During Second-Wave Feminism, women sought to control the birthing process. In Up From Under’s June 1970 issue, Beth Cagan explains, in her essay “Giving Birth in Dignity,” “although pregnancy and childbirth [were] perfectly normal and healthy functions, [pregnant mothers were] treated as patients with a medical problem” (Cagan 41). Many times, if women desired a painless birth, they were given an anesthetic. Then, while the mothers were unconscious, a doctor would deliver their baby. Consequently, mothers would not know their baby’s biological sex until many hours after the doctor delivered her child (Cagan 41). Even before the baby’s delivery, doctors rarely informed mothers about details of their pregnancy “aside from vague reassurances that ‘everything will be alright’” (Cagan 42). Because of this suppression of information, women were powerless in their own child’s birth. However, the Lamaze birthing technique, developed by Dr. Ferdinand Lamaze in the 1950s, revolutionized the birthing process. As Cagan describes it “the Lamaze method teaches you how to push” (Cagan 42). She goes on to describe her own experience of giving birth using this method: “with my knees against my chest, my husband pressing against one of my feet and the nurse against the other…another small push and in marvelous relief, I felt her slither out” (Cagan 42). Cagan emphasizes the control the Lamaze method gives her over her own childbirth experience. Yet, the Lamaze technique was hidden from the masses. Many doctors believed that the technique should not be an option for the majority of women. As Cagan explains “there are very few obstetricians in this country who encourage prepared childbirth. Doctors will often state that only ‘intellectual’ women can successfully have children this way” (Cagan 42). Male doctors, who dominated the medical field, diminished women’s capabilities and treated them as if they were incapable of making their own decisions. The healthcare community, much like the rest of society, dismissed women and mothers.
Up From Under educates its readers about the reproductive process, hoping to empower them to challenge the healthcare system. Through pieces like “Health Care May Be Hazardous to Your Health” and “Giving Birth in Dignity,” the periodical informs readers about the medical field’s various birth control and childbirth options. Additionally, Up From Under features pieces that discuss reproductive anatomy. In these pieces, they discuss female anatomy and its function in daily life, and more specifically childbirth. For example, in their June 1971 issue of Up From Under, the editors collectively wrote an essay titled “The Ideal Gynecological Exam.” In this piece they guide women through a gynecological exam, describing what women should consider, question, expect, and remember when receiving a gynecological exam (Up From Under editors). By educating women and mothers, Up From Under allows them to demand respect from society as the system can no longer retain control by withholding information. By presenting the topics of pregnancy and birth control in an educational format, the topics become more approachable. Through education, the editors found ways to empower women. For example, by educating her readers, Cagan redefines childbirth, replacing the “ignorance and shame that normally accompany pregnancy and childbirth with knowledge and self-awareness” (Cagan 42). Furthermore, Up From Under’s distribution of critical works across the country provided the impetus for women to demand access to healthcare that respects motherhood’s challenges.
Cagan, Beth. “Giving Birth in Dignity .” Up From Under , vol. 1, no. 1, 1970, pp. 39–42.
Up From Under Editors. “The Ideal Gynecological Exam .” Up From Under, vol. 1, no. 5, ser. 1, 1 June 1971, pp. 19–21. 1.