What the actual f*ck. Going viral this week — for its complete and utter absurdity — is a kindergarten form allegedly asking moms if they had c-sections or vaginal births with their would-be kindergarteners. Vaginal birth or cesarean? inquires the form from Aiken Elementary School in West Hartford, Conn., leaving a blank space for a check-mark. (You know, because the way in which a kid comes into the world has a huge affect on their alphabet mastery and sandbox etiquette some five years later.) The application was first shared by West Hartford mom and photographer Cara Paiuk last week, when she wrote an essay for The New York Times' Motherlode blog, which has quickly swept the Internet.
According to Paiuk, her husband was the one filling out the form at their son's introductory kindergarten event recently when he stumbled upon the question. Paiuk promptly tore it away from her husband's hands to get a closer look, because, understandably, she was more than a little surprised. In her NYT post, Paiuk writes:
I ripped the form out from under his pen. Why he was answering this question? Come to think of it, why was anyone answering it? The "baby" who had resulted from that birth was 5 years old and well over any possible ramifications of it I could imagine.
Seriously, though; what bearing could such a question have on a kid's kindergarten eligibility, anyway? And aren't those details, oh I don't know, slightly personal? Paiuk certainly thinks so — and suggests that for many mothers, the willingness to discuss their birth experience doesn't necessarily change whether it's five days after delivery or five years. "My vagina was not up for discussion by a stranger then, and it’s certainly not up for public examination now," she writes.
Paiuk also explains that her shock over the question — and refusal to answer it — soon led her all the way to the head nurse's door, and later, a call with the school's medical advisor. The nurse, she writes, gave her some rambling explanation that it's there "so that if a teacher or other administrator perceives an issue with a child (presumably, a learning disability or behavioral problem), that person could pull the file and look for clues in the medical record that might explain the cause." (Hmm... not really sure I follow that far-fetched reasoning, but moving on...)
Birth-related injuries are certainly a real, and troubling occurrence. The thing is, they don't just happen during one type of delivery method. (Such injuries can happen when the cord gets wrapped around the baby's neck, a baby is breech, forceps are used, etc.) Also, any kind of impairment that would affect a child's long-term development are rare. Like, super rare. In fact, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reports that the rate of neonatal injury is 25.85 per 1,000 births; and most of these are not necessarily injuries that affect development years later.
Paiuk also points out that if a birth-related injury did cause some kind of physical or learning impairment, why not just come right out and ask about a birth trauma from the get-go? "And why not ask about other possible medical explanations for kindergarten challenges?" she adds. "Shouldn’t they, I asked, include the question about whether a child is vegan so a teacher can look for vitamin deficiencies?" To that one, though, the mom received this jaw-dropping response from the school medical advisor: "We don’t like to ask questions about food. Parents are very sensitive to that." (Oh man, do I even have to point out the obvious hypocrisy in that statement?)
And there are, of course, other thoughts/feelings/reactions that such a prying question can't help but drum up. Particularly if you're a mom. Because let's be real: the whole vag vs. c-section birth question is just one of many other emotionally-charged comparisons mom face forever and ever. "To me, it's akin to asking, 'Did you breastfeed?'" she told The Huffington Post. "That's information a doctor might require. But school administrators?"
So far, Paiuk has stood her ground, and boycotted signing the health form all together. And by the looks of things, her defiance may be paying off. Though administrators at Aiken Elementary School did tell the mom she was the first person to ever bring up the question as an issue, she tells Bustle the school "will be reviewing the entire lengthy form." (Though when exactly, is unclear.) Bustle reached to the school for comment Thursday, but has yet to receive a response.
In the meantime, Paiuk's story is busy sweeping the Internet, and the outpouring of support from strangers has left the mom of three — who also has a pair of 2-year-old twin girls at home — pretty touched. "I am awed and humbled by the response to my article," she tells Bustle. "It clearly hit a nerve with many people and I appreciate everyone contributing to the conversation."
As for her boycott of the form, Paiuk writes that so far, there haven't been any repercussions. "Although I suppose it's possible there is now a different note about my son's mother in his file," she notes in her NYT piece. (Oh well, Cara. Small price to pay.)
Images: Courtesy of Cara Paiuk