Tag Archives: abortion

Female Feticide Is Not A Thing

29 Nov

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about “female feticide” lately.

First of all, there was this Toronto Star article, published back in April, about the six GTA hospitals (all in areas with large South Asian populations) that won’t reveal the baby’s gender to parents because of fears of “female feticide”.

Then, there was Conservative MP Mark Marawa’s Motion 408, which reads as follows: “That the House condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination.” 

Most recently, I had the following image pop up on my Facebook feed:

 

Female feticide, or sex-selective pregnancy termination, is typically defined as an elective abortion performed after a pregnant woman has learned that her fetus is female. In cultures where males have higher status than females, and male children have more value than female children, it is becoming more and more common for women to terminate pregnancies based on the fetus’ gender. Two countries where this practice is especially prevalent are India and China; it’s estimated that the gender ratio in India for children under the age of six is currently 109.4 males to 100 females, and in China is around 106 males to 100 females (although in some provinces it goes as high as 130 to 100).

The fact that these abortions happen because girls have so little value in some cultures is abhorrent to me. The fact that a woman would terminate a pregnancy just because of the gender of the fetus both horrifies and sickens me. But you know what? Female feticide is not the problem, it’s just a symptom. The treatment of girls and women in certain cultures, and the underlying beliefs that lead to this treatment, are the problem.

There are so many things about the discourse surrounding female feticide that bother me; I even find the name itself problematic. I mean, first of all, let’s be super clear on one thing: FETICIDE IS NOT A THING. This is not a word people should use, unless they want to be seen as part of the pro-life movement. It doesn’t matter that it’s female fetuses being aborted; it’s still not called feticide. If a woman chooses to abort her fetus because prenatal testing has shown that is has some form of disability, do we call that “disabled feticide”? If a woman terminates her pregnancy because she can’t afford another child, do we call it “penurious feticide”? No. No we don’t. Why female feticide, then? Why do we target this one type of abortion as being so much more heinous than others?

All of which brings me to my next point:

There is no hierarchy of abortions. There is not one type of abortion that’s fine and another that isn’t. You can’t say that it’s all right for a woman to terminate her pregnancy because it’s just not the right time in her life to have a child, or because it’s her first abortion and she was using birth control and it’s totally not her fault, but then turn around and say that a woman can’t choose to abort based on the gender of her fetus. You are either pro-choice or you aren’t. It’s as simple as that. Sure, you can feel uncomfortable about the reasons why another woman might terminate a pregnancy, but guess what? You don’t get to say shit about it, because it’s her choice.

See, that’s really the crux of the matter here: choice. Choice, and bodily autonomy, and agency. When you don’t give a woman all of the information available regarding her pregnancy because you are afraid that she will make the wrong choice with that information, then you are removing her agency. Ultimately, don’t we want to be empowering women and girls in these cultures that give their lives so little value? How is removing a woman’s agency empowering her at all?

I know exactly what you’re going to say. But what if she’s pressured into the decision to abort? What if she asks for an abortion because her husband is forcing her to get one? 

For one thing, there is no foolproof way to tell if a woman is being forced or manipulated into something. None. We can’t just go around operating on the assumption that any given woman out there is being controlled by a man; I think we have to assume that they are acting under their own power until proven otherwise. For another, what is a woman going to learn if she goes from a partner who is trying to control the outcome of her pregnancy to a doctor who is also trying to control the outcome of her pregnancy? The main thing that she is learning is that she has no agency over her own body. Finally, maybe a better solution would be to provide safer spaces for women who doctors feel are at a higher risk for being in abusive relationships; we should give them the chance to speak their own mind and present them with information and resources, rather than just refusing to reveal their fetus’ gender.

Another issue that I have with the term female feticide and the ways that we talk about it are that it’s hard not to feel like this is an effort by the pro-life groups to try to get feminists and liberal left-wingers on board with the idea that abortions are wrong. It kind of happens in baby steps, you know? First we say that one type of abortion is wrong and should be made illegal, and then another, until finally the procedure is outlawed altogether. I mean, it seems very telling that Motion 408 was put forth by a Conservative Party MP, you know? Looking at that graphic above, I can’t help but imagine it without the text at the bottom – just a fetus with the text, I want to live, Maa. Seen that way, it bears a striking resemblance to a lot of the pro-life rhetoric.

I guess that at the end of the day, I just don’t see how limiting a pregnant woman’s knowledge about her fetus, or not allowing her the choice to terminate her pregnancy, is going to empower women. All that will happen is that she will give birth to a daughter that she (or her husband) doesn’t want, who might end up being neglected, hurt, or even killed; if that daughter somehow makes it to adulthood, she will likely marry, get pregnant, and continue the cycle. What we really need to do is find ways to change these pervasive and damaging beliefs that males are more valuable than females. We need ways to to alter all the big and little cultural practices and ideologies that elevate one sex over the other. We need to attack the root of the problem  if we ever truly want to solve this.

