OBJECTIVE : Studies of women's childbirth preferences repeatedly show that natural birth remains highly valued, yet the majority of births involve some form of medical intervention. Reasons for this lack of correspondence have typically been investigated through interviews and focus-groups with women. Relatively little research explores the ways in which women describe their experiences of childbirth outside of such research settings. BACKGROUND : Most maternity services promote woman-centred care, whereby women are encouraged to take active roles in deciding how to give birth. However, recent research indicates that women often report feeling disempowered during labour and birth in hospital settings. OBJECTIVE : We sought to examine how women account for use of medical intervention in hospitals by examining narratives posted on online discussion forums. METHODS : A thematic analysis of 106 publically available birth stories, sourced using the Internet search terms 'birth story', and 'birth narrative', was undertaken. RESULTS : Medical interventions in childbirth were routinely described as unwanted, yet as unavoidable, and two types of account were typically drawn on to explain their use: Protection of the baby/mother; and inflexible hospital policy/practice. We examine these two types of account, focusing on how their design oriented to the discordance between mothers' reported desires for a natural birth, and their experiences in hospital. CONCLUSIONS : The experience of medical intervention in childbirth is routinely oriented to as a matter that requires explanation or account in online birth narratives. Women repeatedly referred to their preference to avoid intervention, but described being unable to do so in hospital.