Dangerous Jobs: Midwifery

The work of providing health services and care for the reproductive processes of female-bodied persons is dangerous work. It rarely pays well and it’s legal status is often on shaky ground which doesn’t do much for job security. Worse, it can sometimes get you arrested, stalked, harassed, intimidated, and/or killed.

I’m beginning to put together the pieces, you see. After hearing about seemingly unrelated events happening to two very different types of care providers, the puzzle started to come together. Whether you provide abortions or help women have their babies at home, it seems, the act of providing reproductive health services is dangerous and can be hazardous to your health.

Just this week, a CPM was arrested in North Carolina for practicing illegally. Yes, it’s still illegal to practice direct-entry midwifery in North Carolina and a surprising number of other states. Even if you have taken the national exam and proven your competence as a midwife, it is illegal. Whenever I tell friends who are not connected to birth work or the homebirth movement these facts, their jaws drop. They don’t believe me and think I’m lying. They are indignant. They are outraged.

On the other end of the spectrum, Rachel Maddow has been following the story of Dr. Mila Means who has been trying to set up a practice in Kansas to provide abortion services. This is particularly important because she’s taking over the area that Dr. George Tiller used to serve before he was murdered point blank in his church. Here, the threat is not arrest but, in fact, death.

 

Now, as far as I know, no one is threatening to murder midwives. But they are subject in many areas to arrest and criminal trials, even when no one in the community that they serve is willing to step forward against them. It’s the state who does the arresting and charging in these cases. I wanted to point out the links here because I don’t think most people would tell you that well-trained, professional midwives should not be allowed to practice. Even most pro-life folks out there wouldn’t tell you this. As far as I know, most pro-life folks are probably especially ardent supporters of CPMs and direct-entry midwives. But the bottom line is that both abortion providers and homebirth midwives are working to provide women with a real choice, one that often differs dramatically from the mainstream. And that seemingly radical act is what makes them dangerous and worth persecuting.

Anti-Choice Legislation and Birth Work

Perez over at Radical Doula just wrote a post I think all birth workers need to read. The connection between abortion and birth work is one I’ve seen for awhile, but is so important right now with the Republican attempts to severely limit access to abortions.

But I realize that folks who read this blog may think that the reason I care about this legislation is because I work with women having abortions. What we often don’t talk about is how legislation that attempts to restrict abortion by emphasizing the “rights” of the fetus (or, as Lynn Paltrow want us to call it, fetal separatism) have big impacts on the rights of pregnant women who actually carry their pregnancies to term.

That’s right: anti-choice laws don’t just impact women seeking abortions, they impact birthing women as well.

Read the whole post here: Why birth activists should care about anti-abortion laws.

‘No Easy Decision’ Special | MTV

I finally got a chance to sit down and watch MTV’s special on teens choosing abortion. It was surprisingly balanced and fair, focusing in on how there are no easy decisions when it comes to teen pregnancy. I think it’s well worth the watch, find it here: ‘No Easy Decision’ Special | MTV.

I hope in my practice to combine my midwifery training with my time working with teens at Planned Parenthood to provide a kind and caring resource to teens making these tough decisions, regardless of whether they choose abortion, adoption, or parenting. And for those teens for whom homebirth is the right option, I hope to be able to offer absolutely top notch care.

Pregnancy and Power

I recently read independent historian Rickie Solinger’s book Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America. Solinger’s central argument is that women are not accorded full personhood and cannot be fully participatory members in a society where they are not allowed to manage their own reproductive lives, a premise with which I fully agree.

Solinger’s narrative about abortion was especially eye-opening for me. She argues that abortion today is far more heavily regulated and oppressive than it was pre Roe v. Wade when abortion was outright illegal.  It floored me to read Solinger’s account of the ease with which both women (read: middle class, White women) and doctors circumvented the law to procure the medical procedures they needed. General practitioners who performed abortions were hailed for performing a necessary service. There was no harassment of individual women terminating pregnancies and little organized public outcry, even from the religious right.

Working at Planned Parenthood straight out of college, I was constantly made aware of the perilous state that abortion rights are in today. My first day at work, I was shown around the building, shown which glass was bulletproof, where the panic button was, and what to do in the case of a clinic shooting or bombing. Several times a week, we had protesters lining the streets with ugly signs and shouting uglier slogans at anyone entering the clinic. Despite the FACE act, they repeatedly tried to follow women into our parking lot or physically block their access, at which point we called the police. They took photos of everyone who worked at the clinic and I would not  be surprised if my face was on an anti-abortion site somewhere. Working in an abortion clinic today can feel like a warzone.

Pregnancy, abortion, and motherhood have heavily shaped our ideas of race, class and gender in the US. One of the most engaging aspects about this book is the Solinger breaks down the reproductive realities of women throughout time by race and class. She portrays state-legitimized motherhood, and therefore the right not to reproduce, as a class and race-based privilege. Her narratives of the reproductive lives of White middle class, White poor, African American (both pre and post slavery), Native American, and Chinese women fill a glaring gap in many of our reproductive histories.

Regarding abortions pre-Roe, it was much easier for middle class White women and women of color to obtain care than it was for poor White women. Middle class White women could afford to purchase privacy and competent medical care. In a racist, pro-eugenics era, policy makers all but encouraged women of color to have abortions so as not to produce more “inferior” children. Plus, the lives of women of color were valued less than those of middle-class White women so if these women received substandard care, the government did not spend time searching out incompetent care providers. This was of course completely unconscionable, but the effect was still that women of color had an easier time procuring abortions than poor White women.

 

For poor White women, their ability to access abortion was tied up in their race and gender. There was no question that middle class and upper class White women were White. If they transgressed the strict boundaries of their gender by not carrying a pregnancy to term, it did not call their whiteness into question. However, poor White women existed in a boundary zone, especially if they were immigrants from countries not always seen as White – Ireland, Italy, eastern Europe, etc. Solinger describes how socioeconomic class was/is inherently tied up in our ideas of race. By virtue of being low class, poor White women were seen as in danger of becoming Black. The way to rectify this unthinkable circumstance was to strictly police and enforce gender norms, one of which was bearing and raising White children who would become productive White citizens. It was poor White women who were arrested and tried in the courts if they were discovered to have received an abortion. It was poor White women who were jailed and fined for such acts. Of course middle and upper class White women were having abortions as well, but they were not transgressing race boundaries and so were allowed to do so by and large without interference.

 

As time marches on, class and race still have great effects on our ideas of who is and can be a mother, what makes a “good” mother, which mothers deserve to mother their children, and what children are worthy of being raised in “good” homes. Just look at our racialized and gendered stereotypes of the welfare system, which parents can choose to stay home and mother their children, which children get adopted, and which children wind up in the foster care system. As responsible citizens, we need to actively question and combat racialized and gendered ideas of pregnancy and power where we find it in order to create a world where all women are equal and full citizens with autonomy and agency.