“Did she have a natural birth?”
Have you ever been asked this question? It is for code, “Did she push out a baby without the use of drugs, like an epidural?”
Presumably people, both men and women, have different motivations for making such an inquiry. I think we need to recognize, however, that there is implicit and explicit sexism at play.
First of all, we seem to assume that the health decisions of a woman are fair game for casual conversation. It is one thing to discuss a birth plan with loved ones, but I know women who have been asked the above question in the checkout line at the grocery store!
Secondly, the word, natural, carries judgment as if the use of an epidural, for example, somehow makes the mother inferior. It doesn’t have to be this way. In France, a birth without the use of an epidural is called precisely that . . . there is no suggestion that the use of medication is somehow “unnatural.” Why is there such a connotation in this country? To ask a related question, are men ever criticized for taking advantage of modern medicine?
Finally, while it is true that Caesarean deliveries can be an elective procedure, they often prevent tragedy for both mothers and babies. Again, is there an operation that makes one “less of a man” because he wants to save his life?
Of course, I get it: giving birth is unique to gender. My point is that women should be celebrated, not denigrated, for this gift! Her birth plan is her business. And, if she wants you to know, your role should be supportive, not evaluative. Simply put, you should be in awe of her.
In Hebrew, the verb, “to give birth,” is a cognate of the noun, “child.” I think the Old Testament puts things in proper perspective. Our focus should be on the fantastic blessing of bringing a new life into the world, and not upon the specifics of the labor and delivery–certainly not for the purposes of making a mother feel less than.
For the record, my wife gave birth “naturally.” But she would have been just as strong, just as courageous, just as valiant, and just as brave had there been the use of drugs or an operation.