Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

An Ethical Herstory of Giving Birth

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

An Ethical Herstory of Giving Birth

Article excerpt

AN ETHICAL HERSTORY OF GIVING BIRTH Mihaela Miroiu, Otilia Dragomir (eds.), Nasterea. Istorii traite (Giving Birth. Life-stories), Iasi: Polirom, 2010

Key words: giving birth, life-stories, women, reproductive issues, feminism, ethics

One can easily exaggerate when attempting to address "hard" issues such as the process of giving birth. Some well-known feminist views may nourish these exaggerations, especially when taken out of context. Thus, one can imagine a world in which artificial wombs, coupled with IVF-like techniques would externalize the process of conceiving and bearing children and finally separate the reproduction process from biology and radically "liberate" everybody (especially women) from the burden of giving birth (a view imagined by Shulamith Firestone). Or, respectively, one can fall into the other extreme, and essentialize women, celebrating their capacity of child-bearing and choosing to neglect all other important dimensions of women's identity and consequently marginalizing, for instance, childless women.

It is therefore remarkable that the first Romanian volume on the experiences of giving birth through the lenses of mothers - Nasterea. Istorii traite (Giving Birth. Life-stories)1 manages to escape all these possible exaggerations and offer the readers a true sample of herstories. The volume collects the stories of twenty women, from different generations, of their becoming mothers, from the moment of discovering the pregnancy until the end of confinement and sometimes the weaning.

I believe that one can find multiple layers of encountering and reading a book; the volume mentioned here makes no exception. All books treating various aspects of societal or cultural taboos will inevitably rise attention and generate various reactions. In a way, the editors have warned about this in the foreword: "On these things one does not talk, or if one talks, one does not write about, or, if still, one writes about it, at least one does not publish."2

Firstly, taking into account its editorial framework, one can note the novelty of the project as such for the Romanian society. The fact that, twenty-one years after the events of 1989 and sixteen years after the appearance of the first book of Romanian feminist political philosophy3, we can finally read a personal history book in which twenty women overcome several cultural and social taboos and choose to share one of their most private moment of life can be regarded as a sign of normality. It is a necessary first step, because, in order to build a more complex and thorough research, one needs far more such books, such stories and such voices. The volume offers a remarkable opening, in that it covers the history of at least three generations of women, from different times and, to a certain extent, even different spaces (two birth experiences are from abroad, from US and respectively Spain). Nevertheless, the above mentioned diversity is limited in one important respect. Thus, all women in the volume (with maybe one exception) belong to the category of the so-called "intellectuals". They are all well-educated, well above the majority of ordinary women; most of them are teachers, physicians, and almost all graduated university.

Of course, this is not a lack of the volume, nor does it constitute a critique of its structure. However, it confines the representativeness of the book to this socio-professional category. Thus, some trends or features are over-represented among this category: a certain type of care towards the baby, overwhelming feelings of helplessness or of exaggerated guilt are easier to be founded here than among other types of mothers.

To illustrate this point, I shall make a comparison with a totally different book, especially from a methodological point of view. In the latter one, Social Exclusion at the Crossroads of Gender, Ethnicity and Class 4, the focus of research is represented by a community of Roma women nearby Orastie and their reproductive issues. …

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