Behind the rise in caesareans is a fact - giving birth can be terrifying, writes Meredith Nash.
In Hollywood, motherhood pays. That is if your name is Angelina. Or J-Lo. Or, most recently, Christina. For those who have a name that will move mags off the shelf and a new baby to boot, the first weeks of motherhood are marked less by sleepless nights and nappies and more by a frenzied bidding war where all a celeb mother has to do is name her price. For the first photo, that is.
Christina Aguilera's price was $US1.5 million ($A1.6 million). Whereas most new mums are hard-pressed to find enough concealer to disguise the bags parked underneath their sleep-hungry eyes, Aguilera, in all of her air-brushed glory, became the latest A-lister to have a baby and talk about it to Britain's most respectable tabloid, Hello!.
It's not hard to work out why new mothers often feel so inadequate when faced with the image of a shiny, perfectly coiffed and styled celeb mum looking lovingly at the baby she most likely did not wake up to settle at 2am the night before. Celeb mums have set the bar unbearably high when it comes to having it all and doing it right (ignoring poor Britney).
Yet, in between gushing about life as a new mum, the tone of the conversation with Aguilera moved from frothy to frank. When asked about her decision to have a planned caesarean, she said: "I'd heard horror stories about tearing. I really wanted a calm and peaceful environment. I didn't want any surprises."
Is it possible that Aguilera had a good reason to have a caesar, other than merely being too posh to push?
Celeb mums have set the bar unbearably high when it comes to having it all and doing it right.
We've all heard the well-worn arguments about "natural" versus "surgical" when it comes to birth. The truth is that no matter how you do it (give birth, that is), it hurts. Despite being famous for having make-up artists on permanent retainer, Aguilera's bare-faced comment suggests something potentially more serious when it comes to the hows and whys of birth in the noughties.
It's called tokophobia and according to new research, Aguilera isn't the only woman in the world who is afraid of tearing: as many as one in seven women are thought to be tokophobic ("tokos" is from the Greek meaning "childbirth"). The fact that more woman are admitting to actually being afraid of vaginal birth means that the rising rates of elective caesareans are not necessarily only a result of celebrity preggos who are beyond the whole birth thing.
As much as we'd like to think that giving birth is totally beautiful and amazing, when it comes down to it, in the words of Kirstie Alley in Look Who's Talking, the thought of pushing something the size of watermelon out an opening the size of a lemon is a pretty big ask that most people take for granted.
For me, it was one friend telling me that she was in labour for more than 50 hours and then had an emergency caesar. Or another friend who said her vagina tore so much that she required stitches and couldn't sit down without pain for two weeks. And speaking of pushing things out, I wasn't too happy to hear about the possibility of pooping in the middle of labour. No wonder women are freaked out.
Clearly, those stories are unpleasant and not necessarily uncommon. I'm not so freaked out that I plan to shut out all hopes of motherhood because of them. So what can we do to help women with (entirely justified) fears of childbirth?
Women's bodies are already at risk in over-stretched, under-funded maternity systems. One solution is continuous care from a midwife or doctor. Having one midwife, for example, throughout an entire pregnancy and birth makes a huge difference. If women have someone to talk to about their fears, perhaps they would be less inclined to have surgery. The research shows that tokophobics fare the best when they feel they are in control of their births, even if it means having a caesar.
As much as we like to think motherhood is a breeze for celebrities, the truth is that when it comes to giving birth, fame and fortune can't protect women from their fears. For some women, pregnancy is like a nine-month ticking time bomb.
Let's hope J-Lo has something similarly insightful to share about the birth of her twins, aside from enjoying her pastel couture hospital gowns. If some mag is willing to cough up six million bucks, I'm expecting full details.
Meredith Nash is a pregnancy researcher and creator of The Baby Bump Project. To discuss caesars, homebirths and other birth experiences head to the EB Forums.