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How disastrous births haunt women Mothers are still mocked for wanting control

One of my worries during labour was “please don’t let anyone get cross with me”. (Getty Images)

One of my worries during labour was “please don’t let anyone get cross with me”. (Getty Images)


July 17, 2023   6 mins

The third time I went into labour, I was determined to avoid getting told off. With both of my previous births, I had somehow managed to get things wrong. My errors the first time: going to hospital too early, then, when I returned three hours later, “leaving it so late”. The second time: ignoring assurances that I didn’t need to come in yet, then giving birth in the car park — an event I later discovered was being used in antenatal classes as an example of women “not planning ahead”.

“My previous births have been fast,” I said, when I went into labour with my third, “so I’d like to come in now.” I was speaking to the woman at the midwife-led unit that is the only option where I live. (If you need a caesarean section, you have to be transferred to next town.) “Third babies are notoriously difficult,” was her response.

What an odd thing to say to a woman already in labour. The “notoriously” suggested it wasn’t based on any actual evidence, but rather a kind of folk wisdom. It felt as though I was being warned not to tempt fate, not to assume that this baby would just pop out. I saw myself being categorised as one of those arrogant women who presumes to know her own body, only to be taught a harsh yet much-deserved lesson. “Third babies are notoriously difficult” sounded not unlike “third-time mothers shouldn’t get above themselves”.

In fact, I have never been particularly cocky about childbirth. When I was pregnant with my first child, back in the days when the Right-wing press were still obsessed with famous women being “too posh to push”, I wondered if I might be able to get an elective caesarean myself. I did not particularly care about childbirth being a wonderful experience, or about “doing it well”. I didn’t care if the Daily Mail thought I was a joke.

What I cared about was not having a child who would face the same difficulties as my brother, who was starved of oxygen at birth. This has had serious consequences for him, and for the rest of my family. Just how serious is hard to gauge. He was born traumatised; there has never been a before to compare the after with. What there has been instead is the hazy outline of an alternative life, one that runs parallel to the one he has now. It’s a life that began with the problem being identified sooner, with him being delivered quickly, perhaps by emergency caesarean. The difference between this and his actual life comes down to something small: mere moments, mere breaths.

I was born three years after my brother, in a larger hospital, where my mother was induced and monitored carefully. There is something very strange about being the sibling who had the safe birth. It feels as though I stole it. There is a constant sense of guilt, as if my life — my independence, my choices — constitutes a form of gloating. “This is what you could have had.” Everything I do feels like something owed to my brother (do it, because he can’t) but also something taken from him (you shouldn’t have done that, because he should have done it first).

Still, my family were fortunate, insofar as my brother didn’t die. Current reports on the Nottingham maternity scandal reference 1,700 cases, with an estimated 201 mothers and babies who might have survived had they received better care. What strikes me, reading them, is the enormous gulf between the cost of a disastrous birth and the trivial, opportunistic way in which childbirth is so often politicised — with mothers themselves viewed as morally, if not practically, to blame if anything goes wrong.

As a feminist who concerns herself with how the female body is demonised, my interest in debates about birthing choices is more than personal. I have read books railing against the over-medicalisation of childbirth, aligning it with a patriarchal need to appropriate female reproductive power. I have also read books protesting the fetishisation of “natural” birth, suggesting that it infantilises women, that it implies women deserve pain. To be honest, I find both arguments persuasive and dismaying. Both are right about the way in which misogyny and professional arrogance can shift the focus away from meeting the needs of women and babies. I feel a kind of rage that we are told to pick a side.

Representations of the labouring woman are so often negative: the naïve idealist, the “birthzilla“, the birth-plan obsessive, the woman who is “too posh to push”. This latter stereotype has gone hand-in-hand with a veneration of vaginal births, and stigmatisation of caesareans, that has had sometimes disastrous consequences. Midwives at the centre of the Furness General Hospital scandal were reported to have “pursued natural birth ‘at any cost’”, referring to one another as “the musketeers”; at least 11 babies and one mother died. But their approach was sanctioned by their employer: the 2006 NHS document “Pathways to Success: a self-improvement toolkit” explicitly suggested that “maternity units applying best practice to the management of pregnancy, labour and birth will achieve a [caesarean section] rate consistently below 20% and will have aspirations to reduce that rate to 15%”. Proposed benefits to this included “a sense of pride in units”.

Responses to maternity scandals now express horror that such an anti-intervention culture ever arose — responses in the same press that denigrated women such as Victoria Beckham and Kate Winslet for not giving birth vaginally. Instead, newspapers now stoke outrage over “natural” treatments during NHS births, such as burning herbs. Women have been shamed for having caesareans, but they have also been shamed for wanting births with minimum intervention — as though they are selfish and spoilt for seeking control over such an extreme situation.

In his memoir This Is Going To Hurt, former doctor Adam Kay writes disparagingly of women who arrive at the delivery suite with birth plans:

“‘Having a birth plan’ always strikes me as akin to having a ‘what I want the weather to be’ plan or a ‘winning the lottery’ plan. Two centuries of obstetricians have found no way of predicting the course of a labour, but a certain denomination of floaty-dressed mother seems to think she can manage it easily.”

Wanting to have some control over your experience of labour — which will hurt you and could kill you or your baby — is not akin to some messianic aspiration to control the weather. And in his mockery of the woman who wants whale song and aromatherapy oils, ironically, Kay deploys the same silencing techniques that might intimidate a woman out of seeking the very interventions he so prizes. What he and others do not seem to grasp is that their arrogance is a problem, regardless of which course of action they champion. It makes women feel they can’t speak, for fear of inviting hostility at their most vulnerable moments. It’s true that none of us knows our body well enough to know how we will give birth. But, looking back, I find it utterly insane, not least given my own family history, that one of my biggest worries during labour was “please don’t let anyone get cross with me”. Then again, I don’t think that fear is unrelated to the desire to remain safe.

Birth is not a joke. It is not a place for professional dick-swinging or political one-upmanship. I cannot describe — and, as I am not my mother, cannot fully understand — the shame of feeling that you “let down” your child before they drew their first breath, that they will forever suffer because of it. You watch an entire life unfolding and that feeling is there, every single day. This is the fear of the women in labour who are characterised as either idiots mesmerised by fantasy homebirths or cold-hearted posh ladies who can’t take the pain. If things go wrong, they are the ones who will bear the consequences, reflecting every day on what might have been, if they’d only done more.

When people discuss their siblings, my mind does wander to the one I don’t have, the one who was born safely. Perhaps he would have a job he loved, or one he hated, but in any case a job. Perhaps he would have a partner. Perhaps he would have children, and I would be their aunt. Perhaps we wouldn’t get on, wouldn’t even speak, but he’d have a life of his own. I know he thinks about this too. I wonder if the professionals who presided over his birth have thought about him since.

My third labour was not, by the way, “notoriously difficult”. My third son arrived into the world safe and well. No one can say why him or me, and not my brother. Mothers may long for control over birth, for which we are mocked; but we do not have it, for which we are blamed. Politics still takes precedence over our needs, and the needs of our babies.


Victoria Smith is a writer and creator of the Glosswitch newsletter.

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CF Hankinson
CF Hankinson
10 months ago

Thank you. Immensely important.

CF Hankinson
CF Hankinson
10 months ago

Thank you. Immensely important.

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
10 months ago

My granddaughter was born in lockdown, my daughter has barely recovered her equilibrium after 2.5 years. It was a lonely nigtmare of no one to hold a hand or be an advocate, and no help available. We broke lockdown rules in order to be the only help available. Mother and child have done well, and so have we, but no thanks to those in charge and those who would not visit or those whose posts remain unfilled.

