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Yesterday, I was listening to midwife extraordinaire Ina May Gaskin on the Diane Rehm Show.

One of the things that struck me is that American medicine’s childbirth orthodoxy essential boils down to: ‘Women’s* bodies, what the fuck is wrong with them?’

I first heard about Gaskin when my partner and I were studying for the birth of our daughter. This was a few months before our then obstetrician informed us that the fetus in my partner’s belly was getting “too big” and something “needed to be done.”

Of course, women have been giving birth for ages. Gaskin, along with other midwives, doulahs and other traditionally female birth attendants have witnessed countless births. They’ve got a pretty good sense for how childbirth works.

This is not to say that I (or Gaskin, for that matter) am opposed to Western medical technology. However, I think it’s startling to consider a system that frequently treats women’s bodily processes as anomalous.

*This isn’t to say that trans* men and [other] gender non-conforming people don’t also give birth. However, cis women make up an overwhelming proportion of pregnant people. If the tables were turned, and cis men were the ones giving birth, I have a hard time imagining that medical science would be as quick to assume that their bodies were behaving in unhealthy ways.

27| July 2011

Love Gaskin for her work to change that model of thinking. I think for many cis-women pregnancy and childbirth are the first time they really see how paternalistic Western medicine is. A lot of talk about “allowing” women to do certain things while pregnant or in labor, and using scare tactics to convince reluctant women to do what the doc wants (and not always for the whole benefit of the baby or mother).

28| July 2011

A good academic book on the subject, for anyone interested, is “Birth as an American Rite of Passage” by Robbie E. David-Floyd. My only criticism is that it comes off so pro-natural childbirth as to devalue the experiences and desires of pregnant people who actively choose medical intervention.

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