Childbirth Is Not Burger King. You Can’t Always Have It Your Way.

What Women Really Think
Oct. 19 2009 6:05 PM

Childbirth Is Not Burger King. You Can’t Always Have It Your Way.

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Rachael Larimore Rachael Larimore

Rachael Larimore is Slate's managing editor.

When I first read about the pregnant Arizona woman whose hospital stopped performing VBACs, prompting her to plan to drive 350 miles to Phoenix to a hospital that would allow her to deliver her baby vaginally, I sympathized. I wouldn’t have made the same choice, but I sympathized.

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Now, though, the Daily Beast reports that the woman painted her minivan to say "Page Hospital, enter my body without permission ... Sounds like rape to me." She’s not alone in her sentiment. The mom at birthtruth.org has an essay titled "8 years later" in which she talks about her "grief" over her C-section and reprints a poem from a mom who discusses her "mourning" over hers. Birthcut.com is full of C-section horror stories. The Daily Beast’s Danielle Friedman writes: "Women who feel violated by the notion or experience of a C-section often feel misunderstood-family and friends can’t grasp why they can’t just get over it and move on."

Well, count me among the clueless who just can’t understand. That might sound heartless, but I feel uniquely qualified to be judgmental. Many years ago, I was raped by a man who broke into my apartment and threatened to kill me. I have had three C-sections. I can tell you: One ain’t nothing like the other.

Rape is a horrible, disgusting act of violence. Perpetrators are seeking dominance and control over another human being. A C-section is a medical procedure performed by qualified doctors that can save the life of the mother and child involved. Is it traumatic? Yes. Is it violent ? No.

The United States admittedly has an inordinately high number of C-sections. Some of them are unnecessary. There are probably doctors who steer women toward C-sections because it’s easier for them. (They can be scheduled! No 3 a.m. phone calls! No 12-hour shifts in the hospital waiting for babies to be born!) But doctors, even those with gruff bedside manners, are generally not trying to take away women’s freedoms. Hospitals are not refusing to do VBACs because they are operating under some Dark Ages mindset that women are silly little things whose opinions and concerns doesn’t matter. To perform VBACs safely-and their job is to keep you safe, no?-they have to have more staff on hand, which is expensive. Up to 40 percent of VBACs result in a C-section, and this article claims that "failed VBACs also accounted for the most expensive total birth experience."

When I was pregnant with my oldest son, I planned on a normal delivery. When I went past my due date and the ultrasound tech laughed and told me that my baby was measuring at 10 pounds, I didn’t believe her. When the doctor, a female doctor at an all-female practice full of OB/GYNs, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, suggested that I have a C-section-"And we almost never recommend that women have C-sections," she told me-I politely declined and said that I’d rather be induced. And two days later I was. And 10 hours after that, I was wheeled down to the OR for an emergency C-section. I’d come down with a fever, my son had gotten a fever, and that was that. And he weighed 10 pounds.

When I became pregnant with my middle son, my doctor gave me the choice between a C-section and a VBAC. After talking to her and looking at the risks-and there are risks with either method -I decided on the C-section. One of the risks with a VBAC is a ruptured uterus, and I didn’t want to hurt my chances of having more kids. When the third kid came around, I didn’t think twice. I’d had good outcomes with my previous births.

Yes, I was lucky. I had a choice. And I realize that not having that choice can be frustrating. But to compare it to rape is unfair to doctors, hospitals, and-yes-actual rape victims. There are still hospitals that perform VBACs. If yours doesn’t, you can find another one. You might have to find a different doctor, but in the end, it’s your choice. You are prioritizing your chosen method of delivery over your choice of doctor and place of delivery. The fact is, for all our hand-wringing over the different procedures, both are relatively safe . A C-section does have a longer recovery, and I’ll never wear a bikini again, but I’ve got three healthy boys and I remember all of their births just as fondly as if I’d pushed.

There is so much emphasis today put on couples having "birth plans" and making childbirth into a magical, memorable experience. When so much energy is spent crafting an experience, you’re bound to be disappointed if it doesn’t go exactly as planned. But childbirth is momentary. Parenting is forever. And one of the lessons of parenting is that things don’t always go according to plan.

Photograph of surgeons from below by Ryan McVay/Getty Images.