Ultimately, what we really need to do is to find a way to make the world safer and better for all women, so that female children are no longer viewed as a curse. Because they’re not a curse; they, like male children, are a gift.

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Odds and Ends

28 Nov

Just a few quick things:

1. I have another post up on Shameless Magazine’s website. It’s called Rape Culture in Popular Culture and includes hot pictures of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Something for everyone!

2. I am now a regular contributor to Shameless Magazine’s blog, rather than just a guest poster. YUS. WRITER CRED.

3. In the wake of Savita Halappanavar’s death, many people have been wondering if there’s anything they can do to help other women who might be in her position. The Abortion Support Network helps women travel from Ireland to the UK in order to get abortions. They provide financial support, emotional support and accommodation for Irish women seeking abortions, and are a pretty awesome organization.

4. I love, love, love this article from Vice, You’re a Pussy if You Think There’s a War on MenEspecially this part:

“Yeah, no shit men are “pissed off” about “competing” with women. It’s pretty simple—decades ago, lazy men didn’t have to worry about talented women taking their jobs because they were largely relegated to being housewives or teachers or nurses. Now that women can dictate the terms of relationships and don’t need to latch onto a man as soon as possible, they aren’t willing to start pumping out babies and taking care of a household the way some guys would like. Boo-fucking-hoo. Cry me a river.”

Haaaaaaah.

5. I actually cannot stop listening to this song right now. Frig, I hate winter.

6. My kid is hella cute:

The Senseless Death of Savita Halappanavar

15 Nov

In the early hours of Sunday, October 28th, Savita Halappanavar died a death that was, most likely, totally preventable. She died because the hospital where she was a patient denied her a lifesaving procedure, one that she requested, a procedure that she would have likely been granted nearly anywhere else in the western world.

Savita’s death, which many believe was brought about because of her doctor’s refusal to terminate her pregnancy, has sparked worldwide outrage. Ireland and India in particular, the former being the country where she died and the latter being the country of her birth, have seen massive vigils, memorials and protests in the wake of her death. What happened to Savita, and the role that her doctors’ decisions may or may not have played in her death, are currently under official investigation. Ireland’s Minister for Health, James Reilly, has confirmed that the findings of that investigation will be part of an “abortion report” brought before the Irish Cabinet, although experts estimate that it will be 2013 before their government takes any kind of official stance on the issue.

There has been a lot of talk, and much conjecture, about what happened to Savita Halappanavar in the last days of her life. Here are the bare facts:

Savita, who was 17 weeks pregnant, was admitted to University Hospital Galway in western Ireland on October 21st. She presented with severe back pain, and it was quickly determined that she was actively miscarrying. Although doctors were still able to find a fetal heartbeat, Savita’s cervix was fully dilated, and she was leaking amniotic fluid. She was told that there was nothing they could do to prevent a miscarriage or save her child; she was still 7 weeks away from viability, the point at which a fetus could, with serious medical intervention, live outside of its mother, although the survival rate for babies born at that gestational age is only 50%.

After enduring over 24 hours of debilitating pain, Savita asked to have her pregnancy terminated. Although it was a wanted pregnancy, she had been assured repeatedly that the baby would not survive, and she was in too much pain to continue miscarrying naturally. She was denied a termination of pregnancy, however, and told that as long as there was a fetal heartbeat, the hospital would do nothing to help end her pregnancy. Savita was told that because Ireland was a Catholic country, doctors could not terminate her pregnancy; although she explained that she was neither Irish nor Catholic, her requests continued to be rebuffed and ignored.

On Wednesday, October 24th, the fetus died. Savita, who had been growing increasingly ill, spiking a high fever and vomiting until she collapsed in a washroom, was rushed into surgery in order to have the fetus removed. That night, her condition worsened and she was moved to intensive care. She remained sedated and critical but stable until Saturday, October 27th, when her heart, liver and kidneys began to fail. She died early the next morning, with septicaemia given as her cause of death. She was 31.

Abortion is illegal in the Republic of Ireland. Termination of a pregnancy is permitted in cases where it’s necessary to save the life of the mother, but what happened to Savita demonstrates that this idea isn’t always practiced. And anyway, how does a doctor determine if a woman’s life is endangered by her pregnancy? What fool-proof test does he perform? None, because there isn’t one that exists. The doctor has to base his decision on his own, faulty, human judgment, and when a life hangs in the balance, that just isn’t enough.

Another part of the issues surrounding abortion legislation is that there seems to be a lot of magical thinking about how women’s bodies work; people think that pregnancy does not happen in cases of “legitimate” rape, or that, in cases of miscarriage, the body will complete the task naturally and on its own, without the need of any kind of intervention. Maybe there are men who truly believe that the female body has superpowers, or maybe we’re all just so disposable and interchangeable to them that it doesn’t matter if we die during pregnancy or childbirth, because there will always be other women to take our places. Sometimes that’s how it feels, anyway.

