Joyous Childbirth Changes the World: A Review

“Women and men are totally different. They are different to the same extent that moles and foxes are different.”

“Women working outside the home have mannish expressions.”

“The coeducation system is a plot hatched by governments and industrial societies… it actually means transforming all girls into boys.”

“Childbirth is the most important process that can enable a woman to become a Mother and a true Woman.”

Were these lines plucked from an ISIS pamphlet on the proper role of women in the Caliphate? A Hassidic dissertation on the impermissibility of educating girls? A Quiverfull tract on women’s jobs as baby factories?

Nope.

They’re straight from Joyous Childbirth Changes the World, by Japanese obstetrician Tadashi Yoshimura. And no, it wasn’t published in 1958: it was published in 2008.

None of this would be terribly surprising if the book were a self-published treatise by a marginal nut-job working in obscurity. The shocking part—the thing that led me to pick up the book in the first place—was a hyperbolic endorsement from the godmother of contemporary midwifery herself, Ina May Gaskin, and from Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom (which—full disclosure—I haven’t read. From what I gather, it seems maybe a little pseudo-sciency, but certainly not at odds with feminism). In a blurb on the cover, Northrup calls the book “A masterpiece of truth and wisdom and hope,” and in her forward, Gaskin compares Yoshimura to Joseph Lister, lauding his “courage and vision.”

Browsing the Ballard library this afternoon, I was looking for something light and easy. I’ve got birth on the brain, and I’m always looking for new insights and information, as well as positive stories about natural, unmedicated childbirth. The title of the book caught my eye: “Hmmm,” I thought. “Joyous Childbirth! Sounds delightful.”

Imagining it would be filled with feel-good anecdotes about the joys and benefits of natural birth, I was shocked to discover, almost immediately upon opening the book, a wackadoodle anti-feminist screed.

While purporting to empower women and wrest them from the oppressive norms of patriarchal society, Yoshimura’s philosophy somehow manages to be simultaneously misogynistic, misandrous, and insulting to anyone with a brain in their head. Which I guess makes sense, given his affection for people without brains: Early in the book, Yoshimura tells the heartwarming story of a baby girl who was born without a brain and went on to “[live] her life as a fully fledged human being… a great life.” (For a couple of hours, anyway.) In reference to the doctors who recommended that her mother get an abortion, he muses, “They were going to kill the baby as something useless, which is exactly what they did in Auschwitz. Doesn’t this mean that modern medical science is the same as Auschwitz?” (Emphasis mine. Resounding *splat* of jaw hitting floor, also mine.)

According to Yoshimura, the only way to become a “true Woman” is to experience natural birth with no interventions. Women who have not given birth, or who have experienced a caesarian or other intervention, are not, therefore, “true” women. Similarly, the experience of birth is supposed to make previously hard, intimidating, “masculine” women more feminine. (Yoshimura isn’t shy in asserting that “Women should be feminine, men should be masculine.” About men who “obey their bosses pliantly, content simply to receive a paycheck,” he wonders: “Can such a prideless man father a child? Can he make a woman pregnant?” Given that the ability to produce viable sperm isn’t exclusive to mercenaries and Bering Sea fishermen, my money’s on “yes.”)

Here are a few more gems:

“Only in giving up our lives for women, will we become men… If you cannot give birth to a baby by yourself… I wonder if you deserve to have a man give up his life for you.”

“The purpose of the female sex is to generate, nurture, and bequeath life.”

“…women in their natural state cannot adapt to male society, so men established the coeducation system to masculinize women. Without masculinizing women and forcing them to work, modern society couldn’t work.”

“Pregnant women must not work.”

There is so, so much more… but I have to stop before my head explodes. (Stress isn’t good for pregnant women.)

How did this retrograde claptrap even get published? How did it end up in the Ballard library? And what the actual fuck were Ina May Gaskin and Christiane Northrup—luminaries in women’s health and staunch advocates for women’s self-determination (or so I imagined)—thinking when they put their stamp of approval on such pernicious nonsense?

I happen to agree with a few of of the book’s key contentions: that vigorous physical activity is good for pregnant women, that natural, unmedicated birth with minimal intervention is the ideal, that childbirth has become over-medicalized. But the bulk of it is such patently ridiculous twaddle that I would laugh, if only it weren’t so resoundingly offensive.

On a scale from “blissed-out water-birth in a crystalline stream surrounded by chirping finches” to “three-day-long, heavily medicated labor” I give this book a rating of “retching into a bedpan after a botched epidural while confined to a hospital bed and catheterized.”

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