Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf

The personal is political, as feminist thinker Naomi Wolf uses her c-section as a springboard for the way in which the maternity care system in America infantilizes women.

There’s nothing in Misconceptions that hasn’t appeared in any number of other exposes of the state of maternal care in the US, such as Jennifer Block’s Pushed, which I reviewed a few months ago. However, it’s the way in which Wolf presents the information that makes this a must read, even if you’ve read it all before.

Wolf uses the popular pregnancy guide What To Expect When You’re Expecting and deconstructs its message, in order to show how the book takes power away from pregnant women. For example, the book presents a diet plan that is impossible to follow in its entirety. It’s simply too much food. But the book doesn’t expect you to follow the diet exactly, because it assumes that you’re not smart enough. So it gives you too much food in the hopes that you will eat some of it. This condescension is mirrored in the way that obstetricians and hospitals treat pregnant and laboring women, who are not to be trusted to make choices that are in the best interests of their babies.

Wolf had a particularly horrific birth experience which ended in a c-section that she describes in horror-movie terms. It is hard not to be moved when she describes the pain of a friend who is haunted by the thought that while recovering she could not know if her baby was crying. It pained my heart to read these stories, because there is something seriously wrong when 30% of laboring women end up with major abdominal surgery and all of its concomitant issues. Women are let down by a system that cares more about the bottom line than about their health and that of their children.

Wolf faltered in the section discussing the first months of her daughter’s life. It seemed that she described a caricature of a life, not the thing itself. She alluded to needing to supplement her daughter, and I would’ve liked to have heard more about how that came about, since she seemed pro-breastfeeding. Many women have difficulties and it would have been illuminating and instructive to hear hers.

I probably should not read any more books on this topic. They upset me too much. I am thankful I live in New York State where homebirth midwives are legal and where statistics on interventions are in the public record.

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