Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Home Births as a Feminist Cause

I've been trying very hard to understand why home births have become a feminist cause. Don't get me wrong, I believe that if women want to give birth at home (or anywhere else), they should have that right. Having a variety of choices is always a good thing. I would be eager to defend women's right to choose to have a home birth or a hospital birth or a scheduled C-section.

What I don't get, though, is why it's now considered to be a feminist and a progressive thing to advocate home births as one of THE feminist causes par excellence. I'd say that home births are a rather patriarchal choice (albeit, a legitimate one). The idea that things that pertain to women should be relegated to the home is hardly a progressive one. You need to do your female thing, such as give birth, breastfeed, or menstruate? Go hide at home because public spaces are reserved for really important things. Home births exclude women from all the possibilities of modern medicine, as if women were some kind of second-class citizens. They are also pretty dangerous. (Dr. Amy Tuteur gives a lot of data on that in her great blog.)

People have tried to explain to me that the feminist desire to avoid hospital births is motivated by women's distrust of patriarchal medical institutions. Hiding from these institutions in your home, however, does not seem like a very feminist solution to me. It would equal removing ourselves from politics, for example, since the political world is male-dominated and patriarchal. Of course, we should work to make the field of medical care more women-friendly.


Andrea said...

You know, I wasn't aware that home births were a new progressive feminist thing (although I don't doubt you). But as for removing women from the patriarchy of hospitals, that sounds like a pretty damn bad move. One of my biggest issues with abortion in this country is that such an invasive medical procedure is preformed in a clinic and not in a hospital. If men where the ones undergoing them, you can get they'd be preformed in the hospital with access to all of the emergency medical equipment standing by.

Anonymous said...

I am unsure about that blog's information. The link to report specifically states that "birth attendant" is not discussed in the report. The other link can't be accessed.

My understanding is that all studies done on infant mortality rate concerning home births have been statistically insignificant (about the same incidence as hospital births). The few studies that show a higher mortality rate in homebirths have much too low of a sample group to even be considered legitimate.

Also, gynecology is considered a feminist issue depending upon which theory-based arguments you read/adhere to. Mary Daly is very anti-gynecology, for example. It also has a very dark past which should not be forgotten; I'd advise caution and skepticism. Afterall, 600,000 hysterectomies are performed every year...'nuff said.

Tom Carter said...

I agree, Clarissa. Giving birth in a clean hospital with trained medical staff and facilities to handle emergencies is progress, not oppression.

Clarissa said...

If I told you about the reppressive uses of gynecology oin the Soviet Union, your hair would stand on end. So, of course, it can be used for oppression.

Hiding from it, though, is not a real answer.

Clarissa said...

Andrea, I agree with you completely.

mamaloo said...

I don't see it as a "hiding from" the patriarchal medical establishment but an grass roots revolution in maternity care wherein healthy women and babies receive their care outside of the obstetrical model until such time as obstetrics are required.

Sick people belong in hospitals. Well people don't. The majority of births do not involve sickness so they don't require the involvement of hospitals.

Now, I'm spoiled. I come from a culture where out of hospital birth is integrated into the medical establishment. Where midwives are very well taught, where there services are heavily in demand, where the government is desperately seeking more alternatives to the hospital obstetric model because in a few years we face a massive obstetric crisis. Our midwives have fantastic outcomes, practice safely, have the respect and cooperation of the medical establishment and offer everything a first level hospital can offer in a home birth setting.

I have had a home birth and regularly attend them as a doula. I see the safety, the conservativity of the midwives and remarkable effect they have on the women who choose them. (Which is not to say there are never any instances of requiring transfer to hospital and medical attention, because there are, but way fewer interventions than equally healthy women who choose hospital as a primary delivery spot).

Why I think home birth is a very important feminist goal is that it is the one place that gives the woman and her partner the most possible control over their own health care options. By virtue of not being near all the big fancy machines and the operating room, alternative options are utilized when dealing with dystocias where in hospital women would be dosed with pitocin and have their choices reduced, often being bullied with scare stories so they'll be more compliant.

OBs and L&D nurses are amazing, but I have seen some things really shock me in how these care providers deal with patients. I see an absence of those things in the home birth setting.

jen said...

There is an excellent book that deals with this subject entitled Born in the USA: How a Broken Maternity System Must Be Fixed to Put Women and Children First.