“Too posh to push”: Can we please kill this phrase now?

Part of me feels amused that the Daily Mail is lauding the Duchess of Cambridge for not being “too posh to posh”. Isn’t the whole purpose of today’s royal family being posh?  Indeed, isn’t she rather letting the side down by opting for a mere vaginal birth, or “natural” birth as the press likes to call it, presumably because a duchess wouldn’t have anything so vulgar as a vagina? I’m not sure what she’s meant to have instead, mind – perhaps a plush velvet gateway, to counteract the sheer commonness of pushing.  

Of course, the Kate Middleton may end up not pushing anyhow. Or pushing and having a caesarean anyhow, which is then classed as not having pushed. Pushing is, after all, not a physical act but a moral identifier. Anyhow I don’t really want to think about it because it’s no business of mine or anyone else’s how she gives birth.

One thing really surprises me, though: I cannot believe that in 2013 we are still encountering the phrase “too posh to push”. It’s not as though it wasn’t obviously offensive ten years ago. How can it have lasted so long? What purpose does this phrase serve other than to imply that certain women are too self-indulgent to give birth “properly”? It’s a mean, inaccurate phrase that chips away at the joy of having a new baby and feeds all the guilt and worry that new motherhood brings.

I have friends who’ve used it, part-joking, part-apologetic, part-defensive. “I’m not like one of those too posh to push women. Mine was emergency, not elective.” I’m never sure what to say. I don’t want them to feel bad but it’s hardly for me to grant absolution when they’ve done nothing wrong in the first place. Moreover, I don’t want it to appear like I’m agreeing that some caesareans are “bad caesareans”. It might have a very different outcome, but in some ways this reminds me of the good abortion / bad abortion game. Whatever reproductive choices women make – or don’t even get to make – they’re obliged to mount a detailed defence of their moral character. It’s ridiculous.

The worst thing is knowing there’s a bit of me that already has bought into this. Some small part of me does feel proud that I never had a caesarean, as though this was some great achievement when actually, both of my children arrived quickly and without complications. I’m just lucky, but giving birth always has to be more of a morality tale than that. So I somehow feel I must have done something special despite knowing that I didn’t (if it makes you feel any better, women who’ve had caesareans, I feel really guilty about feeling this way. Probably not as guilty as you’re made to feel for no reason whatsoever, but still).

There’s a lot of talk of women needing to be empowered to make the right birth choices, but perhaps the most disempowering thing is the way in which you end up believing how you  give birth will lead others to judge your character. For instance, on my way to the hospital to have my second child, I remember feeling that the pain was so extreme I wouldn’t be able to cope on gas and air alone. I said as much to my partner, and told him I was scared I’d need an epidural and that everyone would think worse of me because I hadn’t needed an epidural with our first. It seems utterly bizarre. In a huge amount of pain, about to meet my new son, I was panicking about letting down “the audience” (as it turned out, he arrived in the car park so I didn’t even get gas and air. And once again, that’s something which has become an unjustifiable source of pride).

Giving birth to a new person is an incredibly powerful thing to do, yet it seems to me that we’ve found ways to talk about it that yet again make women appear weak. Given the pressure I felt when, realistically speaking, no one really gives a damn how I give birth, I can’t imagine what it’s like to have the whole world watching. So in that respect I do feel sorry for the Duchess of Cambridge, even though she’s posh. Or possibly not so posh, depending on how things go.

14 thoughts on ““Too posh to push”: Can we please kill this phrase now?

  1. I would have an elective caesarean when the time comes. I’m not too posh to push – I’m too much of a complete sissy. My first choice would be adoption because I am terrified of being pregnant and of “natural” child birth. I love babies but they both sound like too barbaric for me. Also, I suffer from ED, so being pregnant is probably not good for me or a baby but, I do want to be a mum some day. I am very impressed by people who choose to have kids naturally, whether it actually happens or whether they end up with a c-section. It just isn’t for me.

    1. The daughter of a friend of ours said she would give birth quickly when she had kids. When we told her first-time births often take longest, she decided she’d adopt the first and give birth to the second, since that one would be bound to be quick. It got too tiring trying to explain it all…
      I suffered from an ED for many years but recovered and had two healthy pregnancies. I know it is easy for me to write that but there is hope.

  2. I’m glad you posted this – I was outraged when I saw that headline yesterday. Nobody goes into having a C section lightly and it took me a very long time to recover from mine and made breastfeeding very difficult to initiate.

  3. Surely the objective is survival of mother and baby? Ideally without intervention, but I’d accept intervention happily if it achieves the desired outcome.
    I do hate the whole guilt thing about delivery method, one friend was absolutely vile to me about my choices before I’d even given birth, and I’m sure it was related to her birth experience which ended in a c-section (a lot of her vitriol was related to the possibility of me ending up with an emergency c-section!)
    Women have enough to worry about when having children without the pressure to deliver a certain way!

  4. Great post. I had the ‘too posh to push’ comment made to me by a few people after I had my son. The fact that I’d just gone through 38 hours of labour before the hospital decided that it might be a good idea for both our sakes, didn’t get a mention. After that my twins were born by elective C-section and I have no regrets. There was more risk for them as they shared a placenta so I’d rather have the section than not had my babies.

    1. That’s just awful! I’m so sorry people made such a nasty comment to you. That’s several times more hours of labour than I’ve ever had to go through (my vaginal births were fast – don’t know what this says about my vagina! – but only once have I had someone say I had “easy” births. It was my partner and he now knows only I’m allowed to say that!)

  5. I’m not advocating a return to the days when a veil of secrecy surrounded birth, but I suppose one advantage was that women couldn’t be so competitive about their experiences.

    Great post. You’re right. “Too posh to push” is a vile phrase.

  6. Great post! I believe women need to be honest about their experiences. Silencing and dividing us into two camps using terms like “too posh to push” or “natural birth” avoid the real facts and hardships of both, it’s all just another way to keep women from being empowered. I have had both births and I can say they were both extremely intense, life changing, painful experiences. We need to support each other, but I too was judgmental after my first virginal birth. I listened to too much propaganda from the natural camp about water-birth that I wasnt prepared for the real pain and possibility of the ideal choices been taken out of our hands so I still felt guilty for not having done it ‘right’. (After 3 nights without sleep I ‘gave in’ and had pain relief!)
    I hope you dont mind self promotion, here’s a post I wrote about birth after my 5 year old daughter asked me about it:

    1. I had wanted a water birth but once I was laid up on a bed I didn’t want to move! I wasn’t prepared for the real pain either. I remember feeling cross with myself about this – everyone told you it would hurt, why didn’t you steel yourself for it? – but how can you know? But I was, overall, very lucky. I had very fast births and didn’t panic. I don’t know why. I think not being afraid is so important. Sorry, that’s just a load of random thoughts. I suppose what I mean is you just can’t know what your birth will be like and the way we’re encouraged to judge ourselves just isn’t right.

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