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
10 months ago

My granddaughter was born in lockdown, my daughter has barely recovered her equilibrium after 2.5 years. It was a lonely nigtmare of no one to hold a hand or be an advocate, and no help available. We broke lockdown rules in order to be the only help available. Mother and child have done well, and so have we, but no thanks to those in charge and those who would not visit or those whose posts remain unfilled.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
10 months ago

As a bloke I am often shocked when I hear how dismissive and indifferent many on neonatal wards and such are to the mother when giving birth and any issues she raises. I can’t tell if it’s just an obsession with maintaining a professional demeanour or some form of sociopathy coming through. I appreciate these are still a small number, but it is appalling how many are spoken to and treated when about to undergo a very traumatic experience.

Wendy Barton
Wendy Barton
10 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

Good article. I am sure there are some good British midwives and ob/gyns, but they are not all the saints they are portrayed as.  ‘Professional d**k- swinging’ is an ironically apt description. 
I went in to the birth of my second daughter in a large UK teaching hospital with a birth plan, determined this time it would be better than the first time.  The midwife smirked, and parked my piece of paper on the windowsill where it remained until the end.  The outcome was another forceps delivery hours later at the hands of an obstetrician I had never met and was never told the name of. A forceps delivery is something like having the bottom end of your body opened with a can opener.  

Post natally but still in the hospital, I got a very young but stupid and self important midwife giving me a lecture and dressing down about breastfeeding.  She hadn’t noticed that I was already experienced.  There was no help at all with the damage from the delivery, I think they had no idea what to do, but some compassion might have helped.   Angels of mercy my arse. Sadly.

Last edited 10 months ago by Wendy Barton
V T C
V T C
10 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

The progressive world objectifies women and does not value motherhood. It’s not a wonder that women in labour are treated in assembly line fashion at the birthing factory.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
10 months ago
Reply to  V T C

As opposed to the conservative world? I mean seriously, it literally sees no value in our lives BUT giving birth. And back in the glory days of a conservative world, there were such thoughtful treatment of women such as denying pain relief because women should suffer because of Eve or alternatively, knocking us out so we were unconscious (passed out) and didn’t know what happened even when better drugs had developed…and oh yes, the entire way birth in hospitals has been set up–to convenience doctors not women giving birth. That’s not even getting into the entire conservative push to make it financially risky to be a mother. They like to say they are pro motherhood because they are for women staying home with children. But both statements are untrue. They are pro wives staying home with children. But a single mother? Nope and nope, she needs to model good work habits for her children and get some self-respect. And women who started out life married and a SAHM, the moment a divorce happens, suddenly her desire to parent her children is not respected, now she’s a lazy, gold-digger trying to avoid work. Same kids. Same women. Same father even. But she’s just not married to him (might even be solely his fault). So no they don’t respect mothers.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
10 months ago
Reply to  V T C

As opposed to the conservative world? I mean seriously, it literally sees no value in our lives BUT giving birth. And back in the glory days of a conservative world, there were such thoughtful treatment of women such as denying pain relief because women should suffer because of Eve or alternatively, knocking us out so we were unconscious (passed out) and didn’t know what happened even when better drugs had developed…and oh yes, the entire way birth in hospitals has been set up–to convenience doctors not women giving birth. That’s not even getting into the entire conservative push to make it financially risky to be a mother. They like to say they are pro motherhood because they are for women staying home with children. But both statements are untrue. They are pro wives staying home with children. But a single mother? Nope and nope, she needs to model good work habits for her children and get some self-respect. And women who started out life married and a SAHM, the moment a divorce happens, suddenly her desire to parent her children is not respected, now she’s a lazy, gold-digger trying to avoid work. Same kids. Same women. Same father even. But she’s just not married to him (might even be solely his fault). So no they don’t respect mothers.

Wendy Barton
Wendy Barton
10 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

Good article. I am sure there are some good British midwives and ob/gyns, but they are not all the saints they are portrayed as.  ‘Professional d**k- swinging’ is an ironically apt description. 
I went in to the birth of my second daughter in a large UK teaching hospital with a birth plan, determined this time it would be better than the first time.  The midwife smirked, and parked my piece of paper on the windowsill where it remained until the end.  The outcome was another forceps delivery hours later at the hands of an obstetrician I had never met and was never told the name of. A forceps delivery is something like having the bottom end of your body opened with a can opener.  

Post natally but still in the hospital, I got a very young but stupid and self important midwife giving me a lecture and dressing down about breastfeeding.  She hadn’t noticed that I was already experienced.  There was no help at all with the damage from the delivery, I think they had no idea what to do, but some compassion might have helped.   Angels of mercy my arse. Sadly.

Last edited 10 months ago by Wendy Barton
V T C
V T C
10 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

The progressive world objectifies women and does not value motherhood. It’s not a wonder that women in labour are treated in assembly line fashion at the birthing factory.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
10 months ago

As a bloke I am often shocked when I hear how dismissive and indifferent many on neonatal wards and such are to the mother when giving birth and any issues she raises. I can’t tell if it’s just an obsession with maintaining a professional demeanour or some form of sociopathy coming through. I appreciate these are still a small number, but it is appalling how many are spoken to and treated when about to undergo a very traumatic experience.

Ali Maegraith
Ali Maegraith
10 months ago

And so the ideological divide in modern childbirth reveals itself again, Why is it that the women who turn up at the hospital armed with birth plans and candles is left to the mercy of the dismissive, eye rolling doctor (‘oh yes, you can give birth from the chandeliers if you want to’). Why also are women turning up to midwife led suites only to encounter similarly strange ‘caregivers’ who are imposing another kind of agenda that the birthing women were unsuspecting of? Both scenarios have forgotten to serve and honour the women in what will be one of the most vulnerable and life-changing moments of their lives. Don’t dismiss the birth plan- no woman is expecting a predictable birth, but it is a powerful signal that sends the message that she wants to be heard and respected. The most basic thing that a a birthing mother deserves. Women- be educated. Birth is no random thing, you do need to be prepared mentally and physically and in your plans you certainly want to avoid some random person bossing you around in the birthing room.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago
Reply to  Ali Maegraith

Great advice, and very much in tune with the article. All healthcare professionals are under considerable duress to follow “process” and those who do so the most diligently do it in order to gain promotion, higher income and authority, so the loop becomes self-perpetuating. That’s not to say there aren’t really great people in the NHS but it’s very difficult not to follow the “professional” code and if you don’t, you may find yourself excluded from influence. (This happened to my ex-wife, a midwife. I’m ex-NHS too.)
What gets lost is the essential understanding of the patient / birthing mother as someone who doesn’t know how these things work, and goes from being an individual with agency to a position of extreme vulnerability (as you say) in the time it takes to remove one’s clothes. Unfortunately, some in the NHS will use this to exert power over others, and it often wins them plaudits from their colleagues.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
10 months ago
Reply to  Ali Maegraith

If it is your first birth, you have no idea what to expect. There is no sense of time on movies and cinema. And what shocked me most (I’m American) is how little the doctor was there. It was the nurse’s world.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago
Reply to  Ali Maegraith

Great advice, and very much in tune with the article. All healthcare professionals are under considerable duress to follow “process” and those who do so the most diligently do it in order to gain promotion, higher income and authority, so the loop becomes self-perpetuating. That’s not to say there aren’t really great people in the NHS but it’s very difficult not to follow the “professional” code and if you don’t, you may find yourself excluded from influence. (This happened to my ex-wife, a midwife. I’m ex-NHS too.)
What gets lost is the essential understanding of the patient / birthing mother as someone who doesn’t know how these things work, and goes from being an individual with agency to a position of extreme vulnerability (as you say) in the time it takes to remove one’s clothes. Unfortunately, some in the NHS will use this to exert power over others, and it often wins them plaudits from their colleagues.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
10 months ago
Reply to  Ali Maegraith

If it is your first birth, you have no idea what to expect. There is no sense of time on movies and cinema. And what shocked me most (I’m American) is how little the doctor was there. It was the nurse’s world.

