Mad Birth: Are Today’s Women Better off than Betty Draper?
I’m a huge Mad Men fan. For readers who aren’t familiar with the show, it depicts the goings on at a New York City advertising company in the 1960s. The show has earned critical acclaim not just for its stellar acting and story telling, but for the show’s authentic depiction of the styles, trends, and attitudes of the era.
Last week, the main character’s wife, Betty Draper, gave birth to her third child. While her husband, Don, sits in the waiting room drinking scotch with another nervous expectant dad, Betty is subjected to 1960’s “standard of care” obstetrics. Left alone in a labor room, she is shaved, given an enema, and then receives the crown jewel of her modern childbirth experience: medications to induce twilight sleep, which also induce a mad stupor and land Betty in restraints because of her erratic, combative behavior. As a midwife and a mother, the most difficult part for me to watch was when Betty awoke from her stupor, swaddled baby in arms, with no memory of the experience. You can watch all of the birth-related clips from the show at Jezebel.
This season, there are several feminist blogs keeping tabs on Mad Men and the various depictions of women’s rights and abuses thereof. It’s not difficult for feminists to recognize that birth in the twilight sleep era was nothing less than violence against women. But I have seen very little chatter on the blogs about the aspects of the childbirth experience that remain paternalistic, misogynistic, and violent half a century later.
Are today’s women better off than Betty Draper? Clearly, most of us are. But I believe we’ve traded a visible, blatant form of labor ward paternalism for a new paternalism and a “standard of care” that presents to women bogus assurances of safety and autonomy.
I was recently asked by Jill at The Unnecesarean to nominate one of my favorite blog posts for “Best of Week” at her blog. I sent her my choice before I had even watched last week’s Mad Men, and the timing is serendipitous. Rather than select one of the many Science & Sensibility posts I am proud of, I decided to nominate the very first blog post I ever wrote. In it, I write about my own births and those of the three generations of women in my family who birthed before me. If anyone wondered how I became so radicalized about childbirth and women’s health, just have a look at my sorry family history. And ask yourself: What will our daughters think of today’s style of “modern” maternity care, once they have the benefit of hindsight?