By Rebecca Waters
Naomi Wolf's newest book, Misconceptions, is a testament to her own experiences and prejudices about childbirth. Ms. Wolf shares her own culturally-learned fears about childbirth but fails to recognize that this is in response to 100 years of medical society propaganda. Although she has access to research and studies documenting the safety of homebirth and non-medical midwifery, she paints birth outside an institution as dangerous. She chose to give birth with obstetricians in high risk hospitals and had cesareans both times. I think the book could have been more aptly titled, "(Misrepresentations) My Pain Phobia and Justification for My Cesareans."
I heard about this book through discussions on the internet which praised it for setting the record straight about childbirth. After looking at the book myself, however, I have come to an entirely different conclusion. It is simply another book, written to justify the unwarranted use of medical intervention and sequelae, unnecessary cesareans, and excuse bad maternity care decisions. Instead of accurately depicting birthing choices in America, Ms. Wolf used this book as a vehicle to promote her own opinions and discredit traditional midwives, homebirth, full-time motherhood and ecological breastfeeding.
Ms. Wolf places great importance on the book "What to Expect When You're Expecting", as though this is some highly regarded research book or the childbirth Bible. Sadly this book is written to promote the medical model of care and justify the many interventions foisted upon women who choose to have hospital births. She carefully goes through the many routine hospital procedures and explains the many risks and few benefits of each, yet she apparently did not believe her own research.
Those who have fought for years to eradicate the meaningless term "lay midwife" will immediately recognize Ms. Wolf's superficial understanding of birth attendants. Her repeated use of this term is a clear indicator of her lack of research and knowledge of childbirth. I half expected to see the terms "redskin" or "nigger" pop up during discussion about minority statistics.
She writes as a fact, "homebirth is now as safe as hospital birth." Now as safe? It has always been at least as safe! An entire book, The Five Standards by David Stewart, gives thousands of studies and statistics which conclude that homebirth is safer than hospital birth.
I took great offense at her term, "Naturalists," (pages 182-186) to describe anyone who would dare to promote or give birth without high-technology. She explains that this option "has been presented as so rigid .with such extreme requirements of courage and faith. It was for that reason that my husband and I would not consider it as an option." I wonder, what research led her to this conclusion? Judging from many comments which salt her book, it would seem she is her own source of "factual" information.
Anyone who promoted birth without drugs is included in this Naturalist group and portrayed as romanticizing the birthing event. Ina May Gaskin, however, is somehow exempt from this group and given the title, "The Patron Saint." It is obvious that Ms. Wolf is in awe of Gaskin, yet wasn't converted by her to better educate herself and choose a less interventive childbirth. It is also apparent that Ms. Wolf did not read the original Spiritual Midwifery book. If she had, she would have learned that Ina May wasn't exactly "a self-taught, lay midwife" but that her earliest training had come from an obstetrician (who also provided medication and instruments) and a local physician who provided friendly back-up for years. She also would have learned that the Farm clinic included a physician.
It is curious that Ms. Wolf is intrigued by free-standing birth centers and offers them up as a perfect choice for women. She is somehow under the impression that pain-relieving drugs are readily available for those who give birth at these centers, yet her depiction of Elizabeth Seton indicates a transport to the hospital for those who wish an epidural. How this is an improvement over one's own home is a mystery to me. Perhaps it is her fascination with institutions? and her phobia about pain?
Complete Mother readers will find her descriptions of breastfeeding revolting: "become someone's addiction." And quoting Sarah Hardy, "once nursing begins, bondage is a perfectly good description for the ensuing chain of events (and) lives on a mammary leash." How sad she didn't bother to go to a Le Leche League meeting or meet someone who was content breastfeeding. We can only guess that she probably was bottle fed, and lacking the nurturing of being breastfed herself, is compensating by portraying breastfeeding in a dim light.
Her social programs which would improve the world basically abdicate parental responsibilities to the government. She wants paid extended maternity leave, tax deductions and benefits to relatives who come to help the new mothers, on-site day care and nurseries, lots of hospital support programs, hospital statistics disclosure, parentless playgrounds monitored by "young people" so "an active, thoughtful mother, father. (won't be) uncomfortable at the playground." Basically she wants the government to act as nanny so she can get her work done. "Work" being something far more important than caring for her children herself.
Save yourself a few hours of frustration wading through this tripe. Instead, make a pot of raspberry leaf tea, give the older kids a fun project to do, put your feet up and put baby to breast and read the books she ignored: The Five Standards, Under the Apple Tree, The American Way of Birth, Being Born, Birth at Home, Your Baby, Your Way, Special Delivery, Labor Pains, Silent Knife, Malpractice: How Doctors Manipulate Women, Obstetric Myths Versus Research Realities, Gentle Birth Choices and back-issues of The Compleat Mother Magazine.