Biology is unfair

It’s been a busy week here at Chez Ockham, so our usual pastime of laughing at the news has taken a back seat.

This did pop up on the radar however, from the keyboard of our favourite Australian feminist; Clementine Ford has spotted that childbirth is painful and risky.

As is her idiom, La Ford jumps around several topics never quite finishing a thought or driving to a conclusion. However, the column is worth a fisk in the context of the use (or lack thereof) of critical thinking;

July 1 to July 8 is Australian Birth Trauma Awareness Week, and it’s probably more relevant to you and any birth parents you know than you might think. According to the Australasian Birth Trauma Association, “one in three women identify their births as traumatic” and “one in four first-time mothers suffer major physical damage”.

Firstly; what is a “birth parent”?

This is probably another one of Clementine’s land grabs to redefine language; it is possible that, rather than using the universally-accepted noun, “mother”, she’s positing the idea that a transgender person who calls themselves male but has a uterus is not a female.

Ok, Clementine, you are free to use language as you see fit but we are also free to ignore your attempt to redefine the meaning of words we all previously understood.

Trauma and physical damage can occur regardless of what kind of birth you have, whether it’s vaginal or caesarean and with or without planned intervention. As part of Birth Trauma Awareness Week, the ABTA are asking women and birth parents to share their stories either in a recorded video or a written narrative. Survivors of birth trauma are also encouraged to use the hashtags “#ABTA2018” and “#yourstorymatters”.

This second hashtag is particularly powerful because birth trauma is all too often minimised or dismissed entirely as self-indulgent whining from women who are just looking for something to complain about. Scan the comments section of any online article discussing birth trauma (or women’s complaints with the birth system in general) and you’ll find significant numbers of people snapping that “these bloody women” just need to get on with things and stop “seeking attention.” “Birth isn’t hard! Women do it every day! Get over it!”

There’s a few things to unpack there….

Quite how “powerful” are hashtags do we think? Ask anyone who doesn’t live their life on Twitter (i.e. 95.6% of the global population) what #yourstorymatters means to them for a quick indication.

As for using the comments section of online news articles as any kind of information data point, well, best of luck. Seek and ye shall find (whatever extreme view it is you’re looking for).

People do indeed give birth every day. In Australia, we’re lucky that the maternal mortality rate associated with birth here is far lower than many other countries. But something being common isn’t the same as something being safe, and the fact remains that childbirth is still one of the most dangerous things a person can go through.

“People” give birth? Oh, we’re really trying to avoid saying “women” aren’t we? Desperately trying, in fact.

Apart from the elevated risk of post-birth incontinence (at my first maternal health appointment, I was handed a leaflet titled One in Three Women Wet Themselves After Birth), roughly half of all those who birth vaginally will experience some kind of pelvic organ prolapse in their lifetime.

Nature has indeed, made mammalian live birth a physically-intense and potentially damaging act. I blame the patriarchy of the bloody therapsids.

The use of forceps presents a particular risk for pelvic floor avulsion (when the pelvic muscle tears away from the bone, leading to irreversible damage), yet a lack of education around birth options and “what’s best” means it’s still often considered preferable to emergency caesarean intervention.

Foreceps’ deliveries account for less than 5% of all births in Australia. Presumably the medical profession don’t rush into this procedure without defensible reasons?

The lack of space available to those of us who’ve given birth to tell our stories honestly and without apology is significant. It’s been almost two years since I gave birth to my son, but it’s only been in recent months that I’ve started to process what we both experienced that day, having previously always spoken about it matter-of-factly.

Hands up those who believe Clementine Ford suffers a lack of space to air her opinions? You sir, at the back? Oh, you were scratching your head.

I knew that birth trauma was a reality for many women who had given birth, but I was lucky to have escaped it. I was induced, labour lasted 18 hours, he was born, we were fine. The End.

She said “women”! Fire the sub-editor!

Or so I thought.

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend about the kinds of scars (both physical and emotional) that are commonly accumulated during labour and childbirth. As I told her about my own experience, I suddenly began to cry. Huge, wracking sobs. I realised I had spent the first two years of my son’s life repressing trauma in order to protect us both, but it was, at last, finding its way to the surface.

