FeminismPregnancy & Childbirth

Please Stop Calling Yourself a Feminist

I came across a blog post today, which begs the question: “Can you be a pro-choice feminist and anti-home birth?” Of course, I had to take a look. She posits that to be anti-home birth is to be anti-feminist and anti-choice. I disagree.

I have been involved in the reproductive rights and women’s health movement for nearly twenty years. I worked for an abortion provider for six of those years. I know firsthand the level of regulation and oversight required of abortion care providers. This analogy is terrible, because being anti-homebirth or being pro-regulation for homebirth midwives does not equal being against women making choices about their bodies or medical care.

feminist breeder

My objection to homebirth, as it is often practiced in the United States, has nothing to do with bodily autonomy. It has to do with providers’ abilities to provide high-quality, safe health care and informed consent, something that is required of abortion providers. If women can safely birth at home with licensed providers, who have standardized advanced training in birth and medicine, receive oversight from a regulatory body/medical doctor, hold malpractice insurance in the case of an injury, are held accountable if they cause harm and provide the woman with accurate information regarding her health care, I have no issues. But unfortunately, that is often not the case in the US, where in some states homebirth midwives can be untrained, unsafe and unwilling to work with the health care system to help women when something goes wrong. In some states like mine where homebirth midwifery is illegal, midwives travel from other states and practice illegally, a practice which in addition to being illegal, creates even more risk for the woman and unborn child.

61013_1647150975670_7361063_nFor the record, I love midwifery. I had two beautiful births attended by Certified Nurse Midwives in outstanding hospitals. I had the best of both worlds – awesome, personalized, empowering care AND providers who had received advanced medical training and were backed by medical directors. If I have another baby, I will probably choose a CNM. I have even toyed with going back to school to become one. CNMs are awesome.

Fact: homebirth is not as safe as hospital birth in the US. The study she cited does not prove that at all, as you can read on my colleague’s blog on the subject. The study design and data collection procedures were flawed and it lacks an adequate control group. What’s more is that the homebirth movement provides misinformation to women about risks and tries to cover up mistakes. There’s nothing feminist about providing misinformation and promoting unsafe birth through scare tactics. Withholding accurate medical information from women or shaming them into birthing at home when they need more advanced medical care is decidedly anti-choice. 

Let’s talk about shame. It’s pretty common in the homebirth movement. Shaming women. For begging to go to the hospital. For considering interventions when complications arise. For daring to go public or file a lawsuit after a loss resulting from midwifery malpractice. It’s wrong and anti-feminist to prize the movement over the women the movement is supposed to be serving and to try to bury cases of medical malpractice.

My primary objections to the home birth movement are the lack of regulation and required training/education, the promotion of misinformation and unlicensed people practicing medicine poorly, which has too often resulted in women and babies dying. Her analogy is like saying – it’s anti-choice to require women to obtain an abortion from a licensed physician at a licensed facility. If homebirth were required to involve licensed, consistently trained providers in our country and was regulated as heavily as abortion care, I might view it differently, but until then, nope – bad analogy and shame on her for trying to shame women.

One might even provide the better analogy that homebirth midwives are like back alley abortionists. That doesn’t mean they aren’t well-meaning, good people. However, when you take regulation, medical knowledge and training out of the picture, more women (and in this case, babies) will be hurt. The problem with being hurt by a lay provider is that you are often blamed for seeking that illegal or unsafe service, so you are less likely to report what happened. That lay provider is not required to hold insurance, provide you with accurate medical information or provide high quality care. That lay provider may not have appropriate relationships with actual medical providers in case of an emergency. You may be encouraged to avoid the hospital or be avoided by your midwife if something goes wrong. Doesn’t sound safe or like something that a proponent of women’s health would support.

