Tag: maternal anarchy
by Sarah Fox on Oct.25, 2012
A few weeks ago Danielle posted a link on Facebook to this post by Anne Boyer, which I found tremendously moving and familiar, and in the process of simply commenting below Danielle’s link it soon became apparent that I had more to say than a comment could accommodate, and that I should take the opportunity instead to submit to you, dear Montevidayans, my extended maternal manifesta, as presented below. In the process of fleshing out this post (which, in my mind, dovetails into an ecstatic endorsement of Lucas de Lima’s new chapbook Ghostlines, its resonance with South American myths about bird mothers, women shamans, and the Anáposo ceremony, along with LdL’s elegiac transfiguration and re-imagination of the archetypal holy trinity, among other things), I became waylaid. First, by a lengthy and consuming visit with my newly-widowed mother. And then, by finding myself the subject of a bona fide censuring over a poem—inspired by the curious outrage over use of the word “vagina” among Michigan congressmen—that was published in the magazine Revolver. I was asked by Revolver’s editors to write a statement about this event, which you can find here:
Poets, much less walking vaginas, are rarely consulted in matters as vital to families as the safety and honor of our capitalist economy. But perhaps poetry—like menstruating, defecating, vomiting, sweating, lactating, emoting, birth-giving women—constitutes a filtering system of sorts, with its own innate algorithms and ethic of protection. By unwittingly violating the decorum of Google and its family of advertisers in my poem’s efforts to pin the ironic ironic vagina on the Elephant (or Donkey—same diff), “Decorum of the House” managed to plumb a few gold nuggets from the bowels of The System…
It’s basically raining vaginas in my neck of the woods, I can only hope the same is true for all of you.
I was 23 when my daughter was born, 4 weeks early (though perfectly healthy), during a vaginal delivery that was miraculously accomplished without medication or other interventions despite its taking place, due to her prematurity, in an operating room among masked & blue-gowned ghosts. My post-partum nurse was so annoyed by my insistent demands to initiate breastfeeding with my very own brand new infant daughter (who seemed completely out of my hands, as if I had to *earn* her back from the hospital’s custody) that she finally pushed us into a supply closet near to where other nurses had spent what seemed like hours bathing the mother slop from the body of my baby, and essentially “taught me” how to nurse by shoving my baby’s head onto my breast before abandoning me to sit, bloody & throbbing, on a stool surrounded by mops and buckets.
Later, when I refused to let the nurses retire my baby to the nursery, and even brought her into my hospital bed with me to sleep and sustain our nearness, I’d wake to them attempting to remove her to the plastic “crib” and wheel her out of my room, threatening me with various bullshit tenets about the dangers of co-sleeping and hospital liability. Which is no offense against nurses—my sisters are nurses, excellent ones, like many others I’ve met. But this is the way I remember my (mostly glorious and transcendent) experience of birthing my baby in a hospital.
It took about 8 years to pay off the slack not covered by my insurance—which was granted me through my work as a medical secretary—for an event (childbirth) I could have accomplished in the relative comfort and freedom of my own home. That was 22 years ago; there were no working midwives at my prenatal clinic or any other that I knew of, nor were resources or knowledge about birthing alternatives readily available or discussed by anyone I came into contact with. And I don’t mean to insist that homebirth is preferable or safer in every instance, but I would argue that most pregnancies and consequent deliveries—especially if emancipated from the traditional onslaught of media and medical propaganda—could proceed with success, if not at home then certainly a homier place than a hospital.
One need look no further than The Farm, and its resident midwife Ida Mae Gaskin, for an example of how this works within a larger, intentional community. It wasn’t until the Farm’s 200th birth that they felt compelled by a medical crisis to transport a laboring mother to the hospital where a necessary and life-saving c-section was performed.
Reliable statistics on maternal and infant mortality are hard to come by (although this report by Amnesty International is a good place to start); stats on how hospital births compare to midwife-assisted homebirths are even muckier, varying wildly depending on the agenda of the administering agency. Regardless of statistics, a fundamental reality can’t be overlooked: if childbirth was such a tenuous event, necessitating such extreme technological assistance (at such exorbitant cost), then how could humans have managed to overpopulate, dominate, and inflict profound ecological devastation across the entire planet and its atmosphere? Why are countries with the least access to medical technology (much less car seats, food, shelter, water, etc) so overrun by masses of starving babies?
The truth is (actually I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s my suspicion), you are more likely to die just walking down the street than you are birthing or being born without medical assistance. Pregnancy is not a disease, nor is childbirth a medical crisis. Occasionally, yes, there are clear risks that can be moderated and overcome by medical technology. And certainly unforeseen dilemmas emerge during childbirth that could result in bodily damage if not death, whether one births at a hospital or in manger.
However, in my experience and from fairly extensive research and training, each medical intervention introduced during labor tends to provoke a secondary intervention, which leads to a third and fourth intervention, and so on, and more often than not a c-section concludes the process. All of this is much more complicated than I’m prepared to go into at this moment, and no doubt is a deeply contentious situation. But at the end of the day, there is nothing more natural or inevitable than birth (except maybe death).
For the first 10 years of her life, I was my daughter’s single mother—like Anne Boyer, barely getting by (never more than a step away from possible crisis or destitution), working, ironically, as a medical transcriptionist while going to school full-time and milking what I could from federal financial aid—and though no one ever threatened to take my daughter away from me, I was constantly made to feel afraid it might happen if I, her mother, asserted anything too radical about my maternal ethic, or showed myself to be too vulnerable or not a good enough capitalist. I was, basically, poor, and a single mother, which states of being, in the eyes of some, pretty much constitute criminal behavior.
