From the youngest age I was not in control, of my body, my choices or my decisions.
Growing up as a girl through the mid 70s and a teen in the 80s I bore witness to a culture shifting to supposed autonomy and liberation of women-as so many were keen to point out, “you have equality…haven’t you heard? We have a woman prime minister now…” I was blind to the struggle of many women in different circumstances to me, but by the time I hit my 20s I had an illusion of independence; I had a good job, I owned a flat, a stable relationship.
Jump forward a decade. I’m in my mid thirties and I’m pregnant and I am no longer “me”, I am no longer a distinct woman. I am a vessel and I am virtually surplus to the situation. My experience of pregnancy was a horrendous one. I was very, very ill. I had gestational diabetes and SPD. I was in hospital every other day and I was injecting insulin 3 times a day. I was also terrified, I was having my first child and I was certain I’d die during childbirth or the baby would die-I was not well.
What I didn’t appreciate at the time, until much later when I started to deal with the psychological fallout of that pregnancy and the subsequent horror story of a delivery was just how little say I had in what was happening to me. I had doctors prodding, inserting, injecting and judging me on a near daily basis and thinking it through I genuinely can’t remember anyone asking me if this was OK, if I needed an explanation, if I understood what they were doing. The baby was the priority and I would deliver a healthy baby. That was my role, unwritten but implicit.
I had no choice in how I delivered, because of my diabetes and other health issues I was not afforded an epidural, I therefore went through a 52 hour labour, episiotomy and ventouse delivery on gas and air. Many have had worse experiences. I know this. Many choose to have gas and air alone or entirely unassisted. I know this. But I wanted drugs, they wouldn’t let me. I wanted to walk around and squat to deliver, they wouldn’t let me – the reason; I was hooked up to a glucose drip, no alternative was sought.
I had my choices taken away. After 50 hours they started to prep me for theatre, I panicked, as I couldn’t have an epidural I would have to be under for the delivery, I wanted to be “present”. They wouldn’t listen, it was happening, I had no choice. But then it was too late, the baby was coming, so they used a ventouse to help get him out. With no anaesthetic. I had no choice. I passed out from the pain. I had a post-partum haemorrhage. I had no choice.
No-one explained to me – in my addled state, what was happening. No-one asked.
Throughout my pregnancy and delivery I was not in control, either of the choices or actions. I know that the doctors, nurses, midwives, paediatricians and all other staff were acting with the best of intentions; I also know they were acting on behalf of my unborn son and I cannot imagine wishing they do anything else but that. But they were not acting in my best interests-certainly not all of the time. They were not considering me in their decision making. I was an afterthought.
My experiences post delivery were no better, we were in hospital for a week and I couldn’t breastfeed. I tried, I couldn’t. I had ward sisters virtually shouting at me, tutting, withholding the bottles and formula. I was a child again, with no control, no choices and no say in how I cared for my own child or what I did with my own body.
And this theme of infantilising women goes on. All the time. Many women I know and have spoken to have experienced situations like mine when it comes to interaction with the medical profession, whether it’s for pregnancy or other reasons. Your level of choice is curtailed and your decision making questioned and dismissed. Those who are employed to care for us are well placed to do so, they have training that I do not, they have experience and knowledge that I do not. But that does not mean they’re always right and it doesn’t mean that I have to automatically agree to everything they say, it also doesn’t mean it should be a given that what they say goes with no questions or explanation of the reasoning.
Every facet of society has an element of oppression sitting just below the surface, pregnancy and childbirth included. I am confident that were it the other way around (I know-the “if men could have babies” scenario), but WERE it the other way around, there is no possible way I would have had decisions made for me without proper and thorough consultation. If I’d felt more able to challenge maybe I would have too-but the socialisation I have grown up with means I didn’t. I sat back, like a slab of meat and it all went on around me.
My lack of challenge has left me angry and resentful and certain that if I ever went through another pregnancy it would be entirely different. I just wish that were a true statement.