every two years with advocates, birth activists and mothers from all over the world where they explore issues relating to human rights, child birth, and women's autonomy.