When my first son – a butt-down, feet up breech baby refused to turn on his own – I decided that I would have a scheduled c-section. My doctor still offered the option to attempt a version (ECV) and induction, but I declined.
It’s a strange feeling to have a planned birth. We woke up with the alarm, got dressed and headed across town to the hospital so early in the morning it was still dark. My husband told me to put on some music and I freaked out under the pressure of picking the perfect going-to-have-a-baby song.
I am one of many in my circle of friends who had a c-section for our first delivery. While this in itself could be inferred to be a statement on the overly medicalized birth process and the rise of elective cesareans – which is a real issue – I’m not making that statement here. It would be more accurate to note that I am part of an increasing demographic of college-educated, middle-class women that are waiting longer to have children, and as such, we increase the potential complications that may have been avoided if we had children in our twenties like in the rose colored, completely bullshit, good old days. You know which good old days I’m referring to – the days where we would have been married in our twenties, living happily or not in our home we owned, pregnant whether we wanted to be or not, supported on one solid income that paid for the house and kept us comfortable for our future without the crushing burden of student loan debt, otherwise known as no, just nope. (I don’t want it either. I’m pretty happy with my reproductive freedom among other advances.) Anyway, this group experience gave me a rough idea of what to expect, but in no way actually prepared me for what was about to happen.
When we arrived at the hospital I started to tip the anxiety scale toward more excitement, as we were hours away from meeting our son. A fetal monitor was strapped across my big belly, just like it had been for my weekly non-stress tests from 32 weeks onward. The anesthesiologist resident came in to meet me and see if I had any questions or requests for them, which I did.
I cognitively knew that having a c-section was major surgery, that I was going to be opened up and that I would be awake for all of it. Clearly I didn’t want to feel the actual operation part, but this was also how we were having a baby. I didn’t want to be so drugged that I would miss out on the amazing experience of giving birth to my child. I requested a magical combination of pain relief without feeling high or foggy, and that team made it happen. Seriously, they gave me some drug that was in national short supply where I didn’t feel the pain and I didn’t feel altered. Every nurse who came in was like, “oooohhh, how’d you get that?! It’s in short supply!” I was like, “ummm, what a weird question, and thanks?”
My husband was decked out in scrubs while we waited for me to go somewhere to get numbed from about the chest down. I was taken back right on time, and they started to talk to me about what was going to happen. I began feeling afraid of what was happening. Right as they wiped down my back for the epidural, my doctor came in the room. She told me that there was a woman about to deliver at L&D, and we would have to wait. They brought me back to the recovery room where my husband and I did the only thing we could think of doing in that limbo state between the drudgery of waiting and joy of anticipating – we each took over a bed and promptly passed out.
We were woken up from our naps and told that now it was really go time.
Getting prepared to have a c-section is a strange thing. There were things I didn’t like about the experience. The needle for the epidural hurt, and I was somehow surprised by this. As they put up the sterile field, which is a curtain where I couldn’t see what they were doing (spelunking in my insides), they also strapped my wrists down crucifixion-style so I wouldn’t panic, pull down the curtain or otherwise compromise the operation and injure myself. I didn’t like the feeling of being immobilized by both the wrist straps and the medicine. It wasn’t just an epidural, it was a combination with a spinal block which meant I was numb higher up in my body than I would have been with an epidural for a vaginal delivery. I was nauseous from the medicine until they gave me something for that, and I was put on oxygen at some point during the delivery as well. It felt scary to feel like my chest was heavy, and I couldn’t stand not having feeling in my legs. I was afraid, and told my doctor that I could still feel my legs and I didn’t want her to cut me open. They told me to move my legs. I thought I was but I couldn’t move them at all. The medicine was doing its job.
My husband was brought in once I was situated in the operating room. He stayed with me, holding my bound hand, keeping me calm and helping me be present in why we were there – to have our first baby.
It’s not a gentle experience to have a baby evicted from the body. Even with the epidural I could feel my lower half being moved around, nearly rocked from side to side.
