Too posh to push?

THE world is full of wacky urban myths. Richard Gere rushing to hospital for a gerbilectomy. The average human swallowing eight spiders a year. A reflective George W. Bush smiling wryly as he admits: “I think I was unprepared for war. In other words I didn’t campaign and say, ‘Please vote for me, I’ll be able to handle an attack’.”‘ Oops, sorry. That last one did actually happen during a television interview a couple of weeks before (if only one could say “hot on the heels of”) that unfortunate loafergate incident in Baghdad.

One urban myth that is in desperate need of a good, hard discreditation, however, is the “too posh to push” line about women and birth.

Last week a stack of new statistics came out about Australian caesarean rates and — as usual — many media outlets took the opportunity to flog women for being overly precious about their privates.

“The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says 2500 women opted for [caesareans] last year for `psycho-social’ reasons,” howled the ABC radio program AM. “Obstetricians say the big increase has a lot to do with vanity.”

Complete and utter claptrap. Obstetricians are saying nothing of the sort, especially not to AM.
In stark contrast to the segment’s aggressive opener, David O’Callaghan, chairman of the obstetrics committee at the St Vincents & Mercy Private Hospital in Melbourne, told the ABC that women requesting caesareans because they were too posh to push were rare.

Instead, he credited the rise of psycho-social caesareans to older in-vitro fertilisation mothers (who he said had a significant risk of ending up with a c-section anyway), women who had a family history of incontinence or good old-fashioned fear. Absolutely nothing about vanity.

Apparently the ABC did not feel it necessary to adhere to the usual standards of accuracy and sobriety because the subject was only women and their vaginas.

Other media outlets — also struggling to find professionals prepared to call their patients pink-bit prima donnas — had to resort to quotes from new mums who knew someone who knew someone who’d opted to become a c-sectionette to remain “honeymoon fresh” (which is the revolting term du jour).

Hardline critics of Australia’s caesarean rates have much in common with anti-abortion rights proponents in their framing of women as hopelessly irresponsible and shallow when it comes to reproduction.

“Tra la la la la,” the nation’s lady folk are supposedly trilling as one. “We’re such feckless floozies, we can’t wait to accidentally conceive so we can join feminism’s secret campaign to scourge the world of all unborn babies. And when we do get pregnant on purpose, we can’t wait to endanger our infants’ lives with flamboyant abdominal surgery because all we care about is keeping our treasure boxes teeny-bopper taut.”

Well, having recently interviewed hundreds of oven bunners for a book on the subject, I’m in a position to reveal that the vast majority of women (a) realise reproduction isn’t the best path to virginal nymphyness and (b) have a concern for their unborn babies that transcends just about everything (and this includes entirely understandable apprehensions about the prospect of introducing something as large and unruly as a new human to something as precious and pregnable as their private passages).

* Fact: Recent Queensland research shows that 93.5 per cent of pregnant women want to give birth the ye olde vaginal way.

* Fact: Most caesareans are performed on women who have serious medical complications or have had a previous caesarean.

* Fact: Many activists claim that the people being gung-ho about c-sections are overcautious, ill-informed or under-insured medics.

That said, anecdotal reports of great swaths of obstetricians slicing into pregnant sheilas to avoid running late for golf games should also be filed under urban mythology until harder evidence is unearthed.
Skyrocketing rates of medically assisted childbirth are definitely cause for concern, debate and further investigation. But they should not be used as an excuse to hound women for being bad birthers. (Apart from anything else, there’ll be plenty of time for sledging once these women make the inevitable transition to bad motherhood.)

- originally published in The Australian on 18-12-2008.

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One Comment on "Too posh to push?"

  1. Emma
    18/02/2009 at 4:26 am Permalink

    And your evidence that MOST c-sections are due to serious medical complications is…? Having a previous c-section does not in any way require a repeat c-section for a subsequent pregnancy. That’s where you’re offbase and mistaken. You’re right about the mother-blame. It’s a disgusting sociocultural belief that has worked its way into the birth arena.

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