My daughter’s seventh birthday was just before the winter Solstice. Like many parents, I am prone to nostalgia around this time, as I dig back through my memory to recall that experience, those first days together, and to examine the profound impact her presence has had on the person I’ve become. Among other things (e.g. sleep patterns, budget, tolerance for children’s music), motherhood radically transformed my feminism. It was a broadening of a sphere but also a shift, to be sure, in both the tone and the substance of my stance. Until that point my major feminist concern, aside from sexual assault and pervasive misogyny (you know, those pesky little things), was the right to end a pregnancy if I so wished.
And, for a moment, I did. For more than a moment, really. For several hours after confirming I was pregnant I pondered the possibility of ending it.
We’d been married for six years, and children weren’t part of the plan. I’d just entered my Saturn’s Return, an astrological rebirth of sorts that happens at the end of one’s twenties and signals a Phoenix-like renaissance of the soul with all of the associated trauma of the death of a former self, and my partner was pursuing an MFA in creative writing. We were moving to New York City, goddammit; we weren’t certain exactly what we were going to do there, but it sure as hell didn’t involve kids. I’d finally figured out who I was and I was on the cusp of big things, about to achieve my potential, I knew it. With the prospect of a pregnancy, though, I was afraid to lose myself; I didn’t know if there was space for the both of us in my body.
But I didn’t “do the deed,” as one friend referred to it. I chose to gestate and birth the person who is kicking the wall upstairs when she’s supposed to be asleep. And with that choice I learned that “keep your laws off my body” is so much bigger than abortion.
It is ridiculous how much everyone thinks they know about the bodies of pregnant women. If you’ve ever been pregnant you surely appreciate what I mean. From the neighbor next door to the woman behind you in the grocery checkout, people think that your being pregnant gives them free rein to comment on your body and your lifestyle, and they’re usually poised to hand out ample unsolicited advice. These interactions range from banal observations – look at how you’re carrying…it’s got to be a boy – to presumptuous questions – when are you due? what’s the baby’s gender? From the annoying – you must have twins in there! – to the offensive – are you sure it’s healthy to gain so much weight? – to the downright disturbing – with the laying on of hands I will bless your child (seriously, if anyone ever tries to touch my abdomen in a restaurant again, I might punch them).
In order to stay sane (and leave the house at all) I told myself often that, while intrusive and inappropriate, these folks weren’t out to label or control me. They were simply, like so many of us, focused on the intention (a friendly connection made with a stranger based on something they inferred from my appearance) and not the impact of their words and actions (what the fuck, stranger? who asked you?).
There is a whole other category of people, though, whose intentions are not so benign and who work incredibly hard to monitor and control the bodies of pregnant women to various social, political, and economic ends. Hospitals, lawmakers, insurance companies, formula manufacturers, the pharmaceutical industry: they all have a stake, they all have an idea about what a woman should do with her body, how she should navigate what’s perhaps the most intimate and personal experience of her life. They call upon science and tell you they’re the experts, transforming an interpretation or an opinion into a fact by adding the necessary acronyms. It’s tenuous at best to suggest these recommendations are based on the health and safety of each individual mother or even the fetus. More likely, they’re driven by numbers: statistics and bottom lines, profit margins and tee times.
These are the institutions you trust to care for you and your child-to-be.
After three months with an all-female OBGYN practice, I made up my mind to go the midwife/out-of-hospital route. And here’s the important connection: cannabis helped me make that decision, helped me understand that I had a choice. I don’t mean that I used it during pregnancy; I mean that my relationship with cannabis had demonstrated that the forces behind medical science didn’t always have humanitarian interests and that sometimes, doctors are flat out wrong. This knowledge liberated me to make decisions independent from the boxed-in, mainstream idea of how we’re “supposed to” do it. To be clear, I know many doctors put their patients first and honor their patients’ voices, and I know many families need the technological resources of a hospital setting to conceive and/or safely deliver their babies. I’m simply advocating for available alternatives and imploring women to educate themselves about their options.
Cannabis, for me, is not only recreation or medication; it is a reminder to always question the status quo, and to challenge it, because things don’t have to be the way they’ve always been. This is almost a spiritual orientation, the will to see through the illusion, to remove the veil, and it was this mentality that encouraged me to seek and find an inspiring and fulfilling birthing experience outside of the doctor’s office.
My pregnancy was totally healthy, my birth completely normal and relatively easy, and my recovery swift. I was sleeping in my bed, with my infant daughter at my side, a few hours after she entered the world. Using a midwife at a freestanding birthing center offered me the opportunity to guide the trajectory of my pregnancy instead of leaving it in the hands of someone else. I was never told, “This is how it’s done.” Instead, I was given information, choices, and the chance to learn so much about childbirth and about myself.
Of course, there’s another connection, another that’s probably more obvious to you than my rambling thoughts around resistance and change and their home at the nexus of cannabis, feminism, and pregnancy, and that’s Ina May Gaskin, the “mother of authentic midwifery” and author of Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Ina May established one of the first out-of-hospital birthing centers, The Farm Midwifery Center, and pioneered direct midwifery on the commune she and her husband, Stephen Gaskin, founded in Tennessee. Stephen, of course, was a highly vocal cannabis activist for decades and even ran in a presidential primary on a universal healthcare/cannabis decriminalization platform. So the relationship between cannabis and midwifery is a deep and abiding one.
Cannabis is about choice, feminism is about choice, pregnancy is about choice. My feminism is not the brand that says my choice was better than your choice. Rather, it’s the kind that says: if you felt empowered that’s what matters. I was empowered through a midwife-assisted birth and the relationship it gave me with my body and with my child, and I credit cannabis with prompting me to pursue options I might not have known about otherwise, so that’s what I can speak to. My real goal is to help create a conversation in which all women can bring their experiences to the table and connect through our stories rather than build walls around what we think is right to keep out what we think is wrong.
Remember that there are many, many choices to make after that initial one – doctor, midwife, freebirth; ultrasounds, prenatal tests, or none of the above; hospital, birthing center, home; breastmilk or formula; etc., etc. until the kid’s at least 18 – and, like that first choice, they are yours. Not a politician’s or a medical equipment company’s or an HMO’s. We deserve autonomy and self-determination in our pregnancies and birthing experiences. The institutions that want us to relinquish sovereignty over our own bodies are motivated by a deep-seated desire to usurp not simply women’s reproductive rights, but also our reproductive and creative power, to be the authority on our bodies in order to render us powerless. The same could be said for the prohibitionists. But we are not powerless as long as we recognize our right to make an independent choice and as long as we continue to assert that right, for ourselves and for us all, even when others deny it.