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The Tally Ho

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

That Perilous Journey

Some days all the news feels rehashed. Blah blah politics, blah blah sex, blah blah urban crime and housing bubble and blog echo chamber. But then comes Elise over at Bitch. Ph. D with a NYTimes article that even I haven't read!

Behold, women, the hidden dangers of giving birth. The (cough) esteemed Dr. Ablow, in "The Perilous Journey From Delivery Room to Bedroom," writes that for some men, childbirth is very scary. So very scary, in fact, that some of them might get PTSD and not ever recover. (really! go read it! I'll wait!) Ablow is a psychologist (probably, he doesn't say) who has spoken to "dozens" of men finding their wives unattractive in the short term after they give birth--not because of her weight gain, or post-partum depression, or the fact that it's tough to take a shower while she's doing all the feeding and diapering, but because of... the cunt.* Yes, they find it so (cough) bloody unnatural to see another human emerge from their lover's body that they cannot see their wives sexually. Poor men.

*I tried to use a clinical term, I really did, they just didn't fit. Ablow might understand; he never once manages to write the terms "vagina" or "vulva" in the course of his article. He can say "togetherness", "sexual", "retraumatized", "placenta", "meconium", and yes, "post-traumatic stress disorder". But vulva, vagina, cooch, or cunt? Nowhere to be found. The closest he comes is an insipid "birth canal". Doctor, heal thyself.

BEFORE WE START bashing the men, Ablow reminds us that
"I do not believe that most men suffer these symptoms. But some do. And predicting which men will be vulnerable to them is nearly impossible in a social climate in which men who admit reticence about being present in the delivery room risk being labeled throwbacks."

The phrase about "predicting which men will be vulnerable... is nearly impossible" is a scare tactic which recalls Homeland Security investigators and opponents of childhood vaccines. Ablow says that "[s]everal men have confessed to me that they never regained the same romantic view of their wives that they had before seeing them deliver children." I say: These several men have hit a tough patch. It's not easy to control what we find attractive, and sometimes our bodies or subconscious minds teach themselves to like or not like things we'd rather they didn't. So you consider where you are, you learn, maybe you talk to somebody, you gradually shift your focus and work back to where you want to be. If Ablow had written about how he helped these men gain a more holistic view of their wives' sexuality, that would be groundbreaking. However, Ablow says: "Women may want to consider the risks as they invite their partners to watch them bring new life into the world." Ladies, what were you thinking by wanting your husband in the room? He'll never want to sleep with you again! Don't show him the blood, the crying, the gnashing of teeth. Help him forget that your vulva is functional and not just for his adolescent panderings. Don't let him see you breastfeed, either, or he'll never want to play with your tits again.

I'm sorry, it's difficult for me to write this without slipping into sarcasm.

First, this article tells me that we are failing some men: as health educators, we're not reminding them early enough or often enough that women's bodies are functional, and that every woman does this, unless she takes major steps to avoid it. As a culture, we allow such objectification of women that some men can't stomach any kind of female sexual agency. (I giggle as I imagine the wife of one of these "several" men asking him to give her head. "Ew, honey, ick, gross! There was a baby down there!" Hee. Sorry. Back now.) If some of these men never do manage to see their wives as sexual beings again, I imagine they were attracted only to her (cough) feminine ideal and probably didn't have real fulfilling sex lives to start with.

Second, there's a pernicious medical paternalism at work in Ablow's arguments. Ablow himself "recall[s] feeling as if the clinical focus on childbirth during prenatal classes, including the detailed descriptions of the placenta and the meconium, took away from the wonder of the process, rather than adding to it." He implicitly questions whether men need to be so involved in prenatal care: "I don't know what is gained by showing the cross-sectional anatomy of a woman's torso to her lover." He shakes his head, however, over this loss of communication: "The fact that the subject is taboo also means that a man who is traumatized by the experience may be retraumatized again and again, with each child born to him." To the man, he implies: Let the doctor handle this. To the woman? Lie back, and shut up.

Ablow gives men short shrift in this article, implying that they will not be able to handle the rigors of childbirth or somehow aren't able to grasp the many layers of female sexuality. He demeans women, implying that we might be unreasonable to want our partner in the birthing room or expect him as a source of support. He undermines relationships by refusing to suggest that couples talk this issue out with each other. Is there anyone who can read this article and not walk away without feeling insulted?

"A Perilous Journey From Delivery Room to Bedroom," indeed. After signing his name to this article, I can bet that his will be.


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