Anarchist Midwifery: An Interview
Recently, ANaturalAdvocate sent me a scan of an article from a very interesting magazine; SQUAT: An Anarchist Birth Journal, (Link is PDF). ANaturalAdvocate asked me specifically to interview Daniel Wilson regarding his article titled “Childbirth and Social War” (page 22 of link, or here).
I have been struggling with a way to present this interview to an audience that, like me, is probably not well-versed in anarchist philosophy. In other words, I wanted to say something intelligent about a topic which is completely new to me.
And I decided that it would be dishonest to pretend I am knowledgeable on this topic. Like most Americans, my concept of anarchy is vague-to-nonexistent; it’s like thinking I’m prepared to write a treatise on minor 15th-century poets.
However, I have had the privilege of meeting some people online who have taught me a little and have read some interesting pieces on squatter’s rights movements, guerrilla gardening, DIY culture, and yes, homeschooling and homebirth, that seem to overlap with some areas of anarchist thought.
Daniel himself was kind enough to provide links within his answers, which I’ve included here.
As for the rest, I’ll let Daniel’s responses to my questions speak for themselves. I’ll send him the link when this is posted, and maybe he’ll come over and answer any of your questions directly.
You mention commodification of midwifery as a new development, but haven’t midwives always accepted some form or payment—if not money, then food, livestock, etc.? Per A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, Martha, at least, kept extensive records of payment for her services.
Throughout the history of civilization, most midwives have accepted goods or services in exchange for their knowledge and skills, but this is not what I mean when I use the term “commodification”. I am using a Marxist definition of the word to explain the relationship midwifery plays in a modern capitalist market, labeled by some as Green Capitalism. More specifically I am exploring the concept of cultural commodification, wherein counter-cultural expression or past historical culture is emptied of any real meaning before being sold to the dominant culture. Midwifery has become a symbolic act of consumption for most people. It is marketed to feel-good eco-yuppies as a piece of the primitive.
An example: My neighborhood was once full of quirky charm. There were guerrilla food gardens in abandoned lots, cheap ten speed bikes in the front of punk houses, metal sculptures placed on the corners at night by art students who were probably high, posters promoting music shows and insurrection wheat pasted on every open surface, regular house shows (concerts), an extensive network of communal houses, lots of graffiti and a general air of life. Petite bourgeois nuclear families, tired of living in housing developments, sick of their sterile cul-de-sac and feeling guilty about shopping at Costco, see our dull, but vibrant in comparison, community and decide to move in. Not knowing any other way to relate to the world, they buy their way in, our culture becomes a commodity. They want to feel some kind of life, so they shop for it at the local food co-op, buy it in the form of a $1500 bike, and purchase hiking shorts and hemp sandals to go with their new feeling of freedom. Who they are is not the relationships they have with the other people they live next to but rather their consumer choices. My neighborhood was destroyed by gentrification, when the yuppies moved in, the rents went up, the police moved in and what little life we tried to make here moved out. Now, people who would call the cops on me for walking around at night, are asking me if we had a homebirth and who our midwife was, not because they care that our child had a smooth entrance into the world but because midwifery fits right in with their eco-yuppie persona.
In what way do you see midwives being supported if not by payment? Do you see a barter economy as permissable/desirable, or do you have another model in mind?
Modern life requires us to be paid. For the most part, none of us are legally allowed to live on the planet without paying money to someone else. Therefore we must sell our labor to someone else in exchange for a wage so we may have the ability to eat, drink and live in shelter. This didn’t always use to be the case.
Modern anthropologists tell us tribal life has free access to the means of survival, that these humans work together in cohesive gather-hunter bands and generally only “working” an average of four hours a day. One of the reason humans evolved to live that way, I believe, is because a basic tenant of tribal life is mutual aid and cooperation. When someone grows old or is wounded they have the rest of the tribe to look after and help them, something they were expected to do for others before them. Things in forager societies are freely given with the knowledge that what one gave will be reciprocated sooner or later. Bartering and trading is something tribesmen do with enemies and strangers, because they need immediate reciprocation for their transaction. In tribal society there are usually women who help other women give birth, these midwives only respond to so many births a year so midwifery is not their sole role in society and are materially and emotionally supported in the same way as everyone else, there is no need to barter. So the history of civilization shows most midwives accepting goods for services (food, livestock, etc), but the longer “history” of tribes shows us different.
As for a working model that can work for us here and now , I’m not sure, but I think that the Invisible Committee says it best when they talk the mass proliferation of communes:
“The commune needs money, but not because we need to earn a living. All communes have their black markets. There are plenty of hustles. Aside from welfare, there are various benefits, disability money, accumulated student aid, subsidies drawn off fictitious childbirths, all kinds of trafficking, and so many other means that arise with every mutation of control…The important thing is to cultivate and spread this necessary disposition towards fraud, and to share its innovations. For communes, the question of work is only posed in relation to other already existing incomes.
The exigency of the commune is to free up the most time for the most people. And we’re not just talking about the number of hours free of any wage-labor exploitation. Liberated time doesn’t mean a vacation. Vacant time, dead time, the time of emptiness and the fear of emptiness – this is the time of work. There will be no more time to fill, but a liberation of energy that no “time” contains; lines that take shape, that accentuate each other, that we can follow at our leisure, to their ends, until we see them cross with others.
A commune tends by its nature towards self-sufficiency and considers money, internally, as something foolish and ultimately out of place. The power of money is to connect those who are unconnected, to link strangers as strangers and thus, by making everything equivalent, to put everything into circulation.”
How do you think a midwife should learn her skills, and how will potential patients know if she is capable, outside of the established medical accreditation/certification framework? In other words, how will it be clear that she now has enough skill to assist in childbirth without some kind of certification/testing process?
The same way midwives helped laboring women before certification/testing processes.
Does your disappointment with the current state of midwifery (in the process of being absorbed/accepted eventually into the rest of medicine) have to do with a fear that it will suffer in quality, or a fear that it will become less and less available to the poor? Do you think the possible institution of socialized medicine would alleviate that, or do you have a different model in mind?
I’m “the poor” and we had our homebirth paid for by the state. To be honest I don’t worry so much about midwifery becoming less available to the poor. What I really worry about how we are going to put an end to this miserable way of life that keeps us poor. Seriously, having children in a safe, comfortable, healthy and natural environment is great, but it isn’t all there is. All of us inhabit a massive environmental catastrophe, a shallow and meaningless social desert, a world of box stores and seven-elevens, a massive surveillance apparatus, chemical factories, mines, plantations and sweatshops, and a giant military that rains fire from the sky onto real people. I think that if I were to worry about midwifery suffering in quality because it’s being absorbed into medicine I would feel like an asshole.
I wrote the article “Childbirth and Social War” for Squat because the history of midwifery is interesting to me and I wanted to show the intersections between midwifery and the need to destroy capitalism and the state. I think that strong, empowered mothers avoiding unnecessary interventions and birthing babies into a positive and life-affirming space, then raising them in a stable environment, whilst consistently meeting their needs and really loving them can only go so far in making this world a better place.