Stuff White People Like: Talking About Birth

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I intended to post the comment I left on Pamela’s blog (She’s blogging again!) a few days ago prefaced with something like “Please critique fiercely. Send it to a sociologist or a picky friend. K thx.” I’ve had it in the queue along with some historical stories of interest and after this conversation, which is still going, I’m posting it now.


Pamela, I have so many ideas that I’ve been sitting with for over a year. I’m reluctant to dig in because, well, among other reasons I really don’t want to come across as a white woman defining and speculating on the experience of people of color.

The one thing I have arrived (it’s a theory in work) at is that white privileged women are more likely to shocked by medicalized birth, not solely because they came in with preconceived notions that it should be different, but because it’s a window of time in which we are profiled, discriminated against, told our bodies are defective and insufficient, our rights to bodily autonomy are repeatedly violated and there doesn’t seem to be any way of navigating and changing “the system.” It can be a microcosm of the societal oppression of females, which many of us felt we previously had some control over because of education, privilege, whatever.

As an emergency service or if used for personal preference (i.e., preferring an anesthetized birth), the medical birth system is great. It fails in its desire to control the births and bodies of ALL women, using drugs and procedures to standardize and expedite the birth process, and it ultimately places the self-interest of the physician or hospital above that of the patient as evidenced by the collective justification of hundreds of thousands of unnecessary “medical” procedures performed each year on women who are not told the real reason for their cesarean/induction/augmentation/intervened upon birth.

While I can’t speak to the experience of the women of color in the medical birth system, I feel somewhat comfortable speculating that the reason why white women speak up so much more often is because we were more likely than women of color to be raised with the idea that our bodies are not broken, defective or property of anyone else… or at least that’s what we’d convinced ourselves until we got pregnant. When we come face to face with someone arguing otherwise without any solid scientific evidence to fall back upon or trying to get us to throw in the towel before even trying, it’s really disgusting. I personally don’t mind trusting medical authority, but it had better be backed up by data and facts, not anecdote, personal preference, opinion, a half-baked appeal to the authority of “the system” (as in “it’s just the way we have to do things”) or plain-old demanding compliance with the established patriarchal value system.

That’s what I arrived at after my hospital experience of refusing unnecessary meddling disguised as prophylaxis or “preventative medicine.” I walked away thinking about how much harder it probably would have been to negotiate for a regular old vaginal birth if I hadn’t been (any or all of the following) white, middle class, educated, English-speaking, insured, average-weight, neurotypical and able-bodied. Wouldn’t it have been harder to self-advocate if I didn’t come in with a heaping helping of privilege on my side?


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