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Birth-Bashing and the Aesthetics of the Brazilian C-Section

by Gracie Western

Move aside, Brazilian Butt Lift, and say hello to the newest cultural obsession – the $10,000 Brazilian C-Section. In Brazil, the wealthy elite are spending thousands to turn their childbirths into elaborate celebrations – complete with gift bags, hors-d’oeuvres, and a viewing balcony for guests to watch the main event, an elective c-section (The Handmaid’s Tale, anyone?). While cesarean sections are medically necessary in about 10-15 percent of all births, according to the World Health Organization, 55 percent of births in Brazil occur by this medical procedure, with a rate as high as 82 percent in private hospitals. Unnecessary C-sections have been found to be twice as deadly as natural births, including increased risk for respiratory problems, diabetes, and higher blood pressure for the baby. Both mother and child also experience longer recovery times after the medical procedure, compared to natural delivery.

Let me tread lightly with this one – I certainly do not mean to bash anyone for the very personal decision on how to bring their child into the world. As someone who has never been pregnant or given birth, it is not my place to speak for those going through this, especially as I have literally zero understanding of what it is like to make that choice. But, as I think more and more about how planned childbirth has been popularized with an emphasis on “convenience,” I can’t help but wonder if this cultural push for C-sections is not a product of increased bodily autonomy and control over one’s birth, but is actually devaluing women, and the time and care needed during maternity. If women are really choosing to have planned childbirth in order to avoid the unpredictability of natural labor – citing reasons such as being “a doctor” and needing “to take vacation for the baby to be born” – is the problem, then, the politics of maternity leave, and an increasing culture of capitalism that trivializes anything but financial productivity?

These elite parties prioritize the aesthetics of childbirth rather than health of the mother and the baby. Private hospitals offer presidential suites and professional hair and make-up services in hospital rooms. Many mothers-to-be hire party planners for the special day. Elective C-sections are often scheduled so that the birth happens quicker – as fast as a couple of hours – compared to the often lengthy natural birth. Is it fair for me to judge women who value superficial notions of beauty (hair, makeup, nails) in moments that are going to be beautiful no matter how perfect one’s contour or french manicure is? Probably not. After all, is a woman’s decision to make her childbirth into a bit of a spectacle affecting me in anyway? No. Is it hurting anyone? This one is a little bit trickier, with all the research on the medical complications of unnecessary C-sections.

But, again, is it really my place to make a judgement on the health considerations women make about their own bodies and children, particularly considering that the performance of beauty in childbirth is deeply informed by patriarchal pressures? So while the culture of elaborate birth parties is likely antithetical to feminism, and in some cases, basic health and safety, it is not exactly fair to blame individual mothers for the decision to have an elective C-section, especially as the medical procedure has had prominence in Brazil for many years, as a result of both obstetrician pressure and the limited resources in public hospitals. The high rate of C-sections extends beyond the elite class in Brazil, with those giving birth in public hospitals often opting for the surgery in order to guarantee access to their personal doctor, rather than whoever happens to be on staff that day, or because doctors often pressure women into getting C-sections, as they are faster and more convenient for the medical provider. So while elective C-sections may seem worse for the mother and baby, it also promises the comfort of personalized and familiar care. However, although the idea that the procedure is “elective,” it may not be as autonomous as it is publicized to be. Physicians are compromising that decision in a healthcare culture that is harmful to women, according to a recent U.S. study, which found that 1 in 6 women have experienced mistreatment in childbirth, with women of color reporting even higher rates.

Why is it so difficult for people to have babies? Whether it is the cultural pressure to have a C-section for the doctor’s convenience, or for the party that friends and family can attend, women can’t seem to catch a break. In Nigeria, for example, C-sections are socially and religiously stigmatized, with less that 2 percent of births happening due to the cesarean surgery, creating one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Wherever one seems to be in the world, the politics of birth seem to be secretly manipulative, but severely limiting. As feminism rises to the surface of popular culture, discussions protecting a women’s choice not to have a child, and respect for personal parenting decisions have increased. But there is a gap in the feminist dialogue, one that needs to talk more about the rights of people during pregnancy and birth. As little as it is addressed, the politics of birth seems deeply attached to the patriarchy, and control over women’s bodies under the guise of C-section celebrations.

Top photo via Wikimedia Commons / wetribe

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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