Monday, January 9, 2012

The Concern over Beyonce's Vagina is Worrisome

joint announcement by Jay-Z and Beyonce says this about the birth of their child:
Her birth was emotional and extremely peaceful, we are in heaven.
She was delivered naturally at a healthy 7 lbs and it was the best experience of both of our lives.
People have jumped all over the "naturally" part of this announcement. Early speculation had said that Beyonce had an elective c-section; many of these reports were followed by snarky comments about the tummy tuck she probably had, too. It's also being reported--and disputed--that she rented out an entire floor of the hospital and then had NICU patients' parents locked away from their own children. Then, of course, there are plenty of commenters that believe the crazy rumors (which I previously wrote about) that Beyonce faked her whole pregnancy and that this birth ("natural", c-section, or whatever) was by a surrogate.

Look, I've gone on record saying that the portrayal of birth in popular culture is very important because the image of fear and pain that most women see about birth isn't really accurate and definitely doesn't set them up to be informed decision-makers in their own births. For the most part, I meant fictionalized portrayals of birth (like in a television show or a movie), but I guess that also applies to the "reality" birth shows like I'm Pregnant And . . .  or A Baby Story. While I agree that high profile celebrities' birth experiences are part of the cultural text that crafts our collective view of childbirth. I disagree that they should be subject to the same scrutiny.

Consider the argument Michele Zipp makes in "Beyonce's C-Section is Bad News for Moms"
I also feel that because Beyonce had a scheduled c-section (for whatever reason) it makes so many other women who admire her think that is the glamorous way to birth. It's not. If it's necessary, then it's necessary and that is a different story, but too many of these diva births will have us ending up like China, where the c-section rate is 50 percent.
But this isn't fair to Beyonce, a real person who just gave birth to a real baby. She is not a television show, and she didn't even (like the women on the "reality" shows) place her birth in the public eye. Yes, her celebrity status is dependent upon people being interested in who she is and what she does, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't deserve respect and privacy.

In fact, this whole conversation has taken a turn for the counterproductive. For crying out loud, it's even provided a platform for the Skeptical OB Amy Tutuer (who inevitably pops up in every discussion about childbirth to remind women that it is "inherently dangerous" (her words) and how sexist it is to suggest that women should labor without pain medication) to further the divide in the natural v. medical birth debate. And while I've never found myself agreeing with anything this woman has said in the past, she has a point when she points out the hypocrisy of women in the natural birth community who are attacking Beyonce's birthing choices.

This divide can clearly be seen on Feministing's recent articles about Ina May Gaskin (a natural birth advocate and midwife). While not all of the comments fall into such a stark dichotomy, many of them do. Some commenters even go so far as to suggest this conversation isn't really a feminist issue and that Gaskin shouldn't be featured on the site.

When we start arguing over whether it's still natural to have an epidural or whether a woman with a breech baby should try to give birth vaginally or whether a woman who births at home is making a smart decision or whether women who want to labor without constant monitoring are control freaks or whatever version of the debate comes up, we stop focusing on the actual problem.

The problem is that women are not getting  the respect and autonomy they deserve and need in their own birth experiences. Too many women have to fight to even be heard when they go to give births in a hospital (for some examples, see this post from The Feminist Breeder). Too many women feel pressured into interventions without clear explanations of their options. Too many women feel shamed for making decisions on either side of this debate.

Look, I support and respect any decision that a woman makes. It is my hope that those decisions are informed and thought out, but the default should not be to assume that they are not. Just because people make different decisions from the ones I make does not make them wrong, less informed, or worthy of ridicule.

So, if Beyonce had a c-section, I'm going to assume that she had reasons for making that decision. If Beyonce had a "natural" birth, I'm not going to pick apart what constitutes natural. This isn't because I don't think that the c-section rate is too high or that I don't think that the information about natural birth isn't readily accessible enough for many women, but Beyonce is not a case study or a platform for my cause.

She is a person, a new mother, and she deserves my respect.

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