Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine by celebrated feminist thinker and author Antonella Gambotto-Burke is an intellectual tour-de-force that will transform our understanding of birth, and its profound connection with a wide range of personal and social issues.
Formidably researched, Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine will change society’s perspective of birth and motherhood forever.
Described as “a devastating uppercut to a patriarchal ideology that has marred billions of lives”, Apple is a though-provoking and controversial examination of modern birthing practices and how these ‘abuses’ are distorting the things that make us inherently ‘human’: sexuality, attachment, and the meaning and nature of love.
Argued with intelligence, force and the fury of righteous indignation by lauded feminist thinker, author and critic Antonella Gambotto-Burke, the book explores how the manner in which we enter the world has a profound and lasting impact on our lives, and by extension upon society as a whole.
As we come to learn, modern obstetric practices are deeply connected with an increased likelihood in later life of drug use, sexual fetishes, anxiety and mental illness, chronic and potentially life-threatening illnesses. They are also linked with the breakdown of relationships between men and women, and the erosion of the bond between mothers and children.
This all comes to light through Apple’s central question: why is our culture governed by the principle of separation?
In order to answer this, Gambotto-Burke—a critically acclaimed author and thinker whose 2015 book Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution is considered by some to be one of most seminal works of the 21st century—meticulously surveys and deconstructs the past two centuries, taking in the female liberation movement, free love and the counter-culture of the 1960s among other cultural epochs, and most pointedly, the increasing medicalisation of birth.
In tandem, she investigates the many problems of contemporary society—the rising anxiety epidemic, the growing abuse and victimisation of women (be that directly, through extreme sexual practices, indirectly through an increasing taste for extreme pornography), the widening gulf between classes among them—and, shows how their root cause can all be traced back to the birth experience.
As in other areas of life, birth has been largely divorced from nature, with women and their unborn children being subjected to the bright lights and ordered chaos of the hospital delivery room.
Here, they will typically be administered potent drug cocktails aimed at inducing labour, or to bring pain relief during labour or elective C-sections. Some of these chemicals, such as phencyclidine/PCP, have in recent decades been banned because of their potential harm, but others, such as the sedative benzodiazepine, are still in common use.
The impact of such drugs is jaw-dropping. For instance, Gambotto-Burke notes how the hallucinogen scopolamine—a drug once commonly used to sedate women in so-called ‘twilight births’—can increase the likelihood of recreational drug use, with the now grown-up children seeking the same highs they experienced at birth as a comforting mechanism.
The drug can also interfere with the bonding process between mother and newborn; firstly because the mother is effectively out for the count when her bundle of joy enters the world and, secondly, because it retards sweat, and a mother’s odour is critical for attachment purposes.
Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine by Antonella Gambotto-Burke is a thought-provoking and controversial examination of the impact of modern birthing practices across society.
If the realisation that many babies are literally born tripping isn’t shocking enough, the fact that other drugs, such as atropine, dramatically increase the likelihood that the baby will be born apnoeic (temporarily unable to breath) will horrify.
Breathing distress at birth can, says Gambotto-Burke, lead to an increased likelihood that the child, once grown up, will engage in and be stimulated by sexual choking. She observes with disgust how this practice—which can be dangerous and, in some cases, even fatal to the sexual partner being choked—has, in recent years, become en vogue, and even endorsed by some women’s magazines as a new bedroom activity for the adventurous to explore.
Once the baby is actually delivered, the separation process continues, says Gambotto-Burke, through the widespread use of rubber and synthetic rubber-teated milk bottles, and dummies.
She is appalled by women being encouraged to bottle-feed their babies, or to pacify them with a dummy, rather than offer their breast, as this can further impact the bonding process and imprint an attraction to rubbery materials that, in later life, can manifest as rubber fetishes.
While she is not against such fetishes per se—herself being attracted to the sensation of rubber, something she now links to being largely bottle-fed as a baby—she is duly concerned about how birthing practices are moulding men and women in ways we have, hitherto, been blind to, objectifying sex and alienating people from the natural urge to form satisfying sexual relationships with a partner.
Not for nothing, then, does the author state with confidence that “modern obstetric practice is literally destroying the world”.
