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The Medicalization of Motherhood

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  • Pages: 7
  • Word count: 1723
  • Category: Pregnancy

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In order to understand the ramifications surrounding the medicalization of pregnancy, one must understand the concept of human sexuality. Wikipedia encyclopedia states that human sexuality comprises a broad range of behavior and processes, including the physiological, psychological, social, cultural, political, philosophical, ethical, moral, theological, legal and spiritual or religious aspects of sex and human sexual behavior. (1) The article goes on to state that sexual behavior can be influenced as early as in the womb. The act of giving birth has changed dramatically in the past few hundred years.

Midwifes were replaced by professional men, families were ushered out of the delivery room, and mothers lost more and more control over the birthing process. If one gave the topic great consideration, I would not be surprised at the correlations between changes in our sexual behavior and the changes in the care for expectant mothers. Birth is, in an essence, at the core of our sexuality, it is the reason for our sexuality, and it would lie to reason that it could dramatically influence our sexuality. One needs to ponder the significance of a conceptual view of the cultural effect that emerging technology has, not only in this instance, but in other areas such as, child rearing and psychology, education, relationships, etc.

This is a lesson that, in my opinion, needs to be taught. With out it, I fear we are doomed to further loose touch with who we are and why we are really here, thus we loose touch with instinct. Now we find ourselves caught up in a world full of ironies like doctors prescribing medications for ailments that could be simply cured by lifestyle changes, people looking to technology in place of human interaction, or the stress resulting from societies view of how we act in accordance with our own personal sexuality. As previously stated, the act of giving birth is meant to be an intimate, personal, and spiritual experience.

It is the first moment that mother and child meet, and I believe a bond is formed in that instant. The same is proven in some foul, wherein the first creature the chick sees is therefore correlated instinctually as its mother. Prior to the 1600’s, most births were preformed with an attending midwife, the husband, and female members of the mother’s family. Birth was a family affair, and I think bonds with everyone present are formed. Comparing that sentiment to society at the time, it’s curious why families were much more closely knit, and often stayed within close proximities with each other. Some would argue that “the way a woman gives birth and the kind of care given to her, point as sharply as an arrowhead to the key values in the culture” (Kitzinger, 1980)

Even in today’s society the difference is quite obvious. Cultures that still carry out the birthing process in ‘old world’ ways tends to be more socially and sexually open. Mating, birth and the human body itself are seen as a beautiful thing, worthy of worship and admiration. Whereas in the ‘western world’, birth is sterilized, mating is trivialized, and the body is often ridiculed and mistreated. When midwifes started being replaced by men in the birth room, society, at first, was intolerant of the idea of non-family men being present at one of women’s most intimate moments. But science drives on, and soon pregnant women were starting to be considered a specimen to be studied, and undoubtedly experimented on.

The professional men started using instruments, some of which were only intended to be used in extreme cases, in many of cases causing post-natal deaths. The need for a more emotional birthing experience was, as most things usually are, foreshadowed by mans drive for scientific advancement. The scientific community attacked the practice of midwifes. An etching from 1715, entitled “The Careless Midwife,” is one of the first pieces of graphic propaganda directed against midwives. Here, the midwife stands before a table containing the mutilated bodies of infants, and she holds in her hand a piece of uterine tissue. (H. Ploss, M. Bartels, and P. Bartels, 1935) I’m not saying that such advancements are bad; I’m saying that tact in regard to mankind should be exercised much more adequately.

Unfortunately, “the issue is not whether technology is good or bad in and of itself, but under what circumstances should it be used, when does it augment the quality of life of those who use it, when does it detract from that quality, and, perhaps, most importantly, who has the power to decide what is appropriate use?” (Michaelson, 1988). Herein lies the dilemma, in regards to birth, shouldn’t it be the mother’s choice how she wants to experience giving birth to her child? Isn’t that her divine, sexual right? I think it influences her relationship with the child, even if only on a subconscious level. At what point does technology take precedence over this fundamental aspect of a human being.

Today’s western society tends to use combinations of methods, but the shift to natural, holistic, and in home births is very evident. (Nancy Felipe Russo, Jean E. Denious, 2005) Among the popular were; warm water birthing, the Bradley method (relaxing and managing pain through meditation, not medication), and even pain management through hypnosis! The well known Lamaze method is considered an alternative birthing method as well, because it doesn’t truly incorporate the use of drugs. The maternal instinct to experience the birth is a testament to human sexuality, in that our sexuality is driven by the need to reproduce and the birth is the end of that cycle. It boasts no wonder that a mother would want to be in control of that experience.

