censor the body [,] you sensor breath-Helene Cixous’
I may lose all may natural parenting and feminist credentials with this post, but if I need to show a card to get in, I don’t want to be a part of any club.
I acknowledge that birth, pregnancy, and reproduction, on a grander scale, are deeply personal and sensitive issues. Although each birth happens specifically to one woman’s body, it is also one of the most intersecting, public and political issues up for discussion. Birth and reproduction is still, sadly, viewed as a cis-woman’s conversation, one that is often had using the medicalized discourse of a patriarchal system, leaving too many out of the conversation. Birth is a human issue, one that is unnecessarily splintered, mired by voices looking to argue that birth is greater than or less than based on how birth is experienced.
What is feminist birthing? It depends who you ask. Radical feminists (I hate this term: ‘radical feminists’ are just fundamentalist and inflexible people abusing the Feminist movement), argue that birth and reproduction is the largest and most toxic force working against women. Many radical feminists look at ‘breeders’ as women simply buying into the patriarchal dichotomies of women/children and men/work. A watered down, but equally problematic version of this thinking is directed more specifically at women who seek access to natural child birth or home birth. Some view women choosing natural childbirth as positioning themselves as morally superior to women who choose or experience medicated birth. Inversely, feminists who are also natural birth advocates often suggest that only through experiencing medication-free labour can a woman throw off the shackles of phallocentric health care model of birthing.
At risk of sounding like one of my most hated political characters, when it comes to birthing, I firmly ‘sit on the fence’. If a woman is educated in all of her choices and opts for a medicalized birth where she is supported, advocated for and cared for, no matter her circumstances, than she is no less experiencing feminist birth than a woman who goes the natural childbirth route.
Feminist, woman-centred birth should have nothing to do with the actual choices made, but rather that a woman has full access to these choices, that she is fully supported by society, community and care provider.
Feminists should be concerning themselves with the systems that we birth in, not shaming other women for the choices that they make. Systems like health care and politics need the voices and experiences of all women. We need to be fighting for access to information, privacy and equality in birth – no matter who we are, where we are from, what our sexuality is or what we do for a living. Birth needs to include supporting women inside her life situation. Almost more importantly, we need to ensure that doctors and other providers are accountable for poor practices around birth, and that the history of misogynist birthing practices such as ‘twilight sleep‘ are understood and not repeated – birthrape is real. Birth support and respect for the people who provide this support needs to be amped up and fought for. The Feminist Movement needs to stop arguing over whether or not it is pro-patriarchy to have a c-section, and start supporting and fighting for the rights of all women to have the birth that they want.
Feminist birthing happens only when all people involved have agency, information and support. Rather than finding yourself extolling your moral superiority because you (didn’t birth, birthed naturally, planned your c-section), why not use that energy to ensure that all women has the same opportunity to make their OWN decision about their OWN birth experience. Helene Cixous‘ in The Laughing Medusa, writes that when we “censor the body [,] you sensor breath” and by suggesting that any one way of birthing is more ‘feminist’ or empowering than another is censoring the breath of every other woman’s body that didn’t birth exactly like you. And that’s some ugly bullshit.
Edit to include: My own personal birth experience was not a super laid back crunchy birth. I speak from a place of experience where, despite my education and other elements of privilege (including the luxury of researching my birthing choices and having a midwifery team as my care providers), I birthed outside of my home country, in a language I could not access (Flemish) and with unexpected complications that very much robbed me of a sense of agency and power throughout the delivery portion of birthing my son.