Private clinics are often happy to make that dream come true by turning delivery into something akin to a weekend retreat in a birth-themed five-star hotel.
At the Perinatal Clinic in Rio de Janeiro, mothers can get free hairstyling, manicures and makeup sessions, and for a fee, can have their rooms decorated in a safari or teddy bear motif. Once the new mom is ready for visitors, a catering service complete with waiters can also be arranged.
"There are patients who absolutely refuse to have natural childbirth, well-informed patients who maintain this position out of fear," said Paulo Marinho, the medical director at Perinatal. "It's a cultural situation. I've seen it develop over generations."
From the doctors' perspective, the issue comes down to familiarity and economics, said Moraes Filho, of the Brazilian Gynecologists and Obstetrics Association.
Brazilian women expect the doctor who sees them throughout their pregnancy to be the one who delivers their baby, not whoever happens to be on call. Second, health care plans generally pay practitioners the same for a C-section taking 30-40 minutes as for a natural birth that can last an entire day.
"We have to change this culture, and get women comfortable having their child with the doctor or nurse on duty," Moraes Filho said.
In public hospitals doctors are paid R$150 ($74) for a C-section, and R$175 ($86) for a natural birth. Three-quarters of Brazilians rely on free public health care. Private doctors receive between R$ 200 ($100) and R$400 ($200) per birth, depending on the health care plan and the procedure.
"It's not that doctors are mercenaries, but what they earn to be present for a very important moment is little more than what a television repairman gets who shows up on his schedule," Moraes Filho said. "This doctor-patient connection where the woman wants her doctor present, the poor remuneration for doctors, their need to juggle several jobs — all this makes it impossible for a practitioner to reconcile his work schedule with unpredictable vaginal births."
In an effort to reverse the trend, Brazil's federal government has invested $1.3 billion over the last year and a half, with another $3.36 billion allocated in a program called "The Stork Network," aimed at "humanizing" the birth experience and educating mothers and health care practitioners on the benefits of natural childbirth.
"We're making a big effort now, offering good prenatal care, a place women trust, information that's pertinent, so women can make their decision," said National Health Care Secretary Helvecio Magalhaes. "We're creating incentives for natural birth."
The program's broad approach creates maternity hospitals focused only on pregnancy, delivery and post-partum care, reaches out to private health care plans to discuss birth options, proposes curriculum revisions in medical schools, and launches educational campaigns aimed at informing mothers of the pros and cons of surgery versus natural childbirth, Magalhaes said.
In the city of Rio, a similar program invites all mothers delivering through the public health system to visit the hospital where they'll give birth. The question — C-sections or natural birth? — came up in a group of 10 pregnant women during a recent tour of a brand new public maternity hospital.
"I never wanted a natural child birth, no way!" said Zelia Leite Alves, who was accompanying her pregnant daughter on the visit. "I wasn't born to feel that kind of pain."
She did her best to talk her daughter, Claudia Larissa, into following in her footsteps. To her surprise, the 20-year-old was determined to have a natural birth, as long as it was safe.
"I have to admit, I'm not calm at all. It's my first time and I'm anxious. I'm very afraid of the contractions. But this helps," she said of the visit. "I can see this was made for us, this space is for mothers. I know the staff will be here for me."