Ali Maegraith
Ali Maegraith
10 months ago

And so the ideological divide in modern childbirth reveals itself again, Why is it that the women who turn up at the hospital armed with birth plans and candles is left to the mercy of the dismissive, eye rolling doctor (‘oh yes, you can give birth from the chandeliers if you want to’). Why also are women turning up to midwife led suites only to encounter similarly strange ‘caregivers’ who are imposing another kind of agenda that the birthing women were unsuspecting of? Both scenarios have forgotten to serve and honour the women in what will be one of the most vulnerable and life-changing moments of their lives. Don’t dismiss the birth plan- no woman is expecting a predictable birth, but it is a powerful signal that sends the message that she wants to be heard and respected. The most basic thing that a a birthing mother deserves. Women- be educated. Birth is no random thing, you do need to be prepared mentally and physically and in your plans you certainly want to avoid some random person bossing you around in the birthing room.

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
10 months ago

I was so offended by the series based on Adam Kay’s book that I couldn’t get through the first episode (and I love Ben Whishaw).
People tend to hate the reality of childbirth – and by extension, women – because it reminds us that we are not sprung whole from the head of Zeus.
We are animals, who come into the world in a painful, messy, and often humiliating way. And we will die in a painful, messy, and often humiliating ways.
For reminding the human species of this fact, women’s bodies have often been denigrated and despised – as if it’s women’s fault that we are mortal!

Phil Mac
Phil Mac
10 months ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Eh? Women are hated because birth is messy?
Who on Earth thinks that? I think maybe you’re imagining this.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
9 months ago
Reply to  Phil Mac

Well our bodies are denigrated because they are messy. Period blood is treated as much grosser than it should be given what it is. Just blood. Why should spotting be considered a major embarrassment? Even being seen buying feminine products (see the euphemism there) is too much for some people. Why? Nobody is mortified to buy toilet paper which deals with much grosser stuff. Even discrete little adds using mysterious blue liquid are too much information for people.
And birth, well birth involves a lot of fluids, most of which smell. I don’t think this is completely off the mark here. It makes it easy to put women in the disgust portion of one’s brain and once a person does that, history has proved it is easy to do very bad things to them. (Look at the propaganda prior to crimes of humanity always it chooses words of disgust not anger. Disgust)
Why people want to abuse us in the first place though isn’t because of that. Why is fairly obvious. To control the means of production, like always. In our case reproduction as well as secondary roles that have cropped up around that.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago

Until DNA men had no way of being certain of their progeny. Therefore, they needed to own and control women. This is why many cultures past and present like to have children as wives. In Afghanistan the saying is, ‘better the child has her first bleed in her husband’s home and not her father’s home.’ This control and the need to own the uterus ergo the child/woman extends also to the birthing process in our hospitals. Once the NHS was set up, obstetricians took control of birthing mothers and the consequences where not condusive to any empathy for the birthing mother.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago

Until DNA men had no way of being certain of their progeny. Therefore, they needed to own and control women. This is why many cultures past and present like to have children as wives. In Afghanistan the saying is, ‘better the child has her first bleed in her husband’s home and not her father’s home.’ This control and the need to own the uterus ergo the child/woman extends also to the birthing process in our hospitals. Once the NHS was set up, obstetricians took control of birthing mothers and the consequences where not condusive to any empathy for the birthing mother.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
9 months ago
Reply to  Phil Mac

Well our bodies are denigrated because they are messy. Period blood is treated as much grosser than it should be given what it is. Just blood. Why should spotting be considered a major embarrassment? Even being seen buying feminine products (see the euphemism there) is too much for some people. Why? Nobody is mortified to buy toilet paper which deals with much grosser stuff. Even discrete little adds using mysterious blue liquid are too much information for people.
And birth, well birth involves a lot of fluids, most of which smell. I don’t think this is completely off the mark here. It makes it easy to put women in the disgust portion of one’s brain and once a person does that, history has proved it is easy to do very bad things to them. (Look at the propaganda prior to crimes of humanity always it chooses words of disgust not anger. Disgust)
Why people want to abuse us in the first place though isn’t because of that. Why is fairly obvious. To control the means of production, like always. In our case reproduction as well as secondary roles that have cropped up around that.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

I loathed Adam Kay’s book. What an attitude!

Phil Mac
Phil Mac
10 months ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

Eh? Women are hated because birth is messy?
Who on Earth thinks that? I think maybe you’re imagining this.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago
Reply to  Penny Adrian

I loathed Adam Kay’s book. What an attitude!

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
10 months ago

I was so offended by the series based on Adam Kay’s book that I couldn’t get through the first episode (and I love Ben Whishaw).
People tend to hate the reality of childbirth – and by extension, women – because it reminds us that we are not sprung whole from the head of Zeus.
We are animals, who come into the world in a painful, messy, and often humiliating way. And we will die in a painful, messy, and often humiliating ways.
For reminding the human species of this fact, women’s bodies have often been denigrated and despised – as if it’s women’s fault that we are mortal!

Annette Lawson
Annette Lawson
10 months ago

A lovely and balanced article. Thank you from a now 87-year old mother of three – the first one born in the old Charing Cross Hospital, with no gas but lots of Kissinger breathing and singing – “What shall we do with the drunken sailor,” my chosen beat, I was helped by the Registrar who decided the Labour was too long, and gave me a sedative to rest and allow the cervix to open. She’s fine.
The next was born in a chaotic last minute rush from the labour room to the delivery theatre in UCH after the nurse/midwife had left for a lecture warning against ringing the bell unless I needed to push. Alas, I needed to do so within a minute of her departure so my husband rang the bell and the furious nurse returned only to discover my feeling was accurate and the excruciating seated journey began for me. Arriving in the delivery theatre I was in a crowd of staff and students and, still unsure if I was “allowed” to push, I was moaning and breathing gas. The midwife in charge said, “Making all that noise, Mother, isn’t going to get your baby born. Don’t you know how to push?” “Of course”, I shouted. “I just don’t know if I’m allowed to push”. “Oh”, she said, “yes, push. Push.” The baby’s cord was not tied properly, he nearly died haemorrhaging in the nursery; I was kept in a state of no knowledge about where he was or why he was no longer with me for several hours. But a new Mum on the ward saved him by recognising no neonate should be screaming as he was and called the nurse. Apparently all hell broke loose. He’s fine.
The last one I had at home. Not that easy but the midwife got me out of bed, squatting and drumming my fingers to the drunken sailor to get my upside down facing babe round the necessary bends. The whole experience was blissful. He’s fine too.

Annette Lawson
Annette Lawson
10 months ago

A lovely and balanced article. Thank you from a now 87-year old mother of three – the first one born in the old Charing Cross Hospital, with no gas but lots of Kissinger breathing and singing – “What shall we do with the drunken sailor,” my chosen beat, I was helped by the Registrar who decided the Labour was too long, and gave me a sedative to rest and allow the cervix to open. She’s fine.
The next was born in a chaotic last minute rush from the labour room to the delivery theatre in UCH after the nurse/midwife had left for a lecture warning against ringing the bell unless I needed to push. Alas, I needed to do so within a minute of her departure so my husband rang the bell and the furious nurse returned only to discover my feeling was accurate and the excruciating seated journey began for me. Arriving in the delivery theatre I was in a crowd of staff and students and, still unsure if I was “allowed” to push, I was moaning and breathing gas. The midwife in charge said, “Making all that noise, Mother, isn’t going to get your baby born. Don’t you know how to push?” “Of course”, I shouted. “I just don’t know if I’m allowed to push”. “Oh”, she said, “yes, push. Push.” The baby’s cord was not tied properly, he nearly died haemorrhaging in the nursery; I was kept in a state of no knowledge about where he was or why he was no longer with me for several hours. But a new Mum on the ward saved him by recognising no neonate should be screaming as he was and called the nurse. Apparently all hell broke loose. He’s fine.
The last one I had at home. Not that easy but the midwife got me out of bed, squatting and drumming my fingers to the drunken sailor to get my upside down facing babe round the necessary bends. The whole experience was blissful. He’s fine too.

