Respect your man or respect the obstetric patriarchy?

What's really going on in the conversation about men and birthing choices?

Respect your man or respect the obstetric patriarchy?

It’s been just on a year since I wrote my two blogs about men’s place in birthing choices and the obstetric patriarchy. In a nutshell their place is to support the woman’s choices. In that year I have received huge amounts of feedback and continued to explore these ideas around respect, bodily autonomy, obstetric patriarchy and men’s place in birth choices. Please note that men’s place in birthing choices is different to their place in the birthing room.

You can read those blog pieces here and here.

It’s no secret that I plan to plan a homebirth after two caesareans. And as such I hang out in both homebirth and VBAC groups a lot. And I take note of what I see. I really wanted to share a couple of things that I have noticed women talking about.

  • It is really common for women planning a homebirth or other “alternative” birth option (like, independent midwifery care, vaginal birth after multiple caesareans or hiring a doula – you know, best practice stuff) to be asked what their husband thinks of the idea. Some people go so far as to ask if the woman has her husband’s permission! I’m yet to hear of any woman being asked if she has her husband’s permission to plan a hospital birth though. Interesting…

Andrea from Qld states that when planning her homebirth she “even got “There’s no way ‘D’ will go for that – I bet he puts his foot down”  but “when I was with a private obstetrician, people only ever had positive / non-questioning comments. My husband’s thoughts were never asked about by others.”

  • The next point is that often when women express this type of conflict they get a huge number of responses suggesting that they need to respect their husband and find a compromise.

Here’s the understanding I have come to – I’m yet to hear of someone being asked what their husband thinks of their choice to birth in a hospital. No-one seems to be getting asked if they have their husband’s permission to have an induction or a caesarean or to hire a private OB.

I’m yet to hear of a woman planning a caesarean being asked “And just what does your husband think of the fact that you are 3 times more likely to die during a caesarean? Is he really okay with you risking your life like that?” Could you imagine the outcry (and rightly so!!) if women were told that their partner should be able to force them into a vaginal birth or a homebirth?

Erin from Vic was completely gobsmacked to be asked, by an obstetrician, if her husband knew what she was up to “as if I were a naughty child. When I said he was just as informed as I was, she demanded that I bring him to the next appointment, so she could “make sure he knew”” Yet when she planned standard hospital births for her first two pregnancies no-one was interested in her husband’s thoughts on her behaviour.

I’m seeing a huge combining of obstetric and patriarchal culture here which doesn’t seem to bode well for women’s rights to bodily autonomy.

Men are seen as our protectors. And hospitals and OBs are seen as making birth safe. So men siding with the obstetric patriarchy are seen as heroes protecting their wives from their crazy ideas and murderous uteri.

Which takes us right across to the fact that we are really not talking about women respecting their husbands, but women respecting the patriarchal order of things. This is proven by the fact that women choosing to follow the patriarchal order (ie: standard hospital obstetric care) over their husband’s ideas of “alternative” care are not ordered to “respect your husband”. It is simply the case that, with the advent of “my body my birth my choice” slogans it is no longer seen as politically correct to tell women to just shut up and do what the nice doctor says. But it IS seen as okay to suggest that she respect her husband. After all…it’s his baby too. And he just wants what’s best for you, dear.

Angelica tells me that when her husband suggested a homebirth and she wanted a hospital birth no-one questioned why she wasn’t respecting her husband’s feelings on this matter or encouraged her to find a compromise.

Next time you go to tell a woman that she should respect her husband and compromise ask yourself – if her husband was telling her to homebirth because he believes it to be safer would you be telling her to listen to him? To respect his feelings? That he only wants what’s best for her?

Look a bit deeper and ask yourself – are you really concerned about the woman respecting her husband? Or are you concerned about her respecting the obstetric patriarchy?

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