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Misrecognition of need : women's experiences of and explanations for undergoing cesarean delivery

Tully, K.P.; Ball, H.L.


K.P. Tully


International rates of operative delivery are consistently higher than the World Health Organization determined is appropriate. This suggests that factors other than clinical indications contribute to cesarean section. Data presented here are from interviews with 115 mothers on the postnatal ward of a hospital in Northeast England during February 2006 to March 2009 after the women underwent either unscheduled or scheduled cesarean childbirth. Using thematic content analysis, we found women's accounts of their experiences largely portrayed cesarean section as everything that they had wanted to avoid, but necessary given their situations. Contrary to popular suggestion, the data did not indicate impersonalized medical practice, or that cesareans were being performed ‘on request.’ The categorization of cesareans into ‘emergency’ and ‘elective’ did not reflect maternal experiences. Rather, many unscheduled cesareans were conducted without indications of fetal distress and most scheduled cesareans were not booked because of ‘choice.’ The authoritative knowledge that influenced maternal perceptions of the need to undergo operative delivery included moving forward from ‘prolonged’ labor and scheduling cesarean as a prophylactic to avoid anticipated psychological or physical harm. In spontaneously defending themselves against stigma from the ‘too posh to push’ label that is currently common in the media, women portrayed debate on the appropriateness of cesarean childbirth as a social critique instead of a health issue. The findings suggest the ‘need’ for some cesareans is due to misrecognition of indications by all involved. The factors underlying many cesareans may actually be modifiable, but informed choice and healthful outcomes are impeded by lack of awareness regarding the benefits of labor on the fetal transition to extrauterine life, the maternal desire for predictability in their parturition and recovery experiences, and possibly lack of sufficient experience for providers in a variety of vaginal delivery scenarios (non-progressive labor, breech presentation, and/or after previous cesarean).


Tully, K., & Ball, H. (2013). Misrecognition of need : women's experiences of and explanations for undergoing cesarean delivery. Social Science & Medicine, 85, 103-111.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date May 1, 2013
Deposit Date May 22, 2013
Journal Social science and medicine
Print ISSN 0277-9536
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 85
Pages 103-111
Keywords UK, Decision-making, Cesarean section, Authoritative knowledge.