Here at Birth Philosophy, we feel that it is really important to not only invite, but highlight the voices of young students and professionals in our conversations about childbirth. As educators and advocates who support positive birth experiences and evidence based care we have to start including younger voices. These are the people who are emerging into places and positions where they can bring about change and influence their peers and communities. In her own words, Eliza Duggan explains why birth is not just for pregnant people anymore!
“Interesting! … What’s that?” This is a typical response that I received when I told people, especially my peers, that I was writing my senior thesis on midwifery. I became accustomed to saying, “I’m writing on midwifery – midwives,” since most people have at the very least heard the term “midwife.” The initial lack of knowledge was slightly discouraging, though unsurprising; however, the best parts of my project were the conversations that followed the introduction to midwifery. The more that I researched and wrote on midwifery, the more that it became clear to me that not only could young people be interested in birth and midwifery, this knowledge could be vital to our futures.
I have always been familiar with home birth since I grew up in a small town in Maine, a place where midwives are well known and well respected in the community. However, I did not really think about the political complexity of midwifery, nor the unique position that midwifery holds in relatively rural areas like mid-coast Maine, until I moved away. I went to Boston for college, and during the summer of 2011 took an internship with the women’s advocacy organization Our Bodies Ourselves. One of the projects on which I worked was promoting some midwifery legislation at the Massachusetts State House, work that I was proud to engage in. The more I dove into the issue, however, the more I became surprised at the ambivalent and sometimes even hostile reception I was getting to the very idea of midwifery. I was intrigued by this, since I had assumed that the famously liberal citizens of Massachusetts would generally have the same attitude towards midwives and home birth that I had. When beginning to brainstorm ideas for my senior honors thesis at Boston College, I felt compelled to investigate this issue further.
Thus, I began in the fall of 2012 by doing extensive research on the history of midwifery and how it had become so marginalized in Massachusetts. I then interviewed countless home birth midwives, nurse-midwives, childbirth educators, public health experts, and consumers in order to gauge the current state of maternity care in the state. One of the most troubling things that I found was that not only were few people (relative to the entire population) interested in this issue, the vast majority of the people who were involved had already had children. Not only were most people my age unfamiliar with midwives, they were generally unfamiliar with the topic of childbirth as a whole.
After any initial discomfort or confusion that my friends and classmates had, it was apparent young people are intensely curious about childbirth, and most people I talked with had a lot of questions. People are not invited to think about how they feel about childbirth before getting pregnant, so most young people do not have a sense of their options or a working knowledge of the process before the months they have to prepare. When talking with my friends and classmates about my research, I realized that there is need for more discussion about childbirth before getting pregnant, so that not only do we know our options, we can make informed decisions about how we want our children to be brought into the world. This, I believe, should be an easy fix, because young people are not averse to learning about these things. On the contrary, countless conversations I have had with my peers have demonstrated that pregnancy and birth are not only interesting to pregnant women; young men and women are eager for information.
Eliza Duggan is a 2013 graduate of Boston College, where she majored in English and women’s studies. Her interest in feminism and home birth stems from her roots in Belfast, Maine, where she grew up. In college, she engaged with the Women’s Resource Center to help efforts like the Take Back the Night campaign against sexual violence on campus, and was a Teaching Assistant for the Introduction to Feminisms course. She also worked with Our Bodies Ourselves (The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective) on various projects, including advocating for midwifery legislation at the Massachusetts State House, promoting the Infertility Family Research Registry based in Dartmouth, and writing occasional guest posts for Our Bodies Our Blog. Her time at OBOS and her thesis work have inspired her to pursue women’s advocacy, which is why she will be a first year law student at the University of California at Berkeley Law School in the fall.