There are tons of issues that are relevant to women’s health, both directly
and indirectly. A large part of my feminism has been rooted in promoting health,
wellness, and awareness about medical aspects that impact women.
Recently, I saw a documentary called “The Business of Being Born,” and my
interests in women’s health expanded dramatically.
Since I have never had a baby, I was pretty much unaware of the general process
of pregnancy and giving birth, other than some basic generalizations made in
high school health classes and dramatic scenes from “A Baby Story” and “16 and
I had heard some feminists in passing say that pregnant women were not as
fragile as modern thought tells us they are, that science is discovering that pregnant
women can do more strenuous activities than have previously been advised.
But I had no idea how much our concept of pregnancy and birth is controlled
by the medical industry and misconceptions of the pregnant woman as a delicate
The control and ability over the pregnant woman’s body in our society is
dispersed between many different people and it seems as though the woman often
In a society where women have long been reduced to their reproductive
functions, this is no real surprise. But the extent to which this happens is surprising.
Traditionally, a woman who gets pregnant takes a home pregnancy test after
a missed period. She may even take two or three tests just to be sure. If she goes
through a traditional doctor, she must then have blood work done or an early
ultrasound to determine if she is actually pregnant.
Once a positive result is established, the woman goes through several more
ultrasounds and maybe even fetal testing.
The medical industry tells us that these tests and heavy monitoring are what a
woman needs to have a healthy, safe pregnancy. The woman is largely reduced to a
vessel for an unborn child and her natural ability to carry a child and have a healthy
and natural pregnancy are not only doubted but directly infringed upon.
Midwives and birth assistants called doulas have a radically different approach
to pregnancy and birth that reflects the reality of the process while respecting the
agency and ability of the woman.
Most people hear the term midwife and think of some colonial old woman
overseeing someone giving birth in a field. The reality is that midwives are still used
today. In most other countries in Europe, midwives are used almost exclusively
unless a woman is high risk or has medical needs that go beyond the scope of what
midwives are trained to do.
Which is almost everything. Midwives are often registered nurses and certified
midwives are medically trained professionals who can administer medicines and
respond in emergency situations.
A doula is not a medical professional but is trained to advocate for the mother
and family and make the overall experience as comfortable and informed as
possible. They provide pre-natal, birth, post-partum and some even provide
abortion support and childcare for the first several years of a child’s life.
In countries where midwives and doulas are instrumental in a woman’s
pregnancy there are drastically lower rates of complicated births and maternal
mortality rates are much lower than they are in the US, where the vast majority
of births take place in the traditional hospital setting with all of its factory like
Unfortunately, OBGYNs in training are rarely trained for a normal birth
atmosphere. They are mostly trained in high risk situations that require doctor
intervention or even a cesarean section.
This is good because there will always be women who need help or emergency
situations. The reality is, however, that without much intervention at all, the
majority of women will be able to give birth without any major intervention in the
We live in a society of instant gratification. Maybe I want to have my baby pain-
free and two weeks before my due date. Many doctors rely on chemical induction of
labor to speed up the process, either at the request of the mother or because of the
reality that the less time one pregnant woman spends in a hospital bed, the more
patients that can be seen and the more money the hospitals and doctors make.
There is zero scientific information about whether the combination of drugs used
to induce labor and/or to manage labor pains does to the mother or the baby in
the long term. Some doctors even advise that unless the mother feels that there is
something wrong with her pregnancy, that ultrasounds should be avoided because
they are potentially dangerous to the fetus.
While not all scientists (and certainly not all doctors) agree with these
conclusions, we have to face the reality that the United States has a higher maternal
mortality rate than Bosnia, Kuwait, Singapore and other developed nations and that
this rate has doubled in our country in the past 25 years.
We cannot afford to continue living in a society that distrusts our future mothers,
disrespects her choices about her own body and provides no alternative option for
the single most important thing she will ever do in her lifetime.
Every woman’s body and preferences are different. She should know her options
and find validation in choosing where and how she has her baby. We have only been
doing this exclusively for about 200,000 years. I think we just about have this whole
childbearing thing under control.