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Montage | Open Book

Guilt-Free Childbirth

July-August 2016

Photograph by iStock


Photograph by iStock

Amy Tuteur ’80, an obstetrician-turned-writer and mother of four, is the self-proclaimed “Enemy Number One of the Natural Parenting Industry,” a spirited combatant in the childbirth wars. In Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting (Dey St./HarperCollins, $26.99), she enters the fray with zest. From the introduction:

No woman should ever feel guilty about the choices she makes regarding childbirth, breastfeeding, or the manner in which she cares for her baby. Surprised? Unfortunately we live in a society where these fundamental aspects of a woman’s life are now an arena where judgment, second-guessing, and guilt reign supreme. It is no longer enough to give birth to a healthy baby and to care for that baby, providing food, warmth, and tenderness. Now all of these acts must be done, in many circles, in ways decreed “correct” by the natural parenting industry.

Where did this industry that dictates the behaviors of millions of women come from?

Surprisingly, the currently popular philosophies of natural childbirth, lactivism, and attachment parenting are based on nothing more than the personal beliefs of a few individuals, most of them men. To my mind, though, the most damaging aspect of this paradigm is that the judgment and guilt surrounding childbirth and child care are heaped upon women most often by other women.…

Initially I was simply bewildered by the ways in which my patients tormented themselves. After delivering a beautiful healthy baby to a joyous healthy mother, I would visit her the next day in the hospital and find her tearful over her “failure.” Instead of enjoying the miracle of her new child, she would be berating herself that she had “given in” and gotten an epidural for pain relief. Or perhaps she would have concluded that her C-section reflected the fact that her body was “broken.” There was a myriad of if-onlys. If only she hadn’t agreed to the postterm induction; if only she had trusted birth more. Sometimes I wondered if the process of birth was more important than the baby itself.

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A boat cast adrift: visualizing the text, “Though the orange tree isle / Remain fast in its color, / ’Tis not such change, / But this drifting boat’s whither / That is beyond all knowing.”

Image courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums Imaging Department ©President and Fellows of Harvard College

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Making scant (and mute) evidence tell its story: the empress Sabina, sculpted A.D. 136-138

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