When Cara Paiuk, a writer and a photographer from West Hartford, CT and her husband, Alex walked into their first kindergarten parent-teacher meeting for their son’s upcoming school year, they thought they knew what to expect.
A few handshakes with the teachers, probably some awkward small talk, maybe some burnt-tasting coffee, and of course, an endless pile of forms and school paperwork.
But what they didn’t expect was to see one very specific question on the form, a simple “check here” for C-section or vaginal birth.
Paiuk, whose meeting that day was her first introduction to the public school system in West Hartford, said she didn’t think much of it when her husband starting filling out the forms immediately.
“I just kind of glanced over his shoulder,” she relates. “And then I lifted it out of his hands and I’m like, are you kidding me?!“
The couple was surprised to see the question on the more than 5-page form (which also asked parents to disclose if they had had “any major house renovations done”) and couldn’t imagine why such private information would be necessary on a kindergarten application.
“I was pretty shocked and pretty offended,” Paiuk explains. “I was so confused why it could be relevant.”
Although Paiuk says the question got her “blood boiling,” she kept quiet during the meeting. “I didn’t want their first impression of me to be the person who raised her hand and said, ‘WTF?'” she said with a laugh.
But later, she got to work investigating just why a public school would need to know anything about whether or not her vagina had remained intact while bringing her son into the world. She got on the phone, speaking with the school’s nurse and eventually, the medical adviser for the district, a respected pediatrician in the community, who belittled Paiuk for questioning something he himself had disclosed 20 years ago when his children went to school.
As Paiuk described in her article for the New York Time’s Motherlode, she was told that the information was necessary “so that if a teacher or other administrator perceives an issue with a child (presumably, a learning disability or behavioral problem), that person could pull the file and look for clues in the medical record that might explain the cause.”
But Paiuk wasn’t buying it.
“If they’re going to go there, why wouldn’t they ask, did you breastfeed your child?” she points out. “It’s a constant battle going on these days, cloth vs. no cloth, formula or breastfeeding, co-sleeping or not, and everyone has a judgment.”
And when Paiuk eventually put in a Freedom of Information Act request with her own questions to the school board, rightfully pointing out that there are is no evidence-based research to support the school demanding this information of its students, she was shut down.
“They said they couldn’t answer any of those questions because it requires research and they aren’t required to do research,” she says with only the slightest twinge of irony in her voice.
But let’s face it — research might benefit the school board after all. The latest study actually just disproved any link between C-sections and autism, in fact.
Ultimately, Paiuk doesn’t hope to shame the school or somehow cause a problem before the school year has even started; she simply hopes parents will take a moment to realize what they are actually filling out in that stack of school paperwork. She also hopes schools will reevaluate what type of information they are asking of their students, along with the implications behind those questions.
Because ultimately, what what would they do differently if a child with “behavioral” problems did enter the world via a C-section? Is that a lightbulb moment for school officials? Will that determine how that child is treated? “Oh, well, it must have been the C-section, it all makes sense now!”
Paiuk’s goal is simple: “I would like the question to be removed,” she says. “I would like the entire form to be reviewed and updated.”
Time will tell if the school will have a change of heart on that one.