I had always been terrified to have a c-section. Surgery freaks me out. I’m supposed to be the health professional. I don’t really like being the patient. I was always so scared that when I had kids I would end up with a c-section. I couldn’t stand the idea of being cut open. There is a huge stigma for c-section moms that they didn’t have a natural birth. There is almost a shame in not having a vaginal birth. People explain as if to justify why they didn’t go natural. We have a c-section epidemic! When 1 in 3 women in this country are giving birth via c-section that is a huge problem. They are being done too often. Many are done unnecessarily. Many can be prevented. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
C-sections are an amazing intervention to have available. They can save the life of the mother and baby. There are lifesaving cesareans done every day. That is wonderful! How tragic would it be to die in childbirth or for a baby to die that could have been saved. I will say that unnecessary c-sections endanger the lives of mothers and babies. It is a surgery. It is not without risk. There are guaranteed side effects. There is a whole list of risks to the baby, the mother during her c-section, and to the mother in future pregnancies. The decision to perform a cesarean cannot be taken lightly. They should only be done when that intervention is really needed. I just want to point out that not all c-sections are unnecessary. Not all are preventable. That being said, I used to be afraid to have a c-section no matter what it would be for. Let me tell you why my perspective changed.
Last year my best friend gave birth to her third child. She had a c-section with all of her babies. She was pretty upset about having another c-section. She wanted to give birth vaginally so bad. Like many women who are c-section moms, she felt as if she failed at birth. With her first, she got pre-eclampsia. It got to the point that she needed to deliver. They did a c-section. With her second, unfortunately, she had what we call a window from her first cesarean not healing well. She couldn’t VBAC. The third time around she desperately wanted a vaginal birth. I won’t share the details of her personal health, but even I said she needed a c-section. She was so upset to go through a c-section for a third time she thought about refusing the c/s or even giving birth at home alone. Thankfully, she chose to go to the hospital and deliver safely. I remember the day he was born. It was scheduled. I eagerly waited impatiently with much excitement. I came to the hospital to see them after he was born. I walked in the room and she was glowing as she held her sweet newborn. As I sat there and held him, we talked and talked. For some reason, the subject came up of her husband’s knee surgery from years before. I’ve never had any surgery. I hope I never have to, but I remember thinking in that moment that if I do ever have to have a surgery a c-section is the best kind of surgery you can have. You get a baby out of it. No other surgery comes with a bonus like that. Over the next few weeks, we talked a lot about her c-sections and how she felt about things. I knew she was upset. I also knew that her c-sections were truly necessary. It hit me one night if she hadn’t had that first c-section, she wouldn’t be here. She probably would have died. She wouldn’t be in my life as my best friend, my sister, my encourager, my cheerleader. I couldn’t imagine life without her. She is happily married. Her and her husband are crazy about each other. They love each other so much. What would he do if she was gone? Her 2nd and 3rd children wouldn’t exist. Who knows if her first born would have survived the pre-eclampsia if they hadn’t decided to deliver when they did. She is a stay at home mom which is her dream life. She loves staying at home with her kids. She gets to spend her whole life taking care of her family. She gets to snuggle on her baby, read books to her little ones, have bedtime stories, hugs and kisses, and little feet running through her house every day. She could have missed out on all that love and happiness if it weren’t for her first c-section.
In that moment, I realized I became okay with the possibility of needing a c-section someday. I hope I never have to, but I realized just how much it is worth it. I know a lot about maternal-infant nursing. I know the benefits and risks of c-sections. I know when they can be prevented. I know when they are needed. I’ve come to have peace in knowing if I ever end up needing a c-section that I know it will truly be needed. I will not be a victim of a cut happy doctor or the cascade of interventions. I would be a survivor of birth that could have gone much worse. As much as I prefer vaginal birth, it would be worse to give birth vaginally and have a dead baby or die myself than to have a c-section with a good outcome. How brave are the mothers that lay on that OR table and sacrifice their desire for vaginal birth facing the fear of surgery laying down to be cut open and permanently scarred to save their babies or save themselves so they can be around to mother their babies. That is love.
I just wanted to write this blog for all the c-section moms. A surgical birth is still a birth. You did not fail. I know some people whose c-sections were unnecessary and I know some whose c-sections saved them. I wish for everyone to have a good birth experience with healthy outcomes, but I know that’s not always the case. I know birth can be upsetting or even traumatic for the patients. I know things can go wrong sometimes quickly. I know things can go from fine to emergency in a minute. So if you end up being the cesarean mom, know this. Vaginal birth or surgical birth does not define how much you love your child or how good of a parent you are. I know it’s upsetting for many women to need a c-section. I’m not trying to downplay how scary it can be especially if it’s an emergency. I’m not ignoring the risks or the healing process. But I want to point out one thing. In the case of a truly needed c-section to save the life of the mother and/or the baby, look at what that c-section gives you. It’s giving you a living, healthy baby. It’s giving you the opportunity to continue your life. It’s giving you the opportunity to hold your baby in your arms and look into those eyes with joy in your heart. Know that in 2 years when you have your toddler cuddled up on your lap and you are reading bedtime stories you are able to have that moment because you had a c-section. Birth is only the beginning. Know that when your days are filled with kids giggling and the pitter patter of little feet that is because you had a c-section. When you are there for your preschooler who proudly makes mommy a macaroni necklace it’s because an OB performed a cesarean. When you teach them how to drive, how to cook, watch them get married, and have children of their own you are able to be there for them because of that cesarean. A lifesaving c-section isn’t about just that one day. That c-section gives you the opportunity to live life with your family and watch your children grow. That's a beautiful gift.
When we get upset about extremely high c-section rates that desperately need to come down and where America stands with maternal-infant morbidity and mortality, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s keep in mind that c-sections are a wonderful intervention to have available when used properly, as with other obstetric interventions. There is a difference between necessary, lifesaving cesareans and unnecessary, preventable, risky cesareans. We need to focus on reducing the c-sections that can be safely prevented, but let’s not ever become anti-cesarean. Stop shaming mothers who had a c-section. Stop feeling guilty if it was you on that table. Look at all the opportunities that lifesaving c-section gave you. Be grateful.