Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bradley Method Course

Tonight I went to my childbirth education class for the first time! For the doula certification, I am required to observe 12 hours of an approved childbirth education class. The local hospital offers several approved classes, such as ICEA and Lamaze, for around $75. I found a local birth center, run by midwives and doulas, that offers a Bradley Method course. It costs $250 per couple, but I am observing it for free--I just had to purchase the workbook for $20. I am taking the class every Thursday evening for two hours, for the next six weeks. The instructor is really kind. Her class is relaxed, fun, and discussion-oriented. There were six couples in the class. It felt like a very different atmosphere than what I’m used to, being around all of those pregnant women—sort of like when I see elderly people or pet dogs on my college campus. Plus, I'm so used to attending classes that are ... not boring (my professor is reading), but mundane. This class is different. You can sense that these couples are going through some sort of rite of passage. It feels really special.

The Bradley Method focuses on teaching a "coach" to support the mother mentally, emotionally, and physically. The entire method is based on this partnership; someone else needs to be there throughout the pregnancy and birth to support her. The couple also learns about exercises, massage techniques, and nutrition. The goal is for the mother to be healthy, confident, and comfortable so that she can have a positive, safe birth experience without the use of medication. In our class, all of the coaches were the women's husbands. While I’m sure your coach could be your female significant other or a good friend, the Bradley Method seems to assume that the mother will have a committed, monogamous, male partner; it is based on a heterosexual family unit.

Living in a heterosexist world, it's hard to escape from essentialist language. I have found it's even harder to escape in the world of childbirth. If we acknowledge that gender is a social construction distinct from sex, then we have to acknowledge that not every woman is capable of giving birth and that some men do give birth. My inclination, which has been ingrained in my head since birth--is to refer to pregnant people as women. It sounds very strange to say "pregnant people." I think that the message of the natural birth movement is a feminist one. Women can be their own experts at childbirth; they don't need a [male] doctor to do it for them. They are strong enough to give birth without pain medication. They have been giving birth to humanity for millennia without it. However, to say that women's ultimate power and essence lies in their ability to create life, while beautiful, also runs the risk of reducing women to their bodies and biological functions. It also defines woman in a way that excludes many women. Is this tension reconcilable?

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