Friday, June 12, 2009

Childbirth, yet again

Apparently next week is Birth Week on Discovery Health. Forgive me for being underwhelmed. Yippeekifuckingyay and all that. This kind of shit always really irritates me, and I don't think I'm just being a wet blanket here. First, there's the list of shows lined up: Little Parents Big Pregnancy, Births Beyond Belief, and Obese and Pregnant. For real? Why don't we just call it Further Othering through Pregnancy week?

But beyond that there's the whole attitude toward birth that surrounds these kinds of shows that is deeply fucked, in my view. The explicit message is allegedly woman-centric and empowering and shit like that. Isn't birth a miracle? It's the most magical day in a woman's life (except for her wedding, of course). But the implicit messages totally and completely contradict these explicit messages. The implicit messages are that birth is a mysterious and dangerous thing, that it's scary and out of control, a medical disaster waiting to happen, that women can't do it on their own, which is why they need medical professionals to deliver the baby for them while they try to be good little girls and behave. It's portrayed as an inherently medicalized thing, in which all kinds of disorders occur within the woman's body. She's a patient, not an agent. Birth happens to her, rather than being something she actively does. And she should never, ever question the medical professionals or act like a mature, rational adult who can understand and take some control of the experience, lest she endanger the baby. If she dares to conceptualize childbirth as anything other than terrifying, horribly painful, and out of control, she'll experience a kind of eyerolling and naked contempt she's never before encountered. Because that is how patriarchy steps in and manhandles you at the moment when you're in the most need of support and encouragement. Fuck that.


  1. Anonymous6/12/2009

    Good post!

    Those shows are always showing horrid medical disasters and worst-case scenarios of birth where the doctors cas as the heroes and the women are shown as just victims of their dangerous bodies!

    I used to like watching those shows since I am interested in birth and babies, but they began to annoy me for all of the reasons you pointed out. They give a ridiculous and skewed picture!

  2. Joanne6/13/2009

    It reminds me of a recent series here in the UK on Channel 4 called 'Hospital' where the overall aim of the series was to show how the NHS is "being brought to its knees" by, basically, self-inflicted problems such as binge-drinking, obesity-related gastric bands... and teen pregnancy. There were young women who had either chosen to have a child at 16 or had had a surprise, and the show pitched their opinions and experiences against the horrified midwives /doctors who couldn't conceal their horror at the naiveity and stubborness of the young women...but it was taken beyond shock at e.g. smoking during pregnancy, to taking the moral high ground over women who can't possibly make an informed decision to start at family at 16 (especially if they are going to rely on welfare) nor know how to look after a baby, nor be trusted in a sexual relationship.

    It cast women as selfishly taking more NHS resources than they deserve, while medicalising pregnancy and taking all agency from them. It's as bad as the obesity debate at differentiating between the deserving/worthy sick and the undeserving/unworthy sick.

  3. MsDangerPants6/14/2009

    Yes! Exactly!

  4. Anonymous6/14/2009

    I think movies and fictional TV shows really contribute to this too - it's always an emergency and a terribly painful thing. I've heard that in some cultures they don't assume it will be so painful, so most women experience less pain. And I've heard that your level of stress is correlated with your level of pain, so the more interventions and chaos and people messing with you, the more pain you experience.