To any of you out there who are anti-abortion, I honestly want to ask you: what good do these Irish laws do? They certainly don’t prevent abortions; in 2001, 7,000 Irish women travelled abroad in order to obtain safe, legal abortions. Not included in that number are the women who went to back-alley abortionists, the women who were exposed to unsafe situations and unclean medical instruments, the women who put their lives at risk in order to exercise their reproductive rights. Anti-abortion activists tell me that these laws are in place to protect unborn babies, that they are meant to save lives. These laws do not save lives. They end them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Savita’s last days must have been like – first, having to learn that her child, who was both loved and wanted, would not be born living. Then, devastated by the knowledge that her baby would die, being forced to continue her pregnancy while in agonizing pain. Savita was forced to listen to the heartbeat of her dying baby several times a day. She was forced to wait until that soft, speedy pulse faded away into nothing before something, anything would be done to save her life. She was forced to lie in a hospital bed and have her own bodily autonomy denied again and again. Savita died in a country that was not her own, for laws that were not her own, because of a religion that was not her own. She died frightened and despairing and in crippling pain, and for what? For nothing.

We talk a lot about how important safe, legal abortions mean for women, and rightfully so; what we rarely discuss is what safe, legal abortions mean for men. Savita’s husband, Praveen Halappanavar, lost both his wife and his child in the same week. The last time that Praveen spoke to his wife was shortly after the surgery to remove their dead child from her womb; her condition deteriorated so quickly afterwards that the hospital was forced to sedate her before they contacted him. She spent the rest of her short life sedated; he was never able to hear her voice again, or tell her that he loved her, or that he would miss her.

Reproductive rights are not just a women’s issue – they are everyone’s issue. What happened to Savita was not an accident. Her doctors did not do everything in their power to save her life. Her doctors did not respect her wishes with regards to her own body. What happened to Savita is tantamount to murder, slow, painful, terrifying murder.

Given the right set of laws, given the right government, Savita’s death is something that could happen to any woman, any family.

Please don’t let Savita’s death be meaningless; please fight for your rights, and for the rights of the women you love. Please help make sure that this never happens again, to any woman, for any reason. Please.

Savita Halappanavar

Abortions Are Just Like Hot Air Balloons: Your Tax Dollars At Work

13 Nov

My old friend Stephen Woodworth, master architect of Motion 312, is feeling a little concerned. See, he’s worried that you, dear Canadian, don’t understand what M-312, which deals with fetal personhood, has to do with abortion. Woodworth, his brow furrowed by deep thought, has been wondering and wondering why his motion didn’t pass. Finally, he realized that his brilliant idea was just too complex for people to understand. Thankfully, man of the people that he is, he’s come up with an allegory to help explain it to us.

I’ve copied it below for your reading pleasure:

Part I: Motion 312, Fixed-Wing Technology and Ballooning -An Allegory
 
Note:  The following account is intended to be entirely fictional.  Resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
 
In the early days of air flight, a Canadian aviation engineer was well-known for his opposition to ballooning (which was the established method of air flight in those days).  He actively spoke and wrote against ballooning, penning letters to the editor and articles in professional journals to express this opposition to ballooning.
 
After years of being stonewalled by an aviation establishment entirely enamoured with ballooning and which was completely unwilling to consider alternatives, he fell into deep thought.
 
“Perhaps I could find some other issue to pursue on which a majority of Canadians could agree,” he wondered to himself “Could I find some aviation principles on which we might find a consensus?”
 
After serious analysis, he came up with some aviation principles he felt might be acceptable to everyone.  He suggested a process to study the principles of fixed-wing aircraft to determine whether or not they should be pursued.  He suggested that the study consider whether or not existing legal prohibitions against fixed wing aviation were consistent with early 20th century aviation science and understanding.  He pointed out that Canada was one of only a few advanced nations to completely protect ballooning against fixed wing development.
 
An honest man, the aviation engineer acknowledged the relationship between fixed wing technology development and ballooning, and even admitted that the development of fixed wing technology might mean fewer people would engage in ballooning.
 
You can imagine that the ballooning industry rose immediately to the challenge.  Their first attack was to indignantly accuse the aviation engineer of being a ballooning-hater whose only motive was to destroy the ballooning industry.  “He says he just wants to improve aviation, but his real interest must be to simply destroy the ballooning industry since he must know that fixed wing aviation will mean fewer people will pursue ballooning”, they said.
 
The engineer protested that ballooning and fixed-wing aviation were not necessarily inconsistent with each other, but the balloonists ignored him.
 
He pointed out that something wasn’t right if balloonists felt they needed to pretend that fixed-wing technology didn’t exist.  They still ignored him.
 
The balloonists lobbied against his proposed study on the basis that their minds were made up that ballooning was better than fixed-wing aviation, they knew they were right, and so dialogue and review of modern aviation science would be a waste of time.  They argued that ballooning was simply better as it existed, period, discussion over.
 
