Writing the bookWriting the bookTheme:Birth as initiation in a technocratic cultureSummaryDiscussionTranscriptRelated Insights
This is my passion; this is my truth; this is what I know. I have to write this down. I have to create this book. I cannot not do this. I must do this. And I’m just singing my little song, and if anybody listens, it will be amazing, it will be magical, it will be incredible. But, whether anybody ever reads it or not, I have to write it. That’s all I knew.Coming
When I was turning my dissertation into a book, I had no idea if anybody would read it, absolutely no idea. All I knew was that my committee members loved my dissertation and nominated it for an award, which it didn’t win, but just to be nominated was a huge honor in itself. That’s all I knew. I knew I was on to something. I knew that this was a unique and special contribution. I turned down a job to write that book. I had this job offer from what was then Southwest Texas State, about 45 minutes outside of Austin. They wanted to hire me in a tenured track position. It would have been a very good job, and I could have stayed there forever, teaching huge classes of 300 students and the occasional small seminar, and made a good solid salary, and you know, that could have been my life. But, I knew that if I took that job, I would never turn the dissertation into a book. I knew that it was going to take me at least probably a year to transform the dissertation into a book, and it’s not an easy process. I was driving down there to San Marcos to say, “Yes,” and when I got to the guy’s office, I opened my mouth and what came out of my mouth was, “I am so sorry; I can’t take the job.” And, I was like whoa! Wait—where did that come from? Oh my God, you know. He said, “Well, I understand. We know that you’re U. T. material, and we know that you’ve got this book you want to write.” But, he was mad. He wanted me to teach a course on Southwest Indians, starting like tomorrow, and I didn’t know anything about Southwest Indians. And he had this stack of books and he said, “Here; just read these and design your syllabus, and don’t worry; you can do it,” which I could have.
I just knew if I took that job that the book would never happen. So, I spent those nine months—it literally took me nine months, exactly, to turn the dissertation into a book. I rented an office from my therapist. I was in a session with her, moaning about how I needed to write this book, and she said, “What’s your biggest impediment?” And, I said, “I need an office. I’ve got kids sticking gum in my computer disk thing at home, and I can’t focus at home; I’ve got two small children. And she said, “Well, I’ll rent you one.” I just got goosebumps, and I said, “Can I have the front one with the pretty view?” And she said, “Yes.” And I thinking, $200 a month. That’s all I can afford; $200 a month. I said, “How much?” And she said, “How about $200 a month?” And I said, “Done!” (Laughing joyfully). So, I sat there in that office—I’d drop my kids off at school in the morning and go straight to work, work, work through lunch, you know, take lunch with me, and I was always the last mother at the daycare center picking up my son, my precious boy, who today is angry at me. I mean he finally told me how mad he is for all the times I was late, you know. And all I could say was, “I’m so sorry. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t be late one single time.” But, that’s what took to turn the dissertation into a book. Everybody’s got to make sacrifices for that kind of thing, I guess. And, while I was writing it, I kept thinking I have no idea if anybody is going to read this. I just feel like I have to sing my little song. That was like the mantra in my head: I’m just singing my song. I have to sing this little song. I just have to sing this song. I will die if I don’t sing this song. This is my passion; this is my truth; this is what I know. I have to write this down. I have to create this book. I cannot not do this. I must do this. And I’m just singing my little song, and if anybody listens, it will be amazing, it will be magical, it will be incredible. But, whether anybody ever reads it or not, I have to write it. That’s all I knew.
That standard of surgical procedures are rituals that enact in this way and translate the core values of American society, that they are not evidence-based in any way, and they do absolutely nothing to support the normal physiology of birth. In fact, they do great harm in a physiological and medical sense, but they make perfect symbolic and cultural sense because they are all about the power of technology to control nature. They are all about fear. They are all about replacing fear with the sense of control over this out-of-control natural process that we call birth.
And, I want you to know that because that book still lives and is vivified for me every time I get an email from ResearchGate saying, “Somebody just downloaded your article, “Birth as an American Rite of Passage,” or whatever. I’ve found a wonderful co-author. I don’t want to do those 100 interviews all over again by myself. But, Melissa Cheyney are going to completely revise and update it. We’re having ten graduate students do ten interviews each, based on the same interview questions I asked back in the ‘80s, but all of these in the new book will be since the year 2000. We’re going to completely update all the scientific references. I don’t think anything fundamental [will change]. I don’t think our conclusions will change in any fundamental way, but we don’t know until we have the interview data. And then we’re going to pour over it with a fine-tooth comb just like I did the first time, and issue a completely revised and updated edition of Birth as an American Rite of Passage, which I am very excited about. It will probably take three years to produce.
We’re also interviewing obstetricians. I interviewed 13 obstetricians for that first book. Since then, I’ve interviewed dozens of obstetricians. But, we’re doing all new interviews. My first interview for this book with an obstetrician is going to be Stuart Fischbein, who is a holistic, homebirth obstetrician from Los Angeles. He’s flying in to New Orleans, and he’s going to stop in Austin on his way back so I can interview him. He said that in my book, From Doctor to Healer, he said that I told his story, you know. I mean I did this whole book on holistic physicians and why they make a paradigm shift. He said when he read that, he suddenly understood himself. So, he’s excited about the interview. And, I’m thrilled to be turning my first book into a new edition.
And, I can ask your advice about this: The debate is, should I call it Birth as an American Rite of Passage, which is an unfortunate title in that when you listen to people say my name, they’ll go, “You know—Birth as a . . . you know . . . American Rites of Passage. Birth as an American . . . uh, Birth as a Rite of Passage.” You know, they mess up the title a lot. So, I thought maybe I could just call it, Birth Passages. So, another way of describing the book is that it analyzes childbirth as a technocratic rite of initiation. Looking at childbirth rituals—obstetrical procedures as components in an intensive initiatory rite of passage that transforms a young woman into a mother through technology in such a way that she believes that she is reliant upon science and technology to give birth and to become a mother. That technocratic socialization feeds into the way that we raise our children, the way that we live our lives. We come to believe that high technology is essential in all aspects of life. We raise our children with sound monitors in cribs, and distance viewing through these devices. We tend to teach babies that technological artifacts bring more delight and more joy and more comfort than physical touching and holding by humans. And that process begins in childbirth, when you are taught through hospital procedures that your body is a machine that doesn’t respond properly to hormonal signals and, therefore, needs other machines to correct its dysfunctions. So, you learn that you are not the birth giver; science and technology are the givers of birth.Coming