Reply Turned Post: A Mother Load.

by Courtroom Mama on July 15, 2010

Let me be straight up. I’ve never been a fan of Lisa Belkin’s “Mother Lode” blog.  She’s written some pretty tone deaf patriarchy apologia on what she terms the “opt out revolution” (since pretty thoroughly debunked by the Center for Work Life Law (pdf)) and has always more or less struck me as someone striving to be an “Edgy Mommy Blogger.” Remember, “[w]hy don’t women run the world? Maybe it’s because they don’t want to.”? Ho, ho! How very above it all she must be!

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when she trotted out the just-won’t-die trope of childbirth as a sporting event with gold medals.” But in this case, I really just had to say fuck you. No seriously.

Imagine the mock incredulity: “aren’t women past the burdensome fiction that there is an ideal way to give birth?” Well I do declare! Isn’t sexism finished already?! Fiddle-dee-dee. As evidence for the fact that women just aren’t “over” birth already, she perches on a post on Babble by Denise Schipani in which she discusses her lingering pain over the fact that her births didn’t go the way that she had hoped and admitting that she was “scared to death” during her precipitous delivery that unceremoniously ended during the pushing phase.

Way to kick someone while she’s down, Lisa. Shame on you!

Here’s what I find to be a “burdensome fiction”: the idea that just because someone is ambivalent about their birth experience, that means that they think that everyone MUST give birth in a certain way. This is horseshit.

In a comment that I fully expect will never be published, I pointed out that in every other circumstance, the pain and trauma of “what ifs” around life experiences is treated gently. You did everything you could! It all came out okay in the end!

But when it comes to childbirth, wanting anything beyond merely making it out alive is the height of indulgence. Being frightened or disappointed or any of the other million permutations of emotion other than perfect maternal bliss and gratitude? Suck it up, cupcake, this isn’t the Olympics.

Not like cesarean surgery isn’t a SURGERY, an incision of metal into skin and through flesh and fat and organs that then get stitched and stapled together, requiring narcotic pain medication. Not like you’re not awake for it while you’re being cut open. For some reason, to Lisa Belkin, when babies are born their mothers-subjects are temporarily replaced with mother-objects. Everything that happens happens not to her, but to her. On her. Around her.

Tut-tut!, the commenters cry, “Babies, and not the mother’s experience, should be at the center of attention here!” How much more “center of attention” can you get than literally having the mother draped off, a room full of people standing at her splayed cunt or guts waiting to catch a baby. She’s probably lucky if anyone remembers she’s there because, lo!, here comes innocent life. Frankly, I don’t see how one can view the experience of becoming a mother this way without viewing the experience of being a mother in a similar light: Every moment of motherhood is supposed to be about self-denial, eyes firmly on the prize of NOT fucking up and destroying society by having a child who comes out average.

Here’s a bit of nuance that I think will be lost on Belkin: there is an ideal way to give birth, but not a right procedure. The right way is the way that leaves the mother feeling at peace with the birth. If she’s at peace with her elective cesarean or her epidural or her water birth, that is the right way. If she’s left feeling disempowered, scared, unsure, this is the wrong way.

Hell, this doesn’t mean that everything went according to plan. I know lots of mothers who wanted to have an unmedicated vaginal birth, and after pushing for five hours or sudden decels or whatever, ended up having to have a cesarean. From the feelings that most of them shared with me, they were not crazy about having had a cesarean, but were at peace with it because they knew it was how it had to be. But the story that Schipani tells, one of wanting a VBAC but having a labor that progresses unexpectedly—with a doctor who doesn’t really support her—that ends, almost inevitably, in a repeat cesarean section, is the wrong way, and it’s something I wish nobody had to experience. It sounds like she was robbed of the feeling that she did everything that she could, which is another thing entirely to saying that anyone else isn’t doing what she should.

Sometimes I hold out hope that maybe “they” are right, and the Mommy Wars are just a fabrication, and we can all hold hands and run through fields of lilies together (or at least join arm-in-arm as a unified movement of mothers creating a better world for ourselves and our babies). Retrograde trauma-bashing like this makes me realize that it’s probably a pipe dream.