How the Internet has changed feminist practice.

In the final weeks of my pregnancy, I found myself reading and listening to birth stories at a frantic pace. I had taken a childbirth education class and felt familiar with the mechanics of labor and delivery. But in the hurried anticipation of those days, I was desperate to comprehend what would actually be feelings She loves to give birth. It was easy to find the birth stories. They filled the pages of my pregnancy books, and I could play them from my phone as audio files. in Millie Hill positive birth book, I read that women describe the thrill and excitement of beginning labor (“Exciting! It’s happening!”), navigating through contractions (“a combination of pure panic, being in a different world, and staying like a kite”), and the challenges of transitioning (“I lost my mind for a moment”) , pushing (“the hardest job I’ve ever done”), feeling the baby appear (“thank God”), and finally feeling your baby in your arms (“bliss and love, but then the trauma”). Reading these startlingly intimate novels written and told by strangers, I reassured myself that I could imagine something of new experiences coming.

People have always given birth to stories about her. But the “birth story” as we now know it is a product of recent history. In the 1960s and 1970s, a new wave of feminist activism demanded that women be seen as active participants in childbirth. Activists have systematically collected and documented birth stories as a plea for change in the way birth typically unfolds in the United States. These birth stories were often harrowing tales, recording experiences with a medical system that kept women away from the decision-making process, often through the use of heavy anesthetics.

In the mid-1970s, British feminist Anne Oakley began her groundbreaking social research on women’s experiences of childbirth. By conducting group interviews and collectively recording the women’s stories for the first time, she documented the psychological trauma of workers that the women felt had little control over. In this first wave of deliberately recorded and shared birth stories, many women’s experiences have been marked by a sense of the things being done for them. As one woman Oakley interviewed recalled: “The doctor kept going…he said Try for an hour to push the baby’s head out, He said, There is not much room. Otherwise, he said, we will have to decide what to do …so he said twelve o’clock in the morning, We’ll take you upstairs, . said I’ll try with tweezersHe said, Otherwise, you will have to have a caesarean section, you know. Hand him with tongs. And I was right.” These stories were a call for change.

Feminists who drew attention to the problems of childbirth in the 1970s argued that the stories we tell about childbirth before, during, and after the experience—both for us and collectively—regulate how births actually happen in practice. The Boston Women’s Health Group’s first commercial edition our bodies, our selves, Published in 1973, it included a detailed description of each stage of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and the postpartum period. It was also interspersed with unique and diverse women’s narratives with their voices. These included both home and cesarean deliveries. The group recognized both the thrill that can accompany childbirth and the disappointment many women feel when things don’t go as planned.

The our bodies Birth stories weren’t always “normal” in the now-common sense of Inna Mae Gaskin, but the women who told them weren’t always unhappy with this fact. Some women praised their experiences with pain relief: “Once it got a little hard I asked the nurse ‘something.’ She brought me Nisentil, which is an anesthetic. It took effect shortly after I injected it, and it helped me relax between contractions so well that between contractions I often find myself falling asleep.” Others confirmed their satisfaction with the experience of giving birth without medication: “I had a short, hard labor and it was clear to me that the amazing orgasm I experienced afterward was in part a function of the fact that it was so painful. It was really almost a positive pain, really worth it at the time. later”. Far from an expression of the superiority of “natural” birth or a critique of medicine’s use in labor and delivery, stories collected in feminist texts such as Our bodies, our selves A call to normalize women’s diverse experiences and insist on a women-centred model where, no matter the details, women feel respected.

At best, the legacy of childbirth feminism has been to encourage those born to see themselves as agents of their own experience, and to feel empowered to process it on their own terms. In recent years, like podcasts birth hour, which features fathers telling their birth stories, has joined forces with pregnancy books to give voice to people’s experiences of birth on a new scale. Without normalizing one type of childbirth or another, the podcast helps expectant parents learn about childbirth from those who have experienced it, and allows the birth to speak in their own words about their desires and choices in the process. In a system that is more patient-centered than it was in the middle of the last century, parents continue to face all kinds of disrespect and poor care. For women of color, this often includes life-threatening neglect and outright abuse. in a quiet way, birth hour And other similar resources are still calling for better deliveries.