I would be willing to leave it at that if she hadn’t brought up slut shaming.

slut

This is a straw man argument. I don’t blame or shame women for being duped or being provided with misinformation. I was a part of the natural parenting movement. I was shamed, duped and convinced to make choices that negatively impacted my health and wellbeing and my baby’s health, particularly around breastfeeding. I digress – my point is – been there, done that. I saw parents being shamed, misled and convinced to do stupid things every day on those boards. I don’t blame women. I blame home birth midwives and a movement that shames women into making unwise or ill-informed choices, based on inaccurate information and assigning value to unsafe practices like unassisted homebirth VBACs and high risk home births, putting women and babies at risk and then blaming them if something goes wrong. 

So, Ms. Crosley-Corcoran, the pro-choice and feminist movements are calling. We’d like you to stop using “feminist” to describe anti-choice, anti-women and anti-feminist activities. You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

Screenshots from: The Feminist Breeder

Images: Steph, all rights reserved.

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Steph

Steph

Steph recently traded single parenthood to two awesome kids (3 and 7) for marriage to a great guy with two awesome kids (5 and 10). Their adventures in parenting are set in a tiny town in the middle of a corn field. Their newest edition is due in February 2017. In late 2015 she left her stressful, more than full-time job with a victim services agency to pursue writing and activism. When she's not busy writing, chasing kids around, cleaning up messes and engaging in social justice warfare, Steph enjoys snuggling, making pies, engaging in debates on the internet, yoga, and fitness. A recovered natural parent, Steph now considers herself a semi-crunchy peaceful parent and trusts science, evidence and common sense to lead the way. She has been actively involved in the reproductive and women's rights movements for more than 20 years and is a passionate pro-choice feminist.

25 Comments

  1. June 27, 2014 at 2:21 pm —

    From what I can tell its the opposite of feminism. It would be like if feminists rallied behind a woman’s right to get an abortion from unqualified providers peddling quackery. Women deserve providers with adequate training.

    The focus on the baby’s rights makes for a pro-life sounding conversation, although the situations are very different (bc home birth babies are full term and wanted and aborted fetuses are not). I think that is a big reason why home birth midwives have been able to capitalize on feminist rhetoric to lure in customers. Strangely enough there is a mix of extreme right and left wing people in the natural child birth movement, its something I’ve started a draft about on my ex home birthers blog.

  2. June 27, 2014 at 2:45 pm —

    If women can safely birth at home with licensed providers, who have standardized advanced training in birth and medicine, receive oversight from a regulatory body/medical doctor, hold malpractice insurance in the case of an injury, are held accountable if they cause harm and provide the woman with accurate information regarding her health care, I have no issues.

    Actually, this is what is currently killing German freelance midwifery.
    Many women, like myself, get cared for by their OB/Gyn and a team of midwives. The midwives and the OB/Gyn don’t actually work at the hospital but “rent” its facilities. This has some inherent advantages: You’re with people you know and especially the midwives (if they’re good) are worth their weight in gold. They take care of you before, during and after birth, help you with getting into your new routine, with feeding, and so on. They are your link between pregnancy, birth and parenthood, they are low-treshold and you can ask all your silly questions.
    They are all CNMs.
    But having the education doesn’t mean they all understood it. Some of them are every bit as irresponsible as US CPMs, doing homebirth for not low-risk women, refusing vaccinations and so on. As a consequence insurane premiums skyrocketed and the last insurance company said they would no longer offer it.
    While such a system might be better, it’s not the ideal solution either.

  3. June 27, 2014 at 2:47 pm —

    There should be a quote somewhere up there.
    Here it is: If women can safely birth at home with licensed providers, who have standardized advanced training in birth and medicine, receive oversight from a regulatory body/medical doctor, hold malpractice insurance in the case of an injury, are held accountable if they cause harm and provide the woman with accurate information regarding her health care, I have no issues.

    • June 27, 2014 at 3:13 pm —

      But surely mandated education standards, certification, oversight and regulation are better than untrained, unqualified people practicing medicine? In the US in some states anyone can become a midwife. I don’t buy this – “bad for midwifery” is worse than “bad for women and babies” argument. What’s worse really? Back alley providers or a more restrictive, but regulated and safer industry?

