Modern birthing practices are destroying the world: An interview with Antonella Gambotto-Burke

When feminist thinker and author Antonella Gambotto-Burke releases a new book, it’s a major cultural event.

After all, her 2015 book Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution is regarded by some as one of the most important works of the 21st century.

She has just published Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine, which for the first time connects a wide range of personal and social issues—from drug addictions and mental illness to the breakdown of relationships—to the manner in which women are treated during pregnancy and labour.

Describing the birthing experience as a means of patriarchal control, she says that if we do not act with urgency to revolutionise our understanding of birth then femininity will be made extinct, and potential humankind with it.

PHOTO CREDIT: Derek Ridgers

Q. How would you sum up your new book? 

A. Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine will change the way you see everything.

Q. Just how much research went into writing it? 

A. Years. Maybe three years of reading, years of experience, discussion and observation, and then the writing. When I began writing Apple, I thought I was embarking on a relatively straightforward work of feminism. Halfway through, I made a discovery that lead to a domino effect of realisations. At times, they were coming at me so quickly I could barely keep up. As a result, I had to junk the 40,000 or so words I’d written and begin again. I worked through the night, almost every night, for years. The experience of writing Apple was unlike anything I’ve ever known. By the end, I felt as if I was bleeding from the head!

Q. Can you explain the relevance of the book’s title?

A. The title was a tough one as the book covers so much seemingly disparate ground—from Allen Ginsberg to Arnold Schwarzenegger, from LSD to the SS-Totenkopfverbände, from James Bond to breastfeeding. In the end, I decided on ‘Apple’ because, as a symbol, it encapsulated everything. In particular, I loved the resonance: Judeo-Christian mythology, the Song of Solomon, the tech multinational, and the life-giving fruit itself, its seeds carrying traces of poison.

Q. What was the most shocking discovery you made during your research? 

A. I was doing some reading about Twilight Sleep, the early 20th century obstetric drug cocktail designed to erase the memory of birth from labouring mothers. An amalgam of narcophine (synthetic morphine) and the amnesiac scopolamine, it was promoted as a miracle for women. 

Of course, no one thought of addressing the issue of pain in labouring mothers or the relationship between the terror and pain, or the impact of the hospital environment on mothers. It was, and continues to be, assumed that birth is fundamentally meaningless; an ordeal better forgotten.    

Outside the health industry and alternative communities, birth has always been dismissed as ‘women’s business’—that is, of no interest to anyone other than the birthing woman and ‘professionals’. And why would it be when over 50 percent of 30-year-old women in Britain are now childless? The reason is this: because the drugs you were indirectly administered in the womb, and the drugs you were indirectly administered at birth, and the way in which you were born and raised as an infant, determine the blueprint of your entire life.

Q. You state that mothers are as impacted by modern birthing practices as their offspring, with a mother’s love becoming increasingly diluted. What, according to your research, is causing this breakdown of the mother-child relationship, and what are the long-term consequences for society?

A. This breakdown is evident in the increasingly obvious—and tragic—lessening of territorial maternal behaviour towards the infant.

The culprit is, as I explain in Apple, the ancient patriarchal ideologies on which our culture is founded. There are various mechanisms that ensure these ideologies are maintained, and they need to be intercepted before it’s too late.

PHOTO CREDIT: Derek Ridgers

Lauded feminist thinker and writer Antonella Gambotto-Burke says that the way children are brought into the world are abusive to both mother and newborn, and can lead to serious personal issues in later life.

Q. You also state that these practices are degrading interpersonal relationships between men and women, and could potentially lead to the “extinction of the feminine”. Can you elaborate?

A. Patriarchal cultures attribute no value to love, which is why our obstetric practices don’t prioritise love. Love is a skill that we are, as a culture, losing. Intimacy impairments not only deform infancy but entire lives and these impairments are passed on from generation to generation, which is why so many relationships now fall apart.

Love is a skill, not a miracle. The miracle is managing to raise a baby properly in a culture designed to make secure attachment impossible. In our culture, the dominant value of any human being is economic.

Q. How has your research given you new insights into your own parental upbringing?

A. My parents were raised in war zones during World War Two, and almost all of the issues they had relate to that. As a toddler, my mother was regularly slung into her uncle’s arms so he could run with her to the bomb shelter as her father had been conscripted. My father witnessed public executions, unimaginable cruelties. Both my parents were distorted by war trauma.

In addition, my mother endured the usual destructive routines in the maternity hospital, resulting in our impaired attachment. Needless to say, our relationship has never recovered.

Q. Aside from social issues, you say modern birthing practices have impacted the world of arts and philosophy. In what ways have they been influenced?

A. I document various examples in Apple, from the Nietzschean disparagement of femininity to the gender-based violence of Italian Futurism, Simone de Beauvoir’s ostensibly feminist take on infancy, and Pink Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett’s supposedly poetic soul.

In particular, I analyse Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey within the framework of modern obstetric practices, but you’ll have to read the book to discover my conclusions!

Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine by Antonella Gambotto-Burke is an instant classic of feminist writing. This book will radically transform our understanding of the connection between childbirth, social trends and societal ills.

Q. You are a proud mother of one. What were your own experiences of giving birth?

A. The anger I still feel at one of the midwives and at the anaesthetist present at my daughter’s birth should be mitigated by the fact that my daughter survived, but it isn’t. I still feel robbed of the unique ecstasy I should, as a healthy woman with a normal pregnancy, have been permitted to experience.

I had an awful experience with serious repercussions which I document at length in Apple. Despite attending birth education classes, I knew nothing. What we were taught was almost entirely irrelevant—so vague as to be meaningless. In retrospect, I wish I’d hired a doula (birth support worker) during my pregnancy.

Forgiving myself for consenting to, and for choosing, the administration of obstetric drugs is difficult, although I accept that I was a product of my conditioning.

Q. In light of your research, what would you like to see happen concerning modern birthing practices?

A. The routine administration of drugs during pregnancy and birth should be illegal. If a woman cannot afford to hire a doula during pregnancy, she should follow doulas on social media and read as much as she can about birth. An account I love on Instagram is @thenakeddoula. Absolutely wonderful stuff. The works of Ina May Gaskin and Professor Michel Odent, who wrote the introduction to my last book, Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution (also essential reading!), will take you even further. 

This is all far from woo-woo; the most important factor during pregnancy and birth is how the mother feels. Why? Because the level of maternal ease and happiness determines the flow of labour and has an impact on the way she’ll feel about her baby.

Does the mother feel unsupported? Is she frightened? Was the baby wanted?

These seemingly minor factors are critical in relation to the child’s future. If the mother is terrified, uneasy or unhappy, the result can be a cascade of potentially life-altering obstetric interventions.

Our future as a civilisation depends on informed choices by all of us, so get informed!

Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine by Antonella Gambotto-Burke is published by Pinter & Martin and is out now in paperback and eBook editions, priced at £14.99 and £6.99 respectively. It is available to purchase from Amazon or the Pinter & Martin website. For more information about author Antonella Gambotto-Burke, visit www.gambottoburke.com or follow her on Twitter (@gambottoburke) or Instagram (@gambottoburke).

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