My Uterus Doesn’t Make Me a Child; I Don’t Need Your Permission

The other day I was at the zoo with my family. While I was waiting in line for our lunch a goofily grinning police officer on a segway zoomed up, waving to the pointing children and calling out hello’s like he was in some sort of a parade. I was half waiting for him to start throwing candy. With nothing better to do, I watched him as though he were the lunch line exhibit. When he paused, a woman approached him sheepishly.

“May I ask you a question?”
“No,” he sternly answered from his wheeled platform, towering two feet over her.
She looked up at him, stunned.
He laughed.
“Of course you may.”

I leaned in, curious what she was about to ask him with such trepidation and intent. It was hard for me to hear because she lowered her voice (which of course made me more curious). But when I heard the officer’s response of a restroom or other quiet, grassy locations where “no one will bother you,” I realized she had asked if there were any permissible locations in the zoo for her to nurse her baby.

Witnessing this interaction frazzled me for the rest of the day. I felt angry that there was even a debate to be had about where she should sit; angry that the restroom is still the first option thrown to mamas who breastfeed their babies and have the audacity to leave their home and do so in public view. Most of all, I felt overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed that women feel the need to pursue permission for using and existing in their own bodies.

Not surprisingly, women are cultured to be the most passive in circumstances that innately signify our greatest power. Growing a baby in the dark crevices of one’s body, nourishing it with one’s own blood, bringing a being forth in anguish and from our deepest reserves, and then sustaining this new life with our breasts… women give and sustain life. Where could there possibly be a more powerful ability within all of humanity?

And yet…

During pregnancy a woman will be lectured monthly, then bi-monthly, then weekly about the requirements and expectations she must meet. How much weight she may gain, which tests she’s obligated to take, how long she will be “allowed” to remain pregnant, and which items on her birth plan are frivolous fantasies, and “we’ll see dear; it’s important to have an open mind; I need you to trust me when I say it’s time for an epidural / c-section / episiotomy / pitocin.”

At the time of birth, women will have their express wishes ignored, endure forced penetration, verbal bitch slaps, and condescending, “you need to let me do my job” comments. They will be coerced into procedures and surgery, treated as a sideline participants in their own birthing process. When offered a routine intervention a woman may muster through contractions, “can … we …. just…. wait .. a little … longer?” and she’ll receive combative eye rolls or “No, your doctor said….” as though she is an incompetent child existing as a mere pupil under the dictative tutelage of the staff around her.

And when a woman brazenly chooses to use her breasts, openly, for non-male-gazing purposes, she is ridiculed, shamed, and censored. She will be told to sit on a dirty public toilet seat lest someone take offense at her and her baby’s perverse habit of suckling like an animal. She will reflexively look over her shoulder in a restaurant as she carefully lifts her shirt. She might ask her child to wait until they get home, or pump and pack a bottle in order to avoid the discomfort. Sometimes she’ll take along a shawl or a blanket to cover him. Still, people will know what she’s doing, and she’ll feel uneasy. Like she’s partaking in some sort of foul, masturbatory experience in plain sight.

It’s #howwehatewomen

Female subjugation has long been a tool of religion and of war. Women are literally and figuratively raped when they dress a certain way, talk a certain way, make certain choices, assert themselves, and otherwise step out of the Patriarchal line.

Is it a coincidence that women’s primal embodiment is the subject of the most scrutiny?
The most censorship?
The most regulation?

Challenging women on reproduction is the foundational space to keep women in their place. If a society can craft an image of woman-as-delinquent, it makes it far easier to manage her.

If women can be cast as infantile, it is then plausible to make her seek permission.
If women can be viewed as irrational, it then makes sense to regulate her.
If women can be taken down as immoral, it then follows to censor her, shame her, vilify her.

When we ask for permission we give our power away.

We play into a woman-hating, woman-controlling dynamic that reinforces the idea that we are pawns to be manipulated and controlled. Our asking for permission actually offers approval to those who wish to keep women confined under the thumb of an authority other than the woman, herself. It offers a sheepish, subservient bow to the role we feel obliged to play.

Do you want to play this role?

Do you want to continue to play nice like a good little girl who doesn’t rock the boat? Are you more invested in smoothing the sheets and keeping the peace or in self-ownership and self-respect? What would it look like to collectively dishevel the manicured space so carefully landscaped for women abide in?

