outlaw midwives: a manifesta
February 15, 2009 § 2 Comments
i am thinking about the 8 month pregnant nigerian-austrian woman and her husband who were in the cell next to mine. i am thinking of her saying: you have to fight…
Outlaw Midwives: A Manifesta
LIFE AND DEATH
We know that every child will not be born alive or may die in infanthood.
Early motherhood is the interplay of life and death and sometimes filled with sadness and loss, with joy and sweetness.
Always death is interwoven in to the fabric of the living moment. Our cells reproduce and die like the rhythm of breathing, like the opening and closing of a gate.
We center, not simply the biology of birth, but the relationships that we have to those that we take care of and those that take care of us.
And mourn daily the dead and the missing, the actions of our governments and other powerful entities that kill and maim babies and mothers daily, the destruction of resistance communities’ next generation and see that those communities’ destructions privilege many of us with more resources that allow us more access to reproductive choices.
The pro-life movement focuses on access to birth control and abortions, we must go deeper. A woman ought to be able to decide when, and how she will conceive and with whom, who and what practices will be part of her pregnancy, what she allows into her body, where she gives birth and with whom, how she feeds her child, etc. in all these decisions her intelligence, agency, and subjectivity must be central. The health of the next generation depends on the psychological, physical and spiritual health of the mother, her levels of stress, support networks, confidence and joy.
The medical system’s structural and physical violence denies women of color the full expression of their agency. Doctors and nurses routinely manipulate information for the convenience of the medical system and its workers. They force women to have strangers’ hands, medical instruments and machines on their body including their genitals, to undergo unnecessary and dangerous procedures such as hormonal birth control, surgery, genital mutilation and sterilization, experiment on women of color bodies and psyches, verbally threaten the mothers’ and children’s lives, lie to them, and sexually harass and abuse them with little impunity. They deny women their basic human rights, humanity, moral expression, personal and communal wisdom, cultural understandings of body and being, full access to the power of reproduction and creation, and their connection to their children, loved ones, culture, kinships and cosmos.
In order to realize resistance and liberatory revolutionary communities that care for all their members, we must co-create respectful spaces for folks to make their decisions about their body, family, communities, life and death.
NATURAL AND NORMAL CHILDBIRTH
The concept of ‘natural’ childbirth or lifestyle is dependent on the concept of the ‘artificial and that the ‘normal’ birth concept is dependent on the existence of the technological and medical models of birth. So natural/normal birth did not exist before modern western birth culture.
Mostly pregnant middle and upper class educated white women have the economic and racial privilege and choices to have a ‘natural/normal’ birth. These women, a small segment of the global birthing world creates their natural experiences by exoticising, fetishizing, imitating and co-opting the practices and images of 3rd world brown women childbearing cultures. Natural/normal concept is really code for ‘preferred’, it is the elite white women who have the preferred childbirth and normal body. Their body, lifestyle, childbearing, mothering, and inevitably, their children set the standard through their privilege and access for what is normal and natural.
It’s not about ‘natural’ birth, vs. medical interventions vs. Cesarean. It is about empowerment.
Many midwives in the West have fought so hard for legal recognition for their craft that all other considerations about birth have become secondary or tertiary. The privileging of ‘certified’ and ‘insured’ midwives has been not only negligent but destructive to women of color, the queer community, sexual and trauma survivors, imprisoned women, folks with disabilities and many more marginalized peoples in the birth community and in the world at large.
Imagine for most of human history midwives were just women who had given birth or were the sister or the mother or had been around for births and knew the rituals, the songs, the calls that that community had developed around the emergence of a new being into the world. Perhaps a well of community knowledge held by various men and women in the community. Some oral traditions. Drawings that acted as guides and recorders of history. Helpful herbs. Folks had watched other mammals bring forth their young. Most likely they knew the particular woman giving birth. Her temperment, her favorite foods, her moods.
They were the mother, sister, aunt, cousin, grandmother, neighbour who came by and helped. The women who had a knack. Who were in charge of gathering and drying herbs. Who took it upon themselves to care.
We do not romanticize the past, nor believe in an edenic before. We know this is the way birth still is happening in a good many parts of the world right now.
Right now 300,000 women are giving birth. Most of the babies will live. A few will die.
It is a joyful sad knowledge.
A LACK OF EXPERTISE
We are not the authority, nor the expert. It is that lack of authority and expertise that is our greatest strength. We know what we know, do not claim to know more than we know, and we follow the birthing person’s leadership not only for her and her children’s sake but for the sake of the community. A community is only as empowered as its mothers.
Before the beginning of human history, human beings have controlled their reproductive lives. Folks found leaves, roots, sap, smoke, dance, prayers, animals and more that helped to regulate fertility and those processes continue to this day. They choose persons and processes that honor their reproductive lives. And we are willing to break the law and go to prison to honor and empower the mother, the child, and the community.
It can be difficult to receive that training and apprenticeship when doors refuse to open because we are from a marginalized community. There is an oppressive hierarchy in the birth world and access is not solely (or even primarily) dependent upon our passion, ethics, intelligence, or dedication. We get all the training that we can. Teach each other. Read everything we can. Talk to everyone who will talk to us. Develop a strong intuition with our own bodies, minds, lives, with the universe. We never stop learning, because the more we know, the more that we can offer. But we don’t deny folks the right to choose for themselves what kind of pregnancy, birth, and child caring they want. We explain to folks what we know and what we don’t know and let them make their decision.
CREATING REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNITIES OF LOVE
We must create anti-violence safer communities that center the healing of mothers and children from reproductive violence, because a woman who feels whole has confidence in her own leadership and sees that her leadership is essential to co-creating healthy communities.
Loyalty to a mother’s choice is 99 percent of being a midwife. Motherhood is love by any means necessary.
We consciously must care for ourselves and develop spiritual and physical awareness so that we can hold the space, the energy, the vision for folks to make decisions that center freedom, community and revolutionary love.
We must mother ourselves. Hold ourselves the way that we hold our children. And know that our wisdom is stronger and more knowledgeable and relevant than outside expertise. We must live the lives that are given to us. And trust others to do the same. For the sake of our survival. For the sake of our ancestresses. For the sake of our communities. For the sake of love.