So strap yourselves in for a return to Deep Mondays (I do recognise that today is Tuesday, but this post was intended for Monday, it just got held up a little!). I wanted to put together a blog post about something that has been preying on me a little recently, and part of the reason why I wanted to put this together was precisely that sometimes, as a writer, it is so easy to feel something, to want to do something, even to write something, and then to let it fall by the wayside. Sometimes, following through is hard. But, that being said, I felt strongly enough about this to sit up late (for us, anyway) on Friday night to scribble this down in a notebook, hand cramping and insides knotted with a white hot anger.
I’ve felt angry recently, in fact, about quite a lot of things, but on Friday night I couldn’t quite get rid of it, and I decided that there was no point being angry in silence. In fact, as a writer, it seems to me to be the one thing you’re really not meant to do: after all, what’s the point in being a writer if you never use that particular skillset—or intense, unremitting drive—to deal with whatever is eating you up? Besides which, silence does not fix problems. Rather, it perpetuates them by allowing them to continue unchecked… And thus, this blog post was born.
Standing up and talking about certain things, in fact many things (if they fall into the categories our societies have deemed unsavoury, taboo, or maybe just no overly important), can bring its own uncomfortable results: often unchecked fury and abuse, repugnant vitriol directed at an individual from behind the safety of a computer keyboard. I will openly admit that the thought of having to deal with such fallout from writing about certain topics has been enough to keep me from talking about them at times (though, as a small blog, it’s hardly something I need to worry about as much). But the fact is that though we may not always feel strong enough to face the consequences of these conversations, allowing serious issues to remain hidden, marginalised and undiscussed, carries far greater repercussions, and the ripple-effect may spread far further than we realised.
So, then. I am angry. I am a young, white, straight, cis-gendered, neurologically-typical and able-bodied woman, and I am intensely, incredibly privileged: I am very fortunate in my life and I am grateful for it, but I refuse to not be angry because I, personally, am lucky.
What in particular is making my blood boil centres, almost exclusively, around women. I say almost, because it is also about girls—infants, children and adolescents—who will inherit the world we build for them. And it is also about men, and the roles they play in the lives of women, and thus the responsibilities they have to women because of the influence and power that men typically hold in societies around the world.
In the past three or four days, I have read (and shared on social media) an excellent article written by Clementine Ford, who is a fairly well-known Australian author and ardent feminist about the treatment of pre- and postnatal women. And the longer I have cogitated on it, the more angry I have become—incidentally, this often happens to me because of her articles, which are hard-hitting and unrepentant calls to actions which beg no quarter—and I am incredibly angry about the treatment of pregnant women and new mothers. In fact, all mothers. All parents, (because not all of those who bear children are women) because it is impossible to ignore the ongoing issues that result from our societies’ decisions to ignore, downplay and scorn the challenges faced during to pregnancy and childbirth.
It only takes a brief moment to scrape back the exterior surface of women and motherhood or parenthood to expose the plethora of issues which surround prenatal, delivery, and postpartum care. It’s only a quick scan of the hashtag #betterbirths or #traumaticbirth on Twitter to find yourself wading through tale after tale of births which have posed incredible challenges—not only physically, but emotionally and mentally. [Disclaimer: Of course, it is inevitable that there will be birth stories which will not go to plan, though a degree of inevitability does not mean that we shouldn’t be striving every day for that number to be as low as it possibly can be, but it is vitally important to question whether any of these experiences may have been avoided by either informing the parent better, or allowing their own preferences to play a greater role in their delivery process.]
There is a widespread refusal to provide women with the information necessary to allow them to make the best decision for them: not for an ‘optimal’ birth (as though how a child is delivered comes complete with some kind of ridiculous moral high ground for those who have done it ‘the right way’) but what they believe will provide them with the optimal outcome… Not just the child they’re carrying. A distinct lack of regard is shown for women’s fears and feelings: while they may not always be able to be the most important consideration, depending on individual circumstances, the parent’s wishes should remain a priority in prenatal care, delivery and postpartum care. It is well-documented that many, many women have their wishes, concerns and health fears dismissed by not only medical staff, but society at large. In fact, this is less a medical issue than it is a social one: the expectation is that women should be so relieved to have a health child, that they not be permitted concerns for their own wellbeing, and thus there are instances in which a lack of advocacy for postpartum care and rehabilitation mean that, following birth, women can find themselves with an ongoing range of health issues which are never spoken about in public. There are options out there—in the past year or so, I’ve learned that there actually exist pelvic floor physiotherapists who have a vital role to play in rehabilitating postpartum bodies—but they’re not spoken about among friends, parenting groups, or even between mothers and daughter… Because for so long, the attitude has been that those ‘small issues’—urinary and/or feacal incontinence, painful intercourse, persistent and problematic scar tissue, vaginal and/or rectal prolapse—are just the price to be paid to have a child, and that they can only be ‘dealt with’, rather than treated as soon as possible and either prevented entirely or significantly minimised.
How is that possible? That we have ways of bettering the lives of millions of people, and it’s not a big public talking point to ensure those people can have better quality of life?
With all of this in mind, it is interesting to note two seemingly unconnected yet still salient points:
- That there are innumerable anecdotal accounts of women being refused pain medication because “they’re not really in pain” (there are some articles, both anecdotal and scientific, here, here, here, here and here): evidence that there remains a persistent, though possibly subconscious, belief that women can’t be trusted to know and accurately report on their own bodies; and,
- Women are, in the main, strongly discouraged from self-sterilisation options such as having their tubes tied, in a way that is very rarely (if ever) seen in how medical professionals treat men wishing to have a vasectomy (links here, here, here, here, and here). This, in particular, forms both a fascinating paradox (women are denied the right to decide for themselves that they don’t want any more children, or any at all, but their medical care if they choose to have children puts them physically/mentally/emotionally at risk) and a terrifying continuation of our earlier theme: women cannot be trusted to know what is best for them and their bodies, and must be influenced, guided, or controlled.
Why do we not grant women control over their own bodies? In the same way that we would never, could never, force someone else to get (or not get) a piercing or a tattoo, prevent or force them from drinking, smoking or taking illegal drugs, and in the same way that women (just as men) are able to vote, fight and die for what they believe in… Why is the immediate and supposedly-sacrosanct space of their own body not under their personal control?
We have a responsibility to protect any and all people who will carry and deliver children at any point in the future. They deserve to know precisely what the risks are of different delivery methods; of the best way to physically repair the trauma—regardless of how that has manifested—of pregnancy and delivery; of the best ongoing rehabilitative options to ensure they can live lives that are not only pain-free, but aren’t plagued by “minor issues” that they are simply told to ‘cope with’ rather than having their concerns appropriately handled by medical professionals. I do not have to have experienced pregnancy, nor be a mother, to know that this arrogant and blatant dismissal of women’s issues is unacceptable and immoral.
Neither should you.