Gender does not determine who is allowed to speak and exist with directness and confidence. Contrary to popular belief, women aren’t bitches when we assertively stand our ground. We are humans with integrity and enough self-love to speak and act as though we have value. Because we do. And we should act like it.

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Comments

  1. Mari Patkelly says

    Kathi Valeii – you are some writer!
    I am in awe of how you say it like it is simply and without any candy coating!

    Thanks for the important speaking out you do for women, babies, families and ALL in the long run… Your connecting the war issues we have faced on our planet for so long to the birth and other issues which are part of our worldwide cultures (including many other forms of violence against women, children and all “underlings” in human society) is brilliant! Thanks so much for being there so articulately and for standing our ground for us ALL by speaking up for women as you do! Bless YOU!

  2. Kavita Pujari says

    Loved this article! Well written in simple terms so that those around us understand that we will not give away our power and stand to be treated so! Awesome, kudos to you.

  3. Chandra says

    You haven’t said anything that dozens and dozens of blogers and writters haven’t already said (without as much profanity or sounding so incredibly bitter)
    I have just given birth to my third child and still haven’t come across what all this complaining is about. No one twisted my arm in my pregnancies, or forced me when in labour, treated me as incapable of making choices for myself and my baby. And I have never felt shamed to breast feed in public, I do cover because I am a private person and do not want strangers to see my flesh. This world that people like you are making yourselves martyrs over is quickly fading away

    • Profile photo of Kathi Valeii says

      Because I speak with directness and honesty doesn’t necessarily make my tone bitter. Most certainly subjugated groups hold anger over their mistreatment and that’s nothing to apologize for. Women are routinely patronized with condescending language, like “bitter” and “martyr” and “complaining” routinely, when we dare to call out injustices against us. That is also nothing new.

      I’m glad that you had a positive birth experience. This piece doesn’t presume to speak for all women and all birth experiences. Obviously, not all women have a traumatic experience. But, the fact is, a majority of women are not treated as the rightful authorities when it comes decisions about their care, and many are verbally and physically assaulted in the process.

      Women’s stories and experiences are detailed in more places than I can count. I’ve linked to numerous accounts in this single article, alone. Sometimes our attachment to our own experiences keep us from being able to acknowledge and affirm another’s different experience. It’s important to understand that just because some people don’t have the experience I and others are talking about, does not mean they don’t exist or that they are not prolific.

      I hope that the world we presently exist in – the one peppered with disdain for women – will quickly fade away. When it does, it will be because many of us have chosen to stand in defiance against it.

    • Sarah says

      Chandra,

      It is true that this isn’t the first article I’ve read in regards to this topic. But, still, I keep reading, and re-reading them, and I’m thankful for each and every one. Know why? Because these words are true. Too often, in society’s male-dominated medicalized model of birth, women are made to feel as afterthoughts. Doctor knows best, and who are we to question him or have an opinion, after all–healthy baby is all that matters, right? The power and strength that was given to women (from God/the Universe/etc.) is snatched away, and in turn we are “supposed” to simply follow directions/orders, smile and nod, be passive. We have been tricked into believing that our bodies need help, we can’t do this thing (birth, breastfeeding, whatever) alone.

      Know what else? Like you, I had an incredibly empowering and beautiful birth. One where I was in charge of my body and where my choices and preferences mattered. And, it was a vaginal breech birth, at that! We also breastfeed, to natural term, and don’t use a cover. I’ve never really been harassed about it, either. BUT…I recognize and understand that I am very, very lucky. I have friends, family members, women in my community whose stories and experiences are the opposite—are traumatic and horrifying, even. And I will continue to use my voice and read and share and write articles just like this one because those women matter. Birth matters. Women matter. Our experiences matter.

      To me, if every single woman in the entire world had a positive, empowering birth experience, except for ONE woman…I would still be fighting. It’s not about being a “martyr.” It’s about loving, valuing, and lifting up our sisters.

  4. says

    Well said, if more women breastfed openly then it would become the norm encouraging more women to breastfeed. Women can shape how society reacts to any given situation by confident actions. I forsee young confident women approaching their labours with calm and certainty instead of stark panic. I forsee those same women out in society and breastfeeding their babies in a matter of fact way as if this is the way it should always be, not like I was hiding under a shawl and still feeling guilty. The young are are future and I am sure they will lead the way.
    http://www.painfreelabour.blogspot.co.uk

  5. Liz says

    Thank you for this blog. I’ve become an avid reader since becoming pregnant with my first child.
    *EVERY* single hospital or western medical intervention I have had in my life has been unnecessary or lead to further complications. This is not lost on me as I move forward with bringing a life into this world. I’m scared, confused, and happy to have found a place that addresses my concerns.

