Which Craft is the Witchcraft?   2 comments

Will quotes Lay: “Pregnant women often identify the first time at which they began to fully sense their babies as that moment when their physicians or technicians share with them an ultrasound image” (23).  In that case, it sounds silly: why would we wait to see an ultrasound before trusting our own bodies to tell us what’s what?  But then I think of OTC pregnancy tests, and I think Lay could have backed up the example even further.  The first time we think of ourselves as pregnant is when that little plastic applicator “comes back” with the line, or the plus, or the whatever-color-it-should-be. (I plead ignorance of the specifics for obvious reasons.)  Women learn of conception via medicine long before they could via natural care.  It’s a benefit gained by allowing autonomy to be wrested, much like the Minnesota midwives had to accept medical oversight to be able to get licensing.

We are faced with an interesting dilemma—one that gets ever more stark as technology (and biomedicine) improves: at what point does the involvement of medicine move from helpful to counter-productive?  I don’t see a downside to the ability to gain knowledge from OTC pregnancy tests, even though I’m sure that knowledge can be misused.  But to get women socialized to the point of needing internal imaging to feel the role of the mother seems a bit like denying our senses too much.  Segal’s discussion in Chapter 5 struck the same chord with me.  I believe every participant in every documented discussion (including the ones regarding Segal’s mother) would say they were acting “in the best interests of the patient,” but the results of their thinking couldn’t be more strikingly different, especially where end-of-life decisions are concerned.

I found it interesting that medicine, in both texts, was portrayed as wanting to make life as long as possible, but that alternative methods strove to make life as good as possible.  To the midwife, that meant spending hours with their clients and allowing labor to run its slow, deliberate course.  To Segal and her sister, that meant allowing their mother to stop suffering and die more quickly.  The images I got from the reading were of midwives who care for the mothers and wanted to make birth natural and rewarding by allowing it to delay as long as needed.  For Segal, it was to hasten death and make it more natural and, in some respect, more rewarding.  I applaud Segal for writing such a personal story, and for mixing detached and personal storytelling; it was necessary and poignant for her point.

Jen asked whether there can be “room for many different ways of knowing,” and that parallels a concern I have, too.  If the fatal blow to the efforts of midwives was the need to fit their practice into legal terms suitable for legislation, I wonder how much other viable health care gets not just damaged or subverted but completely extinguished just because of the infrastructure we have established in this country.  If a patient has insurance coverage through a massive HMO and goes to a hospital with machines that go “bing!” and lots of expensive specialists, that patient is sure to be medically treated, but will the patient be cared for?  Why does our system seem to preclude care in the name of treatment?  What in our society has allowed us to focus so myopically and systemically on the one and view the other as little more than “witchcraft and candles”?  (I’m loosely quoting Lay’s recurrent example there.)

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Posted September 14, 2010 by Chris Friend in Uncategorized

2 responses to “Which Craft is the Witchcraft?

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  1. The distinction between long and good definitely seems important in end-of-life decision-making and reminds me of _The Big C_.

  2. In your first paragraph, I am reminded about quickening—the first way that many women once realized their pregnancies in the deepest sense. You might be interested in looking in depth at Leslie Reagan’s When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States: 1867-1973. Up until the time of quickening, women felt free to have abortions, an interesting aspect of this bodily knowledge. You make some interesting points about OTC pregnancy tests, which do empower women to a certain extent in allowing them to determine the state of their bodies rather than relying on physicians to inform them. The same phenomenon occurs, for some women, upon the first ultrasound, when a physician or even technician interprets for the woman what is “seen” in contrast to what is “felt.” Finally, in terms of your comments on viable health care getting extinguished, you might be interested in a little article I did on a birth center run by a direct-entry midwife in Minnesota, which eventually failed because Blue Cross/Blue Shield would not cover health care there: “A Different Place to Birth: A Material Rhetoric Analysis of Baby Haven, a Free-Standing Birth Center.” Women’s Studies in Communication 29.1 (Spring 2006): 1-38.
    Mary Schuster

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