Feminism on the Maternity Ward - The Right To Choose A Caesarian

15 December 2013
As we hear of yet another instance of a pregnant woman apparently forced to give birth via c-section, I'm thinking of how many others there must be like me - women forced to give birth vaginally, denied their right to bodily autonomy by being denied the right to give birth by c-section as they desired. For those not familiar with my story, I requested a c-section late in my pregnancy due to psychological reasons at the public hospital I was due to give birth at, and was turned down. I ended up delivering by caesarian, but only after reaching 12 day post dates and a failed 48 hour attempt to induce labour. The full story is here. A hospital, seeking to keep it's caesarian rates down, deemed my reasons for avoiding vaginal birth unworthy.

A woman's right to bodily autonomy is not trumped by a hospital's policy to keep c-section rates down. There may be all sorts of reasons a woman wishes to deliver by c-section, very few of them being because she's "too posh to push". Maybe she's been hurt, traumatised, has a fear of pain, past abuse, suffers anxiety. It doesn't matter. It's none of anyone else's business. It's her call to make. Armed with the full knowledge of the risks of both vaginal and caesarian deliveries, it should be the woman's final decision to make if she desires to give birth by caesarian section. If she has suffered from abuse or trauma, she should not have to explain herself over and over to hospital counsellors and social workers, shouldn't have to beg, shouldn't have to leave a decision regarding her basic bodily autonomy in someone else's hands, shouldn't have to suffer to contribute to a figure in an end of year departmental report. Just about every decent person is on board with the idea that it is wrong to force a woman to continue with a pregnancy against her will. Why is it deemed acceptable to force a woman to deliver vaginally against her will? To tell her not everything in life can be controlled and vaginal deliveries are safer for babies and if she can't grasp either concept, maybe she's just not ready for motherhood?

This isn't a concept with much support in feminist circles, alas. Notions of feminist birth and empowering birth often focus on achieving homebirth or birth with as little medical intervention as possible. I'm very glad these voices are being heard. I'm glad we've moved away from the days when a labouring woman was admitted to hospital, shaved and given an enema, and left to labour on a steel trolley for days whilst her husband alternatively paced in the hall or went to the pub. I'm glad the right of women to have autonomy over their birth is changing hospital procedure. But sadly these policies and these women's voices are not speaking in support of a woman's right to choose a c-section. That right is little acknowledged at all, and living in a state where abortion still falls under the Crimes Act, let alone which recently passed laws infringing on women's rights by creating a fiction of fetal personhood, it is hard to imagine such a right being legally recognised any time soon. We'll keep seeing articles lamenting that the c-section rate is too high. But as feminism makes in-roads in the maternity units and birth centres, and more women are able to access the kind of birth they want, it would be nice to see avoiding forced vaginal birth is no longer seen as a privilege.

Edit: I've started a change.org petition to have the right to a c-section for abuse survivors in NSW hospitals enshrined in law.

Please sign and share.

1 comment:

  1. Hi - couldn't agree with you more. My first was supposed to be a planned cesarean my doctors allegedly agreed to my request, went to the hospital on the day it was supposed to happen, got bumped, got bumped the next day (all the while in hospital waiting for the csection), and then went into labour and rather than facilitate access to the cesarean, they denied access to it claiming no anesthesiologist was available (so no epidural). I got to 10cm, told still no CS available and was forced to deliver vaginally. I blog at www.awaitingjuno.blogspot .com


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