The Trib picked up this AP story about the rise of maternal death rates for this morning’s paper. In the US, we medicalize childbirth as an illness. Women give birth in hospitals with IVs and invasive monitors, attended by nurses and doctors, who treat childbirth as an inconvenience that can be addressed through drugs and invasive, painful, dangerous, and unnecessary surgeries. We do all these things in the name of health and safety, whether because we value the lives of women (I’m skeptical) and newborns (or at least the white ones, and as long as the act of valuing them coincides with the act of dominion and control over women’s reproductive organs), or because we fear lawsuits and the rising costs of malpractice insurance.

Although we cry “health and safety!” we continue to employ methods that don’t meet our own goals. We shave women, tilt women on their backs to work against gravity, pump them full of pitocen when their labor fails to conform to timing charts, slice their vaginas, and finally cut them open. And why? If these methods aren’t giving us the results that we claim to want, why do we persist in using them?

Usually when I sit down to ponder these sorts of questions, I follow the money. These procedures are expensive. Doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, medical supply companies, and drug companies make a lot of money off women who give birth in medicalized settings. And when corporations are making bucks, they tend to overlook the resulting harm to people, especially oppressed peoples (by which I mean women, generally, with the recognition that middle class (mostly white) women have the means to pursue alternatives, like birthing centers and doulas, while lower income women (mostly of color) are herded into hospitals, where the obstetrical-industrial complex can continue to make money off the exploitation of their bodies).

If you doubt me, look at how the medical establishment (predominately male) treats the profession of midwifery (predmonately female). Some doctors in Missouri just filed suit against a midwives practice group in an attempt to have a law that would allow midwives to deliver babies without consulting with doctors unconstitutional. This law was passed as part of a measure to reduce the costs of healthcare, but the obstetrical industrial complex apologists see it as a loss of revenue. Of course they couch their objection in terms of maternal and neonate health, which brings me neatly full circle: Doctors’ methods aren’t working. If an existing method is causing harm, how can anyone argue for their continued employment using health and safety as a justification?

And of course, no modern article on women’s health issues would be complete without a little (fat) woman-blaming:

Experts also say obesity may be a factor. Heavier women are more prone to diabetes and other complications, and they may have excess tissue and larger babies that make a vaginal delivery more problematic. That can lead to more C-sections. “It becomes this sort of snowball effect,” said King, who is now medical director of maternal-fetal medicine at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

You hear that fat mamas? It’s not the money or the convenience or the general contempt that the medical profession has exhibited towards women’s bodies since the dawn of fucking time that leads to unnecessary surgery and death. It’s your fat. So please excuse the medical researchers while they wring their hands over the cause of death of thin mothers.

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