In the Blog

To Know or Not to Know? That is the Question.

May 13th, 2010     by Diandra Oliver     Comments

In just under 2 weeks I’m going to be having a baby. I’ve resisted blogging about it here because while having children, child rearing, parenting, birthing, and all the facets tied up with it (consumption, children-in-the-world, industrial capitalism, gender dynamics, etc) are Feminist issues, I’m still on the fence as to where I stand regarding my feminist experience and the whole “having a baby”-thing: I just haven’t felt I have anything really coherent or “new” to add to the literature.

But, my opinions and responses to my experience slowly trickle in and form, often in response to people’s reactions/comments or responses to parenthood/motherhood/birthing in the media and government policy.

There’s a big “to-do” going on out here in BC about ultrasounds and the recent addition of policy that will require a $50 fee from expectant parents to find out the sex of their fetus. Basically, in BC it was hit or miss if you could find out from an ultra-sound technician what your fetus’s sex is. We wanted to find out the sex of our fetus primarily to have an answer when we were/are consistently inundated with the question, “what are you having?” (sarcastic answer, “a baby?”). And then feeling pressured to say which way you’d prefer (“I don’t really care as long as their not a facist”). And then having to endure people’s gendered biases like, “Girls are so much harder than boys”. But, at both of our ultrasounds the technician (same technician both times) wouldn’t tell us (“we’re not allowed to tell”) and made us avert our eyes of the screen. Neither of these things disappointed me or frustrated me, as the medical system + pregnancy is all new to me, so hey, whatever, it’s got 4 limbs, a beating heart, and kidneys! Success!

When I told people that the technician wasn’t “allowed” to tell us, I got varied responses. Often I got the racist response of “is it because there’s so many Asian people in the lower mainland?”, to which I drop my jaw and guffaw. So wrong for so many reasons! Or people thought that maybe the technicians didn’t want to give the wrong information and then the health authority to face legal repercussions, etc. Regardless, everyone we told that we couldn’t find out the sex knew “someone” who found out from a technician and we obviously SHOULD be able to find out.

Now the whole kerfuffle here in BC is that the NDP’s (political opposition) Health Critic, Adrian Dix, says that this is a government cash grab because this information is already “routinely” given. Which means that technicians who have told clients in the past the sex of their fetus are have in essence been breaking public policy (and putting their jobs on the line for our need to know the sex). The Province has responded by saying that determining the sex takes extra time and that’s what the fee is for. Then the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada turns around and says, “Nope, not the case!”

So, where does that leave us? First off, $50? With the minimal amount I get on EI-Maternity Leave to basically pay my bills and feed our family, $50 is too much money for something as arbitrary as knowing the sex of the fetus (knowing the minute it is birthed it can choose it’s gender or we can sit idly by as society, and probably us as well, impose it). The fee, in essence, restricts parents-in-poverty from accessing this information, just because they can’t afford it.

Second, I’m disappointed that some technicians across the province have been breaking the rules and telling some expectant parents the sex of their fetuses. How does “the system” decide who is worthy of this information? And are some technicians being racist and not telling clients who are racially Asian (I hope this isn’t happening, but it probably is)?

And third, by withholding information about the sex of the fetus, supposedly the Ministry of Health is denying women the right to their health information. While I tend to agree that the western medical system and government-based medical systems often tyrannize women’s bodies, I don’t agree that the sex of a fetus is considered “health information”. I’m unsure of what kind of health-based decisions or agency a person can have from knowing the sex of their fetus. I think that the information presented is immediately gendered (ie. “you’re having a girl!”, not, “your fetus’s sex is female”) by the service provider, the expecting parent, and that person’s extended relations. People want to know the gender of their baby rather than the sex so they can then socially create their gendered little being, buy it gendered things, and day dream about their little boy/girl’s life! Knowing that because you’re having a girl you can paint the nursery pink is not health-based information!

Regardless, I wish that the fee would go away to resume the accessibility to medical care (so information is not just for those who can afford it), and that the province would rather just crack down on those technicians who are breaking the rules and identifying sex and allowing parents to gender their fetus before it’s even a child.

Tags: body politics, in my opinion...

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