She also issues an urgent warning about the impending extinction of femininity, showing how our growing separation from ourselves, our children and others is leading us towards the age of Nietzschean übermensch, in which femininity will, if we do not act to change, be erased.
This, she says, can be seen in the increasing harassment, brutalisation and even murder of women.
But, then again, all women and children are victims of the patriarchal system, as she writes:
For over two centuries, newborns have been terrified into understanding that men are in charge. The authorship of birth was attributed – with maternal consent and gratitude – to the male physician, with the mother reframed as his patient, an envelope of flesh to be delivered of a child.
In light of this, Gambotto-Burke says that urgent action must be taken, beginning with the recognition that our birthing practices are inextricably linked with the society we produce.
To the best of my knowledge, such a connection has never previously been made. While it may on the surface seem a far-fetched conclusion, the heavy-duty research that has clearly gone into the book backs up every single claim many times over.
PHOTO CREDIT: Derek Ridgers
Leading feminist thinker, author and journalist Antonella Gambotto-Burke fears that modern birthing practices are literally destroying the world.
It is far from comfortable reading but no polemic worth its salt avoids the unpalatable. I came away from it with hope and appreciation for Gambotto-Burke’s noble aim—not to point the blame at either sex but, instead, to bring about healing by calling out the real enemy: patriarchal attitudes.
Both men and women can be patriarchal, and in either case the result is the suppression of the feminine, the control of birth and the wider engendering of habits and attitudes which can be corrosive yet which continue to grease the wheel of the economy. To wit, we attempt to fill the void left within by the purchase of goods and services.
Apple is packed with historical accounts, social trends and cutting-edge scientific research and weaves together fascinating enquiries into everything from addiction and homosexuality to addiction and pornography to support the thesis that that medicinal and recreational drugs have rewired our bodies and brains to a near-incomprehensible extent.
This is made all the more powerful by the interweaving of the author’s own painful experiences.
She writes with brave, unflinching honesty of her own traumatic upbringing and how she came to learn that that in the modern world “straight white men were kings”. Her story will, sadly, be all-too familiar to those who followed the testimonies that emerged out of the #MeToo movement.
Creation Records founder Alan McGee has described Gambotto-Burke’s book as a “a hand grenade” and I can see why. It blasts at the very heart of society’s family-first myth, exposing the wicked mistreatment of generations of women and children that has been going on under our noses all along.
While a feminist tract, Apple—so-named because, in the author’s eyes this fruit represents the very essence of the feminine—speaks loudly to everyone, and more than lives up to publisher Pinter & Martin’s mission statement of publishing authors who challenge the status-quo.
An apple a day may not keep the doctor away, but after taking a bite out of this literary namesake you may well think twice about how much control you are willing to surrender to obstetricians in the future.
Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine by Antonella Gambotto-Burke is published by Pinter & Martin and is out now in paperback and eBook editions, priced at £14.99 and £6.99 respectively. It is available to purchase from Amazon or the Pinter & Martin website. For more information about author Antonella Gambotto-Burke, visit www.gambottoburke.com or follow her on Twitter (@gambottoburke) or Instagram (@gambottoburke).
Q&A INTERVIEW WITH ANTONELLA GAMBOTTO-BURKE
From her early days as a music critic to her current standing as one of the world’s most lauded feminist thinkers and writers, Antonella Gambotto-Burke has enjoyed a reputation for challenging the status quo. As her latest book, Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine, attests, she is still every inch the intellectual firebrand and now comes with a stark warning for us all: change our birthing practices or face destruction.
To mark Apple’s publication, we spoke with Antonella to find out more.
PHOTO CREDIT: Derek Ridgers
Q. Can you explain the genesis of your new book, Apple?
A. There were so many different levels to this.
My former fiancé was an alcoholic and cannabis addict with suicidal tendencies. And yet he still managed to function brilliantly in a professional context. I left, no longer able to tolerate the addiction. Watching him consciously damage his brain and body was a disturbing experience. Why do some people literally, and repeatedly, poison themselves? How could feeling nauseated, off-centre— literally, wasted—be perceived in any way as fun or comforting?
He fatally overdosed on cocaine—obese, a chain-smoker, unable to maintain a relationship— at the age of 38; depression had, for him, become intolerable.
My brother Gianluca, an investment banking executive, lifelong pornography addict, and the funniest man I have ever known, suicided a decade or so later by pulling a garbage bag over his head, tying his hands to the steering wheel, and gassing himself.
In an effort to make sense of my feelings, I wrote a book about this and other suicides I’d known, The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide, but so many questions remained. Why had he chosen that method of suicide? Was it, as my mother insisted, because there was “something wrong with his brain”—a congenital issue—or was there a different explanation?
Three years later, I fell pregnant for the first time. Birth, for me, was an earthquake on every level. It completely altered me and my understanding of the world. The passion I felt for my daughter, Bethesda, was almost impossibly intense. I just didn’t get it, because I’d always been a patriarchal woman, competitive, devoted to my career, someone who enjoyed ‘body sculpting’ in the gym for fun. Children held zero interest.
So my prism again changed, causing me to begin questioning everything—not just addiction and suicide, but my entire value system. I began paring my every belief down to the bone.
Q. According to your research, modern obstetric practices are having serious personal and social consequences. Taking the first of your points, how are common drugs administered during birth impacting a child’s lifelong health and happiness?
A. Not just during birth, but during pregnancy.
Pregnant and birthing women continue to be administered drugs that have been shown—in some cases, for decades—to be dangerous to the infant. One of the drugs I was administered during labour has been described as “markedly cardiotoxic”. I mean, it would be farcical if it weren’t so shocking.
Our obstetric practices can be worse than medieval: they can be sociopathic.
In Apple, I explain the potential short- and long-term impact of obstetric drugs on the mother and foetus during labour. Again, the potential, often common, side-effects have been known to researchers for decades and yet the mothers to whom these drugs continue to be administered are told nothing.
Releases were put before me while I was doubling over from contractions during labour. Of course I signed them. What kind of consent is that?
Q. You also state that modern birthing practices have led directly to a greater inclination within the population to sexual fetishes such as BDSM and sexualised choking. Can you explain the connection?
A. The widespread fetish for sexualised choking is, historically speaking, relatively new. Psychologists and researchers have been struggling to make sense of it for some time, and to no avail. My theory, and it is the only plausible one, is that the experience of apnea (the temporary cessation of breathing) and asphyxia (oxygen deprivation) through the indirect administration of drugs at birth results in a number of dysfunctional behaviours in adulthood, one of them being sexualised choking.
I detail this and other mechanisms in Apple, with multiple examples.
Q. What is the importance of smell to the mother-baby relationship?
A. Oh, it’s inestimable. Smell is the way we recognise each other as kin—not consciously, of course. The importance of retaining integrity in relation to the mother’s body odours during and after birth, and the baby’s odours after birth, cannot be overestimated.
Again, I explain how this works in Apple, and why what we understand as ‘cleanliness’ in relation to birth can be catastrophic.
Q. You are highly critical of the way humans are led to give birth, which you say strongly contrasts with that of all other mammals. Can you elaborate, and explain why it matters?
A. We’re the only mammals who ignore the intelligence of our design in preference for what we are misled into believing is superior—that is to say, medical authority.
We’re misled into believing that expedience—the elective C-section we schedule to fit in with our annual leave, the obstetric drugs that separate us from the experience of pain—is the best option.
We’re not told that the position in which we’re placed during labour, the hospital environment, and, in some cases, the very drugs we’re administered fantastically exacerbate the degree of pain; we assume—and the media supports this—that such levels of pain are normal.
We’re misled into believing that the drugs we’re administered during labour are ‘perfectly safe’ and have either no repercussions or insignificant repercussions.
What we don’t understand is that that our obstetric practices are by-products of an ideology, and it is that ideology that has to change.
Apple: Sex, Drugs, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine is all about the big picture.
Q. You are also deeply concerned about modern practices such as induced labour, C-sections and the cocktails of drugs given to women when giving birth. What is the main issue with these routine procedures?
A. Given that in 2018, over 98 percent of US births took place in hospitals and one in four births are caesarean sections, it’s clear that a significant percentage—if not the majority—of pregnant women are subjected to varying degrees of pressure from medical professionals, solely on the basis of profit.
Fifty thousand of these women and/or their babies will, in the process, be injured, some permanently. Since 2000, the rate of injury has increased by 75 percent, and that of post-delivery complications by 50 percent.
The primary risk involved in a caesarean is major haemorrhage. In 2005, the prevalence in Scotland alone was 4.4 women per 1,000, and the majority were shown to have had a previous caesarean. Globally, there were 8.7 million obstetrical cases of major haemorrhage and 83,000 deaths in 2015. Outstanding claims against the British NHS in 2000 amounted to £39 billion; 70 percent of the funds expended related to obstetrics and gynaecology.
In the US, researchers found “overwhelming evidence that part of the recent rise in the caesarean section rate in this country is the result of the medical-legal environment.”
There is just so much more to it than that. It’s simply terrifying.
Q. If these practices continue, what do you see the future of society being like?
A. We are literally breeding love out of existence. If this continues, humanity will be defined by its misery. We’re already part of the way there, with 17 percent of the British adult population on antidepressants, and 25 percent of American women over 60 on anti-depressants.
So what is it about this culture that makes 17 to 25 percent of people so unhappy they need drugs to want to continue living? I’m not even mentioning those on mood-stabilising drugs, those with substance use disorders, those who self-harm, chronic smokers, over-eaters, those who are unable or unwilling to seek help for their depression, the violent and so on.
Q. If these issues with modern obstetric practice exist, and have the serious personal and social repercussions you claim, then why are they being allowed to continue?
A. Because they result in astronomical profits for doctors, hospitals and the trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry. The global epidural anaesthetics market alone is worth around USD$700 million per year and rising. Who would give up that level of profit without class action lawsuits forcing their hand?
In order to keep the obstetric industry in business, it is imperative that women remain both unaware of their powers and sufficiently terrified of birth. This is an art form in itself. Low self-esteem and maternal terror make for brilliant business.
Q. Your book is highly controversial. How do you expect readers to respond?
A. It’s only controversial because we have, as I show at length in Apple, been bullied and misinformed for well over a century, particularly about birth practices and the drugs that mothers have—with or without consent—been administered during pregnancy and labour. The fact that obstetricians and hospitals have escaped proper scrutiny—and widespread condemnation—for over a century of near-implausible abuses beggars belief.
Do you know what happened at your birth? Have you seen the hospital records?
The reason almost everyone I know has no idea—beyond, perhaps, a few sketchy details (‘My mother said it was terrible’, ‘I almost died,’ and so on)—is because as a culture, we only have the most rudimentary understanding of the importance of pregnancy, birth and infancy not only in relation to brain development, but to our lifelong capacity for happiness, intimacy, and love.
The extent of the damage that has been done to our children, to us, to our parents and our forefathers by modern obstetric practice is incomprehensible.
Q. How would you explain the concept of ‘femininity’, how do you see it being undermined, and what can be done to allow women to reclaim it?
A. I go into this at great length in Apple. The world, as we know it, is patriarchal in slant: competitive rather than cooperative; externalised; performance-based. Trans-historically feminine qualities—devotion, tenderness and so on—and their by-products (caring, the open expression of emotion, vulnerability) are universally addressed as lesser.
This is why ‘femme’ gays, for example, are being increasingly marginalised in the gay community in preference for ‘masc’ gays, and why jobs that entail caring for others—carer positions, childcare, nursing—are understood as menial.
Our cultural priorities need to change in a very real way. Our workplaces and work hours need to change. Hospitals need to be revolutionised. Government policies regarding all aspects of motherhood and childhood, from the obstetric theatre to the education system, need to be changed to meet human needs, and not the other way around.
To effect such change, we need to change the way we understand ourselves from economic units to human beings. We need to understand that we are not islands but responsible for each other, all of us. Every child who is abused, for example, is the responsibility not only of its family, but of the wider community. We are all responsible, even without realising it, by buying into an inhumane ideology. In that understanding is the true spirit of inclusiveness.
We are all in this together: you, me, all of us. The minute people deeply understand this, rather than addressing others as competitors to be manipulated, used or bested, is where the change begins. We need a better, kinder, slower world; one in which basic happiness is not at a premium but the norm.