The Epidemic of Unnecessary C-Sections

In my last post here at Mothering Outside the Lines I wrote about an amazing mom who decided to have a home birth to avoid a fourth C-section.

I emailed Aneka’s story to my friend Denise who still has angry, unresolved feelings about a second C-section. Denise was fully dilated and pushing when the doctor told her there was “no way” the baby would be able to slip under her pubic bone.

Any birthing woman is incredibly vulnerable. Her senses are heightened. She looks to those around her for support and love and encouragement.

What if that doctor had told Denise she was doing a good job? What if that doctor had offered her something to eat or suggested she sleep between contractions? (In her book, Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth, Gaskin observes that women sometimes need to rest, even sleep, after transition to renew their energy to push the baby out. She also notes that food eaten at the right moment during labor can be the fuel a woman needs to rally.) What if that doctor suggested laboring on all fours? What if that doctor had just said and done nothing but stayed with Denise in an attitude of encouragement?

When your body’s working as hard as it knows how to birth a baby it can be devastating if a doctor or a nurse or a midwife tells you you aren’t doing a good enough job. Or even suggests as much with an impatient or unkind attitude.

When I was more than 15 hours into labor with my first child I was only at four centimeters dilated. Instead of encouraging me the doctor on call–the only man in the practice and the only doctor I had never met previously–told me I was being selfish and making my family suffer unnecessarily (my mom and my husband were there) and that I should think of other people and get an epideral and pitocin.

For Denise just trying for a VBAC had already been a fight. But how could that doctor have known that Denise’s baby couldn’t be born vaginally? Was the doctor subconsciously (or consciously) punishing her for having the hubris to try to do it her way? Or was the doctor just impatient for the baby to be born?

We have a C-section rate in this country that is so high that Amnesty International has issued a call to President Obama to address what they call the systemic failures in the maternal health care system in America.

Augustine Colebrook, a midwife and mother of three who has just founded a birthing center in Medford, Oregon, recently taught a childbirth class for six couples.

Three couples were planning home births.

Three were planning hospital births.

The three moms who chose to birth at home had healthy babies and no complications.

The three who chose to birth in the hospital? They all ended up having C-sections.

As Tiffany, a labor and delivery nurse, pointed out in a comment on my last post, Cesarean birth can be a life-saving intervention. It is a wonderful operation, a medical miracle that can save the life of an infant and a mom when used in a real emergency.

An impatient doctor is not an emergency.

A hospital that profits from billable hours for the operating room is not an emergency.

A previous C-section is not an emergency.

A breech baby is not an emergency. (Babies turn during labor. Vaginal breech birth done correctly, which usually means with as little intervention as possible, has been shown to be safer than major abdominal surgery for most women.)

Twins are not an emergency.

Most people don’t realize that the skyrocketing C-section rate in America has devastating ramifications.

The United States lags behind 40 countries in maternal death rates.

It’s safer to have a baby in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country recovering from civil war, than it is to have a baby in America.

Katelyn couldn’t lift her baby for weeks after having an unplanned C-section. Her son was born 11 years ago. The operation gave her terrible gastrointestinal problems that continue to this day.

Nora’s scheduled C-section ended in weeks of anxiety. One of her baby’s lungs collapsed and he had to be helicoptered to a hospital with a NICU. “I think the doctors got the dates wrong,” she mused afterwards. A doctor herself, she hadn’t realized that the risk of not letting her body go into spontaneous labor includes premature birth.

This major abdominal surgery has many other risks: hemorrhage, infection, organ damage, scar tissue adhesions (including placental accreta, placenta increta, and placenta percreta), delayed interaction between the baby and the mom which can lead to bonding problems and breastfeeding difficulties, a longer and more painful recovery time, post surgery stress disorders, higher chance of rehospitalization, higher chance of complications in subsequent pregnancies, higher risk of respiratory problems for your baby, and more.

Let’s follow Aneka’s lead and stop the C-section epidemic in America. Isn’t it time for American women to be empowered to give birth on their own terms without unnecessary, even life-threatening, intervention?

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