A snappy little blog I really like to read (but haven’t blogrolled, because I’m afraid she’d track me back here and cast her erudite eye on my own pathetic little site…*gulp*) is Twisty Faster’s I Blame the Patriarchy. If you are looking for something intelligent, juicily well-written and fresh, I highly recommend it. My favorite parts are the photos of what she eats every day.
Anyway, one of Twisty’s recent posts concerns a WalMart pharmacist who allegedly denied a young woman the over-the-pharmacist’s-counter “Plan B” contraceptive pill, and who then sniggered at the woman’s vain attempt to procure said pill from his Bastion of Moral Highroadiness. Dear Twisty is rightly outraged at this nasty tale. As am I.
This got me thinking about my own dealings with reproductive issues and the patriarchy. (Also see “Why I’m Not A Republican” in A Bit of Politics.) I have two daughters, aptly named DD1 and DD2. (Okay, those aren’t their real names.) I am very proud of my daughters. Not only are they beautiful, healthy, smart, and fun, but I gave birth to them. Myself. I make a point of saying that. People ask, “Where did you deliver?” And I pointedly say that I gave birth to them. They were never, ever delivered.
I spent a long – inordinately long – time educating myself on birth while waiting for those tedious months of DD1′s gestation to pass. I probably read more about childbirth than people who work in the maternity care system. I can say that with certainty after having experienced the maternity care system, which is neither “maternal” nor “caring”, but very much a “system”. It’s a patriarchal, misogynistic system, designed to make it as difficult as possible for your body to actually do what it is supposed to do to give birth, thus requiring you to rely on said system to “save” you and “deliver” your baby from your faulty, helpless body. Ick. Hence, my insistence that I birthed my babies.
The sordid details of DD1′s birth are rightly saved for a separate post, but suffice it to say that I birthed her in a hospital in spite of the well-meaning efforts of the nurses and doctors to medicate, lubricate, salinate, hydrate and subjugate me. My favorite moment is when, after 30-some hours of labor, I wanted to take a shower. The nurses looked at each other in shock and one said, “I don’t think you’re allowed to. I’ll have to check.” Allowed to? Why would I not be allowed to shower? Turns out they were afraid I might fall and hurt myself. You think I might fall in the shower because I’m in labor?? That’s like saying that someone who’s biking the Tour de France isn’t allowed to tie his shoe, because while he’s doing this amazing physical feat he must not have the faculties to accomplish an ordinary task which, coincidentally, might make said physical feat easier to achieve. Idiots.
(I did take a shower, by the way. I went in while they were discussing it.)
The thing that really pissed me off, though, was the lack of sisterly support I was getting from these women. One definitely looked as though she had sprouted a few seeds of her own, and for the life of me, I just couldn’t understand why they were giving me such a hard time about wanting to have a natural childbirth.
So you might argue that labor and delivery nurses are not “in charge”, and are simply the following orders of the nasty male doctors– men who have no idea what all the moaning is about when you could just chin up and have your epidural. Well, you might be right. Therefore, I offer up Exhibit A, a female obstetrician, who we shall refer to as Dr. C. Dr. C was backup for my regular doc, who unthoughtfully went out of town for his daughter’s piano recital, which was most inconveniently taking place at the precise moment my own child had decided to enter the world.
Dr. C refused to look at my birth plan, which I had prepared with great care and study. This birth plan, mind you, was in my file at the hospital. My own (s)OB had helped me write it, albeit reluctantly, and had even signed it and sent it in for me. (As he said, “I’m not going to be with you during labor, so I really don’t care what you want to do at that point.” Very reassuring.) And my birth plan was nothing more than a written desire to have as natural a childbirth as was prudent. In other words, if I ain’t broke, don’t try to fix me.
Dr. C instead insisted on a number of minor interventions, such as sweeping my membranes and starting an IV. She insisted that I needed to have such interventions– not because they would make my birth “safer”, or because there was a pressing need to have these things done– but because, to quote, “This is how I do it.”
