The Midwifery Model and Medical Intervention
Feminist theorists have spent a lot of time critiquing the medical model of childbirth. By contrast, they have paid little attention to the midwifery model because they widely assume that it empowers women. While I agree that the midwifery model is a huge improvement over the medical model, I believe there are aspects of the midwifery model (as it is practiced today) that do not empower women. In this essay, I focus on one way this is the case—namely, how the midwifery model can contribute to women’s sense of shame, failure, and isolation when medical intervention is necessary.1
Proponents of the midwifery model often share stories of women who felt angry, depressed, and betrayed when hospital procedures or physicians and nurses who support the medical model thwarted their attempt to have a natural birth experience. Those who support the midwifery model use these stories to educate women about unnecessary medical interventions and promote the midwifery model as a better alternative. Since feminists tend to presume that the midwifery model is a better way to conceptualize childbirth, few have devoted much time to analyzing the promotion and implementation of the midwifery model.2 When we do such an exploration, however, we discover some ways that the midwifery model can disempower women by encouraging unnecessary self-recriminations or causing women to blame themselves when they need medical interventions during labor.
Here I discuss three aspects of the midwifery model—the uniformity of birth stories, the explanation of the mind/body connection, and the attitude toward medical interventions—that potentially disempower women