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I Don’t Need Your Birth Feminism

Mariah Sixkiller’s Why I Am a Birth Feminist is one of the most privileged and myopic pieces of drivel I have ever read.

Why exactly is she a birth feminist? Is it because she wants to see improved birth outcomes for women in third world countries? No. Is it because she wants to fight against inequities in our health care system? Also no. She’s a birth feminist because she had a c-section in 2009 and she’s still bummed out about it.

Listen. I get that it’s a downer when there’s a discrepancy between expectation and reality but maybe it’s time to stop treating the surgical procedure that resulted in the birth of your healthy child like an epic tragedy.

Photo by Christine Szeto, on Flickr
Photo by Christine Szeto, on Flickr

Eventually you will be able to kiss her face. 

Eventually you will be able to go home from the hospital.  

Eventually you will feel well enough to be able to pick her up and change her diaper. 

Eventually you will feel a deep connection with your baby.  

Eventually you will stop crying every day without really knowing why.


Jesus. A c-section isn’t that traumatic. Hell, it isn’t even remarkable.

Sixkiller claims birth feminists aren’t anti-hospital or anti-c-section. They just “believe in a woman’s right to make empowered choices about her birth experience.”

Really? If birth feminism is about choice, why does she describe her c-section like torture and her four day long no pain meds VBAC like winning a marathon? Sixkiller sounds like she’s bragging, not starting a feminist movement.

If birth feminism is about choice, I’m sure her friend’s documentary — The Mama Sherpas — will include plenty of positive stories about repeat c-sections and epidurals, right?

mother holds newborn
(by wikipedia)

The end of the piece is the real clincher  —

Your birth experience has the potential to shape you as a human being in enormous ways. And you are in the driver’s seat. It is your body and your experience. Ask questions. Do your research. Hire a doula. Write a birth plan that helps you define what is important to you. Approach your pregnancy with strategic focus. Surround yourself with a birth team that respects your process. Be hopeful. Know that you have a right to have a right. Birth is an amazing opportunity. Choose wisely.

We don’t get to choose the bodies that we’re born with. There is no winning combination of doula, birth plan and “strategic focus” to outwit pre-eclampsia, infertility, chromosomal abnormalities or anything else that’s beyond our control.

We don’t need birth feminism to dangle the promise of “birth experience” over our heads. Instead, we need to call the “birth experience” what is is — a fantasy.


Jenny Splitter

Jenny Splitter is a writer, storyteller and over-scheduled mom of two living in Washington, DC. She spends her glamorous days trying to write whatever she can, counting 1-2-3 in a slow yet threatening manner to her children, playing with gluten and working to eradicate dog hair from the planet (or at least her home). Find her on Twitter , Google+ and Facebook

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  1. Wow. And how is it you are qualified to decide what is traumatic for someone? I do belive that telling someone that how they should feel is not only oppressive, but bullying and demeaning.

    1. How is she qualified to say that a VBAC or a vaginal delivery is the better, more empowered choice?

      Would anyone really think an ordinary c-section is so traumatic if we weren’t told by natural childbirth advocates that we should be striving for this “birth experience” fantasy?

      1. Major surgery is never “ordinary”. When a choice about one’s body is taken out of their hands – whether by biology or outside forces – some of their personal autonomy is taken away. You belittling them for feeling that loss of power is the equivalent of telling her “Suck it up! It’s not that bad!” You don’t get to tell them how to feel.

        1. So what you are basically saying is that Mariah Sixkiller is a bully and demeaning of women because she’s intent on convincing us all c-sections are bad and evil.

          Also – I don’t know anyone who’d want to keep their c-section “in their own hands”. There are surgeons for that. The argument that biology making a choice for you is bad is very disingenuous – I invite you to argue with biology during, say, a heart attack.

        2. Co-signing lunamom here. “A c-section isn’t that traumatic. Hell, it isn’t even remarkable” is a really nasty generalization to come out with. For some people c-sections are traumatic. For others they’re not. I’ve never had surgery of any kind; for me a c-section would certainly be remarkable. Someone else might find it totally ordinary. Everyone’s different.

          You could have made plenty of valid points about there often being good reasons to have c-sections, or about the problems with Sixkiller turning her personal experience into dangerous generalizations, without dismissing her trauma as invalid or fake or wrong. Instead you chose to throw in a personal dig at someone you disagree with. That choice undercuts the entire piece and could be really distressing to readers who experienced their c-sections as traumatic.

          I really liked Grounded Parents as the rare atheist/rational space that was free of ad hominem attacks. I’m sad that you chose to undermine that, and appalled that you chose to do so by telling traumatized people that they’re wrong for being traumatized.

  2. My VBAC has defined me in so many ways, well not the VBAC exactly, the baby I delivered, she was stillborn and I think about her and miss her *every day*.

    I get that sometimes having a csection when you’re not expecting that sucks. My first csection wasn’t a walk in the park (thankfully the recovery was relatively easy), I hAd never had major surgery before, I had been in labour, my daughter was in a bad position and mentally I wasn’t remotely prepared. That said, I got to hold and love a living baby who 9 years later still brings me lots of joy! I wish her sister was with us too, we don’t know why she died at 37 weeks. Ironically I had planned to have a csection with her, but my doctors suggested a VBAC after she had died since they weren’t worried about her size.

    I really get angry when people treat csections like they’re the worst thing that can happen. I assure you they’re not. Having had a csection and having had a stillbirth, the still birth is magnitudes worse.

  3. Jenny – thank you!

    There are so many things that bugged me about that original article. (From the “birth feminist”.)