Spencer Dugdale
Spencer Dugdale
10 months ago

Wow. Powerful article.

Spencer Dugdale
Spencer Dugdale
10 months ago

Wow. Powerful article.

gill crane
gill crane
10 months ago

Great article, I think that we, as a society, need to be more honest about childbirth.

gill crane
gill crane
10 months ago

Great article, I think that we, as a society, need to be more honest about childbirth.

Interested Inlearning
Interested Inlearning
10 months ago

Great article.

Interested Inlearning
Interested Inlearning
10 months ago

Great article.

Linda M Brown
Linda M Brown
10 months ago

In the 50’s my Mum’s English cousin, Pat, & her husband moved to Alberta Canada. Pat was an English trained midwife and quickly found employment at a city hospital. A patient came in and the obstetrician was no where to be found, after several prolonged attempts by the hospital to track him down Pat helped the mother deliver the baby. Mother & child were fine. The doctor who waltzed in later was furious and told Pat should have had the mother wait till he got there!
Sadly when Pat delivered her child a couple of years later there was no one there to advocate for her and the obstetrician made all the calls. Pat’s daughter was born oxygen deprived and has lived all her life in an institution.
while medical equipment might have have improved somewhat, it does not appear that the medical community has improved much over the intervening 70 years. They still appear to want to play God.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago
Reply to  Linda M Brown

Yes playing GOD is what obstetricians, even female ones too, indulge in. I had my baby way back in the 1970s in the Elizabeth Anderson thinking I would be treated more humainly. Sadly the obstrtician, female, was renamed Miss Trunchball. It seems that mere women actually don’t give birth. How often have we read that a lorry driver, a taxi driver a policeman delivered a baby, not to forget an obstrtrician! All good midwives know that the only person who can deliver a baby is a labouring mother; this second rate human being, this infantalised thing is actually the giver of life.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago
Reply to  Linda M Brown

Yes playing GOD is what obstetricians, even female ones too, indulge in. I had my baby way back in the 1970s in the Elizabeth Anderson thinking I would be treated more humainly. Sadly the obstrtician, female, was renamed Miss Trunchball. It seems that mere women actually don’t give birth. How often have we read that a lorry driver, a taxi driver a policeman delivered a baby, not to forget an obstrtrician! All good midwives know that the only person who can deliver a baby is a labouring mother; this second rate human being, this infantalised thing is actually the giver of life.

Linda M Brown
Linda M Brown
10 months ago

In the 50’s my Mum’s English cousin, Pat, & her husband moved to Alberta Canada. Pat was an English trained midwife and quickly found employment at a city hospital. A patient came in and the obstetrician was no where to be found, after several prolonged attempts by the hospital to track him down Pat helped the mother deliver the baby. Mother & child were fine. The doctor who waltzed in later was furious and told Pat should have had the mother wait till he got there!
Sadly when Pat delivered her child a couple of years later there was no one there to advocate for her and the obstetrician made all the calls. Pat’s daughter was born oxygen deprived and has lived all her life in an institution.
while medical equipment might have have improved somewhat, it does not appear that the medical community has improved much over the intervening 70 years. They still appear to want to play God.

Zenobia Storah
Zenobia Storah
10 months ago

This is such a good and important article – thank you for the balance and the plea for compassion. I have had the privilege of giving birth 4 times in life. These four events formed the most extraordinary experiences of my life. But I identify with much that is written here. I came to motherhood in a culture that idealised natural childbirth and stigmatised medical intervention – insane. And, when I was stuck on a midwife led unit for 36 hours, apparently caught in the political crossfire between the unit and the obstetric department, both my child and I were put at significant clinical risk, as well as subjected to a very frightening experience. The experience and shock of it all led me to feel downright miserable (?depressed) for the first 2 months of my son’s life. I still feel bad about it, if I dwell on it – that is for my choice for midwife-led care, the damage it nearly caused my son, and my low mood in the first few months and therefore slowness to bond with him.
Much better experiences subsequently – midwives that listened and responded and cared for me and my babies well. I hope that by the time my daughters have babies (which I hope they do) they do so in a culture which is more honest about childbirth and more respectful of women’s bodies and their wishes and their experiences. It would also be helpful if women were better allies of each other in supporting and respecting different choices and preferences about many aspects of female healthcare and maternity – including around pregnancy, childbirth, feeding and childrearing.
(and that Adam Kay quote is appalling!)

Last edited 10 months ago by Zenobia Storah
Zenobia Storah
Zenobia Storah
10 months ago

This is such a good and important article – thank you for the balance and the plea for compassion. I have had the privilege of giving birth 4 times in life. These four events formed the most extraordinary experiences of my life. But I identify with much that is written here. I came to motherhood in a culture that idealised natural childbirth and stigmatised medical intervention – insane. And, when I was stuck on a midwife led unit for 36 hours, apparently caught in the political crossfire between the unit and the obstetric department, both my child and I were put at significant clinical risk, as well as subjected to a very frightening experience. The experience and shock of it all led me to feel downright miserable (?depressed) for the first 2 months of my son’s life. I still feel bad about it, if I dwell on it – that is for my choice for midwife-led care, the damage it nearly caused my son, and my low mood in the first few months and therefore slowness to bond with him.
Much better experiences subsequently – midwives that listened and responded and cared for me and my babies well. I hope that by the time my daughters have babies (which I hope they do) they do so in a culture which is more honest about childbirth and more respectful of women’s bodies and their wishes and their experiences. It would also be helpful if women were better allies of each other in supporting and respecting different choices and preferences about many aspects of female healthcare and maternity – including around pregnancy, childbirth, feeding and childrearing.
(and that Adam Kay quote is appalling!)

Last edited 10 months ago by Zenobia Storah
Marissa M
Marissa M
9 months ago

25 hour induced labor in an American hospital. The nurses were lovely. The anesthesiologist, the nurses blithely called him, “Dr God” (arrogant ass) in my presence, incorrectly inserted the epidural 18 hours into my labor so that I felt everything on only the right side of my body, while my left, numb side swelled to three times its size. The nurses were alarmed and tried to get him to return to no avail.
My own ob/gyn swept in at the last minute and announced I needed a Ceasarian after leaving me for 24 odd hours with the concerned nurses and no word. But she decided to try natural labor one more time so I gamely pushed when told to, when I shouldn’t have, tore to the point I felt pain for 9 months afterwards whenever walking or urinating. Then she told me the baby was in distress. After all that time. She had inhaled meconium.
Oh, and my baby? Born a zero on the Apgar scale. Had to be resuscitated. Thank GOD she is healthy and normal. But…I knew DAMN well it wasn’t my fault. I had been failed and so had my child.
Good times. American hospital. 1997. Oh, and you’re kicked out 24 hours afterwards to go home alone.
Does the US need an overhaul in the way it treats mothers and postpartum? Um…yes!!

Last edited 9 months ago by Marissa M
Marissa M
Marissa M
9 months ago

25 hour induced labor in an American hospital. The nurses were lovely. The anesthesiologist, the nurses blithely called him, “Dr God” (arrogant ass) in my presence, incorrectly inserted the epidural 18 hours into my labor so that I felt everything on only the right side of my body, while my left, numb side swelled to three times its size. The nurses were alarmed and tried to get him to return to no avail.
My own ob/gyn swept in at the last minute and announced I needed a Ceasarian after leaving me for 24 odd hours with the concerned nurses and no word. But she decided to try natural labor one more time so I gamely pushed when told to, when I shouldn’t have, tore to the point I felt pain for 9 months afterwards whenever walking or urinating. Then she told me the baby was in distress. After all that time. She had inhaled meconium.
Oh, and my baby? Born a zero on the Apgar scale. Had to be resuscitated. Thank GOD she is healthy and normal. But…I knew DAMN well it wasn’t my fault. I had been failed and so had my child.
Good times. American hospital. 1997. Oh, and you’re kicked out 24 hours afterwards to go home alone.
Does the US need an overhaul in the way it treats mothers and postpartum? Um…yes!!