Finally, the balloonists pointed out that existing Establishment views supporting the ballooning industry had only been established after long and difficult public debate, and that “re-opening” that debate should be avoided since it would provoke passionate or even divisive comment.  The engineer’s reminder that the right to study fixed wing aviation had been explicitly preserved and allowed for when protection of ballooning first became popular with the Establishment, was ignored.  The engineer knew that these existing differences between fixed-wing technology and ballooning would actually be brought to resolution by his proposal for dialogue and study, but he was ignored.
 
Many balloonists took to social media, publishing vile and insulting slanders against the engineer and misrepresenting his proposal.  He was not deterred.
 
Members of Parliament who spoke against the engineer’s proposal focused entirely on the necessity of protecting ballooning.  Not one even mentioned the subject of fixed wing aviation.  Not one questioned the aviation principles proposed by the engineer.  They expressed a single-minded preoccupation with ballooning to the exclusion of any consideration of wider aviation principles.  A number of professional aviation associations, filled with balloonists, were told that the engineer’s proposed study was about ending all ballooning and were in that way induced to pass resolutions condemning him and his proposal.
 
In the end Parliament defeated the engineer’s proposal, setting back the cause of fixed-wing technology in Canada for a time.  Clear-thinking people were amazed that a modern democracy could accept such a result, turning its back on modern aviation principles.
 
Now do you understand the relationship between Motion 312 and abortion?

All right, all right, I know what you’re thinking – your small lady-brain can’t quite grasp this. I know. Shhhh, it’s okay, I know. Normally I would be right there with you. Fortunately, I’ve given myself a few injections of testosterone this evening in order to help explain this all to you.

Okay so first of all, ballooning is abortion – which is, I guess, our established method of dealing with unwanted pregnancy? Much like ballooning is the established method of air flight in this story? That’s sort of what he’s saying? He also apparently believes that we’re totally enamoured with abortion; I guess he’s one of those men who think that women totally have abortions for funsies, like it’s a fucking trip to the spa or something. I just love the foot massage they give you after they remove your unwanted fetus.

Anyway, the protagonist of this allegory, an engineer who is both a gentleman and a scholar, hates ballooning, and starts a nasty anti-ballooning campaign. Sadly for him, everyone else loves ballooning and/or no one gives a shit about his letters to the editor and/or this guy really needs a hobby, so his plan is going nowhere fast. In a moment of brilliance, he thinks to himself, “Perhaps I could find some other issue to pursue on which a majority of Canadians could agree“. Obviously he is talking about fetal personhood fixed wing aviation.

Here’s where shit starts to get nonsensical. See, he wants the Canadian government to “study the principles” of fetal personhood fixed wing aviation, which all seems fine and normal and reality-based, but then he goes on to suggest that the government, “consider whether or not existing legal prohibitions against fixed wing aviation were consistent with early 20th century aviation science and understanding“. Er, what? So he wants us to examine the legal prohibitions against personhood? Which don’t actually exist? Like, no one is saying that he can’t call his own fetuses “persons”, just that he can’t start assigning personhood to all fetuses ever.

Next comes one of my favourite lines in his whole allegory:

[He] even admitted that the development of fixed wing technology might mean fewer people would engage in ballooning.”

No shit, dude. If you are trying to pass personhood laws in order to enact abortion legislature, then for sure less people will fucking “engage in ballooning”. I mean, except for the people who go to those back-alley balloon enthusiasts in order to balloon in secret.

Fuck, you guys, I just have to take a minute here to tell you how gross it is that he is comparing abortion to a RECREATIONAL SPORT. Like, terminating a pregnancy  is totally comparable to something you do for fun at the fucking county fair. Look, I’m not saying that everyone who’s had an abortion absolutely agonizes over the choice, but I really don’t think that anyone is ever like, gee, I’ve got nothing better to do this afternoon, may as well terminate my pregnancy then go eat some funnel cakes and ride the ferris wheel. It’s still a medical procedure, for God’s sake.

Ugh.

Anyway, so the allegorical abortion ballooning industry gets all up in arms, thinking that Mr. Fixed Wing Aviation is out to destroy them, because of course that’s what this is really all about. The abortion industry. The secret abortion lobby that controls Canada. The board of shadowy abortion-loving figures. It’s not about women having the right to control their own body. It’s not about bodily autonomy. Women obviously only have abortions because the abortion industry manipulates them into believing that abortions are better than cake and pie combined.

Also, I’m so sure that abortion, especially abortion in a country with socialized medicine, is so profitable. Like, I’m sure Scrooge McDuck is sitting in a cash-filled room somewhere, rubbing his hands and cackling over how awesome killing babies is. Okay, now that is a Disney movie I’d watch.

The rest of the allegory is basically a giant whine-fest about how everyone is so mean to Stephen Woodworth the fictitious engineer and how he was slandered (vilely and insultingly!) in social media. The engineer is shocked and appalled that the Canadian government wouldn’t even consider his proposal, and apparently men “clear thinking people” everywhere were “amazed” that Canada could be so behind the times.

