Before I get into this I need to clear the air. My last entry unintentionally offended a good friend of mine and I do not wish for this to happen again. Though I did not intentionally set out to hurt her, my viewpoints were taken in a way that made it seem like I judged her on her choices. The truth of the matter is that I do not judge her in any way. I respect her in her choices, even if what she chooses may not be what I would choose for myself. That is what is at the very heart of this blog, and it is why this post is being written. Choice is, ultimately, what I write about. It is what I devote my time and energy to preserve. Choice is precious and very much needs to be protected at all costs from those who would do away with it.
To be clear, this is not a Pro-life or Pro-choice issue. This is not a home birth VS hospital issue. This is not a C-section VS Vaginal birth issue. It is simply an issue of CHOICE. The freedom to choose one’s own path in the safest and most supportive environment. It is this element of choice that I fight to preserve. It is this fundamental freedom for bodily autonomy, for making one’s own decisions, that so often comes into conflict with those who would cite moral or religious reasons for its abolishment.
I believe that it is time to address the true problems with ALL these issues surrounding ALL of a woman’s choices, and that is this: It is not up to you to decide what another person should do with their body. You may frown and disagree with them, but ultimately it is still their decision. It is their decision because they, and they alone, will be the ones affected by that choice in a profound way. Trying to prevent them from making that choice will only cause undue stress and possibly more harm to that same individual.
If you haven’t seen Cider House Rules then I suggest you watch it. It is an amazing film! But here is the one part that stands out the most in it. You see, this boy, played by Tobey Maguire (Spider Man), grew up in an orphanage. He is cared for by the main doctor, (played by Michael Caine–Alfred of the Bale-Batman trilogy) who is like a father to him. Anyway, this boy, named Homer after the Greek poet, grows up to be a sort of apprentice. At this orphanage the doctor tends to the unwed mothers who seek his services for childbirth and adoption placement, as well as performs abortions. Homer does not approve of the abortion aspect of the orphanage and has no desire to learn the procedure as part of his overall training. However, one day a young girl is found outside the gates and she is extremely ill. Homer takes her to his mentor and it is discovered the girl had a botched abortion with another provider. She is now suffering a severe infection and is dying right there on the exam table. The doctor asks Homer if, had this girl come to them first, would Homer have turned her away? Because THIS is the price paid by those who are denied access to a safe facility. The girl dies almost immediately. The lesson is profound.
Choice. It’s such a simple thing, and yet so many different elements will conspire to take it away, or at least limit access to it. However, by limiting access, we make the problem worse because those who are adamant in their choice and refuse to allow an outsider dictate what they can and cannot do with their bodies will find a way. Any history book will prove that. Hell, just do an internet search!
In the case of abortion (yes, I’m going there) I can understand the pro-life movement. I have a few friends who are pro-life and while I may not agree with their methods, I agree that they have the right to decide if they would allow abortion…for themselves. To be clear, you are perfectly within your right to disapprove of someone making a choice you find “immoral” or simply “wrong”. However, the alternative that nobody seems to realize when they wish to close down these clinics is that abortion will STILL exist; it will simply be more dangerous. How do I know this? Because abortion has existed long before clinics opened up. Abortion has probably existed since the dawn of time. If you do an internet search there are tons of methods to “bring on a miscarriage”. What is to stop those desperate enough from seeking those methods? Nothing. Nothing is stopping them at all. However, these methods carry very high risks; much higher than simply going to a medical professional. But if the clinics close down and the pro-life movement succeeds in making abortion illegal, those methods will have an increase in use with devastating consequences.
This issue of choice does not only apply to abortion. It applies to birth too. If the pro-life movement succeeds, then a fetus will legally be declared a person. Pregnant women are already having their rights to bodily autonomy compromised in the form of court orders forcing them to comply with doctor’s wishes. They are handcuffed and strapped to an operating table and sliced open “for the good of the baby”. If that imagery disturbs you then I have done my job. I’m glad it disturbed you. It SHOULD disturb you. It should disturb all of us. The fact that it keeps happening is incredibly disturbing and frightening. However what is even more frightening is the pervasive attitudes of people who think that the doctor was “right” and the mother should have just done what she was told. As if she is merely a vessel; a host for this child whose rights trump her own. She must submit to the doctor’s whims simply because it’s for the good of her baby. She must not question the White Coated Savior.
