Inevitably, Amy Tuteur--a notorious internet presence who appears in the comments of virtually every online conversation about birthing options to demonize any woman who chooses a home birth as ill-informed, dangerous, and selfish--showed up to challenge my view. She left a comment on the post, and then today she referenced my post on her own blog where she claims it as evidence that home birth advocates are suggesting "it is the white woman's task to teach her unfortunate sisters of color how they ought to give birth."
She first paints a gross misconstruction of my main point--which was never that less privileged women should be emulating those with more privilege, in fact, my point was and is that hearing from all women is important to taking the birth debate away from polarized language and into a productive space. But that's not even what frustrates me most. What frustrates me most is that her metaphor to illustrate how misguided I am actually dovetails quite nicely into my actual point.
She said this (both in the comment and on her blog):
Homebirth is like following Martha Stewart. It's delightful to bake your own bread when you know that you don't HAVE to bake your own bread if you don't feel like it. Similarly, it seems delightful to privileged white women to avoid the hospital when they know that they don't HAVE to avoid the hospital if they change their mind. For other women, who don't have routine access to high quality medical care, who have medical risk factors, whose home is not a domestic paradise, who have enough unmedicated pain in their own lives that setting themselves the "goal" of enduring more pain without medication is unfathomable, homebirth is an affectation they have no interest in emulating.And--I'm as surprised by this as you are--I actually agree with some of that. Home birth (as it is currently discussed and rhetorically constructed in American culture) is a lot like following Martha Stewart. That's because home birth (and this was my entire point to begin with) has become (mostly) a--well--privilege for privileged women.
|From Tim Patterson|
Let's look at this bread metaphor a little more closely.
I believe that many people find pleasure in the aesthetic of bread making. The time that it takes to make the bread, the aroma of it baking, the physical act of putting together the ingredients are all part of that appeal. To me, this has some parallels with the home birth advocacy that focuses on the beauty of labor. Many women say that going through the labor process without medication or interventions is an amazingly spiritual and empowering experience.
But those are not the only reasons people bake their own bread. People also bake their own bread out of concerns for their health. As this post points out, a lot of packaged bread contains ingredients that have either been deemed unhealthy or are questionable. And with reports coming out that sugar is toxic and some researchers are recommending it be regulated like tobacco and alcohol, those questionable ingredients are important.
So some people make the decision to bake their own bread because they think it's the healthiest choice for themselves and their families. Some women make the decision to have a home birth because they feel that it is the best choice for their health.
When we dismiss baking homemade bread--as Amy Tuteur does--as a "delight" indulged in by privileged women with nothing better to do, we ignore the reasons that those women choose to indulge in that delight. In short, we dichotomize that argument as well. This, of course, does not just extend to bread, but to healthy food alternatives in general.
And when we trivialize those decisions, we also trivialize those reasons, dismissing that the benefits derived from a such a decision should be options for everyone.
Which takes me back to my original post. I never said that women with less privilege should seek out home births. I said that "when we turn the debate into HOME="NATURAL" HOSPITAL=MEDICATED and then focus all our energy on deciding who is "right" in that debate, we lose sight of (in my opinion) the real goal: getting ALL women, regardless of their socioeconomic status and regardless of where they give birth, autonomy over their bodies, access to information, and the right to birth without fear and coercion."
So if we decide that the concerns that would motivate someone to bake homemade bread are just privileged trivialities, it becomes easier to ignore calls for changes in our food policy that would make healthier food available to everyone, and I don't just mean by telling people to emulate those baking bread at home. I mean by regulating ingredients used in packaged food, by having clearer labeling policies, and by making healthier packaged options more affordable.
In the same way, dismissing home birth as a fantastical "affectation" that only the ridiculous and privileged would choose ignores the reasons that those women are making those choices in the first place: to avoid invasive and often unnecessary interventions, to maintain agency during their births, to have a more private experience, etc. When we do that, we make it less likely that we will enact policies that would allow more autonomy and fewer interventions in hospital births.
And that hurts all of us. And that was my point.