Even from a strictly Darwinian perspective, empathy is humanity’s ace in the hole. It is the foundation of social organization, without which we would not have language, science, technology or the desire to pass these gifts on to future generations. Without empathy, we would not have family and community. We would be isolated, defenseless, naked apes, easy prey for any carnivore of even moderate size, or, in a modern day context, for any social grouping of sufficient cohesion among themselves. Thus, in a very real sense, empathy is power.
But humans are born at a very early stage of development compared to other mammals. Aside from human breast milk, babies need pleasurable sensory and experiential inputs to activate their full neurological potential, especially their empathic potential. These require family cohesion and stability which is only possible with well-developed parental empathy and bonding. Thus in healthy nurturing families, empathy is amplified and passed on through the generations, with predictable benefits in terms of survival, success and fulfillment.
Nature has provided only 3 biological processes in which the hormones and the neural connections of love and empathy are activated in the human brain. These are sex, birth and breast feeding. While social and physical activity can contribute, these basic reproductive processes are foundational to making human brains receptive to other positive stimuli. Sex, birth and breast feeding are nature’s way of inducing the emotional states which bond families together and maximize empathic and survival potential. Such strong primal bonds naturally resist the dissociative social and economic pressures that the overlords use to divide people, and groups of stable families can form very stable and resilient communities, which are inherently subversive to the top-down management necessitated by large scale centralized social control.
Families and communities are a form of distributed autonomous hubs of economic activity and intelligence and a distributed information store. They are a source of inconvenient history, invention, innovation and mutual support and solidarity which raises constant trouble for anyone seeking to impose a top-down command-and-control social structure suitable for unchallenged rule, while their economic efficiency and largely self-contained economic activity reduces opportunities for the financial harvesting which would otherwise occur via loanable and taxable currency flows. Furthermore, they produce new people which at least initially are socialized outside of the seamlessly integrated banking / governmental complex to boot. A losing proposition all the way around for the parasitic financial and political overlay which has feasted on human activity for centuries. So it’s not surprising that the family has long been a prime target for empire builders, and aside from the usual economic, social and legal incentives used to disrupt families and push kids into state management, they also work behind the scenes to throw a monkey wrench precisely into sex, birth and breast feeding.
Fifty years have passed since a scandal broke over inhumane treatment of laboring women in U.S. hospitals, yet first-person and eyewitness reports document that medical care providers continue to subject childbearing women to verbal and physical abuse and even to what would constitute sexual assault in any other context. Women frequently are denied their right to make informed decisions about care and may be punished for attempting to assert their right to refusal. Mistreatment is not uncommon and persists because of factors inherent to hospital social culture. Concerted action on the part of all stakeholders will be required to bring about systemic reform.
“Cruelty in Maternity Wards” was the title of a shocking article published just over 50 years ago in Ladies’ Home Journal in which nurses and women told stories of inhumane treatment in labor and delivery wards during childbirth (Schultz, 1958). Stories included women being strapped down for hours in the lithotomy position, a woman having her legs tied together to prevent birth while her obstetrician had dinner, women being struck and threatened with the possibility of giving birth to a dead or brain damaged baby for crying out in pain, and a doctor cutting and suturing episiotomies without anesthetic (he had once nearly lost a patient to an overdose) while having the nurse stifle the woman’s cries with a mask.
“The article shook the country and triggered a tsunami of childbirth reform that included the founding of the American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics, now known as Lamaze International. Nonetheless, as Susan Hodges (2009) recently noted in her guest editorial published in The Journal of Perinatal Education, despite enormous differences in labor and delivery management, decades later, inhumane treatment remains distressingly common. American childbearing women still suffer mistreatment at the hands of care providers, ranging from failure to provide supportive care to disrespect and insensitivity to denial of women’s right to make informed decisions to common use of harmful medical interventions to outright verbal, physical, and even sexual assault. Furthermore, the more extreme examples are not aberrations but merely the far end of the spectrum. Abuse, moreover, results from factors inherent to the system, which increases the difficulties of implementing reforms.
ABUSE IN CHILDBIRTH: PARALLELS WITH DOMESTIC ABUSE
According to domesticviolence.org (an online resource devoted to helping individuals recognize, address, and prevent domestic violence), domestic violence and emotional abuse encompass “name-calling or putdowns,” “keeping a partner from contacting their family or friends,” “actual or threatened physical harm,” “intimidation,” and “sexual assault” (“Domestic Violence Definition,” 2009, para. 2). In all cases, the intent is to gain power over and control the victim. One could add that perpetrators, obstetric staff or otherwise, feel entitled to exert this control on grounds of the victim’s inferior position vis-a-vis the perpetrator as the following illustrate: …” — J Perinat Educ. 2010 Summer; 19(3): 33-42.
When you consider birth as an involuntary process involving old, mammalian structures of the brain, you set aside the assumption that a woman must learn to give birth. It’s implicit in the mammalian interpretation that one cannot actively help a woman to give birth. The goal is to avoid disturbing her unnecessarily. — Michel Odent, Birth and Breastfeeding.