I am halfway through Naomi Wolf’s (2001) Misconceptions and I am incredibly fascinated by all that I am learning. I especially enjoy how on every page there are references that I can’t help but look up, contributing to my slow, but detailed, read of the book. Well researched, and honestly written, Misconceptions is on my top ten list of books women should read.
The chapter entitled, “Eighth Month, Powerlessness”, has been one of my favourites. Wolf talks openly about the vulnerability she experiences the more she is made visible as a pregnant subject in society. In addition to vulnerability, Wolf writes about her continual thirst to feel loved and her fear of being abandoned. Wolf’s honest discussion of her gradual slide towards a life of dependence is sobering. In her dislike of herself, she states that she was “becoming one of the women with whom [she] had always refused to identify” (p. 123) with.
She ends the chapter of her eighth month recalling how she is still a feminist, but finds it dangerous to be one in her last trimester of pregnancy. Feminism in this chapter is described as undergoing a sort of triage where its meaning is rated and the “fixed” definition of what it means to be woman, and in essence a pregnant woman in Western society, begins to crumble.
The introductory chapter to Part II entitled, “Giving Birth”, seemed more like a scene out of a psychological horror film than a birth experience (I guess some women may argue, like Wolf, that, that was pretty much what their birth was like). Wolf’s discussion of being completely removed from the birthing process and the birth being not at all as she imagined, literally made my heart ache. Here was a woman who planned, researched and envisioned her birth from the onset of conception. She was educated, informed and yet still that wasn’t enough to prepare her for the medical partnership she willingly entered. Although Wolf had concerns, her confidence lay in her birth plan, a plan that apparently means nothing within a hospital. After she was told she would have 24 hours to deliver or else, her thoughts halted along with her bodily connection.
Tick tock, tick tock.
Wolf’s graphic account of her c-section made her experience seem almost unreal. Sadly, it wasn’t. Even more disturbing was the fact that during a c-section a woman’s uterus is literally removed from her body, placed on her abdomen and stitched up. Again, as I read through these truths I wondered how many women know that this is the standard procedure?
Because of the scar tissue that arises as a result of the surgery, Wolf notes (and backs up her point with medical evidence) that it is healthier (and often safer) for women to deliver vaginally after undergoing a c-section rather than have repeat surgery.
Although popular opinion tells us a c-section usually means repeated c-sections, the root of this idea is laden in monetary compensation gained from the cost of surgery versus vaginal delivery.
After her “birth” the distance Wolf felt from her child, the way the nurses treated her like a malfunctioning machine, pays tribute to how little women’s health has advanced and how quickly medical expertise, patriarchy and an economy of reproduction has prevailed. I’ve had my share of gynecological doctor visits in my life. Each visit is another reminder of how generalized the field has become, how distant doctors are with their patients and the powerlessness women feel with regards to their own health.