The Police Officer In Your Head

December 5, 2016

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I had something that felt like a mix of a vision and a dream happen to me the other night as I was laying with my daughter at bedtime. My daughter was asleep, and as so often is the case I had my eyes closed too until I jerked my eyes open with a start. It wasn’t a dream, since it was only a flash of an image, but I was close enough to being asleep that it sort of felt that way. I saw for a brief moment (and don’t think I’m crazy) a police officer who very clearly was patrolling inside my own brain. It was a lady police officer, for the record, because I am obviously a feminist, and because obviously this was a metaphor for the way that I police and control myself subconsciously. I immediately texted my partner “remind me to write tomorrow about self surveillance!” because I didn’t want to lose my sleep steam, and knew I might forget by the morning. Well I did NOT forget, because it was such a bizarre and vivid vision/dream and I kept thinking about it all day today.

There are a decent number of people who have written about birth in relation to the work of Michael Foucault. He was a French philosopher and someone I read a lot of in the semester of graduate studies I did in Applied Criminology before deciding to start my midwifery apprenticeship. He talked a lot about institutions (hospitals, prisons, public schools) and how they are all essentially the same. You could read “The Birth of the Clinic” if you want somewhere to start. I won’t bore you with too many of the details, but the jist of it is that power is not so much a them versus us, physical/brute force, top down sort of deal (though it can be). Instead, power is within all of us, but not necessarily in the warm fuzzy empowering sort of way – more in the insidious way where we become our own surveillers, so that “they” don’t even have to do anything to make us conform to the rules we have internalized. And power and knowledge are really one in the same thing, and knowledge is constantly being reconfigured on every level. Whew. That is the super simple version I can come up with 6 years later with the help of some googling. Here is something better written (feel free to skip ahead unless you have your nerd hat on today) :

“‘Power is everywhere’ and ‘comes from everywhere’ so in this sense is neither an agency nor a structure (Foucault 1998: 63). Instead it is a kind of ‘metapower’ or ‘regime of truth’ that pervades society, and which is in constant flux and negotiation. Foucault uses the term ‘power/knowledge’ to signify that power is constituted through accepted forms of knowledge, scientific understanding and ‘truth’.”

In challenging the existing accepted forms of knowledge around birth, we are literally trying to move and change power. So this is where the vision of the police officer came in (since that is the most obvious representation of an institution which surveils and exerts power). The first feeling I had on seeing her was that I should hide, specifically about being a midwife. It really got me thinking what my subconscious feelings are about being a “deviant” (another important Foucault term) birth worker, and where those feelings come from (maybe from hundreds of years of intergenerational trauma as women and especially midwives?). Here in MN I am allowed by the letter of the law to be unlicensed, but still, there is a part of me that still feels less than and even criminal in the search lights of my internal police officer, and I am a loud mouth, anarchist, feminist, Zena warrior princess. No wonder so many people take the path that their own internal police officer is happier with.

I guess what I have come up with after reflecting on this is that we all still have a lot of work to do around unraveling these beliefs in ourselves if we ever want to see things change in the larger communities and societies we live in. I also at least loosely believe in the law of attraction and don’t want to be attracting people that think I’m a deviant, and first I need to look at where I still feel that way myself.

When I hear about midwives being persecuted around the world (and here in the US, if you weren’t aware that this is happening) and I worry about putting myself out there, the phrase I come back to over and over again is “I’m not doing anything wrong”. Women have always helped each other in birth. I am explicit and clear about what I offer to clients and they choose me to come to their births. I am not doing anything wrong. And if I frame that in a more positive way (since that is an important piece of visualization!) I say something like “I serve people who want exactly what I have to offer, and I do so with the blessing of the universe” – or something more or less woo woo depending on the day.

This internal work is so important, and I am definitely guilty of not paying enough attention to it when we are working hard on the logistics of running Wise Woman Circle calls, putting together a mid-sized conference, and setting up the foundations (including doing lots of interviews of potential students!) of our brand new Indie Birth Midwifery School, in addition to getting my own midwifery practice started. This is my reminder to myself and to you to pay attention to your inner police officer and see what they are up to. Ask them some hard questions, and see if you can start to shift the way you feel about your place in the world of midwifery.

PS In the few days since writing this and paying more attention to my feelings about all of this and repeating my positive mantra, I have gotten way more interview requests for home birth services. Coincidence? I think not!

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  1. Gretchen says:

    I love this. Thank you for sharing. I too come from a background of feminist studies, which led me to midwifery. I studied Foucault in college and the panopticon. I read
    “Privilege Power and the Difference”, By, Allan G. Johnson and it is to this day one of the only books I reread every year. I decided I was going to be a part of the new paradigm and sought out less conventional ways to acquire my education to become a Midwife. This was 5 years ago and I still grapple with this very subject or “the police officer in my head” all the time. You so exquisetly address this here. Perfect read after listening to Maryn’s podcast.

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We are mamas and midwives who decided to do birth differently– and bring others along with us. We are radical, fun to work with, and great at (lovingly) calling people on their bullshit to help move us all towards a new more beautiful world. With 12 children and over two decades of midwifery between us, we’ve learned a thing or two along the way, and Indie Birth is our space to share it all with you.

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