Time didn’t behave properly during the section. I have no idea how long it took for my doctor to get to my son. I could feel when she reached him and began to pull him out of me. I started to cry as she confirmed that she was taking him out.
She held my baby up over the curtain for me to see him, exclaiming “here he is!”
I saw a blur of bluish, cheese covered baby for a split second and my mind exploded, unable to comprehend that this human used to be in me and now he was out.
Our son was taken somewhere across the room where I couldn’t see him through the curtain, and my husband went over to be with him. They were cleaning him up, checking his vitals and clearing the gunk out of his nose and mouth that is usually squeezed out by the long trip down the birth canal which he had detoured. My body shook and I couldn’t stop crying while I could hear him crying, but I couldn’t see or reach him. My husband was the first person to hold our baby while I was stitched closed. My wrists were unstrapped so I could touch my baby’s face and head, as my husband held him near my face.
Once I was stitched closed, but before I was even out of the operating room, I was hoisted up to a slightly seated position and handed my baby. We were wheeled into recovery with him on my chest where he would stay for hours to come.
For as medical as my birth was by its necessity and nature, I don’t think of it as any less beautiful or miraculous as an unassisted, unmedicated vaginal delivery. It was my own experience, and it brought me my incredible son, which is the most extraordinary thing ever. Yet I frequently feel the need to defend my choice to have a c-section.
I don’t regret my c-section.
My defense of my medical birth has everything to do with those that make the way I delivered not as good as they way they did. I can’t stand the term natural birth, as it downgrades all other births into an unnatural category.
How you deliver your baby is your choice, but I would love for people to remember a few things before they comment on my c-section:
- My son was brought into the world safely and lovingly. Had he been forced to exit through my vagina despite his Frank Breech Position – butt down, feet kicking himself in the head – it’s likely that neither of us would have fared as well.
- My safe delivery allowed me to be as present as possible for the birth of my son. This in turn allowed for me to have uninterrupted skin-to-skin time, without my son rushed off to a NICU, and we were able to initiate breastfeeding.
- Not every c-section is inherently loveless and emotionally sterile. I delivered my baby in a hospital that aims to keep mothers and babies together as much as possible. Other than the actual sterile field, my regular c-section was basically a “gentle c-section,” a few years before they started making the news, and without me making special requests.
Bottom line – are you my doctor? Then kindly, STFU.
My medical case indicated that the lowest risk birth for my child, with the best recovery prediction for me, would be a c-section; and that’s the choice I made.
It’s true that c-sections are overused as a birth intervention and as a first line option in cases where a vaginal delivery may be possible or even the better option. It is a surgery that comes with risks for complications that are considerably higher than those with a vaginal delivery. Due in part to their overuse and commonality, c-sections seem to be regarded as just another option for birth and not as the major, abdominal surgery that they are. I would bet there are women who had a previous section for whom a VBAC would be a safe, less-complicated option for subsequent pregnancies, but whose doctor isn’t supportive or encouraging of that attempt.
While all of the overuse of c-sections in the US is backed by hard evidence, not everyone has a low-risk uncomplicated pregnancy. As I mentioned earlier, my friend circle is a good example of this, with issues ranging from prior abdominal surgeries or dangerously low amniotic fluid to breech babies.
Birth isn’t one size fits all.
My feelings on my c-section are not meant to downplay the experience of others. There are cases where women mourn the loss of the birth they envisioned, and I would never attempt to minimize or talk them out of their feelings. Having a child, no matter which way they make their exit, is an incredibly emotional experience and when the plan goes awry it can be traumatic. Had my c-section not gone according to plan, had it ended in an emergency where I was put under general anesthesia and missed the moment of my baby’s birth, I am sure I would feel differently.
I’m grateful my child was brought safely into the world, and to the advanced medical technology that allowed that to happen.
If I could have avoided surgery, I would have. But I don’t regret my c-section.