Miriam Perez

The Myth of the Elective C-Section

Cesarean sections have been hitting headlines a lot lately. We've been hearing about the rising c-section rate, now above 30% and rising, for months, and in early June we learned that women have been denied health insurance coverage because of previous cesareans. A few days later, the March of Dimes reported that 92% of preterm births were delivered by c-section.

When the media covers the rising rate of c-section, it's often ready to lay the blame at the feet of a woman we're come to know well over the last few years -- the busy career mom scheduling her delivery between important business deals, penciling in labor and delivery the way she pencils in a client meeting. As criticism of surgical birth mounts, the idea that mother-initiated c-sections are spurring an overall increase in the practice has only become more popular.

In mid-April (coincidentally also Cesarean Awareness Month), Time Magazine claimed that Choosy Mothers Choose Cesareans. Euna Chung, a child psychiatrist in Los Angeles, told Alice Park that she planned her c-section before she was even pregnant. Park wrote of Chung, "a combination of having watched traumatic vaginal deliveries in medical school and hearing about her mother's difficult emergency caesarean experience after trying to deliver vaginally helped make up her mind." Chung told Time, "I had a fear of going through labor and ending up with an emergency C-section anyway. I know that's rare, but I didn't want to deal with it." A recent Today show segment picked up on this supposed phenomenon, referring to the trend as "babies on demand." Dr. Judith Reichman, the expert obstetrician on the show reported National Institutes of Health Statistics that approximately 2% of all c-sections nationwide can be considered "cesarean deliveries on maternal request."

While the media likes to use these stories of maternal demand as attention-grabbing hooks for their reporting on the rise in c-section rates, other birth advocates and birthing rights organizations take issue with the "mother's choice" frame. Our Bodies Ourselves' recently released book "Pregnancy and Birth" explains that the studies which produce data like what Dr. Reichman referenced is flawed and not at all conclusive:

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