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

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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