Now do you understand the relationship between Motion 312 and abortion?

Uuuuggghhhh you guys, this is actually the worst allegory ever. I mean, I totally and fundamentally disagree with Stephen Woodworth, and I could still write a better anti-abortion allegory than this. First of all, it’s so gross and offensive to compare abortion to an activity that people do for fun. Second of all, it’s full of ridiculous half-truths and rife with misinformation. Finally, it ends with the assertion that all modern democracies are enacting personhood laws, which is just untrue, unless by “all modern democracies”, he means, “America”.

Anyway, Stephen, I guess I give your allegory an E for effort. Thanks for coming out, and don’t quit your day job. I mean, please do quit your actual day job of being an MP, but, you know, don’t give it up just to become a man of letters. Unless becoming a writer would mean that you would write allegories about how underfunded the arts are in Canada, in which case: have at ‘er, buddy.

Why Feminism Is Still Important (or, why I hate the word “equalist”)

1 Nov

Last night I was flipping through Margaret Atwood’s Wilderness Tips (which, by the way, is probably her best book of short stories). In the middle of Uncles, I came across a brief exchange between two characters, one of whom is trying to convince the other to write a guest piece on feminism for his newspaper:

“This would be a different angle.” There was a pause; she imagined him polishing his glasses. “It would be – now that the women’s movement has accomplished its goals, isn’t it time to talk about men, and the ways they’ve been hurt by it?”

“Percy,” she said carefully, “where do you get the idea that the women’s movement has accomplished its goals?”

I feel like this is a conversation that I’ve been having for most of my adult life. For someone who came of age in the 90s and early 2000s, it can be hard to explain to other people why feminism is still necessary. Many of our bigger, more obvious goals – voting rights for women, the ability to own land, equal education for girls, and more control over our own reproductive systems – have, in the western world, largely been achieved. The landscape of third-wave feminism, which began in the early 90s and continues today, is often confusing and tricky to navigate. Some third-wavers question whether “feminism”, a term that might be limiting and can seem as if it’s promoting oppressive gender roles, should even be used. On top of that, it often feels like the current incarnation of the feminist movement has devolved into petty bickering about whether or not mothers should stay at home, or how a “real” woman is supposed to give birth.

So why even call yourself a feminist anymore?

I know a lot of women – smart, strong, progressive women, women that previously self-identified as feminists – who no longer use that label. People want to distance themselves from the negative connotations that surround the term “feminism”, or else they don’t want to seem as if they’re only interested in women’s rights. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they’d prefer to be called a “humanist” instead; in fact, this past weekend, a good friend said wistfully to me, “I wish society was at a place where I could call myself an equalist instead of a feminist, but I guess we’re not there yet, huh?”

On the surface, these arguments seem to make sense. I mean, you catch more flies with honey, etc. If using different terminology means that more people are willing to work towards equality, then that must be a good thing, right? I mean, let’s be honest – the term feminist conjures up images of angry women burning their bras, or intimidating women stomping around in army boots telling men what’s what. Feminism is often equated with hating men, or with the idea that women are the superiorsex. In contemporary mythology, stereotypical feminists only make up for their lack of a sense of humour with their surfeit of untamed body hair.

Here’s the thing, though: calling yourself an “equalist” slides you right back into all those traditional gender roles that society wants you to be in. Being an “equalist” ensures that you won’t intimidate anybody, that people won’t see you as someone who goes against the grain. It turns you into a smiling, apologetic woman who says things like, “but I just want everyone to have equality – men and women.” It makes you totally non-offensive, and as such, takes away a lot of your power. Women who describe themselves as equalists strike me as people who are afraid of conflict and who, above all, want to be liked; men who call themselves that strike me as people who want to deny all the challenges that women still face.

When we talk about equality, in a lot of cases men are already hold the standard that women are trying to achieve. It was only last year that women working for Canada Post won the right to equal pay – and this, by the way, stemmed from a case that was filed in 1983. The New York Times recently reported that a a heavy and persistent bias against women still exists in the scientific community; most troublingly, this bias is upheld and perpetuated by just as many women as men, which goes to show you how deeply misogyny is ingrained in our culture. Women still have to be afraid when walking alone at night; hell, we have to be afraid when out at a bar with a friend, or out on a date, or in almost any situation when we encounter a man alone. We live in a culture where women have to fear for our safety in ways that I don’t think men will ever understand.

And, of course, our reproductive rights are always, always in jeopardy.

All of that is only the stuff that’s happening here at home – what about the challenges facing women in other parts of the world? Countries where women have to fight for the right to drive, or work outside the home, or walk around in public with their hair uncovered? Countries where terrorist organizations shoot little girls in the head just because they want to go to school? There are places where just being a woman is treated as if it’s a crime.