VBAC bans, “routine” care and hospital policy are the enemy of the woman who wishes to birth her child without intervention. If there is even a slight deviation from a “normal” pregnancy, such as twins or breech presentation women are often “risked out”. They are told they have no choice but to have a c-section, even if a vaginal birth is actually possible for them. Our maternity system is in crisis and that crisis is on a GLOBAL scale. At the same time midwives have all sorts of regulations and restrictions placed on them or they are outright villified and made illegal. Home birth becomes “illegal” as well, even in Canada! Thankfully home birth is legal here in B.C. but I was saddened to discover this is not the case in every province. The war on midwives is too close to home for my liking. Not only that, but a good friend in the same maternity group was told that our practice would not be able to see her past 42 weeks. Knowing this, it is highly unlikely that I will go back to that clinic because the hands of the midwives are tied by the bureaucracy of the medical system. This does not support the natural process of birth as a non-medical issue, since again we are dealing with a “timeline” and a “deadline”.
But regardless of the restrictions placed on midwife practices “for our safety” the ultimate disservice to women is that our choice to go with a midwife over a doctor is still not a true choice because the same corrupt system runs the show behind the scenes. Ultimately the choice no longer becomes whether to go with a midwife or a doctor, but instead whether to comply with the demands of the system or go it alone. For myself, as risky as it may be, I would choose to free-birth, that is, give birth on my own without an attending midwife or any other medical professional, rather than give in to “the system”. Many women who were abused by that system feel the same way. Again, we are dealing with choice, and again the outcome of restricting and regulating those choices could cause poorer outcomes.
Finally, there is the choice of whether to conceive in the first place. Simply watching MTV/Much Music will prove that teen pregnancy still exists, as it always has. No matter what decade it is, the fact that teens have sex (or are raped) cannot be swept under the rug. To say that abstinence is the only reliable form of birth control is not saying anything at all. It is like telling someone that if they stay out of the water they won’t have to worry about drowning, instead of just teaching them how to swim. However the same groups that would ban abortion would likely state that teens “shouldn’t” have sex in the first place. Obviously that is their right to believe that, however it solves nothing. We could argue over what should and shouldn’t happen all we want, but we cannot control what other people do. We can’t control what people believe. However, the fact is that teenagers DO have sex. Regardless of how I feel about my son becoming one of those teenagers in fifteen years (I can only hope he waits that long), I will still make damn sure he carries condoms with him. Should I have a daughter, she will be getting a lesson on birth control. It is not encouraging kids to have sex simply by teaching them about birth control. I grew up knowing more about sex and birth control than most of my friends and still didn’t lose my virginity until after graduation. I had a handful of partners over the course of my very early twenties but never once got pregnant because I knew how to prevent that. I made ONE mistake with a boyfriend when I was in college, but because I was aware that Plan B existed I went to get it before going to class the very next day. Had I been “sheltered”, as so many parents suggest should be the case, I might have become a mother long before I was ready. I may have had to seek out one of those abortion clinics. Instead I knew my options and took the necessary precautions. This does not make me a slut. This does not make me a bad person. It makes me human. I am human and a woman and I take full responsibility for my reproductive choices. It was true then and it is true now.
We all make choices and have different views on a variety of issues, however the truth is that no matter how WE feel, we can’t infringe on someone’s rights to make a different choice. We can’t expect others not to act on those choices just because WE don’t like them. The truth of the matter is we can never truly know what we would choose unless we are facing that situation ourselves, and we can’t judge others for their choices. A woman who has an abortion may very well want kids, just not right now. She shouldn’t have to face an unwanted pregnancy and have her body scarred and forever altered. A mother who had a c-section, whether necessary or not, shouldn’t be forced into another C-section because a hospital bans VBACs. She shouldn’t be induced simply because the practice “doesn’t allow” her to go over 42 weeks. And a woman shouldn’t have to conceive just because birth control isn’t accessible and she “shouldn’t be having sex anyway”.
