Our hard working School Editor, Jessica Suotmaa, is currently writing from Finland as she cares for her newborn. Below she answers this often asked question from her own perspective.
You would be surprised how many women have asked me whether giving birth naturally hurts. Or perhaps I am only surprised because men wouldn’t dare ask (of course it hurts, would you like to try the simulation?), and the women back home know it hurts. Yet, in Beijing, young women I’ve just met will ask me if it hurt, and assuming it did, how much did it hurt?
If you take into account the fact that most young women probably don’t have mothers in their network, and asking their own mother would just prompt unnecessary pressure–not to mention the fact that over 50% of pregnant women in China have cesarean surgeries, it starts to make sense. [Note that the World Health Organization recommendation is 15%]
In fact, scheduling a birth is not a trend limited to Mainland China, but has been growing in popularity in metropolitan areas, such as Taipei and New York City. In the documentary, The Business of Being Born (a worthy watch if you plan on giving birth in the US), this trend is attributed to the fact that women are busier with their careers than before and a schedule-able surgery with predictable recovery time is easier to plan with one’s employer than the ever-so-vague, “I’ll be giving birth between Week 38 and 43, if all goes well.”
In Taipei, much like in parts of China, the traditional superstitious culture has families seeking the guidance of fortune tellers to choose the perfect date and time to induce birth. Scheduling your child’s birth date and time is even more significant than choosing his or her DNA as it’s the divine gift of molding your child’s character and destiny! No wonder it’s popular. I would want to choose my child’s temperament too–wouldn’t you?
In Beijing, the popularity of c-sections can be attributed to a number of reasons. Yes, there are superstitious parents, but the mainland Chinese younger generation isn’t as aware or superstitious. There are also women who prioritize their careers and intend to continue working after having a child. These women find scheduling ahead of time convenient in bureaucratic work environments.
Recently, it’s also been in the news that families want to choose an earlier birth date to ensure their child makes the cut off date for school admissions, as a means to avoid getting “left behind” and having to start a year later than peers. Ironic, given how studies show that older children outperform younger children in both academics and sports.
When we were deciding where to give birth, we researched Beijing hospitals, read testimonials, and compared price packages–did you know some hospitals will give you a 40% discount if you schedule your c-section six months in advance? That seems like a good deal in a city where the act of having a baby starts at RMB 40,000 with no ceiling. It’s also questionable how often doctors will “recommend” a c-section either at the beginning or near the end, when families are pained and panicked, either for the monetary gain or time save.
Finally, there is just plain fear. Birthing naturally has been shown on television, movies, and TV shows when it probably shouldn’t. Gory scenes of screaming, cursing, and wailing should be banned; scenes like those found in the Shenzhen informational video that scared women out of having babies. Scary birth home videos should probably be kept in private collections as well, because, let’s face it, who else wants to watch it? I, for one, had banned my husband from recording in the delivery room.
I’m not a medical professional and I haven’t had the experience of a cesarean (although I was offered the choice this time because my first birth was so challenging), but I think the c-section has been over-glorified as some kind of painless option. So many women have told me they want a c-section because they’re afraid of pain and want to be as sedated as possible during the event.
Uhh…I’m dead afraid of pain too, you know? I actually have a phobia for dentists because nothing they do feels pleasant. I dislike hospitals, the smell of antiseptic, and doctors in general. I don’t have extra piercings or tattoos not just because I have a strict Asian mom (my sister’s got a bunch), but mainly because I’ve got a low pain threshold. I still decided to go au natural though.
Why? I did a lot of research and decided to believe in the band-aid theory: quick pain (pushing a baby out) over recovery from a major surgery (cutting your stomach open). I used to work in healthcare and have witnessed how outpatient procedures hurt a lot even though you supposedly can be rolled out the same day, but in-patient surgeries? That’s a 4 week recovery at best, 3 months at worst. Yikes.
By recovery, I don’t mean you’re immobilized for a whole three months, just that it could take that long to return to your pre-surgery condition. That, to me, is much too long. But, I can see how in a culture where one should spend 30-45 days in bed post-birth for recovery anyway, the 4-week post surgery recovery estimate may sound about right.
What about the pain?
I went into surgery after my first birth and even though my numerous stitches are nothing compared to a cesarean, I was in a ridiculous amount of pain and bled for about two weeks after birth. I had really strong pain killers that I could combine to dope myself, but I was still largely immobile, struggled to produce enough breast milk, and find the energy to care for my firstborn. Then, in the end, I still had to wean myself off pain killers and just suck it up. By the time I got out of bed, my muscles were too weak to carry my son for long periods of time, I had joint and tendon problems from lifting him, and my back and butt ached from laying down too long. Needless to say, recuperation took time.
Now, I know I have been considering a cesarean only as a choice, rather than a necessity. One of the reasons we decided to not give birth in China was because we had read too many expat birth stories where a natural birth plan had turned into a c-section (almost 20% of natural birth plans end up in c-sections). Given the difficulties I had in birthing my (rather large-sized) son, I’m convinced that, had I been in China, I would’ve ended up with a cesarean rather than just a vacuum manhandling.
But that’s why I didn’t give birth in China, or the US, but chose Finland where you don’t even see a doctor unless the midwife calls it an emergency (in comparison, China has done away with most of their midwives and now the number of midwives in China is 1/8 of Cambodia, 1/20 of the US). They also don’t give you chemical cocktails without your permission. Best of all, once you’ve delivered and you’re all fixed up, they ask you, “Would you like some coffee or tea?” Bet that would never happen in Beijing.
Back to subject of pain. Did my second birth hurt? Yes. Did I have pain management? It was too late for any. Did I regret not making it to the hospital earlier so I could have my epidural? Absolutely. I’m a cowardly person with a low pain threshold, so I was frightened to push, but your body forces you to get it over with sooner or later. And once it was over, I could appreciate the quick pain of sooner over the long-lasting pain of later.