An Open Letter to Jezebel: A Developing Trend in the Trendiness of Choice?

12 Jul

A guest post from Kelly Gray, re-posted from the Bay Area Doula Project with permission.

I’ve spotted a trend at Jezebel, a ‘gossip, culture, fashion, and sex’ website ‘for the contemporary woman’: articles that claim that women who are exercising their right to choose their own pregnancy outcomes and discuss them afterwards are succumbing to random and arbitrary trends.  Why I Won’t Come Out About My Abortion, by Anonymous, and Homebirths Are Actually Kind of Dangerous, by Tracie Egan Morrissey, both make this claim.

Anonymous claims in her article that it is trendy to come out of your abortion closet, which sounded reminiscent of the recently written article by Morrissey who said “Now that Ricki Lake made it seem empowering and supermodels made it seem chic, home births are experiencing a spike in popularity.”

I’d like to write a little about ‘trendy’ and the negative implications that it hopes to cultivate. ‘Trendy’ discounts all the work that reproductive justice advocates have done to create forums where women can share stories and make medical decisions based on fact rather than from places of fear. Anonymous paints a world of daunting “public pressure”, as if angry feminists are demanding abortion stories from every woman on every corner in America. In reality, these abortion stories are organically finding their way through social networking sites that have become safe havens for women to share the reality of their experiences. These are women who might have felt silenced, stigmatized, and ashamed before going public. Others do it in the face of politicians who hope to define these experiences for us through policy and legislation.

‘Trendy’ discounts all the thought I put into writing my own abortion story – from wondering how my family would sit with it, to how it could affect my career. As a birth doula and childbirth educator, this “coming out” was no small matter, and I take personal offense that someone would assume I did so to be in vogue. It felt brave and vulnerable, which is not how I feel when I buy a new pair of shoes or get bangs for the first time in ten years (depending on the style).

Morrissey tackles the subject of trendy home-birthers and flippantly claims that home birth is kind of dangerous. As I see it, this is just another attack on women’s choice, but back handed and coming from our so-called allies. Homebirth is a choice and one that is normal, respected and practiced worldwide. The first thing Morrissey implies in her article is that if you seek the care of a homebirth midwife you have done so because you have watched a Ricki Lake documentary or hope to emulate some celebrity, which establishes in the reader’s mind that women are impressionable, ditzy, and couldn’t possibly navigate their own reproductive outcomes without a copy of Entertainment Weekly in their hands. Her calculations to support this assertion are weak at best. She completely ignores that the study she references that compiled infant and maternal mortality rates includes unplanned homebirths, which dramatically skews outcomes. She also ignores any mention of hospital birth risks, including that two to three women die every day in childbirth in hospitals, as cited in Amnesty Internationals Report Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA, and that this particularly affects poor women and women of color.

There is a reason women are choosing telling stories and speaking out in 2012. There is a history behind our silence and we feel it in our throats. For those of us who choose to scream, we do so because we are safe to do so or we have carefully calculated the risks, or, we just have no other option. We recognize that the problem is that we still feel fear, guilt and shame around pregnancy choices, be it abortion, stillbirth, miscarriage, hospital birth or home birth. We are silenced within the hospital and out of it. That is the problem and the true trend that we must break.

Kelly is a mother, full spectrum doula, childbirth educator and one of the founders of the Bay Area Doula Project. She grew up as a union organizer for public sector healthcare workers and has a passion for redefining healthcare access, models and justice. When she’s not helping women take charge of their reproductive lives, she’s guiding her fiery daughter to harness her own innate powers.

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