Last edited 9 months ago by Marissa M
N T
N T
10 months ago

That was an emotionally difficult, but beautiful read.

N T
N T
10 months ago

That was an emotionally difficult, but beautiful read.

Rae Ade
Rae Ade
10 months ago

With my second child, induced, I was told by a Dr that he had never come across a woman who couldn’t push. Even to the untrained eye, lying in your own faeces suggests some degree of effort. Emergency C section, emergency intervention followed, somewhat inevitably.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
9 months ago
Reply to  Rae Ade

I originally wrote all the medical and common sense reasons this was a silly response on his part. But realized of course you know that. It is all about the shame.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
9 months ago
Reply to  Rae Ade

I originally wrote all the medical and common sense reasons this was a silly response on his part. But realized of course you know that. It is all about the shame.

Rae Ade
Rae Ade
10 months ago

With my second child, induced, I was told by a Dr that he had never come across a woman who couldn’t push. Even to the untrained eye, lying in your own faeces suggests some degree of effort. Emergency C section, emergency intervention followed, somewhat inevitably.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

Second child born in a private (beautiful facility) US hospital in 2009. Obstetrician yelled at me and nurses that I wasn’t ready to push yet (I was dialated to 7 and feeling bearing-down urge). She announced she was going home to sleep until ‘you’re ready to push’. She left the room and nurses told me they would help me to push. Obstetrician had top qualifications, feminist persona, and zero compassion. I told them I thought there was something strange going on with her. Her communication felt like rage. Ultimately I pushed and they retrieved her. She talked to me like an idiot. I felt like a failure for weeks and would wake up grinding my teeth. Then out walking my kiddos, I ran into a neighbor who is also an RN. Very chatty, asked who my attending obstetrician had been. Turns out she was up on Board charges of sleeping with a patient’s husband, prescribing herself painkillers and using them recreationally. Her assistant was told to pick them up for her. Her office staff turned her in. The documents were online. She was given a license suspension and mandated counseling. License was reinstated but she had a letter she had to present to any potential employing hospital. Later she appealed this because (according to public online documents) it was blocking her ability to be hired. Her license should have been terminated; I don’t care what student loans or fancy qualifications. I suspect her rage at me and nurses was drug-influenced. Unbelievable. Doctors are not all-excusable because they work for years to get the qualification. So do airline pilots.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
9 months ago

Second child born in a private (beautiful facility) US hospital in 2009. Obstetrician yelled at me and nurses that I wasn’t ready to push yet (I was dialated to 7 and feeling bearing-down urge). She announced she was going home to sleep until ‘you’re ready to push’. She left the room and nurses told me they would help me to push. Obstetrician had top qualifications, feminist persona, and zero compassion. I told them I thought there was something strange going on with her. Her communication felt like rage. Ultimately I pushed and they retrieved her. She talked to me like an idiot. I felt like a failure for weeks and would wake up grinding my teeth. Then out walking my kiddos, I ran into a neighbor who is also an RN. Very chatty, asked who my attending obstetrician had been. Turns out she was up on Board charges of sleeping with a patient’s husband, prescribing herself painkillers and using them recreationally. Her assistant was told to pick them up for her. Her office staff turned her in. The documents were online. She was given a license suspension and mandated counseling. License was reinstated but she had a letter she had to present to any potential employing hospital. Later she appealed this because (according to public online documents) it was blocking her ability to be hired. Her license should have been terminated; I don’t care what student loans or fancy qualifications. I suspect her rage at me and nurses was drug-influenced. Unbelievable. Doctors are not all-excusable because they work for years to get the qualification. So do airline pilots.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago

It is truely amazing the way mothers are infantalised during labour. When we are at our most vunlerable we are faced with patriarchy at its most sadistic.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago

It is truely amazing the way mothers are infantalised during labour. When we are at our most vunlerable we are faced with patriarchy at its most sadistic.

laura m
laura m
10 months ago

Too much hyperbole to be useful.

laura m
laura m
10 months ago

Too much hyperbole to be useful.

Martin Ambrens
Martin Ambrens
9 months ago

Hmmmm
There are about seven? thousand million humans on the planet? Yes?
I’m assuming all? of them have been birthed by women….
( Let’s say … that’s 7,000,000,000 births well within the last 100 years? )
I’ve been there/present for 6 of them – performed by two ladies. One hugely creditably. One brilliantly! One birth benefited from the adept intervention of the gyno to disentangle a chord.
My point?
If a person thought writing about their experience of giving birth was “worthy” – why wouldn’t they be encouraging (Approx) 70,000,000 other such stories each year????
Or …. is there something really special about a first time story from a first world person???

Marissa M
Marissa M
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Ambrens

You rather answered your own question…why aren’t there 70,000,000+ stories told about births? Why aren’t they encouraged to tell their stories?
Because they are considered run of the mill by most except those that experience them. Just because we don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t an extraordinary and special experience each and every time it occurs. Especially to the women experiencing them.
Guess reading comments like yours make us feel that there isn’t anything special about what we do. We do talk about it, you know. With each other. Just because you were “present” for them? Not quite the same.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Women don’t tend to talk about childbirth for the same reason that men didn’t talk about their war experiences.

elaine chambers
elaine chambers
9 months ago
Reply to  Marissa M

Women don’t tend to talk about childbirth for the same reason that men didn’t talk about their war experiences.

Marissa M
Marissa M
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Ambrens

You rather answered your own question…why aren’t there 70,000,000+ stories told about births? Why aren’t they encouraged to tell their stories?
Because they are considered run of the mill by most except those that experience them. Just because we don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t an extraordinary and special experience each and every time it occurs. Especially to the women experiencing them.
Guess reading comments like yours make us feel that there isn’t anything special about what we do. We do talk about it, you know. With each other. Just because you were “present” for them? Not quite the same.

Martin Ambrens
Martin Ambrens
9 months ago

Hmmmm
There are about seven? thousand million humans on the planet? Yes?
I’m assuming all? of them have been birthed by women….
( Let’s say … that’s 7,000,000,000 births well within the last 100 years? )
I’ve been there/present for 6 of them – performed by two ladies. One hugely creditably. One brilliantly! One birth benefited from the adept intervention of the gyno to disentangle a chord.
My point?
If a person thought writing about their experience of giving birth was “worthy” – why wouldn’t they be encouraging (Approx) 70,000,000 other such stories each year????
Or …. is there something really special about a first time story from a first world person???

Phil Mac
Phil Mac
10 months ago

As a father of four and grandfather of soon-to-be five, can I just reassure the author than I’ve never expressed any opinion to my wife or daughters over their approach. What I have seen is them get a lot of advice / reinforcement / opinions from other women, some of them professional and some not.
It’s fairly obvious that other than those who are doctors, we men don’t have much of a clue what’s going on and all we want is our wives to be well and our babies to arrive safely.
All power to expectant mothers to have a say. I guess I would suggest that being pregnant, even with a 3rd, doesn’t technically make you a big expert (one of my daughters is a midwife so she’s been involved in hundreds) but I sincerely suggest your real pressure mostly comes from other women so don’t worry about the misogyny.

