Since this story came out the other day, about an elementary school in California asking parents to indicate on an application form whether a child was born vaginally or by c-section, I’ve had a blog post brewing. But I’m spurred to actually write it now because of discussion currently ensuing on The Unnecesarean’s Facebook wall. Evidently, a lot of people believe that it’s both acceptable and wise for a school to ask this question on a registration form.
To be frank, I first read about this story on The Onion, and was sure that it was a joke. It struck me as particularly funny-weird because I was asked the very same question on the application form for Annika’s first daycare, and I thought it was kind of hilarious that The Onion would do a spoof of something I thought couldn’t possibly have actually happened to other real-live people.
At the time when I was asked, I recall doing the head-scratch and wondering why on earth the daycare needed to know this information. When I asked, the daycare provider told me that it was so she could assist my child with healing from her birth. Cue vomit.
It’s no big secret that I hated my c-section and that I wish that my daughter’s time on earth could have started differently. But the truth of the matter is that my sadness is more to do with me than with her; I’m big enough to admit that any concerns I’ve had about her experience of those first hours of life are more projections of my own experience of trauma than genuine worries about her. All evidence suggests that she’s fine and has been from the start. The c-section really sucked for me: and that matters enough on its own without trumping up some story that my daughter is forever damaged by the way she came into this world.
This is not to say that the circumstances of a birth are never relevant. It’s certainly possible for a child’s birth to have an impact on cognitive function, and that is something of which schools need to be aware. A friend who is a school psychologist explained this to me when I started ranting about the ridiculousness of asking the question. People who are trained in assessing such things need to ask questions about birth to ensure that they don’t miss any clues that could help them assist a child in need of educational intervention.
But there are at least two major differences between what my friend described and what I’m talking about now. The first is that a specialized psychological or educational assessment, performed for a child with an identified need, is very different from a general school application form, which is circulated among a wide variety of people. The second is that the question rests on an irrelevant dichotomy rooted squarely in the ideology of the person asking.
If the goal of asking about the circumstances of birth is to understand whether or not a child needs particular kinds of support, the question needs to avoid the red-herring, limited c-section vs. vaginal birth dichotomy, and instead be open-ended: how was your child’s birth? A vaginal birth can be chock-full of potentially traumatic complications and/or interventions. Moreover, while I certainly advocate allowing the physiological process of birth to proceed unhindered (some people call this natural birth), I also acknowledge that unhindered processes can sometimes be really hard on everyone involved.
The point is: vaginal or natural birth does not necessarily equal peaceful birth, and c-section does not automatically equal trauma. A question that assumes that one type of birth is inherently more traumatic than another type of birth with no qualifications or consideration of individual circumstances is asinine, and the response to it is irrelevant.
**Edited to acknowledge the school’s appropriate response to the controversy.