      • June 28, 2014 at 5:46 am —

        Of course it’s better, no argument there. It just doesn’t mean that this is the perfect solution to the problem.
        And at the point where it’s threatening to take the wonderful high quality care I received with it over the edge, millions of women and babies pay the price. Not with dying, but with receiving less personalized care. Something “midwives” always claim they are in favour of.
        Frankly, I find people who actually HAVE the education and who then ignore it frightening.
        My cousin’s ex is such a midwife. She had her children at home, with the first one (because my cousin was NOT keen on a homebirth) she lied and said she’d gone into labour too quickly to make it to the hospital and coincidentially a midwife friend of hers just happened to visit her, with the second one she did a completely unassisted home birth.

  4. June 27, 2014 at 4:22 pm —

    I just find it ironic that GCC speaks about csection choice in terms of being coerced and uninformed, when many of us are quite happy with the outcomes. She has no problems discussing the risks of c/s however if you dare mention risks outside of a hospital setting you’re birth shaming and anti-choice. I would love to see a post from GCC where she supports c/s without adding clauses to it (such clauses as as long as a woman isn’t coerced or bullied into a csection and that she’s well-informed of the risk).

    I wonder if she really understands what support and choice mean, do we have to unilaterally have to accept every woman’s choice? I wouldn’t support a woman doing a speedball (heroin and cocaine) during labour. I also wouldn’t recommend birthing by a stream in the showiness of nature. Also if you speak against a choice such as free birthing but feel that people can make that choice if they want, is that anti-choice? I don’t think so. Gina opines about csection risks, well I think others can opine about risks with birth without a well-educated practitioner and not be called anti-choice or birth shaming. Honestly the birth shaming I felt came from people who are ooh birth advocates. My mom recently told a homebiryh supporter I was planning an RCS and that was not taken well.

    • June 27, 2014 at 5:19 pm —

      I had a c-section after a super long and traumatic unmedicated labor. Man, the c-section was a lot less painful. They make the recovery seem like its terrible for everyone (its true with some people), but all I needed was motrin afterwards.

      That’s the other thing- if you talk about your c-section positively these NCB types will say you took the easy way out, while also saying c-sections are THE WORST THING EVER and MAJOR ABDOMINAL SURGERY etc etc.

    • June 27, 2014 at 7:30 pm —

      I think we can’t equate being pro-choice with approving of any decision any woman might make ever. I certainly agree that she is one sided in her approval – as long as it is in line with her approved set of birth choices, it is cool, but if you want something she doesn’t approve of or wouldn’t want for herself…that is another story.

  5. June 27, 2014 at 6:57 pm —

    Yes yes yes! We aren’t trying to make home birth illegal. Untrained, unaccountable, uninsured midwives are what need to be illegal.

  6. June 27, 2014 at 7:00 pm —

    Check out this screenshot were The Feminist Breeder basically tells a mom that her c-section wasn’t really a life or death situation…

    • June 27, 2014 at 7:32 pm —

      It pains me to see how judgmental and shaming she is. And to think she is pursuing an MPH. I wish I could send a copy of her blog to her Master’s Committee. How is what she does good for Public Health?

  7. June 27, 2014 at 7:56 pm —

    Not trying to derail anything here, but can you really put the words feminist and breeder together? Calling a woman a breeder I thought was reducing her to only someone that has babies.

    Anyway, I think it is crazy that the US allows midwives with so little training to practice. And can they really not be held accountable?

    • June 27, 2014 at 8:14 pm —

      I think she always knew the name was provocative and goes along with being “edgy’.

  8. June 28, 2014 at 2:56 am —

    “She posits that to be anti-home birth is to be anti-feminist and anti-choice.”
    *throws hands in the air*
    Well, that says it all right there. Because clearly when we advocate against a dangerous medical practice we’re anti-feminist/choice.

    Next they’ll be telling us that advocating for blood transfusions means we’re anti-free speech because of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s really about the same thing, since home birth is more of a pseudo-philosophical position than a best practice in any sense.