Last edited 10 months ago by Phil Mac
Phil Mac
Phil Mac
10 months ago

As a father of four and grandfather of soon-to-be five, can I just reassure the author than I’ve never expressed any opinion to my wife or daughters over their approach. What I have seen is them get a lot of advice / reinforcement / opinions from other women, some of them professional and some not.
It’s fairly obvious that other than those who are doctors, we men don’t have much of a clue what’s going on and all we want is our wives to be well and our babies to arrive safely.
All power to expectant mothers to have a say. I guess I would suggest that being pregnant, even with a 3rd, doesn’t technically make you a big expert (one of my daughters is a midwife so she’s been involved in hundreds) but I sincerely suggest your real pressure mostly comes from other women so don’t worry about the misogyny.

Last edited 10 months ago by Phil Mac
B Davis
B Davis
10 months ago

“Mothers are still mocked for wanting control”??
What are we to do with this assertion?
That some women have been mocked, upon occasion, is undoubtedly true. But everyone has been so mocked. To be human, prone to err, and surrounded by a world filled with other fallible human beings (some of whom are just naturally petty & mean) pretty much guarantees that the occasional me-mocking will occur.
[And actually, sometimes, that me-mocking is well-deserved…giving us a helpful boost towards humility (And who among us couldn’t use a bit more of that?)]
But no, in terms of any kind of continuous mocking of mothers-to-be who are, right then, going through labor & delivery, does anyone truly consider that likely? Obstetricians and Nurses guffawing and catcalling while the pregnant woman grimaces through another set of labor pains: “You call that a contraction??!!”
We might also speculate that there may be a certain hyper-sensitivity in those so inclined to hear, “Third babies are notoriously difficult” as nothing more than a pointed insult aimed at the presumed arrogance of ‘wanting to come in now’ because previous births were fast.
Such paranoia, though, is not all that surprising, given the next assertion-in-passing, by Ms. Smith, that the female body is also somehow regularly demonized. Who even does that? Who among us is regularly characterizing the female body — the same female body adored, idolized, and immortalized by artists, poets, and singers for millennia — as evil, wicked, and worthy of fear & contempt? Who’s doing that? (“Not I,” said about half the world in question).
So what are we left with?
The pain of disabilities? the pain of life? its uncertainty? the lack of control? the casual cruelty? the accidental suffering? A regretful remembrance of Might Have Beens and Never Weres? These things are a given. Nor are they limited to mothers, or women. Rather they are human constants. The question is not control or mockery, rather the question, the central question life puts to us: how do we deal with all of that? How do we deal with US in the midst of all that? As Frankl put it, speaking of his time in the camps: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
And that challenge never changes. It’s just very difficult to do.

Last edited 10 months ago by B Davis
Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
9 months ago
Reply to  B Davis

“What are we to do with this assertion?”
Well you could listen to it and reflect instead of pat the author on the head and say there, there I’m sure it was all in your head, and even if it did occur it was good for you and a necessary humbling experience.
As for the they won’t say it to the person. In fact they do. You don’t believe it because you don’t believe the poor dears have a sense of proportion, oh mockery happens to everyone, just roll with it. Never mind you might give birth in taxi cab (again). Or die. These things just happen. Ha. Ha.
As for the nobody demonizes the female body. In fact look at art, there’s proof…oh dude. I mean dude, really, you are going to go with that?
I could point out that many of the poems you would say “idolize” women also often demonize her in the same, d*** poem. There is literally a song called Wicked Women. A quick scan further produced produced a host of songs including,(and I’m just picking out a few) Evil women, Evil hearted woman, Black widow, Maneater, Dangerous, Poison, Poison ivy, Cold as ice, and Girls aren’t nothing but trouble. I”ll stop there because the list just continued and continued and continued.
As would citations in religion. In philosophy (finding a male philosopher who doesn’t speak disparagingly about women, often directly in relation to their bodies. In public forums. There is a draft bill in Florida that wants to ban the discussion of menstruation. It is considered improper for children to hear about it. Yes today in2023. Heck in other parts of the world girls cannot even go to school when they menstruate.
But sure dude, there is no demonizing the female body. Nope. And there is nothing a pregnant women needs more than to be humbled, by people she is entrusting her and her babies health/life with.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
9 months ago
Reply to  B Davis

“What are we to do with this assertion?”
Well you could listen to it and reflect instead of pat the author on the head and say there, there I’m sure it was all in your head, and even if it did occur it was good for you and a necessary humbling experience.
As for the they won’t say it to the person. In fact they do. You don’t believe it because you don’t believe the poor dears have a sense of proportion, oh mockery happens to everyone, just roll with it. Never mind you might give birth in taxi cab (again). Or die. These things just happen. Ha. Ha.
As for the nobody demonizes the female body. In fact look at art, there’s proof…oh dude. I mean dude, really, you are going to go with that?
I could point out that many of the poems you would say “idolize” women also often demonize her in the same, d*** poem. There is literally a song called Wicked Women. A quick scan further produced produced a host of songs including,(and I’m just picking out a few) Evil women, Evil hearted woman, Black widow, Maneater, Dangerous, Poison, Poison ivy, Cold as ice, and Girls aren’t nothing but trouble. I”ll stop there because the list just continued and continued and continued.
As would citations in religion. In philosophy (finding a male philosopher who doesn’t speak disparagingly about women, often directly in relation to their bodies. In public forums. There is a draft bill in Florida that wants to ban the discussion of menstruation. It is considered improper for children to hear about it. Yes today in2023. Heck in other parts of the world girls cannot even go to school when they menstruate.
But sure dude, there is no demonizing the female body. Nope. And there is nothing a pregnant women needs more than to be humbled, by people she is entrusting her and her babies health/life with.

B Davis
B Davis
10 months ago

“Mothers are still mocked for wanting control”??
What are we to do with this assertion?
That some women have been mocked, upon occasion, is undoubtedly true. But everyone has been so mocked. To be human, prone to err, and surrounded by a world filled with other fallible human beings (some of whom are just naturally petty & mean) pretty much guarantees that the occasional me-mocking will occur.
[And actually, sometimes, that me-mocking is well-deserved…giving us a helpful boost towards humility (And who among us couldn’t use a bit more of that?)]
But no, in terms of any kind of continuous mocking of mothers-to-be who are, right then, going through labor & delivery, does anyone truly consider that likely? Obstetricians and Nurses guffawing and catcalling while the pregnant woman grimaces through another set of labor pains: “You call that a contraction??!!”
We might also speculate that there may be a certain hyper-sensitivity in those so inclined to hear, “Third babies are notoriously difficult” as nothing more than a pointed insult aimed at the presumed arrogance of ‘wanting to come in now’ because previous births were fast.
Such paranoia, though, is not all that surprising, given the next assertion-in-passing, by Ms. Smith, that the female body is also somehow regularly demonized. Who even does that? Who among us is regularly characterizing the female body — the same female body adored, idolized, and immortalized by artists, poets, and singers for millennia — as evil, wicked, and worthy of fear & contempt? Who’s doing that? (“Not I,” said about half the world in question).
So what are we left with?
The pain of disabilities? the pain of life? its uncertainty? the lack of control? the casual cruelty? the accidental suffering? A regretful remembrance of Might Have Beens and Never Weres? These things are a given. Nor are they limited to mothers, or women. Rather they are human constants. The question is not control or mockery, rather the question, the central question life puts to us: how do we deal with all of that? How do we deal with US in the midst of all that? As Frankl put it, speaking of his time in the camps: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
And that challenge never changes. It’s just very difficult to do.

