As a mother of three, I've definitely fielded my fair share of questions about everything from my kids’ birth stories, to their food and sleep habits, right down to their potty training. The answers to these questions are often personal and force me to use the word "vagina" among strangers. More often than not, the answers are nobody’s business.
However, I've never been asked any of those questions on a school form (or at least not blatantly), unlike Connecticut mom Cara Paiuk. Writing in the New York Times Motherlode section last month, Paiuk says that, among all the other paperwork required for kindergarten registration, one particular question startled her—the school wanted to know if her five-year-old son was born via C-section or vaginally.
Paiuk was so shocked by the question that she took it up with the school's head nurse who explained the information could be helpful if there were issues with her child down the road. When Paiuk inquired as to how birthing methods would be relevant, the nurse suggested that fetal distress or a cord wrapped around the neck could result in developmental problems. Unsatisfied with the nurse's response, Paiuk met with the school district’s medical advisor who told her the same health form had been used for 20 years and no one had ever complained before. Paiuk wrote she'd be boycotting health history forms altogether since she didn't receive a satisfactory reason for such a personal question. (There's no evidence of this question being asked on kindergarten forms in Canada.)
Can you imagine, though? It’s obviously none of the school’s business if a child came out “the chute or the zipper” (as we say in my house). Not only that, there would be no discernable differences between a child born via C-section or vaginal birth—unless there'd been birth trauma, but then the outcome would be the only relevant information that should be passed on to the school. Toronto-based paediatrician Dr. Daniel Flanders told me via Twitter that such information is not academically or medically relevant once a child reaches the age of four.
My first son was born by C-section, and then my other two were born vaginally. I’m expected to take pride in the fact that I had vaginal births after a C-section (VBAC, FTW!), as if it's a return to good form. But it hasn't made a difference to either me or my kids. It's had zero effect on us.
If schools are going to ask about vaginas, would they like to know the state of mine now? Would they like details about the tear I received from birthing baby number two? Because that was way more traumatic than my C-section. Or is that not relevant to my child’s behaviour? But why stop at delivery methods? Perhaps the schools should inquire if my children drank formula or breastmilk (or both), whether or not they co-slept, or if they were allowed to watch TV before the age of two?
Intrinsic in the C-section or vaginal birth question, just like other loaded queries about motherhood, is the underlying value judgement—are you a good parent or a bad one? Did you do things the "right" way? I can honestly answer that I've done a variety of things every which way, and I'm almost always both a little bit right and a little bit wrong. But I'd rather my kids' teachers find out the type of parent I am the old-fashioned way—by meeting with me in person.
Read more: 5 reasons for C-section>
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