Posted by: emjb | June 13, 2007

Happiness exists in action, and in giving what you want the most

I haven’t yet seen The Vagina Monologues, but I want to. Even more so after seeing this talk by author Eve Ensler.

Ensler and her supporters have used the popularity of the Monologues as a way to fight violence against women. But what I was moved by in this piece is how much it fit with something I have been thinking about lately, about why I want to be a midwife/birth activist.

Ensler describes women and men who have suffered violence, but who have, after grieving, determined to keep that violence from happening to others. Now, I only had a bad birthing experience, and a c/section I didn’t want, and I can’t really compare that to a woman beaten by her husband, or being genitally mutilated, or living under the Taliban (to use some of Ensler’s examples).

But. What happened to me was violence, even if it was done with good intentions, or at least those who did it told themselves that. I don’t believe there were good intentions; I believe there is indifference, sexism, greed, and justification at work in the minds of those who push the c/section rate ever higher in this country. I think those forces had much more to do with what I went through than any real concern for me or for Nathan. And I suffered, if not as much as many women, enough to know that I was hurt, and I grieved, and I had been wronged, and that it should not have happened the way it did.

And that it shouldn’t keep happening, that there was no reason for it to be happening other than those forces–greed, sexism, indifference–that were the worst possible reasons for it to be happening. And I wanted to fight back.

I thought, quite hard, about becoming a lawyer specializing in birth rights and reproductive rights, but I quickly realized that wasn’t my path, wasn’t the skills I had. I had thought about being a midwife before, but felt unworthy and intimidated of the idea. But once I realized the immense need for good midwives to fight for good births, I still felt unworthy, but needed all the same.

It will be humbling to go after this goal; I’m not all that certain of myself. There is a lot to learn, there is a lot at stake in each birth, and I will face bigger challenges than I ever could in my current series of dayjobs. I think about copping out on it now and then, but the pull always comes back. I love birth, I love the power and beauty of it, I love that it is something utterly unique to women. I am angry that sexism in medicine means we still know so little about it, that birth is still considered about as significant as buying a new car in a woman’s life. I am angry that so little respect is given to it, that it only gets seen in our culture in jokes about screaming women and panicked dads and sitcom cliffhangers. I am angry that doctors are painted as the heroes in birth while the woman whose body has done all the work of building and sustaining and birthing the baby is relegated to a supporting character. I am angry that almost no OBs have ever or will ever see a simple, unmedicated, non-crisis birth, that they are not forced to spend some of their time with midwives, sitting calmly and waiting while a woman labors, at the ready but not interfering till she’s needed. That all they see is a vagina in crisis and a baby in danger, that women are nearly erased except as a set of bleeps on a monitor or as an obstacle to the birth itself that has to be patronized and worked around.

I was hurt, and I grieved, and I’m angry, and I want to do something useful and real with my life. There are 8 million good causes to throw myself into, but this one seems to have picked me.



  1. I am so glad to see you’ve found a calling.

    Even though I’m seeing midwives (a practice of CNMs) I’m afraid of the potential to have a birth like the one you describe. I’m not even afraid of any particular procedure, but I am afraid of someone doing something to me without my consent. I’ve heard too many stories about doctors and midwives misleading their patients about their pregnancies, health conditions, and risks of certain procedures. I’ve repeatedly heard of a health-care-provider stripping a woman’s membranes without her knowledge or consent, surreptitiously sneaking pitocin into an IV started for fluids only, “accidentally” rupturing her membranes, etc. Even the lesser stories, of a nurse physically putting a leg somewhere or a lactation consultant grabbing a breast before introducing herself make me ill. It upsets me that I may have to practice defensive decision-making, refusing vaginal exams so no one can touch my membranes without asking first, refusing an IV so no one can sneak anything in. And I feel I can’t share these fears with my midwives, because they’ll be insulted that I would think that they would do anything without my consent. And it won’t change their behaviour either way. But I know trusted midwives have betrayed their clients’ trust in the past.

    Anyway, I hope you become a midwife, and I’m happy for all the women in the future who will have someone who sees them as human beings, not uteruses in a fleshy case, not disasters waiting to happen. Good luck.

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