Childbearing women, healthcare providers, and commentators on birth broadly identify control as an important issue during childbirth; however, control is rarely defined in literature on the topic. Here we seek to deconstruct the term control as used by childbearing women to better understand the issues and concepts underpinning it. Based on qualitative interviews with 101 parous women in the United States, we analyze meanings of control within the context of birth narratives. We find these meanings correspond to five distinct domains: self-determination, respect, personal security, attachment, and knowledge. We also find ambivalence about this term and concept, in that half our sample recognizes “you cannot control birth”. Together, these findings call into question the usefulness of the term for measuring quality or improving maternity care and highlight other concepts which may be more fruitfully explored.