I recently read a thoughtful, thorough article comparing the different options of birth settings available to mothers: home, birthing center, and hospital.
The author concludes the article by explaining that she personally chose to give birth in a hospital because her husband felt uncomfortable with a home birth, and she wanted to be submissive to him in the matter. In fact, she admits that she didnât even bother to give much thought to the question of a home birth after her husbandâs initial response.
The comments to that article were filled with similar stories: women who may have wanted to give birth at home opted to birth in a hospital because their husbands were uncomfortable with the thought of a home birth.
When I mentioned this to a friend, she said, âOh definitely. My husband doesnât want me to have a home birth, either.â
Let me begin by saying that I understand that these husbands are objecting to home births primarily out of love and concern for their wives. They want their wives — and their babies — to be safe. They believe hospital births are the safer option. Itâs wonderful that these men care so deeply about their wivesâ well-being.
But these menâs objections to home birth are also rooted in ignorance, fear, and androcentrism (more on these in a moment), and thatâs a problem. I donât think, then, that the matter of childbirth is one in which female submission is entirely appropriate.*
Before I go any further, I also want to say that Iâm deeply impressed by these womenâs lack of resentment or bitterness towards their husbands. That takes a level of maturity that I donât entirely share.
The thing is, if there is only one realm in which women ought to have authority, itâs in the realm of childbirth.
This is, in my opinion, one area where women need to educate men, regardless of their particular take on female submission. Most men simply donât have the information or inherent feminine wisdom regarding birth to unilaterally make a responsible decision in the matter.
Like I said, objections to home births are often rooted in ignorance: Westerners — and Western men in particular — generally arenât aware of the fact that there is no difference in the safety of births that take place in the home versus those planned to take place in the hospital (see here and here). Â Men have a hard time grasping what womenâs bodies are capable of without the help of medical intervention. This is a problem that needs to be corrected with proper education.
Objections to home births are also rooted in fear and discomfort surrounding the unknown — and for men especially, the unknowable mysteries of pregnancy and birth can be disconcerting. Our culture is so far removed from the realities of birth that most people are quite uncomfortable with it. This needs to be dealt with through increased familiarity with childbirth. (And what better way to expose families to the nature of childbirth than through a home birth?)
Objections are also rooted in androcentrism — in other words, the masculine assumption that doctors, machines and medications can accomplish the work of giving birth better than women who are attended by midwives but otherwise left alone.
The matter of childbirth is not an area where it makes sense for women to submit to their husbands. It is an area where husbands and wives need to engage in open dialogue. A woman should feel free to express her desires and know that her husband will keep an open mind about it.
A husband and wife can decide together to give birth in a hospital: I have no issue with that. But I think itâs important that the womanâs preference take priority over the manâs. She is, after all, the one who is going to be doing all the work.
Birth happens best when the woman feels safe, secure, and confident. Her muscles work better and more efficiently when sheâs relaxed,resulting in less pain and a speedier labour.Â So one of the most important factors in choosing a birth setting is determining where the woman will feel the most secure. And if thatâs at home — well, then, that might be the best, safest option.
Of course, a womanâs sense of security is highly influenced by the people around her, so her husbandâs feelings need to be taken into account, too. Sheâs not going to fare well if her partner is overwhelmed with anxiety. If there is just no getting around his angst, it might be best to go with a setting where he will feel at ease.
But may I suggest that this is perhaps an ideal time and place for a man to exercise his masculine virtues of courage and strength?
If bravery and fortitude are such important masculine attributes, this might be the perfect time to draw upon these qualities. If there was ever a time a woman could really use her husbandâs courage, itâs during childbirth.
* * *
I want to see a cultural shift in the way we view childbirth, not as a medical event, but as a natural, normal, healthy process. I would love to see a shift, therefore, away from doctor-attended hospital births (which suggest that there is something inherently dangerous about the birthing process) to more midwife-attended births in homes and in birthing centers. This is all part of my desire to see a change in our perceptions of womenâs bodies as whole, strong, and capable rather than deficient and diseased.
This canât happen as long as men are fearful of birth and women are complacent.
I know that nobody likes getting advice, but if I had to offer any, it would be this:
Women: if you believe in natural birth and want it for yourself, you need to educate your husbands. Donât be hostile or demeaning, of course; be gentle. Listen to his objections and carefully consider them. But make sure he understands the situation. Donât stop trying just because his initial reaction is discomfort. Every manâs initial reaction is discomfort. Persist. He might change his mind once he understands how important it is to you.
Offer him information. I would suggest starting with The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, which is laid out in a fairly straightforward manner, perfect for the more systematic thinker.
Men: if your wife wants a more natural birth, the manliest thing you can do is try to understand her and support her. This is one area where you have to trust that your wife has more wisdom than you have. She was built for childbirth, after all; youâre fortunate just to be able to witness it.
This is not a time to give in to squeamishness or fear of the unknown. Be strong for your wife.
Fight ignorance with information. Learn about the benefits of birthing at home. You might want to start with this article. Listen to your wife and try to understand why itâs important to her. Become familiar with how birth happens. Read some books on the topic, perhaps even consider watching some videos with your wife to familiarize yourself with the process.
Deciding where to give birth ought to be a joint decision, giving precedence to the womanâs desires. Itâs a wonderful opportunity for couples to draw closer together and discover how miraculous the female body is. Itâs a perfect chance to connect on an intense level and come to a mutual understanding. I’d hate to see the conversation end at a man’s instinctive discomfort. Let’s keep the conversation going!
*Of course, I am coming at this from an egalitarian perspective, and I have a husband who shares my perspective, so that colours my thoughts on female submission generally.
What do you think?
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