Birth Happens: The relevance of midwifery to the feminist cause

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In Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore’s film “Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin & The Farm Midwives,” Ina May, in one of her more powerful monologues, describes the scene of giving birth from the point of view of the midwives and the other women in the room. She claims that in the presence of such an amazing natural act, the act of giving birth, one cannot help but fall in love with the woman doing so. I feel I must agree: Truly, something magical is going on here, something we have long forgotten to cherish. Too long we have been shoving the glorious, natural act of giving birth into the back of our consciences, whether from fear of the unknown, or from the comfort of confinement to patriarchal societal “norms” that have kept women in a vice lock, arguably since antiquity. However, in this brand new documentary, the viewer is given a fresh perspective into what it means to give birth in a more natural setting, surrounded by love and experienced women, rather than impersonal doctors and beeping machines. This modern revisitation back towards midwifery, one of the oldest professions of human kind, is therefore evidence that women are reclaiming the power they naturally have and emit, in the aiding of and the giving of life.

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It is easy to forget that women have been giving birth without the help of real doctors, or even sterilization, for thousands of years. The rise of caesarian sections and induced births, rather than following the natural birth processes, have only added to the enigma and fear that birth seems to conjugate in contemporary minds, both male and female alike. Upon watching this documentary, for example, I was at first appalled; not because I think babies or vaginas are gross, but because it is rare to be truly exposed to the full on birthing process. Once I was able to get over the initial “ew” factor, I realized what I was watching was actually quite remarkable – a celebration of the power of a woman’s body, and what it is capable of. Because the actual birth can get a little messy, we have somehow deemed the whole process as “unclean” when really it is a feat to be celebrated. Our bodies, as women, were made for this, biologically speaking at least. It is only scary because our culture has shut the whole “unclean” part of it out. Pregnant might be “in” in Hollywood, only until the celeb moms enter a hospital. That whole unclean part (the actual birth!), which Ina May would argue is the most important part, is forgotten and shut away, until it has produced a beautiful little celebrity baby and a flushed and tired mom; that part we like.

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The sexual and absolute power of the woman giving birth, empowered by the steady women surrounding her, loving her, encouraging her, is the vision of Ina May, based off of the age-old profession of midwifery, and thus centuries and millennia of knowledge passed down. That is why it is so important to not let such a profession, and thus its knowledge and wisdom, slip away. Although we cannot say for sure that this is exactly how the midwives of antiquity went about the birth, through the film at least we can get a good grasp of just how empowering, and therefore important, this profession is. Women had little to no rights in Greco-Roman antiquity, and the only writings we have to go on for the birthing processes were written by men. However, even just by watching the scenes of the midwives with the woman giving birth, it is possible to feel the love and the beautiful, inspirational power that these women have together in that one room, during that special time. I can only imagine how it must be in real life, if I felt so inspired just by watching it on a screen in a classroom, and it is because of this that I feel so strongly about the application of cross-cultural comparison. Through time and space, women give birth the same way, and midwives have risen to help them through. It is so important not to forget that we, as women, were biologically made to give life; thus it is not surprising to see that we are at our climax of ecstasy and power when doing so. Rather than reject what we are told is “unclean,” we should rejoice in the strength and enduring naturalness of our sex, and our bodies.

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