I’m a big fan of modern medicine. I have found it to be efficacious in everything from the treatment of allergies to the management of depression. I have generally had doctors that I like and trust—people who have seemed to regard me as an intelligent individual capable of making sound choices—and I have, for the most part, felt like an active participant in my healthcare.
While I do tend to prefer free-range eggs, organic produce, and dairy products that have not been enhanced with antibiotics and rBGH, my faith in the “natural” is neither pure nor total. There are a lot of reasons for this, some of them better than others. The first is conceptual, and it’s the reason for my use of quotation marks above: I went to a progressive, liberal arts college in the early 90s; postmodernism and deconstruction were much in vogue at the time; and I have difficulty believing in concepts like “natural”. Indeed, I tend to distrust any claims that rely upon an essential, unchanging, non-contingent understanding of “nature”.
I also find any suggestion that the natural—I’m dropping the scare quotes now, but they should be regarded as implied henceforth—is unambiguously and fundamentally good. Malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever: These are natural phenomena. One might also argue that high infant mortality rates and death in childbirth are also natural, given their prevalence in historical periods and geographical locations without modern obstetrics. I think it’s ridiculous to rant against the perceived failures of allopathic medicine without acknowledging its successes.
Finally, I have no tolerance for sanctimony. Thus, I often have a gut-level aversion to much natural-childbirth advocacy. And it’s not just the judgmental tone that bugs me: I have often felt that the natural-childbirth cohorts have clung to a combative, outsider status that no longer makes much sense. For example, when I was consulting my copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves—not the latest edition, but the 1998 edition—I discovered that the first-person anecdotes of obstetric malfeasance were the same as those in the edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves I used to read at the Stow Public Library when I was a kid, an edition from the 70s. I feel that it is disingenuous, at the very least, to submit stories that are 30 years old as representative of contemporary medical practice, and I have often felt, when I have encountered other natural-childbirth arguments, that the patriarchal medical establishment decried in these sources is a straw man, a ghost of medicines past. It has seemed to me that many women’s health advocates would rather identify as embattled revolutionaries than take justified credit for changing the attitudes and practices of doctors, nurses, and expectant mothers.