    I had a c-section 9 years ago with no issues. (Baby and mom healthy, no mental trauma, etc.) There were so many people who were trying to convince me that I made the wrong “choice”, and that one day I would realize how traumatized I was. And how sad it was that I didn’t have a “real” birth experience. I think a lot of women are fine with their c-sections, but get convinced later that they were wrong.

    And that gets me to my second point. She says her c-section was unnecessary. How can she be sure of that? She reviewed her file with medical professionals, but doesn’t say what their specialty was. A c-section is done because of a higher risk. For example, if a normal risk of stillbirth is 1 in 1000, and you have a complication which raises it so 100 in 1000 (10%) with a vaginal birth, you might choose to have the c-section. (This was my situation.) In this case, you could say 90% of these c-sections were “unnecessary”, but how do you know which group you would fall in?

    And having her say she is not against c-sections sounds a lot like Jenny McCarthy saying she is not anti-vax. Both complete BS.

  4. I just read the article and I perceived it very differently. I feel like this is a women who is being very transparent and sharing her experience vulnerably with the hope that someone will gain and be better prepared than she was. I see a women trying to empower other women and be a supportive voice telling them that they deserve to have all the information and they have the ability to make the best decisions, moment to moment, for themselves and their babies. No human being, while sharing themselves vulnerably or otherwise, does so with perfection, as their is no such thing. I think it’s important to listen with your heart, because you hope others will give you the same courtesy. She has the right to want certain experiences for her life. I perceived her as offering suggestions, not judgment. I think perceiving it as judgement indicates insecurity or unresolved feelings of grief of shame in the listener.

    1. As I just posted on the Facebook page, I’m not objecting to her telling her story or viewing her own experience however she would like. It’s taking that experience — which is a pretty common trope in natural childbirth advocacy (disappointing c-section followed by victorious VBAC) — and using that as a feminist call to action that’s supposed to be about choice and informed decision-making. Nothing in her piece shows me how this movement will have anything to do with choice nor evidence-based decision-making.

  5. As someone who disagreed with, and commented on, an old piece of yours (called something along the lines of “The Birth Experience is Bullsh*t”) – I was expecting to read this and again feel that you were crapping all over the value that taking some control of the “birth experience” can have for some of us – like the value it had for me.

    I am happy to be wrong. I read the linked “Birth Feminism” article and wow… it was just awful. The author completely neglects to talk about the fact that in the end, no matter what you have done to prepare or what you want, you may need medical intervention (and thank goodness it is available to save lives)! I mean seriously… a positive attitude and a “fierce” doula is not a guarantee against needing a c-section! Not to mention that seeking a c-section AS your “birth experience” is a totally valid choice as well.

    She really seems to be insinuating that what is right for her is the only right way for everyone, and disappearing so many people’s experiences in the process.

    If this is the kind of drek you’re responding to when you write so angrily about birth experience being bullsh*t, well, I think I get the anger now… even if I have nits to pick with your blanket statement.

    In conclusion, screw that “Birth Feminism” article.

    1. I’m glad you liked this piece! Although I have to point out that that first piece was basically just a video of a story I told on stage — the same story that’s posted above! It is a slightly different retelling but it’s just a tighter version of the same story. Maybe the title F*ck the Birth Experience was off-putting?

  6. I really appreciate hearing your story; thank you for sharing it!

    I can say that for me, the “birth experience”, unmedicated birth advocates really did some harm to me mentally. My birth class was very negative about all medical interventions, with a lot of emphasizing how amazing giving birth without drugs is, and how very dangerous interventions are, and how they must be avoided. None of this helped me at all when I ended up needing a scheduled c-section (this being the absolute lowest rung on the natural birth advocate scale, and an indication of both laziness and selfishness on my part. How choosing a birth that somewhat increased my risk of complications as a trade-off for decreasing my son’s risk of devastating consequences was “selfish” is a thing I have not yet figured out, but there you go).

    But what’s worse from my perspective, is that this sort of argument focuses on avoiding the unpredictable, to the EXCLUSION of better advocacy for the changes that are genuinely necessary for improving outcomes and experiences of women and their babies during all kinds of births–even medical ones. The really surprising thing for me was that my c-section actually turned out to be an incredible experience. No amount of magical thinking (or actual magic spells, as suggested by a surprisingly large number of people) was going to get me out of the situation that required the surgery, but I had doctors who listened to my preferences, respected my intelligence, and supported me in making choices for all of the aspects of my care (and my baby’s) that were not critical for our health. I would love to see the day when every person giving birth can say the same thing. Unfortunately, it can be really difficult to explain that point to someone who is dead set that natural is not just medically, but morally, best, and if you had a c-section you were probably duped by a nefarious and patronizing doctor. I have had a little luck in getting them to at least listen once I mention that I first breastfed the baby while still on the operating table with my guts exposed, but if empowering and listening to women is really their goal, you would think I wouldn’t have to establish my granola credibility that way before being heard about how harmful this particular rhetoric can be.

    (Sorry for jumping in with such a long first comment. I have feels about this subject, obviously.)

    1. Thanks for posting! I was thinking today that in the same way that natural birth advocates say they want to “normalize” birth, we kind of need to “normalize” c-sections. Not as the only option, obviously, but as one option that is sometimes very necessary.

  7. I think the ‘birth feminism’ thing goes back to the ‘difference feminism’ pseudohistory of a primal matriarchy—which happens to revere women primarily for giving birth and providing sexual pleasure.

  8. Thanks for this post!! This was a great read. I’ve been reading a new book on birth and censorship that can add a lot to the ‘birth feminism’ discussion. It’s called The Infantile Grotesque. It was written by a man, but I think his perspective is really different, and interesting. Check it out!

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