naomi wolf, author of the block-buster feminist work The Beauty Myth, is intelligent, influential and well connected. Yet she still could not find a way to make giving birth an empowering experience.Her journey through America's medical system moved her to publish Misconceptions, a blueprint for a new birthing movement in the U.S.
Through extensive interviews with other mothers, Wolf discovered that she was not alone in feeling diminished and discounted throughout her pregnancy, during the birth and after her baby was born.
Ever the expert synthesizer of information, Wolf harnesses a whack of research to uncover the ways the medical profession has invaded the birth process, often putting women's lives at risk. The number of unnecessary amniocentesis tests is enough to make your skin crawl, and the appalling rate of Caesarean sections in U.S. hospitals must be seen as another example of institutional violence against women.
Wolf herself is a case in point. After entering a Washington, DC, hospital, she lost in the staff's game of Beat the Clock. If you haven't dilated enough in a given length of time, which in Wolf's case was a measly two and half hours, out comes the knife. The doctors had so frightened her -- they'd drugged her, too -- that Wolf felt she had no choice.
Misconceptions is an indictment of America's private health care system. Almost all of the conditions Wolf describes -- over-testing, high Caesarean rates, hostility to midwives -- are inevitable in a system where these procedures and prejudices operate in the economic interests of attending physicians. Ontario hospitals, by the way, are more hospitable to midwifery, and Caesarean rates aren't as hefty, but our own system is way too fragile for any of us to become complacent.
One small complaint: Wolf's Mother's Manifesto, outlined in an epilogue, looks for ways to support women -- better daycare, more sensitive birthing centres, etc -- yet can't imagine mothering outside of the nuclear family.
But like The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf's latest will touch a lot of women.
Wolf reads tonight (Thursday, October 11) at Bloor Street United Church. See listings, this page.
Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf (Doubleday), 326 pages, $37.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN