Everyone has a phobia — for some, it’s spiders, for others, it’s heights, and for a few Canadian women, it’s giving birth — and who can blame them? For some of us, the idea of putting your feet in stirrups as another life form rips you apart is kind of terrifying. So, more and more Canadian women are choosing cesarean sections — but you still can’t get one without a medical note from a doctor.
One Toronto-area woman tells the National Post that she had a fear of all the nightmare scenarios, “tearing, forceps and episiotomies gone wrong,” so she hung out in online chat rooms getting the names of doctors who’d help her get an elective C-section. To give healthy women like her C-sections, though, doctors wind up telling little white lies or stretching the truth.
“You have to put something in the surgical indication box,” University of British Columbia professor Dr. Michael Klein, who’s also a senior scientist emeritus at the Child and Family Research Institute, tells the National Post. “You can’t just say, ‘she wants one,'” Klein explains. “So, you have to put something like pathological fear of vaginal childbirth. A favourite is fibromas (fibroids). Apparently, we’re having an epidemic of fibromas.”
C-sections are becoming increasingly common among young Canadian women: 17 percent of women under 35 had a C-section delivering their first child in 2014-2015, while 23 percent of new mothers over 35 had C-sections, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. In other developed countries, women are allowed to choose C-sections. For instance, in the U.K., the National Health Service gave women capable of giving birth naturally the right to choose elective C-sections in 2011, provided they’d been counseled about the risks. And countries ranging from the U.S. to Brazil to China also give the option of cesarean deliveries by patient request.
When it comes to C-sections, there are arguments both both for and against them. Klein warns that a C-section increases the risks of bacterial infections, postpartum cardiac arrest, hysterectomy and blood clots. He says the increase in C-sections could also be linked to higher rates of maternal mortality.
But critics point out that the risks are inflated, given that many studies on the risks of C-sections include emergency C-sections where the patient had a medical complication that made pregnancy more dangerous to begin with. Every surgery has its risks, and some doctors feel that women should be able to choose what’s right for their own bodies.
“We’re not saying what women should choose,” says Dr. Magnus Murphy, author of the book Choosing Cesarean, in an earlier interview with The National Post. “We’re saying there should be a choice.”
On his website, Murphy points out that a stigma exists for women who choose C-sections, as many derogatorily refer to these women as being “too posh to push.” And cost likely plays a factor in the backlash against cesareans in the medical community as well, given that they cost twice as much as vaginal births.
Many women who’ve had C-sections feel that those who religiously promote natural birth judge them unfairly. Maria Guido writes about her experience delivering with a cesarean at Mommyish, and recalls that she hated the “pity” she received from other women when she told them how she gave birth. “Every woman who gives birth in a hospital has not been ‘tricked’ out of a natural birth. Implying that it’s the case is doing more harm than good.”
There shouldn’t be any stigma surrounding surgical births in 2016. While doctors have a responsibility to tell women about the risks of C-sections, it should be up to women to make informed choices about how they want to give birth.