Over at Apologia, William Luse has this to say:
No man doubts the bravery of any woman. She will lay her life down for her children, but I don't want her to lay it down for me. I watched my own wife go through childbirth. No thank you. But that's what a woman does, give birth, in one way or another, every day of her life, and a society that asks its lifebearers to protect it and die for it is a society that has lost a big battle, if not yet the war.
In the comments box, I say "Our society no longer values this (giving birth) as a worthy gift to give. Women are being told that enduring childbirth is neither necessary nor heroic. They are told that childbearing is selfish, greedy, expensive, risky, and certainly not important in an "overcrowded" world."
I have been professionally involved in the care of pregnant women since 1981, when I became a childbirth educator. Prior to that, I was always the person that got the random phone calls about pregnancy, breastfeeding and parenting issues among my group of friends. Over the last 20 to 30 years, I have watched some wildly divergent trends that, personally, I find quite alarming.
One trend is the 'child as a fashion statement/luxury item'. This is seen in the belief that one should not become a parent until and unless one has the resources to give said child (usually only one, maybe two) 'the best of everything'. I see this as a reflection of materialism and consumerism. It reflects the cultural confusion between needs and wants. Children are unique creations of God, in co-operation with their parents, and should not be seen as simply an economic unit. The flip side of this is the concept of children as an economic burden that may be intolerable. Many abortions and much contraception is justified under economic terms - "I just couldn't afford to have and raise a child right now. I need to wait until I have a (fill in the blank - home, better job, education, new car, etc)". With this attitude often comes a certain contempt for those who have children without all the 'assets'. Does every child need to have Baby Gap clothes and Adida sneakers? Does a 'right' to the 'best of everything' supercede the basic right to life? Those of us with large families have often felt the scorn of the general public. Our matronly figures are contrasted with the buff figures of others who (whether childless or small family) spend time, money, and energy to develop the culturally appropriate firm and trim figure. Our children are anticipated to become burdens on society - 'of course' in a large family children so not get the individual parental attention they need to develop into porperly consuming members of society! (Heavy dose of irony, folks).
Our attitudes towards child-rearing spill over into our attitudes about child-bearing. If pregnancy and childbirth is seen as a once or twice in a lifetime event, there is the consumerist tendency to try to make the whole experience overwhelmingly 'the best'. No less than perfection is demanded. The perfect pregnancy, without any aches or pains or loss of self. The perfect birth experience, with the parent-consumer being in total control. The perfect child, with no defects, major or minor. All of these demands for perfection war with each other, and very few are willing to realize that we live in an imperfect world, that we are NOT in control of our lives, and that every choice made involves a choice denied.
In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a move towards unmedicated family centered pregnancy and birth. Women were encouraged to view childbirth as a strenuous physical activity (which it always has been since the days of Eve - it isn't called labor for nothing!). In the wake of the Thalidomide disaster and the Rubella epidemic, it became obvious that the major way to protect the health of the unborn was to protect the health of the mother, and to use drugs and medication only when there was a clear advantage to so doing. Pregnant women were encouraged to make sometimes sacrificial lifestyle changes for the sakes of their unborn children, and to forgo pain medication during pregnancy and labor unless there was a clear medical indication. Many more women were also asked to undergo the risks of surgical birth for the sake of the health of their unborn child, and most willingly did so even if the medical indication was at times unclear.
Somewhere in the early 1990s, things started to change. Maybe it was the impact of almost a full generation after Roe vs. Wade, when it became clear that the unborn child has no legal rights until born alive. For whatever reasons, there was an overall paradigm shift in our culture, and it shows up in little ways and big ways. Women who endured labor under difficult circumstances were no longer applauded for being sacrificial for the sake of their child, they were jeered for being ' a martyr to your baby'. Cesarean delivery is no longer seen as sacrificing one's health and future well-being (and possibly child-bearing capacity) for the sake of the child, it is being seen as an easy way out of childbirth and a way to preserve a women's sexual function for the use of her partner. Women in general no longer train for childbirth as a physical, spiritual, and psychological event - they are rather more likely to seek indoctrination into the politically correct ways to give birth. Control has become such a central value of our culture that the rate of induction of labor (often for rather fuzzy 'indications') continues to increase, and the Cesarean rate is at close to its highest ever.
I have seen this in my own practice. 20 years ago, women fought against interventions such as induction of labor, fetal monitoring, repeat cesareans, routine cesareans for things like breech babies, epidural analgesia, and narcotic drugs. Now I have to work hard to persuade women that it is usually healthier to wait for labor to start on its own rather than inducing it as soon as the baby is 'big enough'. I have to deal with women who are so afraid of birth and so intolerant of pain that they want an epidural before labor even begins. I do not fault these women as individuals - they reflect our culture as a whole and while they are the majority, there are still women out there who have values more in tune with the God-created natural process. Women can no longer attain in childbirth the transcendance over pain and the sense of self-sacrifice that was once available to them. For that, they now have to run marathons, climb mountains, or be soldiers. Don't get me wrong. I think that women should have the right to do these other things. And yet we do not value women for the sacrifices made for pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. We only value women for the work they do that is clearly economically productive, and childrearing is only economically productive insofar as it produces consumers of goods and services. In order for those children to become consumers, their parents must earn wages at above subsistence levels. This usually means two working parents and two or less children.
At the top of my blogroll is a link to the site for Blessed Gianna. I suggest you read her story and ask yourself - "what would I do?".
There is a mind-set among the majority of the health care profession that the average person may not know. It is that there are known health risks to contraception and abortion, but that those risks are inevitably less than the health risks of pregnancy and birth. I was at a journal club recently that discussed the influence of oral contraceptive medication on eventually developing breast cancer. The consensus among the gynecologists present was that even if there is an increased risk for breast cancer in women taking OCPs, the risk of an unplanned pregnancy was such that it should offset the theoretical medical risks, and that if a woman wanted to be taking OCPs, the gynecologist should still prescribe them. There are some fetal chromosomal anomalies that are associated with an increased risk of the pregnancy complication eclampsia (which can be life-threatening). These chromosomal anomalies are usually fatal (eventually) to the baby, although a few babies have lived for months after birth before succumbing. Most obstetricians will strongly encourage women to abort these babies (usually 2nd trimester, as that is when the conditions are diagnosed) because they see no value to the mother risking her health and life for the sake of " a few more weeks or months of life for a baby that we know is horribly deformed and will die anyhow".
I will say that the majority of OBs and midwives will support a mother who makes a decision for life, even if they personally think it is foolish and risky to the mother. Pro-choice does indeed go both ways here - most of the time. But I think that what we are seeing over all is a reflection of a culture that does not truly value women as women. Equality does not mean identical.
I could rant on this for a lot longer, but I need to go pack and get myself together for the weekend. I hope to find some good conversation when I get back to my blog on Monday.
Over at Apologia, William Luse has this to say: