Having boasted of two previous abortions as acts of a woman exercising control over her own body, Clementine Ford announces the joyous birth of her first child – which will, of course, be genderless. Please read on after recovering from the thought of a Ford pregnancy and the distressing mental images possibly brought to mind.
Femifascist that she is, Ford is obliged to complain about everything related to her somewhat complicated pregnancy: this includes everything from medical terminology to the know-it-all attitude of highly trained baby catchers and uterus snatchers (ob-gyns), all of which are evidence of patriarchal oppression.
Ford’s pregnancy was post-term.
As it was, the hours following my pregnancy’s so-called D-day stretched into days which looked set to stretch into weeks. Routine monitoring turned to talk of induction, with the risk averse obstetricians I’d had no contact with during my pregnancy (having been fortunate enough to be accepted into the hospital’s midwifery care program) suddenly turning up to intone stillbirth at me with sombre faces.
The sombre faces resulted from very real dangers.
Post term pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of fetal and neonatal mortality and morbidity (Olesen et al., 2003a;2003b) as well as an increased maternal morbidity (Caughey et al., 2007). Antepartum stillbirth at and beyond term (37-43 weeks gestation) is a major public health problem accounting for a greater contribution to perinatal mortality than either deaths from complications of prematurity or the sudden infant death syndrome (Cotzias et al., 1999).
Enter the oppressive patriarchal terminology.
Ten days beyond my estimated due date (when hospital policy calls for an induction) had done nothing to coax my cervix into play – I was told it was posterior, closed and hard. The cervix’ primary job during pregnancy is to hold the line at the front to keep your baby safe from danger. Mine was doing too good a job of this apparently; in medical terms, this classified it as being ‘unfavorable’.
‘Unfavorable cervix’ is just one of the many descriptions applied to women’s pregnant bodies to make them and the women themselves feel defective and unsuited to the task of childbirth. There is also ‘incompetent cervix’, which, on the flipside, is a cervix considered too weak to hold that crucial post of defence. Cervixes that refuse to open in labour (or open and then start to close again) produce mothers whose labours are described as having ‘failed to progress’.
Rather than submit to hospital policy or heed the advice of highly trained – probably male – professionals, or even Googling, Ford instead relies on the spurious advice of a single midwife:
After some thought, I resisted the induction The Doctors kept urging (a strange choice, given how desperately I also wanted the pregnancy to be over). But as I shared that choice with people, I began to hear more and more of women whose own pregnancies had gone naturally beyond the 42 week ‘danger zone’. Friends told me how they and their siblings were born at 43 weeks and beyond. A midwife told me the data around risk for ‘post term’ babies dates back to a small study done in 1958. I thought of my aunt, whose first baby had been born via emergency caesarean because they’d induced her for being post-term. I thought of my sister, whose induction had also gone that way (although had been administered for different reasons – Premature Rupture Of Membranes, just our mother had experienced and I would go on to as well.)
And then the flood.
My waters broke on a Sunday night. With the exception of a few valiant contractions, labour “failed to progress” on its own accord. In the late evening hours, we went to the hospital to monitor the baby’s vital signs. Again, the talk of stillbirth and risk and immediate inductions. The situation was urgent with an old, haggard gestation like mine. “What would happen if I went home to sleep beforehand?” I asked. In that circumstance, they would book me in for the procedure 36 hours later.
‘Urgency’ is clearly both a matter of perception and an availability of birthing suites.
So I went home. I bounced on my ball, ate yet more spicy food, expressed colostrum and went for long walks around the neighbourhood. And when labour still failed to take hold, I walked into the hospital 36 hours later on my own terms, finally prepared for the induction I hadn’t wanted and had been so sure I wouldn’t need.
So the doctors were right after all.
Almost a full pass of the sun after my labour had been artificially induced, I reached into the deepest, most primal parts of myself to bring that baby out into the open. Afterwards, my partner asked how I knew “how to do that”. I had to tell him I didn’t – but in the moment, I knew no other way to get it done. This was a war cry screamed by millions of women before me, all the way back back back to the first slayer. They were there in the room, just as I will be from now on.
No matter what your feelings on children are, childbirth itself is a mystical event.
Mystical perhaps, but nearly as empowering as abortion.