Writing, life, politics

Now That’s A Response

Yesterday, the blogo-twittersphere was buzzing with the news that Dr Denis Walsh, associate professor in midwifery at Nottingham University, had written a piece in Evidence Based Midwifery in which he stated his belief that pain in childbirth is a good thing, and something that women should not attempt to avoid through such pain-killing methods as epidurals.

A large number of women want to avoid pain. Some just don’t fancy the pain [of childbirth]. More women should be prepared to withstand pain. Pain in labour is a purposeful, useful thing, which has quite a number of benefits, such as preparing a mother for the responsibility of nurturing a newborn baby.

Over recent decades there has been a loss of ‘rites of passage’ meaning to childbirth, so that pain and stress are viewed negatively.

Full Observer Article…

As you can imagine, this caused something of a stir among many people, many of whom – unlike the rather male Mister Walsh actually had some experience in doing something which was like, as one of them put it, “Sh*tting a melon”. (That latter quote came from a comment to Marie Phillips’s excellent post on the subject, Strictly Come Birthing. I’ve read other commentators wonder if perhaps Doctor Walsh believes that husbands should be repeatedly kicked in the nuts while their wife is in labour, in order that they too might be prepared for the responsibility of nurturing a child.

And it was in another comment on that same post that I found a link to a brilliant comeback article by The Daily Mash, entitled: “WOMEN TO FORCE HAT-STAND INTO ANUS OF MALE MIDWIFE”

THE senior male midwife who criticised child-birth painkillers will today have a hat-stand forced into his anus, women have promised.

Dr Denis Walsh will be dragged from his office and taken to a paddling pool in the car park where three strong women will hold him down while another two take a seven-foot, solid pine hat-stand with six large curved coat hooks and put it in him.

Emma Bradford, a pregnant lady from Peterborough, said: “No painkillers, no epidurals, we want him to be able to bond with the hat-stand.”

Rest of article…

Somewhere in his piece, I think Doctor Walsh might have half a point. But I think he chose the wrong words with which to express it, and frankly, I think he’s the wrong gender to be the messenger.


  1. Brian

    Personally I don’t think it matters what sex he is, a midwife can be a midwife either way. There are female midwives out there who’ve never had a child either, are they to be disqualified from saying such things as well?

    If he’s using *evidence* then he should be able to make any point he can back up, regardless of genitalia. Also, the material I read on it was not saying, “Yeah, screw it, let them have a painful childbirth,” it was more saying, “the pain, which is acknowledged as painful, may, in fact, help the child and the mother. Nobody can gauge anyone else’s pain, but maybe, just maybe, some mothers are asking for epidurals straight away, rather than seeing if this pain, which again, may be useful, may be something they can cope with.”

    Again, I haven’t read the full article, but I’m willing to reckon that a lot of people who reacted negatively to the reported statements haven’t either.

    • Jonny Nexus

      Yes, and I do think he has something of a point. On the gender thing, I guess I feel that if there is one job in the world, where maybe, you really want to be of a particular gender, it’s midwifery.

      People might point out that male doctors treat ovarian cancer despite not having ovaries while female doctors treat testicular cancer despite not having testicles – but I think those are different. We all have organs, and many of us develop cancers in them. The medical process of treating a person suffering from cancer in an organ is not, in itself, gender specific.

      But giving birth really is a uniquely female experience; it’s not the fact that the midwife has the same bits as the woman that I think counts, because its not about the bits. It’s about a woman going through an experience that is intrinsically a woman’s thing where we men can only ever be observers.

      That’s not to say that men shouldn’t be midwifes. But I do think any person in that position really has to choose their words very carefully, in much the same way, for example, as I would have to, were I, a member of a racial majority, to take it upon myself to lecture members of a racial minority about how they should cope with being racially discriminated against.

      But to be honest, the main reason I made the post was because I thought the hatstand article was very funny.

  2. Brian

    Ok, you’ve just said that you feel that only women should be midwives and then that men can be midwives but that they have to be careful what they say? I’m not sure that’s in any way fair, to either gender within the profession.

    I think that evidence-based science should be expressed by whomever has researched it and I genuinely don’t see any meaningful difference between “can’t have a child” and “hasn’t had a child.” It’s very easy to extrapolate what you’ve suggested and say that infertile women shouldn’t be midwives or that the ability to have a child is intrinsicly linked to “being” a woman. It’s a very, very dangerous path to go down.

    The only qualification needed to be a midwife (or to do any job) should be your ability to do that job well. In the case of midwifery this includes not just medical knowledge obviously.