Last edited 10 months ago by B Davis
Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
10 months ago

Far be it for me to question the feelings of anyone who finds fault with the medical bureaucracy (or other bureaucracies) that increasingly dominate every modern society. I take Smith’s lament at face value. But–yes, there’s a but–some of her assumptions really are questionable as general assertions about cause.
I’m not convinced that all, most or even many obstetricians–leaving aside those who happen to be women–are motivated by some sinister urge to usurp control over women’s bodies. Smith throws that in as a cynical (and ideological) aside, something so obviously true that she need not even argue the case. Maybe clinical psychologists have concocted some “scientific” analytical method to study the underlying motivations of these professionals. If so, she hasn’t mentioned any.
Even if it Smith’s assertion were demonstrably true, though, she would still have to explain why both maternal and infant mortality are so much lower now than they were in earlier centuries, when childbirth was largely controlled by midwives–that is, by women. Did mothers have similar complaints in those days? Did they have other complaints?
Elsewhere, Smith argues that “mothers themselves [are] viewed as morally, if not practically, to blame if anything goes wrong.” That probably is a common verdict. But it’s the kind of verdict that will always prevail when any disaster strikes. “If only I had done” this instead of that. I’ve asked myself that question countless times. For obvious reasons, childbirth is an occasion that affects only women in that way. For equally obvious reasons, though, battle has historically been an occasion that affects only men in that way. But daily life is a minefield, in this way, for everyone.
Moreover, blaming fathers for everything that goes wrong in childcare has become far more common today than blaming mothers for everything that goes wrong in either childbirth or childcare. We’ve all heard the jokes on sit-coms about idiot fathers. Many people now consider fathers to be assistant mothers at best and potential molesters at worst. And the fact is that absent fathers really are linked with a host of problems for their children. Worse, in a way, society ignores the very need for fathers at all (aside from the “teaspoonful of sperm”). Only recently have psychologists begun to ask whether fathers have any distinctive and necessary function in family life, one that cannot easily be duplicated (with help from either the state or from technology) by a mother–or by two mothers.
It would make no sense to blame Smith for not covering all of this in one brief article on childbirth. I do blame her, though, for implying that only women are subject to either criticism or indifference.

Agnes Aurelius
Agnes Aurelius
10 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

She’s not implying that only women are subject to criticism you’re just trying to put in a pennies worth of your opinion on a totally different issue.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
10 months ago
Reply to  Agnes Aurelius

It’s not precisely the same problem, Agnes, but it’s also not “totally different.” There is a relation between my comment and the Smith’s essay (which doesn’t say that only women are ridiculed or ignored but does imply that). My goal was to present another perspective on a universal problem: not childbirth per se, it’s true, but the gulf between how we see ourselves (as victims in this case) and how others see us.
From reading the comments on so many essays for UnHerd, I had the distinct impression that expanding discussions in this way was well within the norm on UnHerd. Many discussions become as interesting or even more interesting, in fact, than the original essay. I like that, and I think that some other readers do as well (because they sometimes say so). But other discussions devolve into personal recriminations, which are also within the norm on UnHerd. Pity.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
10 months ago
Reply to  Agnes Aurelius

It’s not precisely the same problem, Agnes, but it’s also not “totally different.” There is a relation between my comment and the Smith’s essay (which doesn’t say that only women are ridiculed or ignored but does imply that). My goal was to present another perspective on a universal problem: not childbirth per se, it’s true, but the gulf between how we see ourselves (as victims in this case) and how others see us.
From reading the comments on so many essays for UnHerd, I had the distinct impression that expanding discussions in this way was well within the norm on UnHerd. Many discussions become as interesting or even more interesting, in fact, than the original essay. I like that, and I think that some other readers do as well (because they sometimes say so). But other discussions devolve into personal recriminations, which are also within the norm on UnHerd. Pity.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
10 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

So you are arguing against an article that doesn’t exist. She’s not saying midwives (and women) are better. Though she does take issue with a specific man’s statement about women with birth plans (as well she should). Her point that I am so down with personally is that no matter where women fall in the divide, we are considered trivial bimbos simply for having the wish (and most are somewhere in the middle). It is so odd. Why wouldn’t one it to be a lovely, esoteric experience full of pleasant sensory experiences? Why is that considered wrong or stupid? It might not be possible to provide exactly as envisioned but it is a reasonable desire? And if that is not reasonable why is it not reasonable to want as efficient and pain free an experience as possible?
Depending on the person, the facility, the way the pregnancy progressed, either one might not be possible or preferable–but the question she asked is why are women mocked for even having a preference? It is absurd. And as a woman whose own “plan” loose as it was overturned, which meant I had no choice in the second (and even less than I thought) yeah I get it. Since my doctor’s chose during my second C, to kvetch about a patient who clearly was getting a hysterectomy not wanting to be on the obstetric floor and then changing mind–I really get it. Hearing them make unreasonable complaints about a patient while my daughter was being “born” (if not birthed) was not the opposite of my ideal. It was such a sour note.
As to your point about fathers, it was a bit muddled. But I mean of course absent fathers are considered at fault. They aren’t parenting. It isn’t as if absent mothers are treated better. But those idiot fathers on sitcoms? Sure they are considered idiots, oh haha dad can’t cook, dad can’t do blah blah and then their kids say what a wonderful dad they are in aw moments. They get credit simply for being there. Which has been true absolutely true in real life. What is considered acceptable for a mother to do for her kids and a father are completely different. And worse, if a mother actually suggests a father toe the line–she’s blamed for having standards that are too high. It’s ok to have the kids in crazy clothes or to feed them sugar or to whatever is the hobbyhorse of the day. Well, as a mom I can tell you it very much isn’t ok for me to do that–and men are just if not more hard on mothers than women are. (As a note, as a feminist I don’t endorse the idiot husband motif since it reeks of male entitlement. Why is this idiot with her? What does he offer? Plus he’s shown to be an idiot at his job. Only unimportant stuff i.e. woman’s work.)

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
10 months ago

No, Narcissa, I’m arguing for an article that should exist.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

OK, but why should your article exist MORE than this article? That’s what you are advocating for, that we should not have an article on the problems/issues/situations pregnant women find themselves in while or immediately after pregnancy–because those are just “universal” problems. You are not the only commentator to dismiss the article based on the idea that this happens to everyone so it isn’t a big deal. Get over and let’s talk about what happens to everyone.
But pregnancy doesn’t happen to everyone. It is a very distinct condition. It has distinct physical, emotional (spiritual for some) and definitely social ramifications. It only happens to biological women.
There are situations those who are pregnant face that other people won’t face, situations that will affect their care, their feelings about pregnancy, their feelings moving onward as a mother.
So why shouldn’t there be articles directly addressing this?
It isn’t as if the issues of father and fatherhood and the troubles of masculinity don’t fill the media (and have as long as I can remember, I’m 56). If you are in doubt do a google search, it should reassure you that what you think is important is indeed being discussed — a lot.
The only reason I can think that so many people are dismissing this is precisely the point of the article, pregnant women aren’t permitted to have a wish. They aren’t permitted to be annoyed, irritated or out of sorts.
In other words, your need to discuss an entirely different subject proved the truth of this article.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
9 months ago

What makes you think that I’d deny the need for Smith’s article? I don’t want to deny or trivialize what she says about pregnant women and neither said nor implied anything remotely like that. On the contrary, I concluded by saying this: “It would make no sense to blame Smith for not covering all of this in one brief article on childbirth. I do blame her, though, for implying that only women are subject to either criticism or indifference.”
What troubles me–the one thing that troubles me in this context–is that almost every edition of UnHerd features at least one article on the needs and problems of women–but hardly ever one on the needs and problems of men.
As for other publications, it’s true that any Google search under “fathers” will turn up many articles, more now than ten years ago and many more than fifteen years ago. The psychological problems of fatherless children, especially but not only boys, can no longer be ignored because of the egregious social problems that these entail . Even so, too many books and articles either ridicule and complain about “traditional fathers” or admire “progressive fathers” for participating with mothers in “parenting.” Very few question the underlying assumption that fathers and mothers have identical functions. Unlike many journalists, I do question conventional wisdom about fathers. And unlike members of the American Psychological Association, I disagree that the problems of men in general and fathers in particular are due mainly to “hegemonic masculinity.”
This is a complicated topic, Narcissa, and I’ve mentioned it several times in comments on other articles, which is why I try not to keep repeating myself. But I say what I think needs to be said.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
9 months ago