This isn’t to say that there are no issues facing men – to the contrary, gender stereotyping certainly affects men as well as women. But when we start talking about equality for men, it often comes to dominate the conversation, derailing any attempts to discuss the ongoing inequalities faced by women. We need our own space to talk about what’s happening to women today; we need our own conversation about issues that are unique to us. We need feminism.

Look, I’ll be honest: I wish we lived in a world where just talking about concepts like equality meant promoting the rights of women everywhere. I wish that we didn’t have to use labels like feminist or pro-choice; I wish that we could just trust people to be sensible human beings and look out for each other. We don’t live in that world, though. Not even close. In spite of the progress we’ve seen over the last few generations, the feminist movement still has a long way to go before it achieves its goals.

Maybe someday we will live in a world where half the world’s the population doesn’t have to suffer simply because they’re women – I mean, I guess anything’s possible, right? That’s what we’re fighting for, right? Until that time, though, I plan on being an intimidating, humourless (though admittedly body-hair-free) feminist.

On Childbirth And Bodily Autonomy

29 Oct

A friend of mine recently gave birth. She’d planned on have a natural, drug-free childbirth, but instead wound up having an emergency c-section. After 30 hours of labour, her son’s head still wouldn’t (or couldn’t) engage, and his heart rate started to plummet frighteningly low. After a few minutes of discussing their options with her midwife and the on-call OB, they decided that a caesarean was her best option.

Her son was born not long after that, a whopping 9 pounds 5 ounces, with a full head of dark hair. He was beautiful and healthy, but instead of feeling as if she’d made a decision that could potentially have saved his life, she felt as though it had been her fault that she’d had to have a c-section. She thought that if she’d just somehow tried harder, or prepared better, she could have had the birth she’d wanted.

I talked to her a few days after her son’s birth, and, of course, asked how she was feeling. “I feel like I failed,” she said, sounding as if she was about to cry. “My son is only a few days old and I’ve already failed him.”

I knew what she meant, because I’d been there. When I’d found out that I would have to have a caesarean, I also, irrationally, had felt as if it was my fault, as if I was already failing my son. I still feel weird about my son’s birth, even now, nearly two years later, or rather I feel like other people are weird about it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone ask about my childbirth experience, only to shut down the whole conversation when I tell them I had a planned c-section. I often get the sense that other people think that I haven’t really given birth, or that I’ve taken the easy way out.

If you don’t have kids and/or haven’t spent a billion hours on the internet debating all things baby, you might be wondering why natural childbirth is such a big deal. Why does anyone even care?

For starters, giving birth without drugs or interventions means that you and your child will not have to experience the side effects of sedation or the potential harm from invasive procedures. Babies born naturally are more alert, which will make bonding and breastfeeding easier. Plus, not having an epidural means that you can get up and walk around during labour, or find the position that works best for you when it’s time to push. Without drugs, the mother’s recovery will be faster, and she can often leave the hospital the same day, if she wants to. And, of course, there’s the persistent idea that childbirth is more of a “real” experience if you are able to feel every sensation associated with it.

Many people advocate for natural births these days; even the nurse who taught our prenatal class was pretty anti-epidural. Part of this comes as a backlash against the medical model of childbirth, which, not that long ago, saw women in labour being put into a Twilight Sleep, a drug-induced state in which women were conscious but not lucid, and, though these women still experienced pain, were not able to remember it afterwards. In many ways, natural childbirth is an attempt to reassert control over our own bodies; to tell the doctors (most of whom were and are still men) that pregnancy is not a disease, and should not be pathologized. Another part of  the desire for drug-free childbirth comes from the assumption that “natural” is better, or from the idea that our bodies are designed to give birth without the aid of drugs or interventions.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to have a natural birth, and I don’t just mean the physical pain and exertion associated with drug-free childbirth. Hospitals make many people anxious, and trying to give birth while surrounded by beeping machines and scary-looking medical equipment is challenging, to put it mildly. On top of that, you have a regular rotation of people coming in and out of your room, wanting to check how far you’ve dilated, what your heart rate is, what the baby’s heart rate is, and a whole laundry list of other stuff. So giving birth in a hospital setting isn’t exactly conducive to that whole Mother Earth Goddess ideal that many of us hold.

So why not give birth at home? Good question. The answers range from being worried about not making it to the hospital in time if there are complications to not want to have to be bothered cleaning up the mess afterwards, and everything in between. One response that I hear very frequently form Ontario women is that they weren’t able to find a midwife; this was my experience as well.

When I had my first prenatal visit with my family doctor, I was eight weeks pregnant. She asked if I’d thought about how I wanted to give birth, and I told her that I wanted a midwife rather than an OB. She looked at me like I was crazy, and said that there was no way I would be able to find a midwife this far into my pregnancy. But I’m only eight weeks! I said. Technically I’ve only been pregnant for six weeks, if you take into account the fact that the first two weeks of  a 40 week pregnancy happen before a woman ovulates.

