Oct 26, 2009

Earlier this month, midwives, doulas, doctors, nurses, academics, researchers, students, activists, lawyers, and interested members of the public (including lots of moms and babies) gathered on the campus of Virginia's George Mason University to discuss the current state of birth in the U.S. and elsewhere.

"Perinatal: A Symposium on Birth Practices and Reproductive Rights" was a free, daylong multimedia event with panels on alternative birth locations, unassisted birth, childbirth and human rights, cross-cultural perspectives on birth, obstetrical abuse, legal issues and childbirth, maternity and art, the impact of bed rest, and much more. Participants enjoyed a staged reading of Birth, The Play, and viewed and discussed the documentaries Laboring Under an Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs. The Real Thing and Orgasmic Birth.

The goals of the symposium were to examine contemporary birth practices and how they affect birthing women. Issues discussed throughout the day included:

  • trends in feminist thinking about childbirth,
  • the real-world impact of current divisions in feminist thought,
  • the effectiveness of current advocacy efforts.

A strategy group was formed to pursue a civil-rights statute that would codify the rights of pregnant women. While legislation would not necessarily end abusive practices in maternity care, it would give women a right to sue, and lawsuits can lead to education and/or retraining, or firing. The group pledged to identify and work with organizations toward proposal and passage of this legislation.

On display the week of the symposium was the MFA thesis show of "Perinatal" organizer Jessica Clements. In full view of anyone in the large student center, Clements's powerful and graphic oil paintings of natural birth spurred many students to confront a topic they otherwise would rarely discuss. Clements's paintings can be found on her website.

Visit the symposium website for more information or to hear audio.

Report by Jessica Haney for Mothering.com