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Birth as Feminist Act

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I spent all day yesterday in the hospital with a friend and family member who was in labor with what would be a July 4th baby. She labored at a birthing center that is in a hospital but separate from the regular labor and delivery floor. She had a beautiful room with a jacuzzi in it, a bed big enough for her husband to stay in with her after the delivery, and a table/bed for the baby just beside it. She was attended to by a midwife and nurse who stayed for the duration of her labor, who were with her every second, and who supported her unwaveringly. Much of her nuclear family was in the room when she gave birth.

In an age where c-sections are being labeled “pre-existing conditions” and the cesarean rate continues to rise (not necessarily at women’s election), it seems to me that we have lost the feminist angle on labor and delivery. It is something only a woman can do. It is how life is created and sustained. It reveals women’s sheer strength and endurance.

Certainly vaginal birth at all – nevermind in a birthing center or at home -it is not available for all women, and we should be (and I am) thankful that cesareans and other interventions exist when vaginal labor would put the woman’s or child’s health at risk. But absent those risks, it seems worth highlighting that giving birth in a woman-centered, midwife-assisted environment is a feminist act. It is feminist in that it focuses on women’s unique ability; and in that it enables strength within a couple and family by allowing the woman’s partner to be an active part of the labor by supporting her both emotionally and physically (holding her legs, providing support while she squats).

Maybe this is a second-wave way of looking at birth. But being there yesterday and watching that baby’s head appear and then emerge, it seemed to me that the woman becoming a mother really is the Queen of the Universe.

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