It's funny world. In the past, I've read media articles accusing women who choose cesarean delivery of being 'celebrity copycats.' Even medical professionals have pointed towards celebrity culture as one of the reasons for the rise in cesarean on maternal request; women want surgery because they see their celebrity idols having it. This idea is also behind the name-calling trend, 'too posh to push', which refers to the specific influence of Victoria Beckham.
The fact of the matter
First of all, there is no evidence to suggest that women are merely 'copying' a celebrity culture when they choose to have a cesarean. Instead, maternal questionnaires cite fear of labor, avoidance of pelvic floor damage and a tolerance for the risks of planned, controlled surgery in preference to the more unpredictable risks associated with vaginal delivery.
In fact it is the media itself that is influenced by celebrity when it comes to reporting on childbirth. If a celebrity speaks out about a negative cesarean experience, this makes the headlines. If a celebrity describes a preference for cesarean delivery over vaginal delivery, again, their story is given center stage. Just this week, the British singer and actress Billie Piper gave birth to her son Winston by emergency cesarean after a reported 26 hours of labor. Her boyfriend is quoted as saying it was "a major thing' but it remains to be seen over the coming days whether newspapers and magazines take the stance that it's another negative cesarean story or whether it's a negative planned vaginal delivery story. My guess is that Billie Piper's first comments to the press will decide that.
Celebrity experience counts
Take for example Gwyneth Palthrow; she described how difficult she found labor with her first baby, Apple. On the flip-side, there was Davina McCall who described a very positive vaginal delivery experience. Then there was Christine Aguilera, the first celebrity to admit to planning her cesarean through her own choice due to a fear of vaginal delivery. Before that, Kate Winslet admitted that she had lied to the media about having a cesarean delivery because she was concerned about the negative press she might get.
The good thing about all these stories is that they keep the issue of childbirth in the public eye; they remind us that childbirth is not always straightforward, that there can be a whole range of experiences from good through to bad, and that we should be more tolerant of the decisions of women with different perspectives and desires than our own. And while I think it's a shame that we have to rely on celebrity news coverage to shine the spotlight on maternal autonomy, I'm also hopeful that by doing so, it acts as a catalyst for media discussion (online, in newspapers and magazines, on the radio and TV), and ultimately leads to greater access to information for women planning their births. That's the very best we can hope for.