Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Defining Reproductive Health

At a non-birth conference on Women's Health this week, I was confronted by the enormity of "Reproductive Health".
The table was made up largely of women who thought it meant "birth control" and access to the medications and processes that keep women from having babies and two women who thought it should incorporate those women who's lifespan had chosen to not have children or could no longer have children. Then, there was the one "advocate" across the table who said she just wanted to know how to keep women from having "them". I wonder if her clients (Health Department) are aware of her attitude? If so, I can see why they aren't really reaching out to her for care, kwim?
Then there was me. The only one at the table advocating for informed consent, informed rights, a campaign for midwifery awareness. The entire idea behind "birth affects life" seemed lost in the race to prevent it from happening, denying that women have been having sex at age 14 for thousands of years (if not longer, depending on your belief systems) and even worse, in the arguments about how to prevent sex from happening. Where was the bigger picture about teaching women about their cycles? Teaching teens how to understand their bodies, how to track what was going on with them? Trusting them with information in the hopes that they will use it positively?
Another thing that caught my attention was that in the final review, anything about birth that I had said was dropped out or dropped into the realm of "pregnancy". As long as we keep treating women like pregnancy simply means "prenatal care in the form of going to doctor, peeing on stick and doing as told" in the welfare (and more upper class world) we're ignoring the passages of women into adulthood and capability. We are refusing to allow them to say with authority, I don't WANT to pee on a stick, I don't WANT a vaginal exam without medical reason and acknowledgement that women have every right to say NO to procedures or talk to their care providers as equals who deserve information and evidence NOT simply fear tactics and anecdote. I wasn't trying to discuss -pregnancy, but address the cesarean crisis and the way women are treated, without power. These women who thought that we should hand out condoms to every woman on a street corner couldn't see that VBAC bans or empowering women to make DIFFERENT choices from them or even choices they wouldn't approve of would be a part of the Reproductive Health picture.
When will women's rights advocates stop trying to force us AWAY from birth and actual reproduction as empowering events that almost all women will go through and start encouraging women to actually look at their births and motherhood as POWER?


Amanda said...

YES, YES, YES...thank you Shannon for being a presence there...I hope someone will start listening!

Laureen said...

You mean... pregnancy and birth are part of a continuum of a woman's health and empowerment, and that insisting on birth control as the only means of control might be the most insanely f***ed up thing we've ever done to women as a culture???