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Is It Fair to Call a Forced C-Section Rape?

By Madeline Holler |

joy-szabo-arizona-c-sectionRachael Larimore was raped years ago and survived. More recently, she has given birth three times, all of them via c-sections. Considering her history and experiences, she’s unsympathetic toward Arizona mom Joy Szabo and others who equate forced c-sections with rape.

She’s got a point, which she makes in the post, “Childbirth is Not Burger King. You Can’t Always Have it Your Way,” at Double X. But in arguing that Szabo’s use of “rape” is hurting rape victims, she errs in the same way she’s accusing Szabo of erring: that is, she makes assumptions about the trauma of other people’s experiences and diminishes that trauma in the process.

Larimore’s first c-section followed an induction, all of which her doctor discussed with her and she willingly agreed to. She was also given a choice during her second pregnancy, VBAC or another section. She chose the latter. Third time, no question. Here’s what she says:

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.

First, Larimore’s belief that our medical insurance system will simply allow someone to switch doctors and hospitals at whim is questionable. But more to the point, while Larimore thinks “rape” overplays the trauma and helplessness this Arizona woman is trying to capture in using the term, Larimore is way underplaying those same feelings. She says Szabo’s c-section-only option is “frustrating.” Based on the woman’s actions, I gather she’s more than frustrated.

And also? Larimore’s forgetting that Szabo — and others who have claimed birth-rape — doesn’t actually have a choice. The doctors wouldn’t let her attempt VBAC, based only on hospital policy, not Szabo’s history. You can read more about Szabo and her drastic and expensive alternative to the c-section here.

Finally, maybe I’m now guilty of broadening the semantics of rape beyond scope, but I read a hint of “she’s asking for it” into Larimore’s conclusion. She questions the motivations of women who write birth plans, even though this is one way birthing mothers can say “no.” She also implies that women are overly invested in their attempts to have input into how their bodies are handled.

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.

Larimore’s not the first person to ridicule birth plans and remind us that c-sections can be necessary. But I think her post (and the reaction to it) is a great demonstration of the discord in one subset of Mommy Wars’ conflicts (Battle cry: “I birth better than you!:). While we all love the kids — we can agree on that, right? We all love the kids!!! — each side continues to be suspicious of the other with regard to the exit strategy. One side says about birth, “What’s the big damn deal?” The other side says, “It’s a big damn deal!”

So which side is right?

Can’t they both be?

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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26 thoughts on “Is It Fair to Call a Forced C-Section Rape?

  1. jenny tries too hard says:

    eeeerrrghh….for the last time, Mrs. Szabo had a choice. She could deliver by c-section at Page Hospital, which would be most convenient because she CHOSE to live in rural Page, Arizona, or she could travel to another town and deliver by VBAC in a different hospital. She had the choice, and she CHOSE to deliver in Phoenix. We all have choices. No one guarantees that they are or will be easy choices.

  2. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Both sides are both right and wrong.

  3. Allie says:

    I agree; I think Mrs. Szabo does have a choice. It may not be a convenient choice, but its a choice none the less. Rape victims don’t have a choice. Could they drive three hours away to not be raped? No. That’s what infuriates me about this woman comparing a c-section to rape. Maybe, maybe, I could see if an unnecessary c-section was actually performed against her will. But being told the hospital wasn’t willing to do it with plenty of time to plan something else? She chose to use the word that would get her cause the most attention.

  4. Alison says:

    She chose an inflammatory word to describe a procedure which never happened. She didn’t get the c-section at Page Hospital, she was able to say “no” to Page Hospital, Page Hospital did not send people to her home to drag her in so that a c-section could be performed upon her against her will. It was not rape. Her body has not been compromised against her will. While She can’t have the birth she wants at the hospital she wants, she can have the birth she wants in other hospitals. Is it as convenient? No. But are we at a point where someone being inconvenienced in their pursuit of getting what they want is comparable to rape?

  5. G says:

    Fortunately Mrs. Szabo has a choice, but not all women who end up with a c-section have that choice. They go to the hospital with a normal pregnancy expecting to have an uneventful vaginal birth, but due to the over medicalization of birth, end up with a c-section. Many of these women are still dealing with the emotional consequences years later. Larimore is obviously ok with her c-sections and I’m glad she didn’t feel the same trauma than she did when she was raped. But women who are in labor and have a c-section forced on them ARE helpless, and therefore I think the comparison is fair.

  6. PlumbLucky says:

    I’m sorry, but Mrs. Szabo had a choice – may have been sucky, but she had one. I had a cocked gun held to my temple, thank you very much. Why can’t people who defend Mrs. Szabo’s choice of words see this difference???

  7. abqmom says:

    maybe our (women’s) arguments should be less about who has it worse and who’s stealing who’s traumatic thunder but maybe, just maybe, we should all demand for all of us to be able to choose what to do with our bodies to include living in a world that respects us enough to ensure decent reproductive healthcare/benefits AND not being raped at astonishing rates. If we would quit competing with each other, we might figure out that we make up more than half the population :)

  8. stcelia says:

    Let’s here it for abqmom! Thank you, for pointing out what really matters in this debate,

  9. Ali says:

    MOney, seh wants money. Themore she claims ot be injured by this experience the more likely she is to get a huge out of court settlement from the hospitals insurance company to make her go away. She probably doesnt care at all how she has this baby but while exploring her options found the Golden Ticket – Litigation! I bet there are lawyers lining up to represent this “poor victim”. She will get some money you can count on that. Companies hate to be sued, they almost always settle. One of the many lawyers in my family just settled a case for 240,000 dollars. The guy sued his mortgage company because his contract did not say he had to pay “every” month but monthly. Yeah, he got money for that.

  10. Alison says:

    abqmom-but she was able to choose to have the birth she wanted. She found a hospital that would allow her to have a VBAC. It just wasn’t the hospital in her town. It is a huge inconvenience and her home town hospital’s policy defies logic, but it isn’t a question of stealing traumatic thunder or competing to see who has it worse to point out that this is not rape. People are offended because comparing her hospital’s policy, a policy she was able to opt out of by going to a different hospital, to rape she is devaluing the trauma that rape victims experience. What is next? Being angry that a restaurant doesn’t offer the type of salad dressing you like and “forcing” you to eat something you don’t like being compared to rape? Obviously, I do not believe that reproductive choices are the equivalent of salad dressing choices, but just as my comparison seems to belittle her fears and desires, so, too, does hers. It isn’t about who has it worse, it is about not comparing apples to oranges and not trying to piggyback on someone else’s trauma because it makes your own sound more serious. She has a choice over what happens to her body. Women who are raped do not.

  11. abqmom says:

    I’m sure you’re right Ali, it’s all about money. I bet she even planned this pregnancy because they changed the VBAC rules and she saw a great opportunity to get rich. What a con artist!

  12. Alison says:

    The headline of this post is a bit misleading as Mrs. Szabo was not forced to have a c-section. I may be more willing to accept the rape comparison if she were forced to have an unnecessary c-section which she clearly refused and/or hospital staff lied to her about her condition to get her to agree. One of the problems I have with Larimore’s tone regarding birth plans is that these are often a result of women learning more about the process of childbirth and being empowered to take control of their bodies into their own hands. That isn’t a bad thing. I agree with Mrs. Szabo’s decision to not allow the hospital’s policy to override her wishes. But as she hasn’t actually been forced to have a c-section, the post title is not accurate.

  13. dadwhowasthere says:

    Comments I was there with my wife for three birth deliveries. The first one was an emergency C-Section because the baby was breached. He was 11 days early and his feet were downward and the umbilical was coiling around his neck when she went into labor. We still had to sign-off to allow the c-section. The baby was born perfectly alive and healthy which is what any good Ob/Gyn wants to achieve. The other two were VBACs but required not-so-fun episiotomies because my wife is very petite and not a very good “pusher” either. The doctor gave her plenty of time to try on her own, but, once her blood pressure and the that of the baby started to drop, he did what he had to do to make sure he delivered a live baby. I was there and I know he made the right call each time. I understand the thing about the C-sect scar and my guess is that most doctors do too. Ours did fine but it wouldn’t matter too much to us anyway because we were happy just to have three successful births. It’s wrong for this lady to be calling her c-section rape. No sensible hospital and doctor would perform one without her signed consent. I would bet that she or her husband signed off giving permission. Too bad about her feelings about the operation. It is energy she could be using to devote more care and nurturing to her baby. I hope she gets over it soon.

  14. Lore C. says:

    I had three children by vaginal delivery and I feel very lucky that my pregnancies went without any complications. My younger sister had twins via C-section and when she got pregnant again her doctor told her she should have to have her child through C-section because if the delivery got complicated she did not want to be rushing her to the surgery Room. That was a very stupid reason to me. I understand the first time it made sense since she had twins and also they were in a breach position. But why do the doctors have to condemn moms to C-sections for future pregnancies. I just don’t get it.

  15. VIRGO 6 says:

    When your in labor and the doctor tells you ,you have to deliver c-section ,then you’ll believe that doc, because your in hella pain and ready to pop!!!!!!

  16. Ariyanna says:

    So I guess you will call surgery, intubation, suturing, and other invasive medical procedures rape as well? This woman is outrageous, looking for money and attention. The reason hospitals have policies is because of our lawsuit happy society. So when her VBAC goes wrong, which can happen, she will sue the hospital that performed that procedure as well because things didn’t go her way? Medical care isn’t like Burger King where you can have it your way, it’s a science full of risks and choices made by the individual receiveing the care. To compare this to rape is ridiculious. Does she really not see how ignorant she is making herself look?

  17. Mrs. Stand says:

    I disagree with her use of words. However, if you have never experienced not being in control of what happens to your own body, do not diminish the experience. My first was an emergency C-Section, and I’m glad it was available to me. For my second I had to fight, FIGHT up to my 8th month to find someone willing to do a VBAC then wait to see what the hospital would say (on all accounts I was a perfect candidate medically speaking). Pregnancy leaves you vulnerable enough but then to have someone tell you that you MUST have a procedure that is not medically necessary because it is more convenient for them (insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, etc.) is not only frustrating but damaging. Not everyone has the support system I have or the resources. My heart reaches out to those who either are not strong enough or do not have the resources to fight to have the birth they want. There were many days I almost gave up the fight to have a say in what happened to my body and many nights full of tears. Every person should have full control over what happens to their body.

  18. Dana says:

    Yeah, people can just pick up with three kids and move from a rural area to a city in the span of nine months, especially if they own their house and especially in this economic climate.

    Also? Szabo is a privileged example of a woman facing this situation. What if she hadn’t been? What if she were poor? What if her local hospital were her only viable choice?

    And do you kind women not see the problem in a hospital telling you you WILL accept X procedure if you use their facility? Excuse me? Who’s the employee here? Are any of you business owners? Do you think for two seconds you would continue paying an employee who turned around and told YOU what to do, or would you fire that little pissant before he could say “boo” and send his butt to the unemployment office?

    Yeah, I thought so. How is this any different?

    But for a lot of women it’s not that simple. They are more in the situation of being the employer of a psychotic who has locked them up in the HR office and won’t let them out til they let him order them around and then give him a raise.

    If you have not been in that situation, don’t tell someone else not to call it rape. I daresay someone INSISTING on cutting open your abdomen is a lot more traumatic then them insisting you give them a raise.

  19. Dana says:

    I will say this–if nothing else it was a rape of her wallet. They forced her to spend much, much more money on this birth than if they had simply allowed her to have the VBAC at their facility. This with three kids at home and a fourth on the way. I would sue them too, and I’m flabbergasted someone here considers that a problem.

  20. mystic_eye says:

    If you are wheeled into the operating room after being strapped down and screaming “No” then yes -its assault. And since rape is about power not sex, then yes I think its a good term. Maybe its less rape than doing a vaginal exam while the woman screams NO (which happens often as well) but its a far, far way from “frustrating”

    No one is saying that c-sections are always unnecessary but ultimately if you are a competent adult you always have the right to say no -even if that means you will more than likely die.

    Going into the hospital knowing damn well that you won’t be “allowed” to have a VBAC and not being willing to actually fight for that right (which you absolutely have the right to refuse surgery) isn’t rape. If you aren’t willing to say “NO” then don’t be surprised when the doctor doesn’t hear it. That’s like taking your clothes off and climbing into bed with a naked guy and expecting to call it rape because 6 months ago you said “Yeah he’s not attractive, I’d really rather not have sex with him”.

  21. [...] cases she refers to in her post, many of them covered here at Strollerderby, are, without question, [...]

  22. Sarah says:

    She wasn’t “forced” to do anything. She wanted a service they didn’t offer…simple as that. You don’t cry “theft!” when a store no longer carries an item you want. You simply do your research and take your business somewhere else.

  23. [...] have any effect on the c-section rate in the U.S., and whether women will no longer have to go to these extremes just to attempt a birth they know is more than likely to have a safe [...]

  24. Isabel says:

    I agree with Szabo. A forced C-Section is exactly the same as rape. As a woman who has had a forced C-Section and has been raped, I can rightfully say that they are one in the same. Both ignore your rights to your body, enter you without your permission, and have the same harmful affects. This hospital is a disgrace and should not be aloud to even preform births if they can’t prepare for an emergency c-section. It is my body my decision. If you take away my right to give birth, then you might as well take away other a woman’s right to an abortion (I myself am against abortion). So if other women can just kill their children, then I should be aloud to give birth my way even if mine or my child’s lives are on the line. (By the way a c-section exposes a healthy mother and child to the side effects and dangers of a surgery). It is not the safer choice.

  25. Sofia says:

    This is pathetic and even offensive to rape victims. What would this obnoxious person prefer? Dying or putting her newborn in danger? Some people, I tell you…

  26. me says:

    C-section,vaginal birth or vbac it all can be tramatic. There are so many variables with all of them. So much can go right or wrong with any of them. I believe it all doesn’t matter I had a pretty easy child bearing experience but it was still a very tramatic thing even 16yrs later I have not forgot every detail. The result with all of them are the same a beautiful little baby. So stop your whining and enjoy what you have in front of you. Look at all the first you are going to have with them. If you keep dwelling on what happened when they were born (which is the past ) you might miss something in their future. Unless there was real laws broken like the no consent then let it go. It is the past and the past is what happened to you it does not define who you are. Let it go and just enjoy your child Gees people.

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