    Even with the best, most well-regulated midwives available, home births are still way more dangerous than hospital births, too.

  9. June 28, 2014 at 2:10 pm —

    Well said, as usual, Steph.

  10. June 28, 2014 at 10:19 pm —

    She is open to learning. She changed her mind about freebirth after doulaing at like 20 births or so and seeing a few PPH cases that made her freak out.

    I don’t care much about GCC or the feminist breeder- she isn’t very relevant anymore. I care about what law makers and feminists think about birth options. My copy of “our bodies, ourselves” is full of NCB nonsense.

  11. June 29, 2014 at 12:37 am —

    I’m a new reader here at grounded parents, and I’m liking most of what I see!

    But this anti-homebirth thing has me a bit confused. This post does clarify a bit of the concern with unregulated midwives and “the movement” and all that. I think perhaps the USA is its own special creature when it comes to healthcare and childbirth? Both of my children were born in hospital with registered midwives here in Canada, but I did seriously consider home birth, and will consider it even more seriously for my next birth due to the speed of my second delivery (under 2 hours, much of which was spent trying *not* to have the baby en route to the hospital). My experience with midwives was much like the hypothetical ideal situation you have described that you might be okay with. Your descriptions of unregulated home birth and shaming sound scary and wrong.

    If we were to assume that a woman receives good information and has access to good medical care options, then surely it is indeed feminist to support her choice about where to give birth? Even if she chooses “freebirth” after considering the information? We might of course think she’s being reckless and foolish, but people have the right to make all kinds of reckless and foolish decisions for themselves and their children. I do think that given good information and access to good health care options, it is feminist to apply the “pro-choice” label to birth and any other personal health care matters.

    Perhaps we ought to focus our energies on cracking down on misinformation, shaming of any flavour, and working towards proper regulation of midwifery rather than talking about being anti-homebirth in broad strokes.

  12. June 29, 2014 at 4:16 pm —

    “Perhaps we ought to focus our energies on cracking down on misinformation, shaming of any flavour, and working towards proper regulation of midwifery rather than talking about being anti-homebirth in broad strokes.”

    This is exactly what I am about. I think the culture here is different than in Canada. I also had awesome births attended by midwives, but the majority of homebirth midwives are NOT CNMs. I don’t feel that I did talk about homebirth in broad strokes. I do think there needs to be a nuanced discussion of this issue rather than just claiming that it is simply about bodily autonomy. I don’t think it’s very possible to receive adequate information about risk from homebirth in the US. I don’t think many providers are adequate and I don’t think it’s fair to place the burden solely on women to “choose” when there exists a culture of misinformation and demonization of medical care. Sort of makes “informed consent” difficult when the information is lacking. It is not anti-choice to want women to have access to adequate and safe providers. That would be like endorsing back alley abortions in a community where there is a licensed abortion provider up the street. Do you think it is right that abortion providers like Dr. Gosnell (if we can even call him a Dr.) were allowed to misinform women about the care they would receive and then butcher them and kill post viable fetuses? Extreme example…but there are also some pretty extreme examples of the same sorts of malpractice happening with midwives, who in many states need only a HS diploma to practice.

    • June 30, 2014 at 4:22 am —

      Okay, I think we ‘re pretty much on the same page here. It’s just that I can’t relate very well to this “culture of misinformation and demonization of medical care” as that has not been my experience whatsoever. I guess it must be a Canadian-American difference thing? We do have very different healthcare systems.

  13. June 30, 2014 at 11:00 am —

    I think what the NBC crowd is doing here is to mess up “support for the right to choose” with “support for the choice”, claiming that the former must mean the latter.
    The fact tha I support Michelle Duggar’s right to pop out babies until she dies in it does not mean that I condone her choice in any way. Nobody wants to see a “freebirther” arrested and hauled off to a hospital.
    But that is not true for people who make money of this. Nobody would claim that a patients “right to choose” is obstructed by the government regulating the drug industry.

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