Naomi Wolf has long been known as an incisive commentator on the modern life of women. Her bestselling book ‘The Beauty Myth’ demonstrated how the cultural ideal of beauty, expounded by all areas of the media, is used to control women.
In ‘Misconceptions’ she uses her own experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and caring for a newborn to explore the way mothers are treated in modern society.
Control, once again, is the overwhelming theme of this book. From the moment she puts herself in the hands of the medical profession, newly pregnant, she charts the path as control over her body, her baby and her decisions are slowly removed by the doctors she comes into contact with.
In researching ‘Misconceptions’, she discovered that other options were open to her. Rather than her intervention happy ob/gyn experience, there were the options of midwife run birthing centres and natural childbirth options. For her second pregnancy she was able to make a more informed decision, but proposes that most women are not given the facts to make this important decision, that they are misinformed by doctors, hospitals, books and the media.
Now the US birthing ‘industry’ is a little different to the UK. Since all medical care is private in the US it is financially advantageous for a doctor to perform more procedures. Coupled with the compensation culture which means doctors must cover every option lest they be sued, every recommendation they make can be influenced not by what is best for the mother, but what will ensure they are not taken to court. Wolf often compares the NHS’s approach, where costly procedures are avoided where possible, favourably although she is not wholly uncritical.
Interwoven with her exploration of the medicalization of childbirth are Wolf’s changing feelings about herself as she approaches motherhood. Along with interviews with other mothers she explores the change of status which comes with becoming a mother. The inequalities within the relationship with the father, in the workplace and in the attitude of the rest of the world will be familiar to all mothers, and the painfully accurate insights into how this affects a mother are one of the most moving parts of this book.
She concludes with ‘A Mother’s Manifesto’, a list of goals for feminist motherhood, a few of which we are fortunate enough to enjoy here in the UK, many of which still seem a long way away. It will require a huge shift in attitude to achieve some of her most lofty goals, but, I think, worth the fight.