Medicalization of Child Birth

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Overview

The manipulation of human nature by biomedical technology is increasing and has become a social norm in our society. [1] The medicalization of childbirth is an example of how a fundamental aspect of human life has transformed into a pathological issue. Before the 17th century, the process to birth was exclusive to the domestic women. Midwives and women, who had themselves given birth, usually attended the birthing process, for they were able to offer the benefits of first-hand experience. [2] With the growing prestige of science in the late 19th century, doctors displaced midwives as the primary resource for the birthing process. The obstetric fields have argued hospitals as being the safest place for babies to be born, leading to an estimated 97-99% hospital birth rate. [3]


This feminist critique emphasizes how many women are alienated from the process of birth, separating them from their bodies and categorizing them as passive recipients of medical care. This “trust in technology has replaced trust in nature as tests and machines and instruments have become the necessary paraphernalia of birth” (Oakley, 1969 pg. 15).


Medicalization of Childbirth in Media

Pregnancy and childbirth in media is heavily influenced by the medicalization of childbirth. The idea that “giving birth made a women a mother … a good mother had to learn about mothering from authoritative sources” has been implemented in all types of media. Television programs foster this type of passive role in women’s pregnancy. With literature suggesting that pregnant women use television programs as a gauge for what childbirth is like, much of these shows emphasize how dangerous childbirth can be, leaving only heroic doctors to save their babies. This influences mothers to regard medical interventions as acceptable as well as evoke an incorrect, sterile view of childbirth. Low-risk births are deemed as uneventful and undramatic, therefore almost never shown on television.

“Fictional representations of birth act as a filter for the firsthand experience women are denied the opportunity to accumulate. This results in women viewing labour pain as a negative element rather than accepting it as a guide to optimal positioning and a vital element in the physiological feedback that releases additional endorphins and oxytocin, as the body requires.”

Medicalization of Childbirth Influence on Women's Experiences

Experiences during pregnancy and postpartum were studied in conjunction with the biomedical perspective of pregnancy. Interviews with 42 pregnant women and new mothers revealed that majority of women “regarded pregnancy as an activity, a constant and meticulous work that was triggered by social, psychological and physical changes associated with pregnancy”. The women were also very hypersensitive to the typical symptoms of pregnancy, diagnosing their bodies to examine whether they were exhibiting the appropriate signs of pregnancy much like you would for an illness. The medicalization of pregnancy has caused women to expect a specific set of symptoms associated with a “normal” pregnancy. Women also reported adjusting their daily habits to accommodate to their bodies and to fulfill their role as an expecting mother. By following the medical guidelines for taking care of their child, many mothers felt like they were actively making the right choices for their child. Genna depicts this by saying, “I absolutely love the feeling of feeling the baby and its movement and knowing that I am nurturing it and taking care of it through the choices that I make in terms of how I take care of myself and what I eat.” In terms of postpartum experiences, mothers reflected about their constant exhaustion and lack of preparation for the changes in their life.

Medicalization of Childbirth & Male Appropriation

The patriarchal model underlies the medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth. The male dominated fields of law and medicine have endorsed reproduction as a biological defect in need of legal regulation and medical intervention. Obstetricians, the designated experts on female reproduction, have become the frontiers for defining female sex roles, psychology, and sexuality despite the fact that their ideas are interpreted from a male perspective. Medical men overriding midwives were seen as the transference of ‘the hands of women to the control of men’. (Nettleton 1995). These assumptions are internalized and reproduced to shape the interactions between doctors and their pregnant patient. Women’s ability to exercise their own choices and make informed decisions about their own body is clouded by medical judgment under male control.


References

  1. Maturo, A. (2012). “Medicalization: Current Concept and Future Directions in a Bionic Society.” Mens Sana Monographs, 10(1), 122–133.
  2. Johanson, R., Newburn, M., & Macfarlane, A. (2002). Has the medicalisation of childbirth gone too far? BMJ : British Medical Journal, 324(7342), 892–895.
  3. Cahill, H. A. (2001), Male appropriation and medicalization of childbirth: an historical analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 33: 334–342. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.2001.01669.x