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I enjoyed Pat MacEnulty’s interview with Ina May Gaskin about the medicalization of childbirth [“Oh Baby,” January 2012]. Reading about the rise in C-sections was like reading about the American invasion of Iraq. Both are shocking examples of patriarchal idiocy.
I was lucky enough to give birth to my daughter at home thirteen years ago with the help of two amazing midwives. Like most expectant mothers planning a home birth, I read Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery as if it were holy scripture. I believed fully in her description of contractions as rushes of energy to bring the baby forth and of birth as a spiritual, psychedelic experience. She also had me believing that pain was not a part of it.
I labored for six hours with all of those beliefs in place. Then, during transition, the pain started. I was shocked and told my midwife, “This hurts!” She calmly told me that it was going to hurt and that I could handle it. Upset, I said, “This isn’t supposed to hurt!” She asked where I’d gotten such an idea, and I told her, “Ina May said so.” At that point I thought to myself, Ina May is a liar.
I remembered that moment with a chuckle as I read the interview with her in The Sun. I guess I never forgot the pain of childbirth, even though they say you will. I did end up having an amazing spiritual experience giving birth to my beautiful daughter. I am grateful to Gaskin for paving the way for all of us who want natural beginnings for our children.
Although I never had children and am past the age to do so, I am puzzled by the many young women I know who had “scheduled” deliveries, either by induced labor or C-section. It seems to me that merely being a woman puts you in danger of being “medicalized.” In your childbearing years? You need annual pelvic exams and pap smears. Forty years old? Add mammograms to the list. Done having children? You may need a hysterectomy. Menopausal? Get thee to a doctor for hormones. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so depressing.
Even more troubling is how many women have readily accepted this constant medical surveillance without question. I cannot accept the idea that, as a woman, my body is just a disease waiting to happen.
I have been throwing away renewal forms from The Sun — until last night. I am a doula and had just come home from a long and frustrating hospital birth. Thanks to the doctors my client was so scared she eventually opted for a C-section, which was, in my opinion, unnecessary. Setting my takeout on the kitchen counter, I noticed that my last issue of The Sun had come in the mail. I opened right to the interview with Ina May Gaskin. Although I was already quite familiar with her work, her words touched me and gave me hope when I needed it most. I immediately renewed my subscription.
Ina May Gaskin’s first book, Spiritual Midwifery, was a bible to me and so many other midwives who did home births back in the 1970s. I still have my tattered original copy on my bookshelf. It was required reading for all my expectant moms (and dads), an eye-opening introduction to the way babies are supposed to be born: in a gentle, natural, patient way, without medical interference. I’m grateful that Gaskin is still fighting to get this message out.
Women who choose to have their babies naturally, whether at home or at the hospital, are typically well-informed, fearless, and strong. Any healthy woman can have a baby this way, but most are uneducated about labor and delivery and give all their power away to medical doctors.
The world needs more advocates like Gaskin. I can only do my small part. (I’m sixty-six now.) I just pray this unhealthy trend can be turned around. Our babies deserve better.
I was awestruck by the audacity of Joe Wilkins’s language in his essay “Bruised” [January 2012]. I read passages over and over to savor them like fine wine. The final sentence took my breath away. I wept right there in the doctor’s office. I wept for the messiness of life, the joy of it, the hope and the despair.
Thank you for printing Sheryl St. Germain’s courageous and beautiful essay “A Country Where You Once Lived” [January 2012]. I am in my early sixties and, like St. Germain, also once thought that my sexual appetite would last my entire life. Over the past fifteen years I have been puzzled by my lack of desire and physical discomfort with intercourse. I have grieved as my libido waned. And, finally, I have accepted that my body no longer wants to bother with sex.
The preponderance of advertising for products to re-erect the penis of the middle-aged man tells us that some men, too, experience reduced virility and sexual desire. Why does this society refuse to accept the decline of sexual activity as we age?
