When it comes to IVF, do we ask whether we should?

The modern world is filled with scientific innovations that have advanced the quality and longevity of life. There was a time when women who were infertile had two options: adoption or nursing an empty womb. There have certainly always been women who did not desire to mother, but for those who were involuntarily infertile, the inability to conceive created terrible pain. IVF has brought the joy of motherhood to millions of women and we have come to see this as a scientific good without questioning what — if any — limitations should be imposed on this process.

Women’s advocates argue for female autonomy and the right of women to control their own bodies; however, in the case of IVF treatment, women are not the only ones being affected. It is important to remember that a child is the result of a successful treatment and that he or she is going to be in a dependent situation for years to come. No one speaks for these potential children in fear that putting limitations on this procedure means putting restrictions on women’s reproductive choices. Continue reading

A different sort of female genital mutilation

About thirty years ago, there was an informal secret society in the city of Cork. Perhaps a loose net of those with a shared interest might be more accurate. This group passed the names of certain professionals around – who could be trusted, previous experiences, and religious beliefs. The information was gathered from many sources. It was shared among women of childbearing age because none wanted a fervently Catholic gynecologist.

A fervently Catholic gynecologist might put his beliefs into practice on the delivery table. He might choose to save the life of the child over the mother, or regardless of consequences make sure the woman would conceive again, or choose to mutilate a woman’s body rather than allow the idea that the woman might choose contraception in the future.

In the grand tradition of submission to the catholic church, Irish doctors used the surgical technique of symphysiotomy, long after the rest of the developed world had discredited its practice. Symphysiotomy was developed in 1597 and was routinely used to widen the pelvis during childbirth. By dividing the cartilage of the symphysis pubis, the pelvis can be widened by up to two centimetres.

Known complications include haemorrhage, injury to the urethra or bladder, vesicovaginal or urethrovaginal fistula, stress incontinence, sepsis, and pelvic osteoarthropathy. In some cases women experienced difficulty in walking and an unstable pelvis.

The technique was largely abandoned in the late nineteenth century after improvements in the hygiene and clinical practice of Caesarean section. It is still practiced in developing countries when Caesarean section is too risky and it can save the life of the mother and/or that of the child. Continue reading

Mother’s Day: What are we really celebrating?

Today is Mother’s Day and restaurants and florist shops are on overdrive, trying to keep up with the consumer-driven holiday we have created to celebrate motherhood.   In advertising, I have seen everything from sofas and loveseats to big screen televisions (supposedly on sale) all meant to honour women who have raised or are currently raising children.  Looking at the ads, it would be easy to believe that this is a universal concern because so much has been dedicated to this supposed holiday; however, it is far from the truth.

Jillian Michaels recently caused a stir when she announced that she did not want to have children for fear of losing her figure.   Michaels has struggled with weight problems in the past and the fear of becoming fat again was too much for her to overcome.   There are plenty of women who do not want to become mothers for various reason, but Jillian’s comments represent a particular frame of thought that has come to be associated with motherhood.

Photographers aggressively seek pictures of women with a baby bump and even when a woman is not pregnant, the slightest weight gain is enough to set people speculating as to whether or not she is with child. Once again, this might seem like an obvious love of motherhood, however, nothing could be further from the truth.  These investigations are simply just more discipline of female bodies.  If it is revealed that a woman is not pregnant, the fat shaming begins immediately and if she is pregnant, the policing of her personal activities ensues.  Suddenly, every action and every single morsel of food that she consumes becomes the business of the public – all wrapped in so-called concern for the unborn child. Continue reading