Childbirth, for all its supposed straightforwardness—get pregnant, give birth, there you go—is still an incredibly mysterious, complex and wholly unpredictable process. When it goes right everyone puts up their hands and says well there you have it, easiest thing in the world! But when it goes wrong, it is a life-altering heartbreak that nobody should have to endure. Unless you’ve been through it I don’t suppose anyone can really imagine the experience, and even then the process from beginning to end is so varied. You’d think that the misogyny and sexism would perhaps be left at the door, that for a pregnant woman and her baby, that most vulnerable duo, people would come together to make sure that mother and child are looked after properly, with a little kindness or empathy or sympathy, anything really. Having been through childbirth four times I know how helpless one is, how little control one has over the external processes happening around you in part because you are wholly focused on the task at hand and also because when you are in pain it has a tendency to blot out your critical thinking and problem solving faculties. Heck, you don’t even know what time it is, only how many minutes have passed between contractions.

Obstetric and gynaecological health professionals, you would think, would be right on top of this, because their entire livelihood depends on happy, healthy women producing healthy babies with as less fuss and trauma as possible. That is a satisfied customer, who returns and recommends your services to other people. It is, after all, a service. Instead, woe betide you if you get pregnant here and decide to deliver here. From the get-go one is flung into a vortex of mean, judgmental nurses, junior doctors and senior ones too who belittle and mock freely. From being told to stop fussing, other people have it worse to downright cruelty, there is no safe place for the pregnant woman. Everyone has a story—from doctors who sneered at your concerns to dismissive nurses who wouldn’t listen. There are rare few women who escape unscathed from their experience of childbirth.

What does it say about our levels of misogyny that women are constantly dismissed as hysterical, over-reacting fusspots even when they are doing that one thing that is purely and entirely a woman’s domain? Is it so hard to be sympathetic to someone in pain? Are men ever told they are weaklings for opting for pain relief during a procedure? Because women are. Women are judged for taking painkillers during the most intense, bone-crushing, hours-long pain that exists. You aren’t a real woman if you took an epidural, because there are so many women who don’t take anything. The latter statement is true, but how many of those women are only medication free because they didn’t have any other choice? Very few, I’m guessing.

Having babies is just the start. There are all kinds of things concerning women and their bodies that sometimes need medical attention, and even then women are treated like cattle. Gynaecologists don’t seem to believe in explaining anything to their patients. Neither do nurses. Why do I have a fibroid? What does a DNC mean in terms of my emotional health? Why do I need a hysterectomy? How will it change my life? I’m a curious woman who never met a question she thought was irrelevant, and I am lucky to have a doctor who has always dealt with my queries and concerns with endless patience. Most people don’t have either that kind of doctor or that lack of self-consciousness either. Sometimes it’s having one but not the other. Because what do you do if you keep asking, but never get an answer? What if you don’t have the courage to ask? Hundreds of women go into laprascopic procedures, DNCs and labour utterly clueless and afraid, because the people whose job it is to provide support and answers just couldn’t care less. As long as you pay, they don’t want to know. How many women go into labour and never see their doctor’s face until the very end? How many women keep asking and asking a constant stream of nurses for this or that, only to be ignored or passed onto another nurse, who passes you on to another, or just disappears? Hundreds and thousands. And this is in private hospitals. Let’s not even begin to talk about public hospitals or dodgy little village clinics where you might as well stay home and give birth with a da’ai to help you. Sometimes you might as well just do that regardless of being able to access supposed “quality” care.

That’s probably why the home-birth trend is on the increase in the west. Women are getting increasingly fed up with the bullying, indifferent and downright contemptuous attitude of healthcare professionals during a process that should be geared towards being as stress-free as possible. Childbirth is difficult and intense, and mothers need and deserve all the help and compassion they can get. What they don’t need is relatives (mostly female, ironically) saying so what, thousands of women do this all the time, stop crying. They don’t need doctors, male or female, withholding pain relief because they don’t think you need it. They don’t need nurses stabbing them with branulas repeatedly because they are so untrained they can’t find a vein, or junior doctors waltzing in and asking women in labour how dilated they are—read the damn file, that’s what it’s there for. It’s the height of sexist misogyny to treat any woman like this, but it seems particularly cruel to do it to a pregnant woman. On the one hand we venerate mothers, put heaven under their feet, and on the other we treat women turning into mothers like dirt. The schizophrenia is criminal.