Fortunately I am blessed with a kind, compassionate spouse, in whose arms I cried after reading the essay to him aloud.
I am a fifty-something woman who once enjoyed a vibrant sex life. Then menopause hit, sexual intercourse became uncomfortable, and I began the search that Sheryl St. Germain describes so poignantly and painfully in her essay. I, too, questioned the mind-set that values sexual activity over health and began the long process of grieving the woman I once was and embracing the woman I am now.
I am stunned that Sheryl St. Germain doesn’t mention the clitoris in her essay “A Country Where You Once Lived.” The clitoris is a woman’s sex organ; the vagina is the birth canal. Penetration is not necessary for sex. It is a part of it, not the whole. The female anatomy seems to be invisible in this discussion. Please share the news that there is more than one way for we old gals to have sex!
I was touched by D. Patrick Miller’s interview with Jacob Needleman [“Beyond Belief,” December 2011]. I was also heartened when he spoke about the difference between egoic emotion and “the deep feeling associated with God,” which transcends the personal and brings us into the eternal. I’ve found that I can get to the deep feeling through my dreams. Archetypal Dreamwork is a powerful tool for those longing to be, as Needleman says, inhabited by God.
Most of my education, unless it involved art or music, passed by in a blur. Only two teachers stand out in memory: my high-school French teacher, and Jacob Needleman.
In the early seventies, as a college freshman, I was lucky enough to land in his Philosophy 101 course. I appeared in his classroom barefoot and wearing ripped jeans and an old sweat shirt. On warm afternoons the jeans were replaced by a pair of army-green shorts. That was my entire wardrobe at the time. Once, I even showed up with green-and-purple fingernails and a six-foot fake python wrapped around my neck.
Every day Needleman addressed the class in a suit and tie, with the same calm, reflective manner. He never knew that he had thrown a lifeline to the sullen girl sprawled in a chair in the last row.
When I came across the excerpt from Hermann Hesse’s novel Siddhartha in the December 2011 Dog-Eared Page, I got goose bumps. That exact passage had opened my world forty years ago.
I grew up Catholic yet have questioned religious dogma since I was told at age six that God loves us all but sends us to hell if we are not baptized. Siddhartha was required reading in my Catholic high school, and it liberated me from the need to follow any religious faith, freeing me to find my own path.
Chloë Gladstone’s short story “Buenos Aires, Dancing, December 1982” [December 2011] is moving and magical. She captures, in barely more than a page, the love and acceptance of a strong, caring wife as Alzheimer’s takes over her husband’s mind. I have shared her story with our staff at Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay, and all were captivated by Gladstone’s ability to describe the circumstances they see and work with every day.
Your November issue smacked me right in the kisser. The Michael Meade interview [“Your Own Damn Life,” by John Malkin], Nietzche’s “Untimely Meditations” on the Dog-Eared Page, and the Sunbeams on aging all were perfect medicine for my current state.
The image in my mirror tells me that I am diminished, and the photos on my walls remind me of my life’s many joys, sorrows, and mistakes. In the night I wonder how to make sense of it all, and also how to make amends and find redemption. What exactly is left? Meade tells me that it’s still in there somewhere, my original face, my path, my light.
I laughed in recognition at Andrew Boyd’s “I Got Off The Beaten Path (But So Did Everyone Else)” [November 2011], remembering my own attempts to be an “anti-tourist” in Asia and Europe. I always had a nagging sense that somewhere in the vicinity was a secret elite of “anti-anti-tourists” whose elevated state I might attain if only I could get far enough away from my own kind.
Boyd’s essay sent me back to read Rob Keast’s “The Nature Trail Closest to My House” [February 2011], in which I recognized my older, possibly wiser self. After traveling to faraway places in search of escape from my drab, crass homeland, I am beginning to suspect that there is challenge and satisfaction enough in just trying to know my own backyard. But maybe that’s a wisdom I could only have earned through the delights and disappointments of travel in the first place.