but if The birth hour In many ways a legacy of feminist activism like Oakley and the Boston Women’s Health Caucus, it also comes to us through 21 newSt Media culture of the century. Episodes are categorized for easy sorting: ‘Premature Labour’, ‘Hypnosis’, ‘BIPOC Stories’, ‘Butt’, ‘Home birth’, etc. This allows people to listen to birth stories selectively — perhaps less to learn about the scope of all possible experiences, and more to hear what we want to hear, in anticipation of what we hope for ourselves. Although I wanted, in the abstract, to prepare for whatever birth experience I might have, I pretty much found myself listening exclusively to birth stories describing a non-medical birth that I hoped you’d have.

The feminists who promoted birth stories in the 1970s intended to educate them broadly and honor different experiences. But in practice, the birth stories we read or hear in the media tend to feature women who confidently tell their stories—in other words, the birth parents, in other words, who are in control, only of their own. breaks in 21St Century culture, the feminist advocacy of a more active and focused role in giving birth to people can make us feel like we’re failing if our births don’t feel entirely under our control or don’t go according to plan. Baby stories circulating online often represent extremes that draw viewers in and create a sense of inadequacy. A 2013 video of a woman opting to give birth in Australia, without medical support of any kind, garnered 90 million views on YouTube. Parents magazine described this birth as “in a truly organic way – no pain relief, no doctors, no hospital…just a woman, a river, the miracle of life.” A far cry from her feminist past, this treat enchanted the story of a distinctly exceptional woman, and made her the kind of perfect whole food for everyone.

Since the 1990s, the rise of communal storytelling by women, first in print and then online, has complicated the place of “birth stories” in our culture. Recording your birth experience is a feminist act at the same time, and is now likely the target of mass consumption via a Reddit forum or blog. Writing, and even sharing, your birth story is now a commodity as one of a number of things you “must” do as a successful new parent, such as baby showering or putting together a children’s book. If you search for “birth story” on Google, you’ll find everything from blank-filled birth story templates to birth journals marketed as handwritten “inheritances”. You will also come across guides documenting your experience that suggest ways to make it “strong” as well as “attractive” and “light” — in any case, easily digestible and palatable to others, not least your child, who (some of these guides remind you) may end up reading your story “someday.” “. This commodification and emotionalization of childbirth stories is not quite, I imagine, what Oakley or the Boston Women’s Health Group had in mind.

Last year, as soon as everyone in my class I had their children had, we met for the last time. We were invited, as promised, to share our birth stories. The normally chatty Zoom room fell silent. I wonder if it was because, in the weeks and months after birth, that the idea of ​​meticulously assembling these experiences for others had come to seem reductive—in many ways, the false promise marked the end point of the parenting child’s story of having the world’s baby. Or maybe it felt like it was too loaded, and it’s impossible to tell any story without being misunderstood somehow.

I was fortunate to have firsthand experience of childbirth, which made me feel respected. Although no birth story I read or heard during pregnancy could have actually prepared me for that experience, the stories I researched filled me with confidence and, most of all, a sense of solidarity with all people who were born. The story of my birth is a story that I would love to share, but I have tended, and still tend, not to, for fear of appearing to think my experience was an act of will or character, and not the product of good luck and all factors—gender, race, socioeconomic status, geographic location. – That made it likely that I would receive good care. When it comes to sharing birth stories, many of my friends who have had difficult birth experiences feel similarly — like things to be read in their stories that don’t exist, whether it’s a critique of the medical establishment or a judgment of what kind of person they are. It’s hard to feel like a true storyteller in a culture of extremism and commodity success.

The varied and honest birth narratives on the one hand and the necessity to tell your story the right way—maybe even birth the right way—on the other, makes companions awkward. Together, they are the product of an era in which feminist progress sits alongside new patterns of packaging and commodification of our intimate lives for public consumption. Birth story, like feminism, has reached an uncomfortable stage in its history. Now, as feminists, it is our job to free the birth story from the requirements of crafting a successful personal brand, and to find a way to bring it back to its ultimate goal: to incorporate an intense and unique experience into the story you tell yourself about your life. And relate it all to the experiences of others.