Media Misconceptions


Matt, I’m a big fan of your blog and your viewpoint, but I think Maria Kang is a particularly bad example to lead off your post about those who hate success.

First, let me clarify that I agree that the ad hominem attacks, closed-mindedness, and general hatefulness you are talking about are ridiculous and destructive.  I just happen to think that using negative “inspiration” to push a particular body image is also ridiculous and destructive.

mariakangwhatsyourexcuse

I understand that there is a “fitspiration” culture that uses the “what’s your excuse” meme, but negativity in the name of inspiration is still negativity. Kang could have said “if I can do it, you can too” or “Mom bodies rock” or just “you can do it.” I love seeing people overcome all kinds of challenges to do what’s important to them, but putting down those who have not reached those goals–or whose goals are not the same–is not inspiration; rather, it is its own form of hating. (As the mommy wars have made abundantly clear.)

Unfortunately, in our negatively skewed, divisive culture, saying anything truly positive tends to get us labeled as saccharine, or else accused of hating on the people we’re not even talking about (like saying positive things about mothers and getting accused of hating on fathers). It’s really quite the vicious cycle, and I’ll admit that in a different culture, Ms. Kang’s meme might not be taken so negatively. That doesn’t mean she has no responsibility for considering the context of her message.  Am I going to go hate on her blog now?  Nope, I’m not even going to send her a link to this post.  But I don’t think her message to mothers is okay, either.

Beauty Redefined has a truly inspiring and positive blog post trying to ease the pressure on moms to “get their body back.” They’ve included a photo of a mother of two and runner who is clearly fit, yet whose stomach still does not conform to the rock-hard, taut, smooth, pre-baby ideal so prevalent in our media and culture. That body ideal 1) is unrealistic for many women and 2) may not be as important to many women as it is to Maria Kang.

It is not an “excuse” if a woman has stretch marks or loose skin, or chooses to focus on overall health and fitness rather than on conforming to a particular body ideal, or has other goals and responsibilities on which she chooses to spend her time. The culture that tells women they are failures if they don’t look a certain way is the same one that is telling mothers that they are worthless if they don’t have a career. (Recalling your blog post on that topic…)

In fact, I would encourage you to explore the Beauty Redefined blog to understand how body image is used to manipulate women, which is why so many of us are sensitized to these kinds of images. It’s kind of like realizing there is a political bias in the media. You start to react to a whole lot of statements and images that you never even noticed before.

For further positive inspiration for mothers to find beauty, health, and strength in their post-baby bodies, see also the 4th trimester bodies project, with images like this.

megan-4th-trimester-bodies

Is this image promoting obesity or neglect of health by showing a non-“ideal” body in a positive light? Good grief, no.   (Anyone who associates the idea of obesity with a woman this shape needs serious help, by the way.)

Is this image promoting healthy postpartum body image, which is part of the overall package of good health?  Absolutely.

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Did you know that Ron Paul, a top-tier candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is an OB/GYN who has caught over 4,000 babies, and left Congress voluntarily from 1984 to 1997 to return to his private practice?  (If you weren’t aware that he’s a top-tier candidate, you can thank the mainstream media blackout, but that’s another blog post.)

I’ve been a fan of Dr. Paul for years.  He’s been my lodestone when it comes to sorting out the baloney that gets proposed in Congress every year, and I was a local meetup coordinator and helped set up a campaign office for his 2008 campaign.  (Since then I’ve had two children, which makes that kind of outside time commitment a nostalgic impossibility.)

A friend told me recently that it seems ironic, considering my fairly intense disagreement with the obstetrical model of birth, that I avidly support an OB for president.  Until then I really hadn’t even thought about that potential conflict, and the reason why is the essence of why I support Dr. Paul in the first place.

Dr. Paul could completely disagree with my choice to have a home birth, but he would still completely support my right to choose my own place of birth and care provider.  Plain and simple, that distinction is the core of his politics, and my own.

It’s time to think long-term and get away from the politics of trying to elect the guy who will force our favorite ideas on society.  I would not vote for someone who said “I’m going to propose legislation to require every hospital to have midwives on staff.”  Why?  Because the federal government simply does not, and should not, have that authority.  If we clamor that today’s President and Congress can and should force the medical industry to integrate midwifery, then we are granting that tomorrow’s officials, with different opinions and financial backers, have the authority to force midwives to work in hospitals and not in the home, or to be trained in ACOG-approved schools.  (And considering the established medico-pharma lobby, which scenario is really the more likely?)