And what if she didn’t plan on having sex? What if she was raped? What then? Do we pass judgement on her for seeking an end to a pregnancy that was conceived under traumatic circumstances? Where every flutter and kick, every stretch mark, every labor pain is a reminder of what happened to her? Marking her irreversibly? No, it is not for us to decide what someone else can and cannot do with their own body. It is not for us to condemn or limit access to facilities or support for those who make different choices. It is not for us to tell a mother where she can give birth either, or how. It is not for us to decide when a young woman chooses to embrace her sexuality. We can try. We can advise. But ultimately I doubt a single parent of those pregnant teens told their kid that they could totally go have sex. In fact I’m sure that most of them forbade it. I’m sure most of them (like Sarah Palin, for one) told their offspring to wait until marriage and to abstain, and never once were they told to use a condom. That it only takes one time. That even if it doesn’t take one time, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen EVER. That the withdrawal method doesn’t work 100% of the time. No, it’s not the kids who learn about birth control who end up pregnant. It’s the ones who don’t have access to it in the first place.
It’s time we stop judging and condemning our sisters for their reproductive choices. It’s time we recognize that every time we restrict a certain choice we don’t agree with, we drive them to seek a more drastic choice instead. By outlawing midwives or home birth we make birth less safe. We force women to “go underground” to birth in secret. By closing down abortion clinics we force women into seeking unsafe, even fatal, means of terminating their unwanted pregnancies. And by insisting on abstinence-only sex education we are increasing the likelihood of teen pregnancy occuring, which in turn leads these young women to make the difficult choice of ending the pregnancy or becoming mothers before they are ready. Can we truly understand the difficulty of facing such a decision?
I can. I have faced it and I have family and friends who have also faced it. I confess that one time I miscalculated when I last took my pill and I fell pregnant. This was only one year before the pregnancy with my son. Before that point I had been of the mindset that I would gladly seek an abortion if the timing wasn’t right. But then it happened and I couldn’t even consider it. We were barely scraping by, but I was approximately 5 weeks pregnant and two weeks “late”. The initial pregnancy tests came back negative. I had to go for a blood test to confirm that I had elevated HCG levels. The day before I had started cramping and bleeding. We hadn’t even had true confirmation yet and the timing was so bad, but I was devastated all the same. I wouldn’t have even known I had miscarried if not for that blood test confirming the HCG levels that had dropped. I mourned that pregnancy, if you could even call it that. The technical terms is “chemical pregnancy”, meaning the egg hadn’t implanted yet but the hormones were there.
So cut to a year later and I have once again fallen pregnant. This time I’m seven weeks and the test actually recognizes it. I had to take a second test a day later, just to be sure. Again it was bad timing, and again what I thought I would do isn’t what I chose. I chose my son. I loved him instantly, after I got over the shock. To even consider a miscarriage happening again was like having my heart ripped out of my chest and squeazed tight. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was dying when I had that very nightmare 17 weeks later. I feared for him during my back spasms last January. This all coming from a woman who once felt that she would never have an unplanned pregnancy. But things change. However, even though I now know that I would not choose to terminate I do know women who have done so. I know the choices they faced and I know it was difficult to make. I do not know if they regret it, but either way I respect their decision. I do not dwell on it.
It is not my body and it is not my choice to make.
It is theirs and theirs alone.
So when an article comes out stating that home birth is just as safe as a hospital birth the argument should not be for or against home birth. In truth, no study or article should make a bit of difference when it comes to how or where a woman gives birth. The truth is that rather than cite these studies, we should simply accept the mother’s choices. We are all entitled to the right of bodily autonomy. If a cancer patient is within their rights to refuse treatment, and if a person’s desire to not be on life support must be honored in spite of family wishes, then so too should we honor the rights of women to control what happens to their bodies. The fact that we have to fight for that most basic human right, that we have to war among ourselves for our choices is the real problem in our society, and it is time we all have our eyes opened.
It’s 2014 and the war on women hasn’t ended yet. Don’t you think it’s time?