My doctor just shrugged and said that there weren’t enough midwives in Ontario, then asked what hospital I wanted to deliver at. When I told her, she frowned and said, Oh, I don’t know if we’ll be able to get you into Mount Sinai this far into your pregnancy. I honestly thought that she was exaggerating, but it took three referrals before we were able to find an OB at Mount Sinai who was still taking patients for my due date.

That was how I learned how insanely competitive giving birth is in Toronto.

There are 540 registered midwives in Ontario, serving a total population of 12,851,821. 1 in 10 births in this province are attended by midwives; 4 out of 10 pregnant women in Ontario would like a midwife but can’t get one. That obviously makes having a midwife-assisted birth in general, and a home birth in particular, pretty challenging. Which, as I said above, can make having a natural birth difficult or even impossible.

That being said, you would think that the natural birth community would be pretty understanding of the fact that most women still end up using the medical model of childbirth. While I would say that the majority of us are pretty chill no matter how your kid comes into the world, there seem to be a lot of people passing judgment on how women give birth.

It’s bad enough that some proponents of natural childbirth make women feel as if they’ve “failed” if they end up having unplanned interventions, but that’s nothing compared to their treatment of women who know ahead of time that they want an epidural, or those who choose to have a planned c-section. The funny thing is that these are often the same women who are very pro-choice and will throw around the phrase “my body, my choice”.

Well, is it our choice, or isn’t it?

It’s different, they’ll argue, when there’s a wanted child involved. It’s not your body anymore. You need to act in the child’s best interests. They’ll send you scary news articles, like this one, which references a study showing that children born before 37 weeks are 5 times as likely to have autism. That particular article is one that someone sent me when they found out I was going to have a planned c-section at 36 weeks; when I told her that the article had upset me, she said that she wasn’t trying to be mean, just giving me the “facts”.

Here are the facts: if I had had a natural childbirth, my son could have died. If my pregnancy had progressed past 36 weeks, my doctor felt that there was a good chance that my water would break, which could have lead to an umbilical cord prolapse, which would have meant death or brain damage to my son.

The thing is, no matter whether or not you are carrying a child, it’s still your body. You still have bodily autonomy. I’m not saying pregnant women should go out and do lines of coke chased by vodka shots, but I do think that we need to allow women to make choices regarding childbirth without judging them.

The argument that I hear most from people decrying women who choose the medical model of childbirth is that they’re selfish. They want an epidural because it’s easier for them. They want a c-section because they don’t want to have to go through labour. They’re planning to be induced at 39 weeks because they want to skip out on the last week of pregnancy. If these are thoughts that you enjoy thinking, here’s something I really, really want you to keep in mind: you do not know the whole story.

You don’t know why someone wants an epidural, I mean, not really. You don’t know why they might want a c-section. Sure, they might give you a reason, but what they tell you may not necessarily be the whole truth. They might have a medical condition that indicates a c-section, or they might be a survivor of sexual abuse and feel triggered by the idea of a vaginal birth. Or they might just not want to have a natural birth, and that’s okay too. Know why? Because bodily autonomy, that’s why.

The thing that frustrates me the most about this judgmental behaviour is how purely anti-woman it is. It stems from the idea that most women aren’t capable of making decisions regarding how they want to give birth. It assumes that a woman who chooses to have a planned c-section hasn’t done her research, has been brainwashed by the medical establishment, or is uneducated when it comes to birth options. It plays into the idea that women are irrational, thoughtless and downright selfish. It promotes the idea that, being left to our own devices, we will make choices that are harmful to us and our children.

These are the same ideas that lead to the body policing that many pregnant women have to endure. We’re told to eat more, but not gain too much weight. We’re cautioned not to exercise too hard, but also to stay fit and healthy. We have people watching every bite we eat, and I even know someone who was denied service at Starbucks because the barista didn’t think that she should have caffeine. When are we going to let women be responsible for their own bodies?

Look, I’m all for natural childbirth. That was what I wanted when I was pregnant with Theo, and if I ever have another child, I would like to try for an unmedicated VBAC. But that’s my choice, based on research that I’ve done and what I’ve heard from friends. If another woman makes a different choice, then I’m sure as hell not going to tell her she’s wrong. Your child’s birth is one of the most important days in your life (I mean, probably, right?), so why would you want to make someone feel bad about how theirs went down? Shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that we all went through hell, in one way or another, to bring our children into this world?

I think a big part of the problem is that we still haven’t really figured this childbirth stuff out. We still don’t know what works best for us, both as individuals and as a society. The medical model of childbirth has seen the infant mortality rate decline 90% in the last hundred years, and the maternal mortality rate has declined by 99% in that time. On the other hand, within that medical model women still feel as if they are being bullied into interventions and procedures that they don’t want, and often come out of childbirth feeling as if they were coerced into accepting “help” that they felt they didn’t need.

I don’t know what the answer is, I really don’t. More midwives, for a start. Better education about birth options and the possible complications of interventions would also be good. Above all, though, I think we need to put more trust in women. I think we need to allow women to make more of their own choices, and we need to believe that they are capable of making the right choices, not just for themselves, but for their children.