    Yes, I’m reacting quite strongly to this, for a bunch of reasons. It’s Internet knee-jerkery of the worst kind and it bugs me, a lot, when those who are preaching equality for women (which is a good thing to preach), suddenly start, to my mind, preaching inequality.

    That said, the joke, while I don’t find it terribly funny myself, is just a joke, so I’m certainly not upset by that. 🙂

    • Jonny Nexus

      I can see what you’re saying, and also see that there are inconsistencies in what I’m saying. (Partly, because I don’t quite know my position on it).

      I think how I would address the issue of infertile, childless midwives is to say that it’s a bit like the difference between:

      a) a white person having a job advising black people who’ve experienced racial discrimination on how to cope with it; and

      b) a black person, who hasn’t themselves experienced racial discrimination, having a job advising black people who have experienced racial discrimination on how to cope with it.

      It’s a very fuzzy kind of argument, but I think it’s about some kind of shared belonging.

      I think the other reason his piece went down badly is because of what he was saying; i.e. I don’t think it would have been much better received had it been a women saying it.

      If he had simply said that epidurals were bad because they could potentially affect the baby as well, much like a pregnant woman drinking does – that would have been fine.

      If he had simply said that epidurals were bad because in taking away the pain, they also take away some of the woman’s ability to sense what is happening in the labour, with the result being that she doesn’t push at the right times, which prolongs labour – that would be fine.

      It’s that he actually stated that they were bad, because they took away the pain, and that women should go through the pain.

      Take jogging/cross country running, for example. I think the purpose of jogging is to get you fit; pain you suffer during it is an unavoidable side-effect. But there are sadistic PE teacher types, who think that the pain is the entire point; they want boys and girls at school to suffer real, serious pain during PE lessons, because they think that pain and suffering are character building.

      I guess I felt that once you start arguing that pain and suffering in one context (giving birth) is a good thing, because it in someway improves you as a person (in this case, taking a pampered 21st century female and giving her the medieval “toughing up” that she needs to get out of her modern comfort zone, and into the mindset that is required to raise a child), you’ll then going down a very slippery slope.

      I mean, they used to think that it was good for younger boys at public schools to be beaten up by the older boys, as the pain they suffered would prepare them for the rigours of adulthood…

  3. morgue

    Sorry Brian, I absolutely endorse Mr Nexus’ final comment about how he’s the wrong gender to be the messenger. Of course everything you say about science being science and opinions being opinions is true; but surely you recognise that we exist in a culture in which pronouncements from men about womens’ health and womens’ experiences carry a sorry legacy of power imbalance and abuse?

    Yes, that shouldn’t matter, but in a world composed of human beings it certainly does.

  4. Brian

    Ok, if he’d actually said any of that, then maybe you’d be right, but he didn’t!


    should be read.

    He’s not saying “pain is good for you” or things like that, that’s been spun, mainly by the Observer it seems. He is, constantly, suggesting things that, based on evidence, make the process of childbirth and the period after, hopefully better for both mother and child. These two things are not the same.

    And Morgue, while I see what you’re saying, I think that such an attitude will doom us to continued inequality. And again, if you say a man can’t say it, then you can say that an infertile woman, or one with no ovaries, or someone who was born a man, or, or… can’t say it either. It’s a slippery slope I’m not willing to jump down. I think that sound, evidence and science based advice, unspun by the media, is the first step in redressing the horror caused by men deciding what was good for women.

    • Jonny Nexus

      Okay, that is a very good article, and does very well put the other side of it. It doesn’t help that we don’t (I think) have access to the actual paper he read, so everything is being based on quotations supposedly lifted from it by papers.

      In the interests of fairness, I’ll do a post linking to that article.

  5. Brian

    Well, the paper hasn’t been published yet, afaik, it’s just out for peer review. 🙂

    And yes, the reaction has been based on spun/out of context stuff published in papers, mainly. And I’ve just seen your tweet, thanks, but I think referring to him in the way you have is continuing the disservice.

    • Jonny Nexus

      Sorry mate, missed your reply. (Will have to figure out how to set WordPress to email me).

      Anyhow, I can’t remember what twitter title I used, but I suspect I just wanted to make it very clear to everyone which bloke we were talking about. (i.e. People who’d heard about the fuss, but wouldn’t remember his name).

  6. morgue

    Brian – great link, thanks

  7. Frankie D.

    The job title is “Midwife” not “Birthing Witch”. It’s a scientific/ medical job, not a touchy feely attempt to call down the power of the moons to connect all women as one.

    Isn’t there a fair amount of data for people who go through a trumatic experiance together being brought closer together (or is that just tv?) so wouldn’t that be the same for birthing pains?

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