Saturday ranty rant rant – celebrities and “natural” birth

This is probably not the kind of rant you might be expecting from reading the title as it’s not directed at Ricky Lake and “The Business of Being Born,” about which I could say plenty.   I’m not really sure Ricky is even a celebrity anymore but nevermind, I’ve already wasted enough words on her.

Nor is this about Giselle or Miranda Kerr (what is it about underwear and swimsuit models and waterbirth?  Oh wait, swimsuits, water, I get it.)

This is about the media and society in general.

I will admit to reading celebrity gossip on the web.  It’s a vice and probably a pretty significant one, if I really stopped to think about the implications of it, but I don’t.  Much like a smoker that turns a blind eye to the gory pictures of lung cancer on packages of cigarettes, if I considered the consequences too seriously, I might have to change my behaviour and, simply put, I don’t wanna.  Our society puts certain individuals under an unceasing and often cruel spotlight and I, myself, feed that machine, while also wasting my precious time…hence it’s a vice.

Since I am a new mom, I like stories about other new moms and I’m a sucker for pictures of cute chubby babies.  Plus it’s nice to celebrate something nice, like the arrival of a new baby.

It would be nice if they just reported on the arrival of a new baby.  But, no.  They seem compelled to include information about how the baby arrived and there are only two choices: “caesarean section” or “naturally”.  And by “naturally” they don’t mean the woman went into seclusion with a bunch of other mothers for support (I imagine the birth scene from The Handmaid’s Tale here) and pushed out the baby without interventions of any kind with a 6-9/1000 risk of maternal mortality and a 10% chance of infant mortality, not to mention a much higher risk of maternal and infant morbidity (like fistulas and other severe pelvic floor injuries, hemorrhage, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, brachial plexus injuries, hip dislocations…etc).  If that were the case, no one would read a news story about a celebrity having a natural birth and greet it with kudos.  No, shock and horror would be the norm, I think.

The media don’t mean that at all when they use the word “naturally” in the context of childbirth.  No, what they mean is, “vaginal.”  But I bet they aren’t allowed to say that in puritanical North American culture.  Unless it’s a review of The Vagina Monologues, I bet editors won’t let you use the word “vagina,” even as an adjective.  So writers are stuck with this stupid imprecise euphemism of “natural.”

This reminds me of the struggles 20 years ago to begin open discussions about breast cancer.  We’ve, finally, gotten to the point where we can (sort of) talk about breasts.  At least, I had thought we’d gotten there before that Times cover came out and the discourse seemed to slip back to something resembling grade school.

We still can’t talk about vaginas.  We can’t seem to talk about pelvic floor disorders after childbirth.  We certainly can’t talk about vulvar and vaginal cancers.  To be fair, we can’t really talk about penises either.  Not in any adult way that doesn’t involve vulgar humor and snickering.

I still remember being in preschool when a nice lady with anatomically correct puppets came into the classroom and taught us what our “private bits” were called and where, as children, we could be versus should not be touched.  She taught us a nice catchy tune about it which my best girl-friend and I sung for weeks afterwards.  I remember being fascinated and relieved.  So that’s what that is.  Finally.  Someone had been straight with us.

The other thing that really bugs me, other than our inability to say, “vaginal,” is that we have to report on the method of birth in the first place.  If a celebrity was diagnosed with colon cancer, do you think anyone would care if it was found via virtual or conventional colonoscopy?  If one had to have their appendix out, would there be a paragraph on whether it was a laparoscopic or an open procedure?  When Letterman had his heart operation, did we discuss whether it was an on-pump or off-pump bypass?

So for the love of garp, lets butt out of birth.  Reporting on the method of birth just perpetuates the myth that there is some virtue to “being successful” at a “natural” birth.  Drop it.  There isn’t.  No one should care.  Let’s just celebrate the arrival of a new baby.

Oh, and let’s learn to say, “vagina” without snickering.


  1. I thought teaching my kids the anatomical names for things would help normalize things however they adore running around the house yelling penis at the top of their lungs at bath time. I think at heart we are like that too even though we try and pretend we are mature adults.

    As an aside we really need to come up with a fully descriptive word to teach the girls. What do I teach my baby girl to call her female parts? She may not even necessarily be referring to her vagina but maybe her labia hurts. There are so many different parts down there that simply calling it a vagina may not be accurate.

  2. I’m thinking “vulva” is what I’ll teach my kid to call her bits…but it is a shame that there’s a preoccupation with the mode of delivery. Healthy, safe and happy is what matters – the ‘how’ of it really should be between a woman, the father and her doctor/care provider and there should be some recognition that regardless of ‘type’ of birth recovery can be difficult.

    1. Stephanie · · Reply

      My girls both started with ”vagina’. As my older one is getting older, I am starting to teach her the different parts of her anatomy. To me, being comfortable with one’s self includes being comfortable with their own body parts. That being said, I was mortified when at the age of 4 – she got into an argument with a little boy over which was better – penises or vaginas in the pool change room.

      1. I would love to know how that argument ended…the logic of four year olds can be either astondingly astute and surprising for age or hilarious.

  3. Emily · · Reply

    I went to my kindergarten son’s parent-teacher conference last year, and she was upset that he had referred to his penis as a “penis” (he had to go to the bathroom really bad, and said his penis was full of pee). I stifled a laugh and then said well, it is a penis, what should he call it? She said she understood that some people want to teach their kids the correct names and that’s ok but she just wasn’t sure if he was being appropriate. Uh, what? I was so confused when we left, I couldn’t believe an adult was so squeamish about a word for a body part.

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