Friday, July 18, 2008

Won't Play Nice Anymore, Part 3

This question was raised on an email list I participate in: “if OBs are constantly feeling threatened by the angry mob that is the rest of us then how will we ever be heard, and how will we ever come to a consensus?”

(Let me preface all the rest of my comments with this: as women in this culture, we are from a very early age taught in very subtle ways to be nice, act nice, play nice, keep people happy, don’t rock the boat, whatever you do don’t be a bitch…..there’s a price to be paid for not being a good girl. We want people to get along and it’s hard to know exactly what to do when there’s no chance of that happening.)

This topic gets discussed by ICAN’s Board of Directors with some frequency — are we "too extreme", "too angry", "too whatever"….how do we get listened to and become more than just a "bunch of angry women"…. A starter Blaming the Activists — the topic is size acceptance, not birth, but it did resonate with me and the notion of being "angry" or "extreme".

I’ve been involved in some form or another with ICAN for about 9 years now. As my kids have gotten older, rather than getting less involved ("moving on") I’ve gotten more involved, on a larger, more "political" level, I suppose you could say. So I’m going to ramble a bit about where I’ve ended up on this topic…. I’m not sure I can put it all in a concise and succinct form.

On a very fundamental level, I believe there will be no change until the powers involved start either losing money, or believing that they will lose money. That’s the way our system works, that’s the nature of a for-profit system. It’s why I believe that the VBACban crisis will only be solved by the courts — because it will be only when VBACbans are ruled illegal (and thus, those who have them are open to prosecution) that they stop. If it were about asking nicely or not-so-nicely, if it were about facts, if it were really even about what women want, there wouldn’t be VBAC bans now. The hospitals that have reversed bans have done so because the publicity threatened their bottom line. That doesn’t mean we stop educating but it is why we have to be realistic. And when you threaten the bottom line for a large corporation….you will be tagged "radical", "extreme", "unreasonable", "shrill", "hysterical" and any other name they can think of to discredit you.

The status quo in this country for all birth issues is not OK. But, it is the status quo. Which means, if you challenge it, you are going to, once again, be labeled "radical", "extreme", etc etc etc. It means that, since most people in the country don’t look beyond the surface when it comes to birth, anything you say that conflicts with the conventional "wisdom “about birth (which has nothing to do with being wise) will make you seem crazy. If you challenge the pervasive techno-worship that characterizes all of medicine, you look radical. You ARE radical!

We are a pain phobic society. If you talk about the emotional fall-out from birth gone bad….you will make people very uncomfortable. You will make the people participating our twisted maternity "care" feel bad…often they will think you want them to feel bad. You will trigger very unwanted emotions in women who’ve stuffed their own trauma in order to survive. People will accuse you of wanting to make other women miserable, of wanting to push your own belief system on others, of intolerance, of just about anything they can to not think about what you are actually saying. Because if you are right, then people have to do something about it. If you say things that don’t have these effects on your listeners….then you are no longer be talking about the issues we are so concerned about. Change is tough….and there’s always institutional resistance to it. If the institutions threatened by the change we want successfully describe us by framing the issue as a personal one ("all OBs are awful people who are only out to get rich and don’t give a flip about women and babies") instead of as a criticism of a broken system ("ACOG is a protectionist organization looking out for the financial interests of their members at the cost of safety for mothers and babies") then it is very simple to marginalize us as a bunch of irrational, intolerant, angry women.

We can be polite to the new president of ACOG, we can write carefully crafted letters encouraging him/her to take on the challenges of the future, blah blah blah….but let’s be realistic here. The people who run ACOG are very politically savvy….and they (think they) know darn well exactly what they can get away with, they know darn well exactly who’s pocket they need to be in….and they have the money to do it. It isn’t about facts. It’s about money. Even if you want to blame "the liability crisis", it’s still about money. Why are they suddenly talking about legislating homebirth into illegality? With less than 1% of all births out of hospital, it certainly doesn’t impact the bottom line….but….now the midwives are getting organized (The Big Push). Now the mainstream is learning about how illogical maternity care really is (BoBB). Now ICAN is telling stories about insurance companies denying medical coverage and distributing information about how to fight a VBAC ban…someone has decided that the bottom line might just be threatened after all…. if ICAN makes any difference at all on the macro level, it isn’t going to be because we are nice. It isn’t going to be because we are nasty, either. It’s going to be because we are numbers. We are the only consumer based organization in this mess….and our biggest strength is you and others who support ICAN with their money and their time. Why? Consumers. Money. Votes. Money. It will be because we do threaten the bottom line and thus, force change. I think that ACOG and AMA understand us (and the midwives) just fine. As long as we aren’t a threat, they ignore us (and until very recently, that’s pretty much what they’ve done). When we are a threat, they will fight us. They will never accept us and willingly make the changes we want. Not because they are made up of bad people (I don’t think they are) but because they are a business.

Of course I’m angry. Doesn’t mean I’m wrong. (or irrational. or mean). What activist hasn’t used anger over injustice to motivate them? I defy anyone to name a successful reformer who didn’t have anger/passion/righteous indignation working for them….political/colonial independence. abolition. suffragettes. civil rights. apartheid. And all of those reformers were crazy, angry, radical, fringe activists too….we are in very good company. The people we are in opposition to (the "OB community") should feel threatened. Because that’s exactly what we are doing. Threatening their comfort, their safety zone, their livelihood. Not because we wish ill upon them as human beings but because we can no longer sit silently as ill is visited upon a larger and larger number of women and babies. Because if we don’t speak, no one else will. If that doesn’t make you mad….well….not much more to say. And certainly, no consensus to be had.

1 comment:

Courtney said...

Hi Gretchen,

I just wanted to let you know that I have linked your blog to my Midwifery blog (

Thanks for sharing your stories.