Even though the method through which you deliver your child into the world should make absolutely no difference to anyone except for you and your doctor, the notion that vaginal delivery is somehow morally superior to C-section deliveries still lingers. In fact, it often seems as though the unspoken rule about birth is that unmedicated vaginal births (possibly involving a midwife or doula) are the gold standard, leaving many women who did not get so-called "natural births" to feel like they have failed. That's unfair for so many reasons, but after a photographer allegedly shamed a mom for having a C-section, the exchange went viral online, serving as a clear (and just plain awful) reminder that some people seem to have no problem whatsoever judging mothers for their decisions.
According to Refinery29, the mom-shaming first came to light when a photo was posted to the Sanctimommy Facebook page, allegedly to show a text conversation between a mother-to-be and a birth photographer she had contacted. The practice of having your birth professionally photographed is one that has grown in popularity in recent years, and while it might not be for everyone, it can be a pretty incredible way of commemorating such a profound life event. But after the woman in question presumably informed the photographer that she'd be having a C-section? Well, things got pretty ugly.
Although the beginning of their conversation isn't included, it's pretty safe to assume it probably took a turn when the photographer seemed to take issue with the woman's C-section plan. The woman then tried to end the conversation, writing that she "had no idea birth photographers discriminated [against] people for how they birth their babies," (because, for real, what difference does it make?), but it turned out that the photographer wasn't done being completely and totally offensive. She wrote, according to Refinery29:
A surgery isn't birth, my dear. You aren’t giving birth. You are having surgery to remove your baby from your abdomen. That is not birth no matter how you swing it and I for one don’t want to be there to take pictures of it.
If that weren't already completely rage-inducing, the photographer then felt entitled to let the woman know she could still schedule her session if she decided to "have an actual birth," before providing quite possibly the rudest and most uncalled for unsolicited advice ever:
This motherhood job is hard. [If] I were you, I would think twice about starting such a job by cutting corners so early in the game.
It's hard to imagine that someone actually had the gall to even think such a thing, let alone say it to a prospective client. But since she went ahead and said it anyway, it's painfully obvious that this photographer could use a massive dose of reality when it comes to childbirth (not to mention an equally-massive dose of empathy).
The most glaring truth that any mom who has had a C-section will tell you is that C-sections most certainly count as "births." Because, uh, during a C-section, a baby is born. Even if you don't like the idea of C-sections, even if you really believe vaginal births are superior, it doesn't make sense to argue that it doesn't count as a birth.
Then there's the fact that a very, very small percentage of C-section births are specifically chosen by the mother without an actual medical indication. It's true that C-section rates in the United States are high — approximately 32.2 percent of all births are a result of C-sections, according to the Centers for Disease Control — and it's also true that many hospitals perform more C-section births than they actually should. In 2016, Consumer Reports found, for example, that almost half of the C-section births performed each year aren't actually medically necessary, but the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) estimates that the number of patient-requested medically unnecessary C-sections only makes up about 2.5 percent of all births in the United States. That means that the rest are done for reasons that have nothing to do with the woman "choosing" to "have surgery to remove her baby from her abdomen," as the oh-so-charming birth photographer claimed.
What are some actual reasons why a woman would have a C-section birth over a vaginal one? According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the most common reasons for a C-section are that labor isn't progressing, there's an indication of fetal distress, there's a problem with the placenta or umbilical cord that could make vaginal delivery unsafe, there's a pre-existing health condition requiring a rapid and closely-monitored delivery, or because the woman has had one or more previous C-sections and is not a good candidate for a VBAC (vaginal birth after Cesarian).
From a medical perspective, avoiding a C-section is preferred whenever possible, since it is major abdominal surgery that carries much higher risks than vaginal deliveries do. According to the National Institute of Health, women who have C-sections tend to experience longer hospital stays than women with planned vaginal deliveries, are at a higher risk for infection, anesthetic complications, and are more likely to have more trouble initiating breastfeeding. C-sections also carry an increased risk of serious complications for future deliveries, including uterine rupture, placenta previa, placenta accreta, bladder and bowel injuries, and hysterectomies — risks which only increase further the more C-section deliveries a woman has in her life. (And, oh right, they are also zero fun, and the recovery can be downright brutal).
To sum it up, C-sections aren't really ideal for lots of reasons. But none of those reasons have anything to do with C-sections being inherently bad, or that having one makes you a lazy mother who doesn't care about the wellbeing of her child. When I became a mom to twins in 2012, I had both a vaginal birth and an emergency C-section, and while I definitely preferred the experience of a vaginal birth, the C-section itself likely saved my son's life. Since I, like most parents, just wanted my babies to be born safely, the fact that one didn't come into this world through my vagina doesn't seem to be all that significant.
The romanticized notion of "gentle" or "natural" births where everything is calm and blissful is certainly appealing, especially if you're a first-time mom who wants the experience to be as positive as possible. And since childbirth has become much safer now than in the past (when the lack of medical technology meant that mothers and babies often died), it's been easier to think that that kind of dreamy birth experience is something we should strive for.
Part of that belief is the notion that the actual process of delivering our babies is something that we can ultimately control, if only we eat right and do prenatal yoga, for example, or hire a doula and "trust our bodies." But even though the majority of women today will have completely uneventful, straightforward births, there is still an awful lot that can go wrong that no one has any control over. Foregoing pain medication or insisting on a vaginal delivery won't change that, and assuming that either of those choices has any effect at all on what kind of mother you will be is completely misguided.
One thing, though, that will almost certainly make you a better mother? Being the type of parent who can model compassion and kindness for others. And that might be something the photographer in question should consider before she passes unfair judgment on other women who just want someone to take a few photos of their babies being born.