Friday, August 7, 2009

Birthing Bodies as Machines

From the book In Labor: Women & Power in the Birthplace:

Under the title Normal Delivery, an obstetrical teaching film purports to show the 'use of various drugs and procedures used to facilitate a normal delivery.' another 'normal delivery' film is a 'demonstration of a normal spontaneous deliery, including a paracervical block, episiotomy.'

These are the normal, noninterventionist techniques, the physician just helping things along. The analogy that comes to mind is of the person with a new color television, endlessly fiddling with the fine tuning, occasionally giving a whack on the side for good measure. The person's not really doing anything to the TV--not taking off the back panel or rewiring. Once the body is conceptualized as a machine, then it is going to be treated in much the same way as any other machine in our society--pushed to be more efficient, more economical, faster, neater, quieter. An infinite number of procedures and interventions are so readily normalized because that fits in with our view of the world: one is compelled to take action in order to get results. In medicine, as in much elese in technological society, even action with very little chance of success is preferable to no action at all, on the spurious assumption that doing something is better than doing nothing.
I really like the analogy of tinkering with the television.

CfM Blogger

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

In Birth as an American Rite of Passage, Robbie Davis-Floyd argues that the body-as-machine ideology is at the heart of obstetrics, that the whole field was designed to turn a natural, unpredictable (and unmistakably feminine) process into something controlled, homogeneous and more in line with our culture's high value of technology. I've been thinking about how the birthing woman herself is an affront to all of those rigid dichotomies (nature/culture, individual/community, self/other, mother/fetus) because she contains the contradictions: she is both all at once, and that fits nowhere into western dualistic thinking. It seems like midwifery works because it sees the creative potential in those contradictions, refusing to see the mother and child as anything less than one whole.