Jessica “Decca” Mitford was one of the first women on my list of Women’s History Month topics. I have her most famous books, “The American Way of Death” and “The American Way of Birth.” Decca was born the sixth of seven children to a baron in England in 1917. Two of her older sisters admired Hitler, but Decca was on the complete opposite end of the political spectrum, eventually becoming a member of the Communist Party. She eloped with her first husband to Spain and made a point of living as impoverished a life as possible. She’s the focus of one of Persephone Magazine’s Badass Ladies of History series, although only the first part is available so far. Decca and her husband came to the United States during World War II, and she lived there for the rest of her life.
“The American Way of Birth” was very informative for me and made me aware of how highly structured and unnatural giving birth has become. For thousands of years women gave birth with the aid of midwives, yet today some states make it illegal for midwives to practice without a license or overseeing physician. Scroll through the entries at My OB said WHAT?!? and you’ll see plenty of comments from medical professionals who don’t believe women should have control over how they give birth: they’re against home births, water births, VBAC, birth plans. Many births are planned around the doctor’s convenience, not the mother’s. That’s part of the reason the U.S. C-section rate is about 32%. And many insurance companies don’t cover care from doulas, midwives or birthing centers, which forces women to give birth in hospitals. Some hospitals refuse VBACs, which brought to light the story of an Arizona mother who had to travel hundreds of miles to deliver her baby because her local hospital refused to let her deliver the way she wanted. The hospital CEO even told Joy Szabo she could be taken to court to be forced to have a C-section.
I’m happy that medicine has advanced far enough that C-sections exist to help mothers and babies in distress and to care for babies born prematurely. However, part of being pro-choice is also advocating for women to have the options to give birth in a way that makes them safe and comfortable. Decca’s book is a powerful argument for listening to women, who know their bodies better than anyone.
If you’re a “Harry Potter” fan, you might owe more to Decca than you realize. Author J.K. Rowling has said Decca was her most influential writer, and even named her daughter after Decca. So if you’re looking for something to read, pick up one of Decca’s books, which are informative and funny at the same time.