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The Mamafesto: Why are schools asking if you had a vaginal birth?

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

A Connecticut mom is outraged over prying kindergarten questionnaire

When it comes to signing up our kids for school, it's understood that a bunch of paperwork comes with the task. There are many forms to fill out, and it's usually the standard set of questions. But one mother in West Hartford, Connecticut, was posed with a super intrusive — and seemingly out of place — inquiry on her son's public school form. The school district wanted to know whether he was born vaginally or via C-section.

Writer and photographer Cara Paiuk recently wrote about her experience for the New York Times' "Motherlode" column. Paiuk glimpsed the question while her husband was filling out the school form for their 5-year-old son. She was immediately taken aback and called the listed number on the form. Paiuk ended up having a conversation with both the head nurse and the district's outside medical advisor. Neither ended up providing sufficient reasoning.

"I was incredulous, then flabbergasted," she shares exclusively with SheKnows. "I could not for the life of me understand what the question was doing there, and then I could not understand why no one had ever objected to it before. I felt that the question was an undue violation of my privacy and I was somewhat horrified that my husband was about to respond."

While there's some connection between birth trauma and potential developmental outcomes, one cannot simply assess that via a question as simplistic as "vaginal versus C-section." A vaginal birth could be just as fraught with emergency interventions and complications as a surgical birth. At the same time, a C-section doesn't automatically mean there was a complicated labor and delivery.

If anything, this type of questioning on a public school form only serves to fuel the already heated debate when it comes to birth options. There is a lot of pressure and judgment when it comes to "natural" (i.e., vaginal) birth versus a surgical one. Add to that the worry that the type of birth you had might impact your child's learning and development and it's enough to drive any parent to drink. And, chances are, if there are some developmental or learning issues, they have already been spotted by the parent or doctor and the appropriate steps can be taken. As a former teacher, I can tell you that I never once wondered the method of delivery for any of my students, even when I encountered a learning or developmental challenge.

Based on the response to her article, Paiuk understands that she's touched on something fairly universal. "The response has been overwhelming," she says. "I wish I could read every comment people have made, which I usually do, but this time it has been more than I could handle. I am very grateful for everyone who has shared and commented on it. Many of the comments have been so funny or insightful."

In addition to the intrusive nature of this non-essential question, Paiuk says that this experience has reinforced her thoughts on the amount and type of paperwork we as parents become conditioned to just accept. "There are some federal government initiatives designed to simplify and justify paperwork, but not much if anything at the state and local level," Paiuk explains. "Every bureaucracy will keep growing the paperwork tax on its citizens/customers if left unchecked, so we all need to do our small part to question the questioners."

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