What makes you think that I’d deny the need for Smith’s article? I don’t want to deny or trivialize what she says about pregnant women and neither said nor implied anything remotely like that. On the contrary, I concluded by saying this: “It would make no sense to blame Smith for not covering all of this in one brief article on childbirth. I do blame her, though, for implying that only women are subject to either criticism or indifference.”
What troubles me–the one thing that troubles me in this context–is that almost every edition of UnHerd features at least one article on the needs and problems of women–but hardly ever one on the needs and problems of men.
As for other publications, it’s true that any Google search under “fathers” will turn up many articles, more now than ten years ago and many more than fifteen years ago. The psychological problems of fatherless children, especially but not only boys, can no longer be ignored because of the egregious social problems that these entail . Even so, too many books and articles either ridicule and complain about “traditional fathers” or admire “progressive fathers” for participating with mothers in “parenting.” Very few question the underlying assumption that fathers and mothers have identical functions. Unlike many journalists, I do question conventional wisdom about fathers. And unlike members of the American Psychological Association, I disagree that the problems of men in general and fathers in particular are due mainly to “hegemonic masculinity.”
This is a complicated topic, Narcissa, and I’ve mentioned it several times in comments on other articles, which is why I try not to keep repeating myself. But I say what I think needs to be said.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

OK, but why should your article exist MORE than this article? That’s what you are advocating for, that we should not have an article on the problems/issues/situations pregnant women find themselves in while or immediately after pregnancy–because those are just “universal” problems. You are not the only commentator to dismiss the article based on the idea that this happens to everyone so it isn’t a big deal. Get over and let’s talk about what happens to everyone.
But pregnancy doesn’t happen to everyone. It is a very distinct condition. It has distinct physical, emotional (spiritual for some) and definitely social ramifications. It only happens to biological women.
There are situations those who are pregnant face that other people won’t face, situations that will affect their care, their feelings about pregnancy, their feelings moving onward as a mother.
So why shouldn’t there be articles directly addressing this?
It isn’t as if the issues of father and fatherhood and the troubles of masculinity don’t fill the media (and have as long as I can remember, I’m 56). If you are in doubt do a google search, it should reassure you that what you think is important is indeed being discussed — a lot.
The only reason I can think that so many people are dismissing this is precisely the point of the article, pregnant women aren’t permitted to have a wish. They aren’t permitted to be annoyed, irritated or out of sorts.
In other words, your need to discuss an entirely different subject proved the truth of this article.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
10 months ago

No, Narcissa, I’m arguing for an article that should exist.

Simon Tavanyar
Simon Tavanyar
10 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Medical authoritarianism has triumphed over patient’s rights. Exhibit A: lockdowns and mandates. Why? Because Big Pharma / Big Tech are bigger than nation-states now. They own politicians.

Agnes Aurelius
Agnes Aurelius
10 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

She’s not implying that only women are subject to criticism you’re just trying to put in a pennies worth of your opinion on a totally different issue.

Narcissa Smith-Harris
Narcissa Smith-Harris
10 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

So you are arguing against an article that doesn’t exist. She’s not saying midwives (and women) are better. Though she does take issue with a specific man’s statement about women with birth plans (as well she should). Her point that I am so down with personally is that no matter where women fall in the divide, we are considered trivial bimbos simply for having the wish (and most are somewhere in the middle). It is so odd. Why wouldn’t one it to be a lovely, esoteric experience full of pleasant sensory experiences? Why is that considered wrong or stupid? It might not be possible to provide exactly as envisioned but it is a reasonable desire? And if that is not reasonable why is it not reasonable to want as efficient and pain free an experience as possible?
Depending on the person, the facility, the way the pregnancy progressed, either one might not be possible or preferable–but the question she asked is why are women mocked for even having a preference? It is absurd. And as a woman whose own “plan” loose as it was overturned, which meant I had no choice in the second (and even less than I thought) yeah I get it. Since my doctor’s chose during my second C, to kvetch about a patient who clearly was getting a hysterectomy not wanting to be on the obstetric floor and then changing mind–I really get it. Hearing them make unreasonable complaints about a patient while my daughter was being “born” (if not birthed) was not the opposite of my ideal. It was such a sour note.
As to your point about fathers, it was a bit muddled. But I mean of course absent fathers are considered at fault. They aren’t parenting. It isn’t as if absent mothers are treated better. But those idiot fathers on sitcoms? Sure they are considered idiots, oh haha dad can’t cook, dad can’t do blah blah and then their kids say what a wonderful dad they are in aw moments. They get credit simply for being there. Which has been true absolutely true in real life. What is considered acceptable for a mother to do for her kids and a father are completely different. And worse, if a mother actually suggests a father toe the line–she’s blamed for having standards that are too high. It’s ok to have the kids in crazy clothes or to feed them sugar or to whatever is the hobbyhorse of the day. Well, as a mom I can tell you it very much isn’t ok for me to do that–and men are just if not more hard on mothers than women are. (As a note, as a feminist I don’t endorse the idiot husband motif since it reeks of male entitlement. Why is this idiot with her? What does he offer? Plus he’s shown to be an idiot at his job. Only unimportant stuff i.e. woman’s work.)

Simon Tavanyar
Simon Tavanyar
10 months ago
Reply to  Paul Nathanson

Medical authoritarianism has triumphed over patient’s rights. Exhibit A: lockdowns and mandates. Why? Because Big Pharma / Big Tech are bigger than nation-states now. They own politicians.

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
10 months ago

Far be it for me to question the feelings of anyone who finds fault with the medical bureaucracy (or other bureaucracies) that increasingly dominate every modern society. I take Smith’s lament at face value. But–yes, there’s a but–some of her assumptions really are questionable as general assertions about cause.
I’m not convinced that all, most or even many obstetricians–leaving aside those who happen to be women–are motivated by some sinister urge to usurp control over women’s bodies. Smith throws that in as a cynical (and ideological) aside, something so obviously true that she need not even argue the case. Maybe clinical psychologists have concocted some “scientific” analytical method to study the underlying motivations of these professionals. If so, she hasn’t mentioned any.
Even if it Smith’s assertion were demonstrably true, though, she would still have to explain why both maternal and infant mortality are so much lower now than they were in earlier centuries, when childbirth was largely controlled by midwives–that is, by women. Did mothers have similar complaints in those days? Did they have other complaints?
Elsewhere, Smith argues that “mothers themselves [are] viewed as morally, if not practically, to blame if anything goes wrong.” That probably is a common verdict. But it’s the kind of verdict that will always prevail when any disaster strikes. “If only I had done” this instead of that. I’ve asked myself that question countless times. For obvious reasons, childbirth is an occasion that affects only women in that way. For equally obvious reasons, though, battle has historically been an occasion that affects only men in that way. But daily life is a minefield, in this way, for everyone.
Moreover, blaming fathers for everything that goes wrong in childcare has become far more common today than blaming mothers for everything that goes wrong in either childbirth or childcare. We’ve all heard the jokes on sit-coms about idiot fathers. Many people now consider fathers to be assistant mothers at best and potential molesters at worst. And the fact is that absent fathers really are linked with a host of problems for their children. Worse, in a way, society ignores the very need for fathers at all (aside from the “teaspoonful of sperm”). Only recently have psychologists begun to ask whether fathers have any distinctive and necessary function in family life, one that cannot easily be duplicated (with help from either the state or from technology) by a mother–or by two mothers.
It would make no sense to blame Smith for not covering all of this in one brief article on childbirth. I do blame her, though, for implying that only women are subject to either criticism or indifference.