Now I’m a doula, and I’ve worked with many pregnant & parent teens who are legitimately poor and often homeless—22 years later, not much has changed. As a doula I feel my primary function is to radically demystify and deconstruct the net of terror cast over the heart of the pregnant woman, to work toward liberating her from it and convincing her that inevitably the mechanism of her instinct will prevail, and is ancient and real and steadfast.
My own mother, married to a doctor, was prescribed both diet pills and the synthetic estrogen Diethylstilbestrol when she was pregnant with me, and aggressively dissuaded from breastfeeding. Post-industrial maternity remains subjected to the disempowering & fiscal-centric authority of the patriarchy, which authority in fact is fake, and seems driven almost entirely, at base, by its hatred and horror of motherhood. This macrocosmic social phenomenon is enforced by the symbolic narrative of most hospital births, in which the act of delivery is assigned to the doctor/midwife, who “delivers” the infant—her puffy red face barely visible from within the bandage swaddle of hospital-logo’d receiving blanket and tiny cap—into the arms of the often immobile (post-epidural, or C-section, plus painfully stitched, post-episiotomy or abdominal incision), IV’d, still-bloody, half-naked-&-humiliated-in-hospital-logo’d-institutional-garb, ill-equipped to leave the premises, mother. Who, also, must consent to all kinds of regulations regarding vaccinations, invasive testing and procedures, certifications, insurance, conditional oversights re: the acquiring of all the proper equipment (car seat, formula, etc—you may have arrived in a Honda Civic, but you basically need at least a minivan to haul everything delivered by the hospital back home), all these performed upon or deemed “in the best interest of” her infant before they are together “allowed” to walk out of the hospital.
Furthermore, a mother typically isn’t given the option of seeing much less maintaining possession of her & her baby’s placenta, which is tossed with all the other bioshit into hazardous waste; nor, in general, is she given any indication whatsoever that she herself is the heroine of the story who quite logically should be the decider of everything.
I seethe to imagine the horrific injustices inflicted upon women & infants during childbirth, and how intimately and fundamentally these abuses impact the quality of motherhood, childhood, and the whole of society into which these infants are theretofore unleashed. When you can’t even say the word “vagina” in mixed company without causing people to recoil or want to arrest you, despite the fact that the vagina is the very portal through which most humans enter the world (unless delivered by c-section, which by all counts is nearing on average about 40% here in the U.S.), compounded by recent political rhetoric claiming ethical authority over the reproductive and sexual experience of the female body (in terms of access to birth control and abortion, ludicrous assumptions about the female body’s response to rape, etc), how can one deny the extent to which mothers and maternity are systematically reviled? Add to that the fact that the U.S. is ranked 50th in the world for maternal mortality among hospital births (with black women nearly four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women), despite spending $100 billion annually on the medical treatment of pregnancy and childbirth. Yet the dark force of legislative and media manipulation over pregnant women and mothers, alongside a total lack of economic value or social status placed upon their maternal purpose, prevents them from fully realizing the obvious and innate power they naturally possess….. And don’t even get me started on the role of oxytocin in all of this, the so-called “love hormone”—often undermined by its synthetic analog pitocin—the absence of which, in the birth process, it’s been argued, could account in part (if combined with routine circumcision, say, among other factors like enforced poverty, demoralizing and self-annihilating media representations, the institution of standardized market-friendly test-enforced data in place of public education of “the whole child,” the dearth of access to psychological mentoring toward individual self-realization and growth as well as the development of relational tools toward conflict resolution and bonding as a collective, etc etc etc) for the prevalence of dread, anxiety, economic disparity, rape, addiction, greed, personal violence, and war: the building blocks of global patriarchal empire.
Peace on Earth begins with Birth! And, not to change the subject, but the dismantling of the patriarchy—which is necessary for our, and other species’, survival, in terms of global empire and the absolute exaltation of capital and corporate personhood over life liberty and the pursuit of happiness—can only come about through both a willingness to abandon the current system to its inevitable collapse (and the sooner the better if you ask me, which is why, generally speaking, I decline to participate in the “democratic process” of presidential politics in voting for one evil, however “lesser,” than another—not to get too tangential, but no one can convince me to suck it up and throw my support toward a guy who boasts about how much drill-baby-drill he’s accomplished on public lands, and authorizes the use of drones, and refuses to address environmental catastrophe, and with all seriousness claims some practically religious pride in the patriotic murdering of “terrorists,” and almost everything else he says no matter how eloquently he might say it), but that dismantling also entails the radical healing and reinvention of fatherhood.
Additionally, it might be useful to remember that traditional healers have maintained an active, mostly uncertified/unlicensed and underground presence for thousands of years, and continue to exchange and expand the tools and knowledge of their ancient systems and lineage. Young people everywhere are dropping out of college to apprentice on organic farms, or with herbalists and radical doulas and midwives and bodyworkers and acupuncturists and curanderas and anarchist movements of all sorts. The resources we need to ensure our reproductive freedom and consummate health await us regardless of any federal or state legislation. If we could just indulge ourselves with a cold, hard analysis, we might realize that such legislation and its legislators not only can’t dance, they can’t overpower us without our consent. All we have to do, essentially, is refuse.
These rantings, and more, will be revisited in the coming days when I draw your attention to the revolutionary queer maternity and mystical poetics of our very own Lucas de Lima as introduced in his glorious chapbook Ghostlines. Stay tuned (and, if possible, be patient, since my inner work toward patriarchal demolition involves a re-imagination and biorhythmic realignment of a conventional perception of time.) Until then:
P.S. I have a secret hope that you all will feel moved to share your own birth story, or any story or thoughts, in the comments below to keep the labial flames on high.
P.P.S. HELLO SCORPIO