Well, Dr. C, guess what? This is my birth. And just because this is how YOU do it doesn’t mean I’M going to do it that way. Especially when you show absolutely no regard for my personal feelings and treat me like I’m a stupid little girl. And especially, especially, especially when you try to get my husband to gang up on me and force me to do something I’ve already said no to, when you don’t have a really good reason to do it. Screw you, Dr. C. Screw you. You’re worse than the patriarchy, you traitor.
We fired her shortly before DD was born. Best thing I ever did. One of the best things, anyway. The other best thing I ever did was to fire the next – female – (s)OB, the one who tried to get me to abort my second daughter at 7 weeks gestation.
Yes, I was pregnant, this new doctor said, when I went in for my first prenatal exam. I liked her. She was young, pretty, had a baby herself, and didn’t even flinch when my now-one-year-old wanted to nurse in the exam room. I had hope. And then she pulled out her DoomDate Calculator and told me, with absolute certainty, exactly when my baby would arrive. Wait a minute, I said. I told her that I knew my conception date, and had calculated my due date to be several days later (almost a week). She dismissed my hormone-induced blathering with a kind wave of her manicured hand. Then she asked me to go over to the next room for a quick ultrasound.
The ultrasound (surprise!) did not show that my Sac had Divided. Whatever that means. There was a “sac” implanted in the wall of my uterus, but you couldn’t really see much detail. No weird eye sockets or baby-sized bony structures were visible. The tech quickly snapped off the Mommy Monitor and called the doctor back in. They went out of the room and talked in low, hushed voices. Then the tech came back in and asked me to get dressed and see the doctor again.
Kind Dr. Whatshername told me that I had apparently miscarried, since they did not see a heartbeat on the ultrasound. I reminded her of the near-week discrepancy in our calculated due dates, and calmly told her I was fairly certain that my body was indeed still pregnant. There had been no blood, no cramping, no other signs of miscarriage, and I was definitely still feeling a lot of nausea. I could see by her expression that this flew in the face of all her years of indoctrination (like that little pun?!). How could the DoomDay Calculator be wrong? (For a fairly good dissertation on the margin of error of Due Date Calculation, see here. )
She suggested a D&C. I suggested waiting. She agreed to watch my blood hormone levels for a few days and see what was up. Sure enough, after two more visits, I had proven that I was, indeed, still pregnant. A few weeks later, we had a lovely ultrasound picture to put in our baby’s book. Good thing I didn’t go have my baby (who is now 14 months old) aborted by following Doctor’s Orders. I still get mad when I think about that.
The night after my second ultrasound, we interviewed a midwife. She was great. We hired her on the spot, and I never went back to the System. And how glad I am for that little stroke of luck.
When DD2 was born, only DH and I were there. I kept putting the midwife off, not wanting to be prodded and poked at like they had in the hospital. She and I talked several times throughout the day via telephone, and she respected me enough to allow me to labor uninterrupted. I watched movies with a girlfriend, made some soup, and had a rather pleasant time of things. I was in control of my own body, my own labor. I know she would have come if I had asked her to, and felt very comfortable being on my own. When hard labor hit, I told her I was ready for her to come over. Can I tell you how empowering it is to listen to your own body and be the one calling the shots? It does wonders for labor, too. By the time she made the hour-long drive to my house, I had already given birth. Given it. Not had it taken from me by a cold, defensive, patriarchal system, but given it, the way the earth gives life: loudly, strongly, messily, and naturally.
The moral of this tale is not that all women should eschew hospitals for birth, or that women who choose epidurals in labor are somehow lesser, or that (s)OBs should be lynched. Nothing of the sort. And I do recognize that all births are valid, whether they happen in a home or hospital, in a jacuzzi tub or on an operating table. But, while we can blame the patriarchy (which I wholeheartedly do) for interfering with the natural process of birth, we women also have a responsibility to take back what is ours. Women in the healthcare industry, who perpetuate the doctor-knows-best attitude of my mother’s and grandmother’s day, and birthing mothers who blindly follow like so many sheep, without asking questions or taking the time to learn, are just as much to blame.
But I have to admit that blaming the patriarchy is a whole lot of fun…