  6. sionya says

    I think you are actually pretty dramatic of the actual issue here. I am a woman and as a woman id rather not watch a woman expose herself in public no matter the reason.
    Also the way you dress makes people rape you? I believe you’re sincerely mistaken. It would happen weather or not youre dressed provocatively or not. Claiming that makes you seem like a petty angry feminist severely lacking in the open mindedness that comes with ignorance

    • Profile photo of Kathi Valeii says

      The closed-mindedness that you accuse me of is rife in your belief that a woman breastfeeding her baby in public is tantamount to “exposing herself.” Breastfeeding is a normal, biological function that has been distorted by our shame-filled society to somehow fall into line with some sort of sexually perverted act when done outside of the mother’s own four walls. Women and their babies should not be treated as though they are doing something abnormal when they nurse in public. This line of thinking is one of the very challenging issues that breastfeeding women face, and it is one of the many reasons that fall into the lack of support spectrum that cause so many women to end their nursing relationship with their child prematurely.

      About the rape issue, of course I don’t believe that how women dresses determines whether or not she is raped – I am speaking to the rape culture dialogue, though, that does insist that women are to blame for their sexual assaults.

      Referring to my calling out injustice against women as “dramatic” and “angry” falls in line with the ‘hysterical women’ card that women have been played throughout all of history whenever they dare to call out oppression against them. It’s nothing new.

  7. Shaneen says

    Beautifully written, I had a very terrible first and second birth. With my first my doctor stripped my membranes without even telling me, let alone asking permission. I was told to be quiet during laborious, told I had to have episiotomies or my baby would never fit. My third I had a midwife with more options and a better experience. With my last I went to a birth center and had a beautiful birth my way. I made all the decisions of what tests I wanted to how I birthed my baby. 42 weeks and a day with no one telling me I had a time limit. I had my baby in my house with midwives thar were as close as family. That is the kind of birth women deserve. To be treated like a part of the process no matter what their choice for their birth. I knew that if I ended up with a csection it would have been because I needed one not because a doctor was tired of waiting.

  8. Tracy says

    I enjoyed your article. It is so much more well written than similar ones I’ve seen and this one really struck a core! I have 6 children, all born by c-section as that’s what to doctors deemed right for me. I cannot count the number of times I’ve cried in the hospital carpark following a consultant appointment after being ‘lectured at’ by various professionals – it was awful – to the point when I would dread the next appointment!

    I was indeed spoken to as if I lack in intelligence, years, or both. As if my body were another of their tasks to process. And I was never informed of the whys, simply told that they know more and therefore the best for me. Maybe they did, but doesn’t trust begin and fear diminish with knowledge and understanding?

    Sadly, I never had the courage to breast feed my 1st 3 children, the confidence… It simply wasn’t done, it was primitive and unnecessary, and completely alien in my large family. I wish I had had a friend like you!

  9. Lynsi says

    The only thing I didn’t like about this article is the title. To me, it seems to imply that a child is a second-class citizen, a lesser person. While I understand the intention of the article, I think the title should have been worded differently.

  10. Carolyn says

    As a woman who has been suffering with birth trauma for over two years, caused by appalling staff treatment, emotional blackmail, coercion, threatening, assaulting me, drugging me against my consent; I thank you for writing this xx

  11. ananda says

    Ok I agree with 90% of your article. Until you started blaming religion for oppression. Jesus didn’t say thou shalt not breastfeed man did that. Religion is created by man faith is something different. Believe whatever you wish but dont blame God blame mankind (womenkind too). I have been tricked and forced into a csection twice now. I have also failed twice now to breastfeed. Each time feeling ashamed by women around me. Hearing how im a shame to ALL women just because I couldn’t do what all others can do.my boys are healthy even though I formula fed them. And I wish women would be supportive of each other instead of calling them bad parents because they didnt do this or that.

  12. Maggie says

    Maybe she was just asking where a more private or quiet place would be because that is her personal preference? I asked a similar question of an employee at a theme park I visited when baby was 6 weeks old. It was hot and bright outside, and I still had an overactive letdown that caused him to pull off and milk to spray everywhere. I wanted a shady or cooler place with a little privacy. They kindly led me to the first aid station which had a private air-conditioned room with a water cooler. There are still plenty of women who do want a little privacy, and that’s okay too!