Friday, October 26, 2012

A Shameful Culture

Shortly before the delivery of my son, my mother was recounting to me a conversation she had with a co-worker (while they were having a smoke break no-less) about the impending arrival of my son - the impending planned cesarean. My mother's coworker asked why a cesarean was planned, and when my mother told her co-worker that it was because it was what I wanted, her co-worker proceeded on a tirade of derogatory commentary about my birth choice. That I was a burden on the health system (that's rich coming from a woman who is on a smoke break). That women had been giving birth the way nature intended for thousands of years. That it was a real shame that I did not have confidence in my body and its ability to birth a baby. That vaginal birth was best for both mother and child and cesareans should be reserved only for those who "need" them. My mother found herself defending me, defending my choice - but more than that, defending my right to make such a choice in the first place, my right to determine what was done with my body.

I love my mom for standing up for me - as her co-worker is not some rarity. I have become far too familiar and tired with such sentiments. I spent my first pregnancy defending my choice only to have my right to choose violated, and my second pregnancy in dread that my right to choose would be violated again.

There is something that is deeply wrong about the culture surrounding birth in Canada today. It is a culture that says that it is okay to criticize the legitimate choices of others. It is a culture of fear. It is a culture of competition. It is a culture that shames women for choosing cesarean. It is a culture that shames women for choosing pain relief. It is a culture that preaches empowerment from a bodily function. It is a culture that legitimizes the denial of choice and access to modern medical technology and the most qualified care providers.

It is a culture that tells women to be proud of vaginally delivering their children and to be proud of rejecting pain relief in the process of doing doing so - it is also a culture that tells women who deliver by cesarean or with the use of epidurals that they are somehow failures or lesser women.

It is perverse and filled with misplaced pride.

I have no shame about the cesarean birth of my son. It was an informed choice. It was a safe choice. It was the choice that best met my needs and those of my baby. I am no less a woman for having had a cesarean. I am proud that I was enabled to make an informed choice about the healthcare I received - one which enabled the healthy and safe arrival of my son. I am proud of my health care providers for giving me excellent care, and for respecting, supporting and enabling my choice with regards to the delivery of my son.

Women who choose cesarean have nothing to be ashamed about, and its time we quit thinking that they do.


  1. I agree.

    I am in the US though, and I have not really come across this sort of attitude. I know it exists here, but it seems (to me) that it is not as institutionalized here, at least not in urban areas with a lot of resources. I don't know the stats, but I believe that the vast majority of women do get epidurals. If 90% (number pulled out of my arse) of the people are doing something, the remaining 10% who aren't shouldn't be able to shame them. If I were in your shoes, I would be angry and frustrated as well.

  2. Excellent post, thank you. I also am in the U.S., and in response to Amy above, I think it just depends. My large city has a high rate of cesareans, and yet I constantly see the competitive, "birth warrior" mindset among educated, upper-middle class professional women here. My colleague recently had an unmedicated birth in a hospital, and spent all her social interactions effectively apologizing to listeners for not having a homebirth (her husband "insisted" on a hospital). Other of my peers have said some really nasty, unprompted things about women who schedule c-sections, including for reasons like breech presentation, twins, or very large babies. I am planning a c-section but will come up with some medical "excuse" to share with co-workers, because I think it would negatively affect my career if my [female] boss knew I requested surgery.

  3. Brilliant post - just brilliant.
    Thank you Mrs. W.