I support every body owner’s reproductive plan for themselves, regardless of gender, sex, and partner status. As a vocal advocate for reproductive rights, one hopes such a statement goes without saying, but lately community conversation and action mandates that individuals state their position clearly. I was thrilled and heartened to know the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) changed language in their core competencies to reflect the body types of many individuals seeking midwifery care related to their pregnancies. I was shocked and disheartened to read the open letter by Woman-Centered Midwifery and see the undersigned names speaking with misinformation and judgment about the types of bodies who had the right to midwifery care and language surrounding pregnancy and birth. And, rightfully, I was overjoyed to see an even larger community of people come together under the name Birth for Everybody with a response seeking to clarify misinformation, advocate for midwifery care for all individuals who qualify by scope of practice, and discuss conversations to be continued moving forward.
One of the core themes of these sorts of conversations that I experience as incorrect, invalidating, and distancing for midwifery care to those they serve revolves around the idea that “certain bodies are supposed to do certain things.” This bodily supposition, assuming that bodies are “made” for something, “intended” to perform in certain ways, possess “inherent” knowledge or wisdom, employs “biological” or “physiological” or “natural” assumptions about function, not to mention assumptions about the person’s desires related to their body’s inner workings.
To consider what a body is “supposed” to do is create a linguistic space by which bodies and the people who live in them adhere to a presumed framework. Supposition about bodies creates a cultural norm by which everyone is held to a certain immutable standard. It means that at some point the “supposed to” was created related to biological/physiological/social/cultural function and a bunch of people started advertising its existence so others would know it and fall in line. In reality, few if anyone completely fits this standard, and its purpose in reference to supposition should be questioned and negated.
Related mostly to women’s bodies, there is a supposition about bodily function. Women’s bodies are supposed to… what? Ovulate, be fertile, produce babies, “know what to do” during labor, breastfeed easily, balance work and family, stay fit and healthy, present as female as per others’ definition of such…? Really?!?!?!
Related to women’s minds, women are supposed to… what? Want babies, easily pick between work and home or balance the two, overcome the rape culture and bodily sexualization and still have positive views on their sexuality and function, identify wholly and completely with the body given to them…? Really?!?!?!
The end conclusion of this is what “women” are supposed to do, body + mind. That’s what we are talking about here, right? Whew, well, a more slippery slope I have not tried to undo before. And, a feminist theory 101 type of conversation.
The second question about supposing what women’s minds are to do perhaps brings up more red flags than the question about what women’s bodies are supposed to do. Well, as a reminder, women’s minds function within women’s bodies. Thus, toss the idea of what women’s bodies are supposed to do out the window. A + B = C is not, cannot, should not, shall not be used.
I encounter this argument often when discussing midwifery versus nurse midwifery. Often, one focus of this argument is that the role of the midwife is to hold sacred the natural work of pregnancy, labor, and birth. I am someone who specifically chose nurse midwifery because I wanted to take care of people’s overall health, including if and when those people choose pregnancy and birth as part of their lives. Midwifery is so much more than pregnancy and birth, and so are the individuals for whom we provide care.
Related to bodies and minds and their reproductive choices, another idea that should go without stating but doesn’t, is that not everyone chooses reproduction, or is able to do so “naturally”. Particularly for cis-women, this idea rocks the foundation of some people who assume the supposition. Supposed bodies and minds for many women are that at some point in time they will conceive or want to. This negates the experiences of women’s minds who choose not to reproduce, women’s minds who want to reproduce but their bodies do not, and women’s bodies who do reproduce but their minds choose otherwise. This supposition is damaging to women.
From a reproductive justice standpoint I further question the existence of this supposed idea around bodies. When I start to make the list of what the picture looks like for some who consider “the standard” for midwifery care, and I do so honestly as a cis female/queer/white/woman/able-bodied person, it might look as follows:
Woman, Female, Straight, White, Monogamous, Married, Able-Bodied, Reproductive, Of-A-Certain-Age, Choosing-Certain-Paths of care or decisions or…
As I continue the list, it perhaps starts from a place of Sex and Gender, but easily cascades into what are judgments about when, how, in what ways people decide what to do with their bodies. If one part of that list is a judgment, to me, all of it is. Supposed bodies are not the bodies midwives care for, from a place of care and love and support.
For me, when midwifery is at its best, which should be its baseline, we openly recognize that everyone’s body and everyone’s mind moves in this world in their own way, and we should do nothing but love and support each other as humans, let alone as midwives.
*Note: This is not in any way meant to address the overarching issue of inclusivity in midwifery care, organizational foci, texts, etc. Just one component in the idea that “all bodies are important and are cared for already by midwives, everybody get with the program.”