Clementine might be describing post-natal depression. She might also be describing the symptoms of a pre-existing mental illness. Just putting that out there.

The truth is, the birth of my son was traumatic. It was traumatic for all the normal, common reasons birth is traumatic. The intense physical pain made worse by synthetic drugs designed to bring on labour, the fear and anxiety about the health of my baby as labour progressed, the impact of vaginal birth itself…

But it was traumatic too because a lot of shit went wrong in ways that were potentially life-threatening. As my son emerged, it was with a slick of meconium over him (a sign a baby is in distress during labour and has defecated in-utero). I was given the briefest of glimpses of him before they whisked him away to a resuscitation table to make sure he hadn’t inhaled any of the fecal matter, which can lead to an extremely serious case of meconium aspiration. Thankfully, he was fine – but as they brought him back to me to hold, it became apparent that I was not. My tired, worn out uterus had stopped contracting which meant I was continuing to bleed.

As I tried to hold a wriggling newborn on my chest, the midwife furiously palpated my stomach to try and stimulate contractions, but it had given up completely. I was told I’d need to spend the next few hours on a low dose of syntocinin (the drug used in inductions) to help prevent post-partum haemorrhage (one of the leading causes of maternal mortality). By the time I was able to properly hold my baby, it had been at least a few hours since he was born.

It’s all about me, I am the first woman in history to give birth. Why are you not more interested?

This is a common story. But as I said earlier, being common isn’t the same as being safe or risk-free. Heart surgery is also common, but no-one would tell someone to get over that. The feminised nature of pregnancy and childbirth is what establishes it as some kind of “niche” concern in a sexist, patriarchal world. Women are expected to swallow our trauma because, as we’re repeatedly told, “the only thing that matters is a healthy child”.

A guest appearance for duh patriarchy there. We were wondering when it would be our fault.

Australian Birth Trauma Week is about reclaiming control over the horrendous, traumatising narratives that often rest uneasily alongside the powerful, transformative love we feel for our children. We are allowed to tell those stories. Our stories matter.

Lovely. And what tangible actions are we taking to improve the situation other than hashtags that nobody is looking at (2 days after publishing, the most daily uses of that hashtag was 20)?

Bill’s Opinion

Global maternal mortality fell by half between 1995 and 2015. There is obviously much more to be done to improve on that situation but the trend is very promising.

However, evolution has handed humans, and mammals in general, a dangerous method of reproduction compared to other animals as a compromise which allows for the post-birth development of larger brains. Until duh patriarchy finds a way to improve on that, childbirth will incur risk.

5 Replies to “Biology is unfair”

  1. The feminised nature of pregnancy and childbirth is what establishes it…
    “Feminised” implies that someone with agency made it so (cue teh Patriarchy). The accurate statement is that “since only women experience this, men don’t care.” That may or may not be true, by the way, but at least it’s an honest claim – that unfortunately Clemmie either can’t be bothered to make, or doesn’t wish to defend.

    1. There are very few words La Ford uses that aren’t land grabs for a particular Cultural Marxist agenda, in my experience.

  2. “… compared to other animals as a compromise which allows for the post-birth development of larger brains….”

    How odd. Reading this I would have thought that the trade-off of a larger brain had been avoided in this particular branch of the evolutionary tree and thus birth would have been a doddle.

    1. That’s a fair point. Of course, a student of statistics would be able to explain there are always outliers.
      Few people would be able to explain how the lower percentile outliers get jobs as newspaper columnists however.

  3. Women would still be washing clothes by bashing them on a rock if some *man* hadn’t invented the washing machine. I don’t know the gender of the person who devised the Caesarian Section although I don’t think their first name was Julius. But there is a way to avoid the trauma, probably not available to all women out there, especially those in third-world, my bad, in developing countries. Instead large crowds of dumfuk women in developed countries insist that birth take place at home, well away from first-class medical facilities that could cope with problems, and preferably in a pond of foetid water. What could possibly go wrong. In like a banana, out like a pineapple, and it is perfectly true that if men (and by “men” I mean biological men who self-classify as men) gave birth then a more efficient, largely painless way would have been devised. For example Aldous Huxley’s foetus farms.

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