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.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

@emjb July 15, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Hear hear!

My motto when faced with this type of person, the kind who seeks to erase your concern by mocking or belittling it, is to refuse their take on the situation.

"You complain too much!"

"On the contrary, it's those who complain who make change happen."

"You're a whiner!"

"No, you have an underdeveloped capacity for empathy. You should really work on that."


Courtroom Mama July 16, 2010 at 1:43 am

I love this! Totally using it in the future :)


The Feminist Breeder July 16, 2010 at 12:46 am

I literally wanted to reach through my computer and strangle the life out of people commenting on Denise's article. As they called her every name in the book, I could feel this mother's wounds being reopened, and her very soul being further traumatized by the way she was being treated. Having an unwanted cesarean is BAD ENOUGH. Having people tell you you're "sick" because you didn't like it is enough to send a woman into serious mental anguish. I've been there.

However, if it helps at all, I actually emailed Denise directly when that article was published and offered her all the support I could muster over email. Thankfully she wrote back and told me that she had actually written that piece years ago (her children are older now) and she had been shopping it around for a really long time to the mainstream parenting mags (Surprise! No takers!) She said that the comments simply reaffirmed her belief that women are being shit on and the world needs more women like her speaking out about this issue. So, right on!
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Courtroom Mama July 16, 2010 at 1:48 am

I am glad that you reached out to her directly, and I'm glad that she's already far enough along on her path to healing that this is just a blip in the rearview mirror. But the thought that *anyone* would think it's okay to rip on someone who is admitting to being terrified… man, human decency, grow some!


Babyslime July 16, 2010 at 1:37 am

Fantastic article. I'm going to be sharing this on my blog's link of the day section.


Courtroom Mama July 15, 2010 at 6:52 pm


(and if I can have a nerdy moment, omg I’ve been reading your LJ for years! Your photography is breathtaking.)


Amber Parker July 15, 2010 at 6:47 pm

I have been working with women at birth for 6 years. I have spent countless hours holding, supporting, encouraging, and counseling them. And you know what? I have yet to meet one that doesn't care about what happens to her body. I keep hearing this idea, surely perpetuated by Mrs. Belkin, that "some women" don't care how their babies are born, and the rest of us are merely self indulgent. I don't know who these mysterious women are- I've never met one.


Courtroom Mama July 16, 2010 at 2:03 am

Oh, Amber. There are SO SO MANY myths about women's reproduction and their motivation (they crank out the babies to collect welfare checks, they have abortions because they're selfish and just can't be bothered to be mothers). When will the world understand that women exist in more than two dimensions and have complex feelings about their bodies and their babies…

I think part of it is that so many women are treated poorly during labor that it hurts to think that it didn't have to happen. It can be easier to call other women self-indulgent than to realize that she wasn't treated with the dignity she deserves.

Thanks for your work and being a true ally to women! I wish everyone could have someone like you standing next to them at birth.


Amy Romano July 16, 2010 at 4:54 am

What a strong post. Thank you. This stuff just makes me sad.
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@CourtroomMama July 16, 2010 at 2:46 pm



Rebecca S July 16, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Belkin's attitude is just another sad example of "airquoting" women's "health"- and the toxic belief that American women have realized or don't deserve human rights because we don't die in childbirth that often. Health should encompass emotional and mental well-being as well as physical health.

If we have such great OB care in the US (so the sayers say), why is it that we treat women like they ought to be grateful to get out alive? Shouldn't that be the floor, not the ceiling? Why can't all of us, men and women, expect to be treated with grace and dignity?

PS- hoping that your comment gets published because the comments there now are truly terrible.


@callmecass July 17, 2010 at 4:39 am

"If we have such great OB care in the US (so the sayers say), why is it that we treat women like they ought to be grateful to get out alive? Shouldn't that be the floor, not the ceiling? Why can't all of us, men and women, expect to be treated with grace and dignity?"

Yes, yes, THIS. I've been trying to articulate this lately. Of course what we most want out of a delivery is a healthy baby (and mom) but why shouldn't we be able to expect more than that?


Geekymummy July 18, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Hear hear. I read mitherlode, but it usually gets my ire up. I


Rachael July 20, 2010 at 8:33 am

Thank you for this post. I'm grateful for those who can be both passionate AND articulate. I was going to comment on the Belkin post myself, but was too overwhelmed to do so at the time. I ended up linking to your post on my blog and adding some of my thoughts there. I'm curious if your comment was published. I hope so.
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Courtroom Mama July 21, 2010 at 1:35 am

Thanks for your response, and for your post as well. Trust me, I had to take a couple of minutes to compose myself before I wrote out my response!

I think that my response wasn't published because I always put "The Internet" as my location. Then again, I think I saw another non-geographic location, so I'll just say it got moderated so I can feel all self-righteous (I kid, I kid!)


Denise Schipani June 8, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Can I just say, nearly a year after you wrote this post, thank you? Just a humble, sincere, heartfelt, even tearful thank you? I was doing some Googling of past stuff for a project, and this came up. Honestly, that whole comment-section thing on Motherlode (as well as on the original Babble article) stung in parts,but the support I got from many places made me feel so much better. Now, if only my doctor back then had any inkling of how to treat me like some of you all have…

So thanks.
My recent post Confessions of an Impatient Mother


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