Marginalization in the Birth Community

If I confessed that, in fact, I spend my spare time as a Civil War re-enactor, I doubt many of you would ask me when I had plans to go back to college and get a degree in history, or maybe enter grad school and get a Masters or even a PhD focusing on the Civil War. You might express surprise as my choice of weekend activity, though.

Similarly, if I were to say that I enjoy backyard astronomy as a hobby, few people would suggest I should find a way to make money from my hobby. I could continue with other examples - SCA is one that also stands out in my mind.

When I say that I'm a birth activist, however, or a birth advocate - when I suggest that birth is in some way my hobby - it's suggested in ways subtle and overt that I should be professionalizing my interest. Is it a misbegotten attempt to be helpful in suggesting a way for me to earn money while also homeschooling? In general, I don't think so. Is it indicative of an attitude that participation in the birth community is legitimate only for professionals? I have come to believe that it is the latter.

In fact, I've long had the inkling that the birth community doesn't have much room for non-professionals. It especially does not have room for general birth advocates, as opposed to midwifery advocates, doula advocates, or ICAN members. There are many niches for those who want to be professional in some way - childbirth educator, doula, postpartum doula, midwife. There are even a few niches for those who do not wish to be any sort of birth professional - in a state where non nurse-midwifery is not explicitly legal, there is legitimacy to be found in being an advocate for licensure of certified professional midwives, or in advocating for some other change in the law of the state. Equally, those who have had a cesarean section and subsequently joined ICAN are seen as having a place in the birth community.

What does not seem to be present is acceptance of general birth advocates, who have no desire to be any type of professional, and who are not pregnant. Pregnancy does afford some legitimacy to participation in the birth community.

As I said above, this is not a new thing, this feeling that there isn't a place for some people. It was crystallized for me last year, however. There was a rally organized at our city's busiest hospital, to protest the cesarean section rate both at that hospital specifically and in the United States overall. Some friends and I made plans to go, feeling that this was an important issue, and worth our time as birth advocates. The rally was planned by a local "birth network" that is made up of doulas and other birth professionals, in cooperation with the local ICAN chapter. As we stood on the sidewalk, holding signs in the rain, one of the leaders of the ICAN group came down the line, and introduced herself. She asked us if we were members of ICAN. No, we weren't. Were we members of the "birth network," doulas or maybe apprenticing midwives? No, we weren't. And she actually said it - "Why are you here, then?"

It took my breath away for a split second. Sure, I had suspected such an attitude, but to hear it stated explicitly was beyond my expectations! She asked the question, and it hung in the air for a moment. A beat, then another, before she began talking again, faster, a little more desperate. "Not that it's not great you're here, of course!"

Of course.

Birth is a passion of mine. I feel like birth is vitally important to both mother and baby. It is just that - a passion and a hobby. I have other hobbies, other passions, and to participate in those, no one asks that I become a professional in order to legitimatize my participation. To be fair, no one has explicitly told me that I needed to be pregnant, professional, or gone, but the attitude is at times present. I do wonder what the situation is in states where non-nurse midwifery is legal; is the situation similar or does it vary?

The best answer to a situation with which one is not entirely comfortable is to change it. That's exactly what some friends of mine & I are doing (the inestimable Smrt Mama amongst them), starting a new organization to serve as a general birth advocacy and education group.

It's a start, yes. It doesn't change underlying attitudes, however. There's legitimacy to be found in birth as a passion or a hobby, even if I never choose to professionalize that passion.


Smrt Mama said...

*applauds* This. Very this.

Kecia said...

like. very much like.

Sarah said...

I remember that happening at the Rally. I invited alot of people and quite a few came. They all seemed very confused by them, as they had not a clue who they were. I just thought ICAN was cliquey. I've definitely never thought of it this way before, probably because I always have wanted to be a professional.

Kash said...

I pretty much only considered becoming a CBE because of the attitudes I encountered. I had a very negative first impression from someone prominent in the local birth community, dismissing every person (not just me, mind) who was not a certified doula!

I do agree, though, that ICAN can be cliquey from what I've observed.

jakesask said...

In years past, I have also had the "Why are you here, then?" question--at homebirth advocacy meetings and birth conferences. I had a midwife once tell me that my interest in birth was parasitic and I was just trying to feed off the energy of people who are actually involved with birth.

That I studied birth for a graduate degree didn't gain me any points--I was just an academic.

Fortunately, I had a baby 3 years ago, so now I'm slightly legit!

I come from a place where non-nurse midwifery is legal and people do behave the same: if you don't have the "required" experience, you can't possibly have anything to to contribute. I have found that people in the birth community are extremely good at excluding, ignoring, and even mocking those who don't have the desired credentials. After years of feeling bad about being rejected, I have come to the conclusion that I don't deserve to be involved, and 99% of the time I just keep away.

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