This is the year of fecund friends. Every time I turn around, someone I know is pregnant. I’m starting to fear walking into a room lest my uterus spontaneously sprout a foetus in order to join in the party. I’m very happy for all of them, as they all appear to be very happy about the situation and I want my friends to be happy. But one of the results has been a fascinating series of discussions about labour and delivery, both highly contentious issues.
Being the kind of person who latches onto things and then obsessively researches them, I know an odd amount about fertility, pregnancy, and delivery considering that I never wanted to carry my own children and never really wanted children at all, even before I took steps to ensure that would never happen. But I became really intrigued by it as a result of a debate over midwifery and home births (very popular here) versus hospital births, so I went reading a number of years ago.
And there’s a lot about the medicalisation of birth and the handling of births in hospitals that I find very troubling. As appears to be the case with many pregnant people, who opt to give birth at home when they have low-risk pregnancies and they feel comfortable in the care of a competent midwife, certified nurse, or other birthing professional. For those with concerns about their pregnancies, they might step up to a birthing centre — others may feel forced onto the delivery ward due to concerns about their health or that of the baby. Their decisions are rooted in research, discussions with other pregnant people and those with children, personal preference, and a variety of other factors — for example, birthing plans are often not respected in hospital settings and some pregnant people prefer to exert more control over their pregnancies.
For others, hospital births are very much preferred. Some are worried about outcomes, while others just prefer hospital environments for a variety of reasons. Some people want epidurals and other medical interventions to address pain, they prefer being monitored during labour, or they want/know they might need C-sections. Some have high-risk pregnancies or a family history of labour and delivery problems, and they see the hospital environment as the best place to give birth. They’ve also done their due diligence, speaking extensively with friends, family, and health care professionals, and they’re making a conscious choice to give birth in a hospital.
There is nothing wrong with either of these decisions. Pregnant people are often regarded as public property with no rights to bodily autonomy or the ability to control the environment around them, and labour is an incredibly sensitive, personal experience. Yet, it’s treated as something that belongs to the people around the pregnant person, and something that must be performed to their satisfaction regardless as to the pregnant person’s preferences. This reflects larger social attitudes about who can get pregnant and who deserves autonomy, but they become really intense when people are pregnant, from people touching bellies without permission to doctors flagrantly ignoring birth plans despite the pleas of pregnant people and their families to people being kept on life support like incubators to deliver babies.
Though these are personal decisions, people treat them as public ones, and I see harsh condemnations — not, thankfully, among my lovely friends, but culturally, and on a wider social level. On the one hand we have sneering about hospital births and the medicalisation of natural processes, and on the other we have stern warnings about risky behaviours and endangering parents and children. Everyone has something to weigh in on during pregnancies from baby names to what people should/shouldn’t be eating to how to raise children to where to deliver them, as though this is anyone’s business but the parents’.
It really bothers me to see pregnant people being judged on the basis of personal medical decisions, as judgements about any personal medical decisions irk me. Everyone needs to decide what works best for individual bodies and individual circumstances and needs to be empowered to make that choice without running the risk of condemnation. Nasty, discriminatory commentary doesn’t actually make pregnant people change their minds about where they deliver, but it definitely does make them decide they’d rather not be around someone.
There’s another issue underlying these attitudes, which is the assumption that an outsider to a pregnancy knows everything about the details. One determining factor when it comes to home versus birthing centre versus hospital births is often medical history, which is actually not anyone’s business. People with a history of miscarriages, for example, have high-risk pregnancies and prefer to take special precautions. Others might have medical conditions like clotting disorders or blood-borne diseases that can make delivery challenging or risky for parent and child. People shouldn’t have to disclose private medical information to get critics off their backs, but that’s often what people are reduced to, which is terrible and unacceptable.
Pregnancy is private. Pregnant people are human beings and their bodies are their own. The freedom of choices extends to making a variety of decisions about a pregnancy, including how, when, and where to deliver, in a way that suits parents and children best. Yet in all the snipes about the birthing industry versus the crunchy granola crowd, even people who consider themselves pro-choice and pro-autonomy seem very focused on judging pregnant people’s decisions about their own bodies, which strikes me as extremely contradictory for anyone who claims to be concerned about social and cultural influences over people’s bodies.
Image: pregnant, il-young ko, Flickr