The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Posts Tagged ‘parenthood’

The contentious debate about pain relief during childbirth

Posted by Nic Heath on July 20, 2009

Dr Denis Walsh, one of Britain’s leading midwives, caused a global furore last week when he spoke out against the ‘epidural epidemic’ currently sweeping the UK. Dr Walsh claims, among other things, 20 per cent of epidurals are given to women who don’t need them, and advocates alternative methods of pain relief during labour such as yoga and birthing pools.

Despite being reported by the BBC as saying in some cases epidurals are very useful, Dr Walsh’s comments have been taken as a personal insult by women all over the internet.

The collective outrage has been fed by provocative and misleading headlines:

Just put up with pain of childbirth: UK professor Dr Denis WalshHerald Sun

Male Midwife Tells Women Take Pregnancy Pain Without DrugsFox News

Dr Walsh’s comments seem to have struck a sensitive seam of guilt felt by many women in relation to childbirth. The many stories and blog posts on the web about the issue have drawn thousands of comments from readers, and many mothers speak defensively about guilt and of being judged.

 Remola from Wagga on a Herald Sun forum:

“All I can say is I AM A SUPER MUM just for being a mum and I’m happy to say I took the drugs 2 yrs ago and I will take them again if I feel the need despite what is said.”

Mammamia reader claystep asks “do mothers really need more stuff to feel guilty about??”

Another point of contention is Dr Walsh’s gender.

Liz45 on Crikey:

“To have a male carry on in this manner is just too ludicrous for words. What the hell would he know? … He can say what he likes, safe in the knowledge that he’ll never have to experience it!”

Mia Freedman struck up the refrain, ‘no uterus, no opinion’, in her blog post on the subject, ‘Brave man tells women in labour to toughen up because pain relief is for wussbags’, which many of her readers reiterated.

This is surely a counterproductive and reactionary response to Dr Walsh’s comments, not to mention one that is plain sexist. The reasoning behind it is dangerously exclusionary. It’s too easy to substitute one element and end up with something much more malevolent – say, ‘no uterus, no admission’ etc. Suddenly such logic is pretty clearly discriminatory.

It is the sort of thinking that many feminists have been seeking to overturn for years – when applied to circumstances such as the role of women in professional sport like AFL.

Dr Walsh is a senior midwife and associate professor in midwifery at Nottingham University, a good reason to take into account his opinion, and there have of course been more rational responses to his views.

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Dr Ted Weaver:

What we want to get away from is the sort of maternity care where mothers are given an epidural to shut them up so they can…be baby-sat while the labour progresses.

Alison Bailey commenting on Crikey:

“As women, we have been inculcated to believe that childbirth is a horrible and scary experience full of pain and fear. It is well known that fear increases pain and no doubt also increases the number of women opting for epidural, regardless of how their labour may or may not go.”

This whole episode raises a number of questions – like why have women reacted so strongly to a man recommending more options for women during childbirth, while actions to limit choice – the new restrictions on homebirths – have been almost entirely unremarked upon? Why would a woman feel guilty about her labour? And what can be done to make childbirth a more positive experience for women?


Posted in Media Watch, Parenting & Family, reproductive rights, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , | 13 Comments »

Victorian Reproductive Rights Update: Assisted Reproductive Treatment Bill Passed

Posted by Clem Bastow on December 5, 2008

News from Victorian Parliament late yesterday that will no doubt have Victorian women feeling a mixture of happiness and trepidation, as the Assisted Reproductive Treatment bill was passed in the Upper, and then Lower, Houses without argument.

Primarily this means it will be a lot “easier” (I use the term, in the context of assisted reproduction, loosely and with a heavy sense of irony) for single women and lesbians to conceive via IVF and other treatments, and also for women to conceive using frozen sperm from their late partners, if prior consent was recorded. It also gives the parents of children born by surrogacy, and gay partners, legal parenting rights.

Some of the other highlights of the bill may be seen as a cause for debate in some quarters:

The legislation bans people with convictions for sexual or violent offences from accessing treatment and candidates must submit to police checks. They must also be free from child protection orders.

Greens MPs Colleen Hartland and Sue Pennicuik had tried to scupper these clauses with amendments but they were defeated.

Doctors fear that delays in obtaining police checks will disadvantage some women, including cancer sufferers who may want to have their eggs harvested before starting treatment that could make them infertile.

Ms Pennicuik succeeded in pushing through another amendment that will require each baby born to a sperm or egg donor to be recorded on a central register.

Three government amendments were also passed. They require a woman to have given birth to a live child before agreeing to become a surrogate and that her own eggs are not used in the conception.

I could be being oversensitive about the first point (the police checks), but something about it feels inherently discriminatory. After all, there are plenty of people out there who blithely have multiple children, and who could well do to have a police check before doing so. But the great thing about Australia is that we don’t live in a police state, so they don’t have to submit to that process, whether we like it or not. Why should parents seeking IVF (etc) assistance need to? Are they second class citizens because they can’t have a child the “natural” way?

Surrogacy is an area I am interested in but not well-versed, so I throw it open to members of the Chorus who might be more informed than I am in that area – what do you think of the surrogacy amendments? And what do you think of the bill, full stop?

Posted in glbt, Media Watch, Parenting & Family, Politics, reproductive rights, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Latest On Abortion Law Reform In Victoria

Posted by Clem Bastow on October 8, 2008

Further updates from the front line in the abortion law reform debate in Victorian Parliament indicate that the reforms could very well be passed sooner rather than later, with a number of key MPs previously opposed to the reforms now indicating their support for the changes. Labor MP Jenny Mikakos’ response was particularly notable:

The shock move came as Labor MP Jenny Mikakos also backed change despite her strong religious background, declaring that Christian values did not override her belief in an individual’s right to choose.

