Cesarean Section Day
When I saw that Monday, 1/14/19 was “Cesarean Section Day”, I thought immediately that this was a perfect blog moment. But as I sat down to research and write, I learned Cesarean Section Day was much different than I thought it was. I thought it was going to be a day to celebrate women who birthed their babies through Cesarean Section, a.k.a C-section, deliveries. And yes, I used the word “birthed”. Because despite controversies out there regarding C-sections, despite not actively pushing a baby out of their bodies, women who have delivered via C-section have still very much birthed their children. Why this has been a cause of debate boggles my mind, though I do know that we are one of the only countries that allow women to “opt” for a C-section vs a vaginal delivery. Though, if we look at the reasons why a woman would choose a C-section, they are indicative that once again, we are doing a poor job as a country in educating and informing women on their options and in rationale when it comes to their healthcare.
Here are several reasons women CHOOSE a C-section (again, this is separate from medical necessity!):
Convenience: the idea of picking the date, planning around family presence, childcare for other siblings, special or significant dates, are examples of why this may be appealing to some women.
Pain: the idea that a labor and the actual vaginal delivery is going to hurt too much.
Sex: the idea that things “down below” may never be the same and impede their sexual activity and intimacy.
Horror stories: the idea of avoiding everything their friends may have suffered postpartum during or after vaginal deliveries: excessively long labors (some ending in a c-section ‘anyway’), incontinence, tearing/scarring and pain, hemorrhaging.
Negative experiences during prior deliveries.
Mis-information: that a subsequent c-section is the ONLY option following a prior c-section for siblings.
This blog could be pages long if we dissected every one of these reasons, but here is the truth: the solution to every one of these reasons is not always a c-section. The solution is education and information. The truth is, many of these reasons are rooted in fear, not fact. And the fact is that in many instances, c-sections may result in more pain (at least in the post-partum period; they ARE an abdominal surgery, after all), can still lead to painful sex and incontinence (#Truth! Many times this is a result from pregnancy itself. The pelvic floor and the pelvic girdle goes through a LOT, ladies! But that’s a topic all in itself...), negative experiences and horror stories, ESPECIALLY with multiple c-sections. In fact, research shows that multiple c-section procedures can lead to a higher risk of maternal mortality when compared to natural birth1.
Additionally, new evidence is demonstrating that not only does the surgical procedure involved in a c-section not only place mom and baby at risk (as with any type of surgery), but “babies born via C-section have different hormonal, physical, bacterial and medical exposures during birth, which can subtly alter their health”2. More research needs to be done, of course, but this brings to light even more importance of performing C-sections only when medically necessary.
That being said, we also know that when complications do occur, “C-sections save lives, and we must increase accessibility in poorer regions, making C-sections universally available, but we should not overuse them." (Dr. Marleen Temmerman, Aga Khan University in Kenya and Ghent University in Belgium)2.
The truth remains, either way, that a C-section requires a large amount from our bodies. And when C-section is NOT in the original birth plan, the effects on mom can be more than just physical. Many of us mourn the way we thought we would bring these beautiful lives into this world. For some, it is months, if not years, before they can touch the place of their C-section scar, let alone allowing someone else to do so. To some, that scar is not a proud war-wound where they gave life, but a sign of failure. To others, it is a reminder of traumatic events that they never imagined during those nine months of preparing and dreaming of the day they met their son or daughter, often similar to the dreams we envision when thinking of our wedding day. Their scars run deep, emotionally as well as in their connective tissue. If you told this woman that she did not birth her child because she had a C-section, she may break down, on the inside or right in front of you (or tear you limb from limb. Either way, like patting the belly of a pregnant woman you have never met, please think twice before you leap!).
Other women, like myself, believe that the reason they had a C-section doesn’t matter, as long as their babies came out healthy. I am a C-section mom. I am also a vaginal delivery mom. I can give you the pros and cons to both. I fully believe in the need for Western Medicine and the development of C-sections, without which I may not have delivered my (now thriving, 10 -year old) twin boys at 29 weeks and 5 days of my first pregnancy. My plan was not to deliver them this way, but my body (and those stubborn boys, a trait they still possess to this day!) had other ideas. And I believe that if it wasn’t for my amazing medical team, led by an OB-GYN, my boys may not be here. I may not be here. But here we all are.
I won’t lie, as I sat in my hospital room, 10 cm dilated with my 3rd son (2nd pregnancy) about to deliver via a vaginal delivery after a C-section (also known as a VBAC), I did have many of those fears I spoke about above. I also knew that medical team had my back, my husband was there to guide me through, my faith was guiding me and my body was designed to give birth if that is what it decided to do this time. I also had to remember that another surgery was not without its risks either, as scary as this birthing my baby this “new way” was.
I hear you C-section moms. I am you. I hear your fears. I hear your mourning. I hear your wonder woman triumphs.
Soon this Cesarean section day, I salute you, Dr. Jesse Bennett, who, in 1794 at age 24 (freaking 24!!!!), performed the first documented successful Cesarean section in the United States where both mother and baby survived. (Apparently, C-sections had been performed for a hundred years prior to that, but it was only when mom was in her tenth month of pregnancy and they delivered the baby via an abdominal incision, knowing the mother would not survive. Again, thank you modern Western medicine!)
Dr. Bennett only performed the surgery on his own wife (without actual medical equipment or antiseptics-yikes!) when the homebirth supervised by a colleague failed and this colleague refused to perform a C-section since statistics in Europe (the only place they recorded any successful C-sections at this point) proved only a 15% maternal survival rate. Per the pleading from his wife to save the baby even though she assumed she would not survive, Dr. Bennett operated using only home equipment, a sedative, candle-light held by his sister-in-law and 2 servants holding her down. He used linen thread typically used for heavy cloth stitching to suture her abdomen. Wonderfully and amazingly, both mother and daughter survived and thrived to live full lives. (Read more here3).
Though as I write this, it’s become clear that who we should REALLY be saluting is Dr. Bennett’s wife, Elizabeth, who is the true heroine in this story. I am quite certain laying on a kitchen table in candlelight being cut open by your husband was not her birth plan. Yet I’m also quite certain no one told her that there wasn’t risk. And I’m certainly sure that if you met her and heard her story you would not have told her that she didn’t “actually birth” her baby.
In the end, vaginal delivery or C-section, perfectly-adhered-to-birth-plan or emergency-life-saving procedure, Mrs. Elizabeth Bennett simply (or, rather, not-so-simple) did what we all do when we hear those first miraculous cries of that new little life, no matter how that beautiful baby is delivered: She became a mother. And THAT is the bond that ties us all.
***If you have any questions or concerns regarding your healing from a C-section delivery, whether it was one month ago, one year ago or ten years ago, I would love to hear them and guide you and your body anyway I can. Please call us at 484-241-4220 to set up a free screen with me and we can chat!