Is there a such thing as free choice?

Free choice is correlated to privilege. Some people are afforded more choice than others; however, everyone is constrained in some way by social and cultural norms or stereotypes and prejudices.

One example of this is demonstrated in the documentary, The Business of Being Born. The women who were followed in this documentary were predominantly white, middle class, and well-educated. These privileged statuses helped make it possible for these women to get access skilled midwives, have home births, and good prenatal care. This access provided them with the opportunity to choose between giving birth in a hospital or giving birth at home.

Women of lower socioeconomic classes, less educated women, or minority women (save for one or two) were not represented in this film. These women generally do not have access to the same resources as upper class women due to their financial constraints, the areas in which they live, work schedules that may not allow them to seek out alternative birthing methods, and/or lack of information and means to seek information about alternative birthing methods. These constraints leave lower class, minority, and poorly educated women with fewer choices when it comes to how they can give birth.

This argument is not to say that all people with any privilege have absolute agency over their lives. Continuing with the examples provided in the documentary, once in the hospital, most women (regardless of their social status) become subject to numerous medical interventions that they often did not initially desire. Additionally, there are numerous social expectations placed on these women as new mothers that act as obstacles to their ability to have free choice in how they raise their children. Though privilege often enables people to have more free choice, most people are inhibited in some way.

The Business of Being Born created by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein.

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2 Responses to Is there a such thing as free choice?

  1. jsmoots says:

    I also noticed that the documentary mainly followed the lives of white, middle class, well-educated women and their partners. I do agree that there is certain degree of privilege maintained by people who have achieved such a stature and who have the knowledge, experience, and access to information to make informed decisions on birthing processes. I think that it is also important, especially when discussing class and its impact on the birthing process, to recognize that low income women are often on Medicaid, or worse, have no health insurance at all. If the big name health insurance companies are hesitant to consider alternative birthing methods, even when it is more cost efficient, the government will probably be even more inflexible when it comes to covering any alternative birthing processes. While midwives are much cheaper, low income women who don’t have any sort health insurance will more than likely abstain from using either method due to a lack of monetary support. How do we offer a level of freedom to those without privilege of race, class, or education? Following along those lines, how do get their voices heard?

  2. You make an interesting point when you said that free choice is correlated to privilege. I did notice that in the documentary there were predominantly white parents that chose to have midwives however, I think it is unfair to make the assumption that they were middle class or even well educated. Of course, couples that chose to have a midwife at home instead of a birth at a hospital would have to be educated and well informed about all the procedures but does not necessarily mean that they received a high education. I actually think that if you come from a very low economic background, you are less likely to go to the hospital to birth your child because just the birth alone of the baby is about three times as expensive as having a skilled midwife including the prenatal and postnatal care. I do agree however, that there may be no midwives in low socioeconomic neighborhoods or places where a pregnant woman can be cared for leading these people to have less opportunities.

    Also, there was a woman of color in the film. I want to point out that in all, there were not that many women at all and this could be due to the fact that it was difficult to find people that would consent to having their live birth videotaped.

    Lastly, I want to point out that I don’t think it is women of low economic class that have less free choice because they do not have as much privilege, it think it is actually that they have less opportunities. Any person has the freedom to do whatever they please, however, they may have to go to some extremes (i.e. selling their belongings, working multiple jobs, etc.) in order to choose certain things.

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