In other words, we need to stop thinking about what we want “our guy” to do, and start thinking about what we don’t want “their guy” to have the power to do.  And if we really want tolerance and acceptance and freedom of choice for birthing mothers, we have to include all birthing mothers, and non-mothers, and families, and individuals.  Special interests serve only to divide us from each other so that we squabble while the establishment continues to ratchet our freedoms away.  Every individual has a right to bodily autonomy (life and liberty), whether we agree with their choices or not.  The vast majority of politicians neither understand nor respect this natural right.

Dr. Paul is the only candidate I trust to take into account individual liberty and Constitutional law when he makes his decisions, so that even if he doesn’t agree with me on everything, he is still going to do his best to leave me alone–and make Congress uncomfortably aware of the limitations on their own Constitutional authority.  He also has a reputation for being lobby-proof, and that is exactly what we need: a return to principle over influence, right over might, the individual over the state or corporation, and law over lobby.

Thank you to Caitlyn Blake for sharing her poem and beautiful stretch-mark photo on Birth Without Fear.

Commercialized “beauty” is fake, brittle, cold, and dead.  Real beauty is found in a father’s strong arms, a mother’s fertile belly, and all the other ways our bodies look when we live in them.  The great delusion we have allowed to be foisted on us through unrealistic ideals of appearance is that body changes from motherhood and maturity are a sacrifice.

Having the body of a mother is not a sacrifice, or a punishment, or an embarrassment. Having the body of a mother is a blessing.

If I did not have the body of a mother, my babies could not have grown to full term inside my big, stretchy belly.  My babies were born beautifully round and healthy because I grew beautifully and healthily round.

If I did not have the body of a mother, I could not have nursed my own babies for as long as they needed, and provided extra milk for others besides.

Those of us who long for children and have been unable to conceive, or who dearly wanted to nurse their babies and could not breastfeed or did not get the support they needed, would give anything for those stretch marks or those unpredictably-sized breasts.

We put on wedding rings because we feel the need to signify physically that we have committed our lives to loving and nurturing another.  When we become mothers, we make that same commitment to our children, and we are blessed with the beautiful changes that signify our motherhood.

For pictures of the many badges of motherhood, check out The Shape of a Mother.

No, this is not another satirical post.  I’m serious.

The other night, against my better judgment, I watched the Discovery “Health” episode on freebirthing (unassisted childbirth/UC).  Every time they showed a woman freebirthing, they listed three things this woman was going without: hospital technology, professional assistance, and pain relief.  I found the last almost comical, not only because it doesn’t seem to rate the same priority as the other two (so far I haven’t heard of even the most ill-informed practitioner saying “You can’t go without pain relief or you and your baby will die”), but also because it was patently irrelevant to the woman being filmed.  It’s hard to take a narrator seriously when she sounds shocked and slightly disgusted that a woman has been in labor for TWO HOURS without pain relief–and the woman is lying in a tub of warm water, calm, happy, and reaching between her legs and cooing “Oooh, the baby’s coming, I feel a tuft of hair!”

What really bugged me, though, was the huge assumption that pharmaceuticals are the only source of pain relief.  This in a nutshell is why I ignore most mainstream media on any topic.  If I can even get past the assumptions that are based on some agenda I probably don’t share, there’s usually little information of value left over.

These women were not forgoing pain relief.  All of them were in a tub of warm water at one point or another.  All of them writhed, vocalized, and chose the position that was most comfortable.  All of them had another person there to support them unequivocally and tell them they could do it.  What these women, and every woman who decides on an unmedicated birth, are forgoing is the physical and emotional complications that are often caused by pharmaceutical methods of pain relief–the only pain relief methods, I might add, that typically detract from rather than promote the process of normal birth.

So, back to my title.  No woman should be expected to give birth without pain relief.  However, just because it doesn’t come in a needle or a pill doesn’t mean it’s not pain relief–as long as we recognize that pain relief should not mean total removal of sensation.  While comfort allows a woman to progress effectively through labor and birth, total lack of sensation often does not; hence the more forthright term “comfort measures.”  And there is an unending list, limited only by your preferences and imagination, of supportive and labor-promoting comfort measures: walking, rocking, hydrotherapy (laboring in water), hypno-birthing, continuous support, aromatherapy, massage, and upright positions for birth are just a few.  What are your favorites?