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Time Magazine Calls Vaginal Birth a Traumatic Alternative to Cesarean

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I clicked over from Facebook to see the story behind the mass breastfeeding picture in this article and discovered what the editors at Time Magazine found relevant to link as related posts.

In Best and Worst Moms Ever, Time ranks the best and worst moms of all time, leaving their readers on tenterhooks waiting for the Best and Worst Dads Ever feature.

The article, The Labor Market, describes vaginal birth as “the not always .. appealing alternative” to a maternal request cesarean.

Nobody questions the rightness of cesareans performed in a medical emergency (which account for up to 20% of the total), but those made simply at the request of the mother, known as “elective cesareans,” are associated with a number of pitfalls. Before these are addressed, however, it is worth remembering that vaginal delivery is not always an appealing alternative.

Utter the phrase “natural childbirth” and the mind envisages a stoic and earnest woman, surrounded by murmuring midwives in a softly lit room, where ambient music plays and tea lights flicker. Upon the elapse of some decent, manageable labor, she pushes out her baby with honest grunts. While that may be true for some, for most women natural childbirth is one of the most violent physical traumas they will ever experience, bar a serious accident or grievous assault. The average length of labor for a first-time mother is anything from seven to 12 hours, but it can easily be 20 hours or more. During that time, she is wracked by contractions — a euphemism that doesn’t even come close to conveying the violent spasms that take hold when the body reflexively tries to squeeze a baby through a narrow vaginal opening. The forces involved are such that when the baby’s head emerges, it can do so with sufficient pressure to rip the mother’s perineum and leave grind marks on pubic bone. In many ways, the act of giving birth resembles a medical emergency — in fact, if no medical intervention of any kind were made, up to 1 in 67 women would die in labor. Fear of birth pain is thus legitimate and it is no wonder that many women elect to have C-sections — especially when the procedure is over in about 40 minutes and feels no more uncomfortable, in the words of an anesthetist in one of Hong Kong’s top maternity hospitals, “than someone rummaging around in your tummy.” When cost is not an issue, women express even greater interest in cesareans. In Hong Kong, just over 45% of private-hospital births are surgical, compared to a territory-wide rate of 27%.

I enjoyed many birth-related articles in Time Magazine over the last year, namely Pamela Paul’s February article, The Trouble With Repeat Cesareans and Ada Calhoun’s August article, Giving Birth at Home. However, I just couldn’t find it in me to follow the link from Why Pregnancy Sucks to read about “the boom in adult single mothers.” Judging and rating mothers is one of the mainstream media’s number one spectator sports.


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Reader Comments (23)

Yes, vaginal delivery is sometimes no picnic, but really, who among the common woman imagines giving birth as a la-la-la experience with tea lights, for goodness sake? I'd wager that more people picture the hospital birth (complete with screaming) so often portrayed in the media. Quoting the 1-in-60 statistic is meaningless when many of the world's women are within spitting distance of a hospital, so medical intervention is possible when needed! There's a middle ground between squatting behind a bush before going out into the fields and having a c-section... why do writers so often forget that?

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChrista Terry

Christa, I think because it brings some people pleasure to mock women's non-pharmaceutical comfort measures.

October 23, 2009 | Registered CommenterJill

Pure ignorance. Birth isn't about comfort, it's about triumph. I hear women who have unintentional natural births go on and on about the pain and say they can't wait to do it again. But those who chose to birth naturally and prepare for it feel like they wouldn't do it any other way. I think people forget that preparation and a supportive birthing team actually remove most of the pain! Plus the claim that a c-section is painless is ridiculous! No surgery is painless.

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUsha

Sorry typo - those who are unprepared would never do it again.

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUsha

Being a parent is not about having tea-lights anywhere thank you- TIME! Ugg and if someone having a c-section is LUCKY they can have tea lights and soft respectful voices during it too. That article makes no sense.

"in fact, if no medical intervention of any kind were made, up to 1 in 67 women would die in labor."
This sounds like a load of hooey to me. How did our species EVEN make it then?

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi

"in fact, if no medical intervention of any kind were made, up to 1 in 67 women would die in labor."

I seriously doubt that! where do they have the research to back that up? what a load of crap.

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRose

and, btw, maybe it doesn't hurt during a c/section, but afterwards i'm sure it hurts! and if a vaginal birth is a greivous physical trauma, what do you call having your stomach cut open and having someone "rummage around"? that sounds way more traumatic to me

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRose

I cannot believe the twisted, emotional language used to describe vaginal birth in this article! With people like this describing birth, it's no wonder so many women run screaming to the ORs for their "simple, safe C-section." Yikes!

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

"— a euphemism that doesn’t even come close to conveying the violent spasms that take hold when the body reflexively tries to squeeze a baby through a narrow vaginal opening."

Clearly this person has never given birth, or at least hasn't done so in a relaxed atmosphere.

I've had two babies now, and with my second labour my worst fear from my first pregnancy almost came true -that I would be in labour and not know it. With my second I didn't feel the contractions. I was laying there on the couch watching TV after my water broke wondering when labour was going to start and then I realized that the little gushes of amniotic fluid every 3 minutes were contractions. The only thing that hurt was later when I had to stand my SPD was pure agony because I had made an exception from semi-bedrest to go the fair and had over-strained everything.

PS 1/67 journalists have no brain. My statistic is just as researched as theirs.

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermystic_eye_cda

"in fact, if no medical intervention of any kind were made, up to 1 in 67 women would die in labor."

Show me proof, please. studies, articles, whatever you got.

I just can't wrap my mind around how people equate the moments in the OR (though for some, this isn't even true) that you are without pain to meaning "safer" and less traumatic than a vaginal birth. Newsflash: you are being cut into. It's surgery.

Maybe to some, it is less emotionally trying than a vaginal birth, but that doesn't mean the article -- or the woman electing the c/s -- should side step that fact of life-long complications or maternal mortality associated with cesarean sections.

Ignorance isn't bliss... or is it?

October 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermichele
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