toward a definition of ‘natural’

November 14, 2006 at 6:24 am (anti-classism, anti-oppression, anti-racism, Motherhood, women of color)

since representation and technology form an intrinsic part of human ‘nature’ and human lives, the distinction between the natural and artificial is problematic if intended as a reference to specific characteristics of human bodies, characteristics or abilities. instead this dichotomy serves as a linguistic device employed in order to justify preferred (‘natural/normal/healthy’) forms of life.

–lucy yardley, the quest for natural communication

so what are the ‘preferred’ forms of life?

let us remember that the concept of ‘natural’ childbirth or lifestyle is dependent on the concept of the ‘artificial’. that the normal birth concept is dependent on the existance of the technological and medicalized models of birth.

so natural/normal birth did not exist before modern western birth culture.

and who has a natural/normal birth? predominately pregnant middle and upper class educated white women who have the economic and racial privilege of having choices. so a small segment of birthing society, privileged women, is allowed to be ‘normal’. and as for those for who do not have access to these choices, well, they are condemned to an abnormal unnatural pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. …these women have ‘typical’, ‘common’ childbearing experiences.
and the predominately pregnant middle and upper class educated white women are a numerical minority, ‘normal’ized and ‘natural’ized. how does this normalization occur? by exoticising and imitating and co-opting the practices and images of (primarily)3rd world brown women childbearing cultures.

would these brown mamas be welcomed in a home birth class like the one i was kicked out of? or would they be told that they had ‘issues around culture and anger’ that could not be fixed? would they be told that they were in ‘culture shock’?

if we understand that the natural/normal concept is really code for ‘preferred’, are ‘naturalized’ elite women stating that they would prefer to be a third world woman? of course not. no, it is the elite white women who has the preferred childbirth. it is she who has the preferred (natural) body. it is she who is normal. and she, her body, her lifestyle, her childbearing, her mothering, and inevitably, her children who set the standard through her privilege and access of what is normal and natural.

and as for the rest of us, we are either allowed to follow, or we disappear.



  1. amani said,

    While I understand that the word “natural” may be problematic when speaking in terms of human bodies and human behaviour, and think it is a bit of a stretch to state that a non-medicated birthing experience is one that is only available to “elite white women.” Many of the women I know have experienced non-medicated births are beige, brown black and every shade in between. Take my iraqi friend for instance. She is not upper-middle class, in fact she is far from it. She never took a class in ‘natural” childbirth, rather she read library books and did research on the internet. She had a non-medicated childbirth, not because of some sense of exoticism, but because that is what she thought was best for the health of her baby.

    Take me for another example. I am a BlackAmerican woman, who also happens to be a Hurrican Katrina evacuee from New Orleans. When Katrina hit I was 4.5 mos pregnant with my little girl. I chose not to allow the fact that my life was in turmoil to prevent me from having a non-medicated birth. Why did I choose an instinctual birth? My choice was not based on some sense of exoticism, it was based on what I felt was best for the baby that was growing inside of me. Her needs came before mine, and they still do, incidentally.

    Let me tell you from a woman who has had a baby, if you do not allow yourself to be numbed by narcotics, your body will instinctually move towards certain positions. Lying on the side feels better then lying on the back. Squating feels best of all. Incidentally, these are the positions that make the most sense, physiologically. Lying on the side releases pressure from the tailbone, while squatting uses the force of gravity.

    I guess what I am trying to say is, do not allow a lingiuistic argument over the use of the term “natural” to hinder you from doing what is best for the baby you are growing. Call an un-medicated birth, call it and instinctual birth, call what you will but make the decision based on the well being of the baby, not the linguistics surrounding it.

    sorry for the long winded post, you may delete it if you wish.

  2. amani said,

    oops, sorry for the typos…

  3. revolutionofthelilies said,

    dear amani,
    i resisted at your first comment to tell you about my identity, lifestyle choices, or history, because i didnot want to fall into the ‘im the health/natural expert’ game. but since you have shared your life and choices with me. i will honor you by doing the same. perhaps this will alleviate some of assumptions you have made about me.
    as i said before i began studying midwifery a few years ago. i have spent the past few years living and traveling in the middle east, east africa, and the states. i conceived this child in the west bank and planned to have the child there. i consulted with midwives (in the west bank 70 percent of births are midwifed), and planned to have a semi-assisted home birth. i chose this because i knew that my body was strong (i was teaching yoga at the time and eat primarily fruit and veggies), i had studied labor and birth, and had a supportive partner and community. unfortunately i was kicked out of the country and returned to the states.
    further, i would like to point out that i said in this post that in the states it was –predominantly–white women who had access to ‘natural/normal’. and this is true. the fact that i am a woman of color participating in a home birthing culture that white women predominate and control, in no way negates the fact that it is white women who set the standards and practices for the natural birth culture.
    these questions about natural and normal are not just linguistic questions. they are questions about how i view myself, pregnancy, birth, motherhood, etc. ina may, whom you recomended earlier, states that ‘what the mind sees, the body does’. she also says that during pregnancy we are very susceptible to the people around us and how they view pregnancy and birth. pregnant women become energetically porous like a sponge.
    thus by interrogating and resisting racist, patriarchial, heterosexist birth language and culture, i am choosing what is best for my child in utero.
    i do not want to make assumptions about you or your iraqi friend ( please tell her shlonek? for me.). did you have a midwife? a doula? i am asking because most midwives i know in the states consider an unassisted or semi-assisted birth to be irresponsible and unsafe for the child. i would love to talk to mothers who have made this choice. especially mothers of color.
    lastly i would like to point out that i did not take this homebirth class for information primarily, i took it to talk and meet with regularly other pregnany women.
    i was kicked out of this class, because i asked a question.
    i would also like to point out to you that you do not know what my body will do ‘instinctually’, but thank you for sharing a part of your story and what your body did.
    amani is one of my favorite swahili words. my first name is maisha. which means life.

  4. amani said,

    Hi Maisha, i’m glad that we’re on a first name basis now. I’m also glad that I have heard some of your story, I feel that we understand each other a little better now. I would love to hear more about your travels. I had my baby using a CNM.

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