This Is Not My Canada

23 Oct

The Conservative government wants you to believe that they’re not interested in re-opening the abortion debate. They want women to think that they have no intention of infringing on their reproductive rights. The carefully-worded Motion 312 assures you that they aren’t looking to criminalize abortion, they just want find “medical evidence” to determine when a fetus becomes a person.

Most of us realize that changing the abortion legislation in Canada is, in fact, on the agenda of most members of the Conservative Party. However, they are usually able to twist facts and words in such a way that it becomes difficult to argue with them.

Which is why I would like to thank Saskatchewan Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott for being so openly against women’s rights. Thank you, Mr. Vellacott, for showing us the true face of the Conservative Party of Canada.

You see, Mr. Vellacott recently awarded one of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medals to Mary Wagner. These medals are meant to “honour significant contributions and achievements by Canadians“; 60,000 of them will be awarded over the course of this year. Every Canadian MP was given the chance to nominate 30 people for the medal. The medals are, according to the medal’s website, supposed to go to people who, “have made a significant contribution to a particular province, territory, region or community within Canada, or an achievement abroad that brings credit to Canada.”

Maurice Vellacott chose to give one of his medals to Ms. Wagner, to honour her activities as an anti-abortion activist.

Mary Wagner, who has repeatedly been charged with mischief and violating court orders at abortion clinics, is currently incarcerated at a women’s correctional facility in Milton, awaiting her next court appearance on charges of violating her probation. Her most recent arrest was in August of this year, when she was apprehended at a Toronto abortion clinic. She was also arrested at an abortion clinic in November of 2011 with charges of mischief and breaching probation.

So what do all these charges mean? What, exactly, has Mary done?

Mary goes to abortion clinics and harasses the patients there. She hands out roses and anti-abortion propaganda to patients and tries to convince them not to terminate their pregnancies. Mary preys on women when they are at their most vulnerable; she targets those who have likely already struggled with guilt and fear before deciding that abortion was the best option, and causes them to experience even more grief and pain. Instead of going through official channels to try to have abortion legislation changed, Mary prefers to attack and manipulate individual women.

Along with Mary, fellow anti-abortion activist Linda Gibbons also received a Diamond Jubilee medal from Vellacott. Although Linda is not currently incarcerated she has, in the past, spent a total of nearly ten years in prison for harassing women and abortion clinic employees.

And what does Vellacott have to say about Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons? He likens them to Martin Luther King and “other human rights activists”. He refers to their activities as “civil disobedience”.

Canadians, this is your government.

I am so angry about this. My hands are actually shaking as I type this out. I am angry, and also afraid. It’s scary to live in a country that rewards people for infringing on the rights of others. The thought that these medals, which are being distributed in honour of one of the longest-ruling female monarchs, are being given out to people who are so decidedly anti-woman makes me feel sick.

I’m glad, though, that Vellacott did this. I’m glad that he’s shown the true face of the Conservative Party to the public. I’m glad that he’s done something so appallingly misogynist that people will have to sit up and take notice.

Please do something about this; this is something tangible that we can fight. You can share this post and bring awareness to what Vellacott has done. You can contact your MP, the Governor General or Stephen Harper. There is even specific contact information for the Diamond Jubilee Medals. I have included all the details below.

If this is something that you care about, please say something. If this isn’t the Canada you want to live in, for the love of all that’s holy please take a stand on this. If enough of us make a stink, then at the very least the public will become aware of what their government really stands for.

You can find your MP and their contact information here.

You can email Governor General David Johnston at info@gg.ca

You can email Stephen Harper at  pm@pm.gc.ca

You can contact the Diamond Jubilee Medal program directly at diamondjubilee@gg.ca or by calling 613-998-6790 or 1-800-465-6890.

Not sure how to word your letter? Here is a sample that you are welcome to use:

Dear [MP, Prime Minister, Governor General, etc],

I am writing regarding Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott’s decision to award the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal to incarcerated anti-abortion activists Mary Wagner and Linda Gibbons. Wagner and Gibbons have been arrested multiple times on charges of mischief at abortion clinics; they have also been arrested for breaching her probation. 

Mary and Linda have repeatedly broken the law, and a member of the Conservative government is rewarding them for it. Mary and Linda are harassing women and attacking their rights, and our government is giving them medals for it. The Governor General’s website describes these medals as being intended to honour people who “have made a significant contribution to a particular province, territory, region or community within Canada, or an achievement abroad that brings credit to Canada”. Is this really how our government views a “significant contribution” to our country? Is this truly something that the Conservatives believe brings credit to Canada?

I urge you to take action on this issue, in whatever way possible. Please keep me up to date on the actions you plan to take, and the outcomes of these actions.

Kind regards,

[Your name here]

Mary Wagner (right) with fellow pro-life activist and jubilee medal recipient Linda Gibbons