“I can reconcile myself as a Christian as being both anti-abortion and pro-choice,” she told Parliament last night.

And, from The Age‘s coverage:

Labor’s Jenny Mikakos also admitted having doubts about abortion because of her strong Greek Orthodox faith, but decided she would support it because she believed she could not deny the choice of abortion to other women.

In other words, while you may not believe in obtaining an abortion yourself, or for your partner, who are you to prevent others with differing belief systems from doing so?

It’s a shame there aren’t more people like Mikakos speaking up in this debate; it’s essential to get it out there that personal religious beliefs shouldn’t trump general human rights (can someone fax Denis Hart?) when it comes to the health and wellbeing of a woman versus an unborn “child”.

I use inverted commas around “child” in this context because, despite what the anti-choicers seem to suggest, I don’t see that there will be a huge increase in either abortions full stop, or late term – post-24-week – abortions if this reform is passed; thus, the majority of terminations will occur well before there is any chance of the foetus having any chance of even heavily assisted survival outside the womb.

Posted in Media Watch, Politics, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Forget Sexualising Teens, Now You Can Sexualise Your Newborn!

Posted by Clem Bastow on September 12, 2008

While I usually look askance, to a certain extent, at the “sexualising our kids” debate (a lot of it is Australian Family Association-led hot air), there are times when I have to agree to file things in the “yep, that’s fucked up” file – like Heelarious’ high heels for babies, for example:

They sold their first shoes 14 weeks ago and haven’t looked back. “Oh yeah, it draws attention,” Jenelle Kulaas said. “People see them and are like, ‘Those are hilarious’.”

The booties are only made for children up to 6 months old, and the heel is squishy for safety reasons.

The shoes are the brainchild of Washington woman Britta Bacon, who thought up the idea and the brand name, “Heelarious” on her daughter’s fourth birthday.

The shoes are described as “extremely funny, completely soft shoes for babies 0-6 months designed to look like high heels.”

“That’s kind of all I could think about at her birthday party and came home and registered the website, and called Hayden,” Bacon said.

Supporters of this incredibly naff product will no doubt cry “It’s a joke, get a sense of humour!” (already boxes of the booties are being shipped to the Emmys to include in goodie bags, evidently). But I fail to see the gag.

Of all fashion and clothing items, one could argue that the high heel is – along with perhaps the corset and, if you want to go there, the bra – one of the most contentious points in discussions of gender conditioning and the perceived oppression of women. Added to that is the fact that, really, high heels are designed with sex appeal in mind and you have one unbelievably icky proposition. It’s not heelarious at all, really.

Posted in Family, Fashion, Media Watch | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Women Deserve Better

Posted by Clem Bastow on August 3, 2008

I couldn’t not reblog this incredible spoken word performance by Sonia Renee that both Feministing and Feministe have posted:

It’s easy to forget that but for the grace of relatively informed and ethical politicians, Australian women’s reproductive rights could hang by a thread. There is always another Tony Abbott waiting in the wings – stay vigilant!

Posted in Blog Watch, Politics, Women's Health | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Sunday Reed: Just Some Kooky Slut Who Inspired Nicole Kidman’s Baby Name, According To

Posted by Clem Bastow on July 9, 2008

So it turns out Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban’s daughter’s name, Sunday Rose, was inspired by Heide doyenne and one of Australian art’s most fervent supporters, the late Sunday Reed; apparently Nicole’s father Dr Antony Kidman had suggested it as a possible name for their baby after reading about Reed and the Heide school, and Nicole and Keith took a shine to it.

Nothing to complain about there – I’ve always liked the Kidmans (as much as you can “like” a family you only read about in the papers and mags) and it’s a much more thoughtful way of naming a child than the “that’s where she was conceived” trend apparently sweeping the celebrity world.

The problem is not the Kidman Urban clan, no – it’s (somewhat predictably) the Daily Telegraph and’s treatment of Reed’s story with this gobsmacking piece of captioning and photo editing – art-loving feminists better shield their eyes:

If you can’t read the caption, it says:

Nicole Kidman’s father has solved the mystery behind her baby daughter’s unusual name – it’s inspired by Aussie artist Sidney Nolan’s bohemian muse whose love life was twisted and saucy.

Yes, “twisted and saucy”. Because apparently a married couple who were trusting of each other and conducted polyamorous affairs with each other’s knowledge is “twisted and saucy”. But wait, there’s more! Another “article” provides the “background” on Reed:

Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban will probably hope they have bestowed only Sunday Reed’s name on the child and not her sordid and tumultuous life story.


Sunday Reed was not averse to extending her patronage beyond the studio and into the bedroom. She enjoyed a menage a trois in which Sidney Nolan and her husband John were the other partners, and her particular affair with Nolan lasted nine years.

“Tumultuous” is probably a fair, if slightly hyperbolic, assessment, but “sordid”?

Do I really need to point out all the ways in which these pieces a) suggest that Nicole needed daddy to pick out her baby’s name, b) imply that Nic and Keith have done their baby wrong by giving her the same name as a “twisted and saucy” art patron, and c) paint Sunday Reed as little more than a shagger with a penchant for artists?

Posted in Celebrity, Media Watch, Relationships, Sex And Love | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »