Feel free to ask me about my C-sections, Internet. Oh never mind, I’ll just tell you.
My first one was unplanned and came after some complications following 16 hours of dysfunctional labor and two hours of pushing. The second one was scheduled. Nearly seven years since the first one and four years since the last, I have two healthy daughters.
However, if those in the medical, science, and educational fields think they might glean useful information about my children’s ongoing development just by knowing whether they were squeezed out of my vagina or cut from my belly, by all means — ask away. I am armed with plenty of additional details about each of my daughters’ births that I’ll happily share with anyone who thinks they can make heads or tails of it (so long as they don’t also have a weak constitution).
Cara Paiuk and I don’t see eye to eye on this issue. In a recent piece she wrote for the Motherlode blog on The New York Times site, she described her reaction to the “absurdly inappropriate” question on her kid’s kindergarten pre-matriculation forms about whether she’d given birth naturally or via Cesarean.
“This question is especially intrusive and irrelevant,” Paiuk said. “It reminded me of some awful blind date asking if the carpet matched the drapes. My vagina was not up for discussion by a stranger then, and it’s certainly not up for public examination now. I had to know: Why would they even ask?”
Upon further investigation, she learned from the school nurse that if an issue is “perceived” with a child, a teacher or administrator can pull their file and look for clues. And in fact, there is actual scientific data regarding the long-term benefits of vaginal births, as well as the possible drawbacks of Cesarean sections. Vaginal births are believed to stimulate brain development, for instance, by triggering “the expression of a protein in the brains of a newborn.” Babies born by C-section, though, can have that same critical function impaired, with lasting effects, by virtue of not passing through the birth canal.
After much digging, though, Paiuk got her kid’s school to concede more or less that they don’t actually probe a child’s birthing method, or a traumatic birth incident, when searching for the root of a classroom problem.
Paiuk’s piece caused a stir, but not because most parents were surprised by the question. While not as common as the lines for emergency contacts and food allergies, I know I’ve seen the C-section question on some of the many forms I’ve filled out. What seems more likely to have struck a chord, though, is the shame some women feel or have projected on them for having had a C-section at all.
As home births are on the rise — or at least discussion of them are — and more birthing stories are more widely available on Facebook and Instagram feeds, the self-awarded badge of honor worn by those who give birth without drugs or medical intervention is that much more visible. And the more people engage in conspiracy theories about the alleged rise in unnecessary C-sections, the more those who had them or will have them feel as if fingers are pointing and wagging in their direction. To then have a school ask about it, with the perceived implication that perhaps the mother is at fault for any learning issues her child may have, it might then feel like yet another judgement being passed on her — instead of the hope that it will lead to a more meaningful understanding of her child.
Paiuk argued the question of birthing methods should be protected by privacy laws and, in the wrong hands, “misused and misinterpreted information is worse than useless, and it’s unlikely to help anyone.” I’d actually be curious to know how anyone could abuse the knowledge of my C-sections, and I’m even more interested to know if it might help an educator explain, and advance, any of my children’s behaviors. Either way, my gut tells me the C-section question form will rot in a filing cabinet or in a computer file until it’s shredded or deleted, never having been read by anyone.
It’s not difficult to get offended by any little question, and it’s even easier to ignore the less critical ones that might ruffle your feathers. What might be more difficult, however, is confronting why a question about C-sections is still such a touchy subject for women.