Sunday, 27 October 2013

Labour like a feminist

I’ve been reading about ideas of ‘feminist childbirth’ in Al Jazeera. It seems that the choices we make about how to give birth are becoming a feminist issue.

There is a bit of competition mentality, which I was warned about in my antenatal class, where no pain relief is seen as good, something to boast about. I really don’t see why. Pregnancy and labour are really difficult. Why turn down something that helps?

I don't really see why fear of the pain of childbirth makes me any less a feminist.

Planning birth

My basic birth plan is to get myself and my baby through the whole thing with the minimum amount of stress and pain to either of us.

I’ve wondered if somehow I don’t really ‘get it’. Some people say that giving birth is an amazing and beautiful experience, even that they enjoyed it. I am sceptical about this. Pushing another human being out of my body sounds difficult, painful and messy.

I am of the ‘knock me over the head and wake me up when it’s all over’ school of thought. I’m very much looking forward to meeting my daughter in the next few days, but really wish I didn’t have to go through labour first. I would quite happily go to sleep and wake up several pounds lighter, when someone hands me my child. I don’t need to know how it happened.

The whole labour thing sounds quite terrifying, so I want to be in a place where they can give me good pain relief if I need it, and where, should something go wrong, there is the best chance that it can be fixed. So it’s hospital for me.


A feminist aspect to this is that we now have options. Women who want to stay at home where they feel most comfortable and avoid drugs are, where possible, supported to do it, and that’s brilliant.

For those of us who are absolutely bloody terrified – just because I wanted to have a family, doesn’t mean I want to push seven pounds of human being out of my chuff – there are epidurals and reassuring professionals in white coats.

Another choice which is becoming increasingly popular is a twist on the home birth – freebirthing, or unassisted childbirth, when women give birth with no medical assistance. No hospital, no midwife, no gas and air, nothing. Just them and a few towels.

Independent midwives are being banned in the UK, because they can no longer be insured. This means that women who want a homebirth might not get a midwife. They will be asked to go into hospital, but if they really want to have their baby at home, they may choose to go it alone. Freebirthing could become very common.

Controlling our own bodies

Pregnancy and the need to care for our offspring makes us weaker and more dependent. It’s a big part of why we ended up in a patriarchal society in the first place.

A cornerstone of feminism is having control over our own bodies. It’s difficult to talk about equality when it comes to childbirth, as men don’t do it. But empowering women to have control over where and how they give birth is undoubtedly a step forwards.

For centuries childbirth was an extremely dangerous part of women’s lives, over which they had little control. The lack of contraception or of ownership over their own bodies meant that women were items of property to be married off and impregnated, often with little choice in the matter. Women and babies frequently died.

Thanks to contraception and emancipation we can take control, choosing when and if we want to have children. Good medical care means that childbirth in the West is pretty safe.

I find the idea of freebirthing bizarre. It feels like a step backwards, taking away the safety net (although of course there is still the option of hospital if something goes wrong). But each to their own.

Whether you’re a freebirther who wants to treasure every moments of your child’s entry into the world or, like me, you’d quite like it if they’d wake you up when it’s over, what matters is that we have choices about what happens to us, can take control over our own bodies, and don’t see our differing attitudes to childbirth as making us better or worse at the business of being women.

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