Hail Technology

Saturday 17 April 2010

Anthropologist Brigitte Jordan is interested in how knowledge gains authority in various settings.  Jordan observed a contemporary hospital birth in which a labouring woman was desperate to push.  The nurse looked not at the woman but at the foetal monitor.  She was waiting for the doctor who was the only one who could decide whether the woman was ready to push:  '... every time the woman tries to get her desire - her expressed knowledge about the state of her body - acknowledged and made the basis for proceeding with the birth, her version of reality is overridden, is ignored, is denied, or, most frequently, is sidetracked, deflected, and replaced with some other definition of reality ... as might happen to an obstinate child whose parent opts for distraction rather than confrontation.'  In the contemporary birth environment, according to Jordan, authority rests with the doctor and the knowledge delivered by technology.  The woman's expressed knowledge about her body does not even rate as knowledge.
Mary-Rose MacColl, 'The birth wars', Griffith Review 22:  MoneySexPower

It's been a long-learned wisdom that I need to daily ground myself within my own body.  It's taken me years to really see how easy it is to disconnect, especially in this sort of world where I do not need to go draw my own water or plant my own vegetables.  There is a dread that comes with the realisation of how easy it is to switch off from the loudly sane inner voices saying perfectly reasonable, beautiful, wonderful things.  Many (all?) of us learn at some point that we can get up and leave, sit six feet above our own bodies.  That it is a way of getting distance on things.  That sometimes you can think better sitting up there.

Sometimes life calls for that desperate need, to escape, to suppress, to take flight.  If you can't buy a plane ticket, you can at least go on a six foot trip.  But there are payments to be made from taking this trip too often, and it does then become an awfully difficult and yet ultimately beautiful thing to learn how to crawl that six feet back into your own stuff and discover yourself.  How much more there is sitting in here.  

Of course, abdicating from ourselves is not simply as a result of trauma but is often what we learn to do within a painful life.  It is, after all, a terribly pedestrian thing to sit abdicated.

We do not believe what damage we can cause half asleep until we do, how many lamps we can knock over in the dark, how many dog's yelping feet we can step on in the night, how many pieces of dark furniture we can trip over in the dark and send ourselves sprawling.  We often do not want to stop being half asleep because of the terror, the terror, the terror of being awake.  

Because there is, isn't there.  The stark whiteness of freedom, like one of those godawful new energy saving light globes that make you, a living, breathing, pink thing, resemble a morgue inhabitant.  That's how being awake looks when you're half asleep and so some of us will never understand the awful irony that living where we think is safest is the most dangerous.  Of how much more we can see when we refuse to live half asleep.  That yes, it is terrifying but it is also beautiful.  It is life, and it's fucking messy.

You know, I really am not a technophobe.  But this human penchant to abdicate from the world, the way we abdicate from our bodies (same coin, really), sits heavily alongside big machines that beep.  We want freedom, we say.  But we are confused, we are scared, we are terrified of our choices, of making the wrong decision.  If only someone or something will just tell us what to do!!!!!   If we have a king, an expert, someone wearing navy, to tell us what to do next, then we will be safe.

But we will be even safer if we are allowed to be included in the equation too, alongside the machines and the people who have studied for years to gain expertise.  But what  can one single person do in the face of those things?

In this way I am glad I shall never experience this situation of giving birth, especially in a hospital.  I cannot think of anything more terrifying than being in a never-before-experienced, painful, scary situation with my own body and of being called upon to abdicate myself from it so the system flows better.

Not that a foetal monitor or any other technology is a bad thing.  But then, humans are not things either.  We have knowledge too.  In a different, more messy way, certainly, than a streamlined machine.  In a human sort of a way.  

You know, I cannot imagine that if it was men giving birth that they would still be relegated so, their experience downplayed and ignored, right in the midst of the amazing everyday sort of miracle that is bringing forth life, right from out of the middle of your own body.


  1. good counter point to my current immersion in the Health sector. Hope I dont lose the most basic ingredient of being a nurse. Being more present to a vulnerable human than you are to an ECG read out. Thanks:)

  2. lots to digest here
    but the line "someone wearing navy" just flashed in neon lights to me
    a reminder of a transpersonal creative exercise from the past which illuminated my life
    thanks for being the bearer of a much needed message

  3. I typed in a simple phrase on one of the new web browsers the other day. I was amazed at what came up. Not what I was looking for, but all these other venues. I have always been frustrated with not finding what I need, but this was different. It was as if this "thing" was guiding me into what "it" wanted me to see. I am not a technophobe (yet) either, but how can "something" be that controlling. Having given birth 30 years ago, I never thought my body had any say. I went "natural" which was the thing, but why go through the agony if my body was not "naturally" open to the urges and guiding of labor. Wow - thanks for this....

  4. Urbanmonk - actually it was funny. Towards the end of writing this I had the thought, "Ooh, Josh works in a hospital. How will he think of this piece?" as if I was going to get in trouble off you or something. Weird :) I guess sometimes the temptation to hide behind an EEG readout would be too strong, when the 14th needy person is beseeching you! :)

    Kel - there is far too much contained in this one post and therefore it will probably give you heartburn if you try to digest it all :) It's a real joy to be the bearer of a much needed message when you have absolutely no idea you are doing so. How cool is that? :)

    Jo - yeah, that's kinda scary, ain't it, this guiding, guiding guiding, ain't it? Yes, that's a point you have there. How "natural" can you go when "natural" ain't allowed? Gee ... so scary!!!


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