After all the technological advancements, women are reverting to natural and usually more painful methods. undoubtedly because they desire to establish that connection with their child. Subsequently, when this trend is compared to the generation of children and teens that it produced, one will find a much more mellow generation, more artistic, more expressive, in less trouble, and usually closer to their parents. Once again the correlation between birthing practices and personality is evident. In the defense of science, one must admit technology has indeed assured that those mentioned practices are as safe and efficient as they can be.

Also, scientific advancement has provided for the training and experience that the birthing experts of today posses, another contributor to high healthy birth rates. The extent of prenatal care needs to be taken into account too. Advancements like ultrasound and even the stethoscope have helped to strengthen bonds between mother and child, as well as to ensure proper development of the fetus in the womb, contributing to the ease of birth, including natural birth. Another aspect needing to be taken into account here is the rapid growth of population, which is undoubtedly linked directly to advancements in medicine.

The growth in population caused a diminished way of life for many, which changed human sexuality by severely restricting it. For example, in China laws were passed limiting the amount of children one couple could have. This led to a rapid increase in infant girls being murdered, and others being neglected (traditionally men carry on the family name), which in turn led to the shift toward male in the population. (Amartya Sen, 1990) This severely affected this cultures sexuality by limiting the potential mating pool, thus in essence effecting the gene pool. Events such as this obviously led to the mass introduction of contraceptives, although evidence suggests that they may have been used as early as the ancient Romans.

The use of contraceptives is another example of technology changing the tides of our sexuality. One could argue that ‘protection’ is no protection at all because it promotes unhealthy practices and outlandish sexuality , yet isn’t trying to be safe responsible? What ramifications does all this hold for society? It adds to the mind boggling, opinion laden mess now surrounding birth and pregnancy. As stated before, many believe that it should be a spiritual event, not an event to be sterilized and feared. Others believe that a ‘traditional’ birth in a hospital setting is of the utmost importance in regard to safety. Taking into account that many birth defects are in fact caused at birth, perhaps we should sterilize it.

Then again, perhaps the medicine we are practicing is simply not supposed to be applicable in the case of birth, perhaps our own sexuality and instinct to perform our fundamental function, reproduce, is muted and muddled by the need to use hospitals, doctors, and contraceptives. The act of sex itself was not meant by nature to be a recreational activity, yet that is what it’s become. Maybe that’s because it has been emotionally diminished, sterilized, and commercialized.

Society itself is at the core of the problem. We remove the mate from mating; we mechanize and minimize the process of birth, undoubtedly removing the cultural spiritual bonds between mother, child and family, which could be at the root of a lot of domestic issues. This in turn would cause even more social unrest and distance from the purpose of our sexuality in the first place. Food for thought…


1. Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sexuality 2. Kitzinger S. Women as Mothers: How They See Themselves in Different Cultures. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1980. Quoted by Gillian Morantz-Ornstein, B. Sc. Louis-Patrick Haraoui, B. Sc. McGill University Found on the McGill Journal of Medicine http://www.medicine.mcgill.ca/mjm/issues/v07n01/commentaries/commentaries.htm#comment3 3. H. Ploss, M. Bartels, and P. Bartels, Woman: An Historical, Gynaecological and Anthropological Compendium, vol. II (London: William Heinemann, 1935), p. 671. 4. Michaelson KL. Birth Place/Birth Style in Childbirth in America: Anthropological Perspectives. In: Michaelson KL. South Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey Publishers, 1988 Quoted by Gillian Morantz-Ornstein, B. Sc. Louis-Patrick Haraoui, B. Sc. McGill University Found on the McGill Journal of Medicine http://www.medicine.mcgill.ca/mjm/issues/v07n01/commentaries/commentaries.htm#comment3 5. Blackwell Synergy Journal of Social Issues Volume 61 Issue 1 Page 181-191, March 2005 Nancy Felipe Russo, Jean E. Denious (2005) Controlling Birth: Science, Politics, and Public Policy Journal of Social Issues 61 (1), 181–191. doi:10.1111/j.0022-4537.2005.00400.x http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.00224537.2005.00400.x?cookieSet=1&journalCode=josi 6. The New York Review of Books Volume 37, Number 20 · December 20, 1990 More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing By Amartya Sen http://ucatlas.ucsc.edu/gender/Sen100M.html

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