When other women share their birth stories, I can’t relate. My water never broke, I never had a non-Braxton-Hicks contraction, I never had my membranes stripped, I wasn’t induced and I never labored–in a birthing tub or otherwise.
You see, I knew from about 34 weeks that I was most likely going to have a scheduled C-section due to various medical complications throughout my first pregnancy. The final straw was the fact that the umbilical cord was wrapped around my daughter’s neck, and she was measuring on the “small side of normal,” both of which concerned my OB in conjunction with the earlier complications we’d had.
As an old-school doctor, he had told us up-front at our first appointment that he would generally do absolutely anything to avoid a C-section… but ultimately the surgery ended up being his recommendation. Sure, I could have fought him, but I didn’t. I trusted his judgment, and the second opinion from our perinatologist confirmed my instincts that we were making the right choice. As they both said: The benefits of the surgery outweighed the risks.
While I’d never had surgery and was deeply frightened, my husband and I talked it through and, in time, I found peace in our situation. But it was a hard pill to swallow.
After all, in recent years, C-sections have gotten a bum rap. This is largely because, as the film “The Business of Being Born” notes, motherhood is an enterprise at many hospitals, with nearly 30 percent of all births being cesareans. OBs and/or patients push inductions more and more, and roughly half of all inductions result in C-sections. C-sections are also depicted “trendy” in the celebrity set (though why anyone would like to be cut open voluntarily is beyond me). C-sections carry their own set of risks–infection, blood clots, blood loss, etc.–and the recovery time is much longer. It feels connected to our dismal maternal mortality rates here, a kind of callous treatment of women.
But as scared as I was going into my scheduled C-section–I feared dying on the operating table for weeks leading up to the surgery—it was surprisingly a peaceful experience, on par with other “gentle cesareans” I’ve read about since delivering Maya.
Though I had never heard of a “gentle cesarean” before becoming a mom, I had some ideas for things that were still important to me, and my OB and the nurses took my “birth idea” requests to heart. My arms were not strapped down (though they usually are), and immediately after our daughter was born and her lungs had been cleared, my husband brought her to me for skin-to-skin contact, holding her over my shoulder.
She never left my side except for the last five minutes while they were finishing sewing me back together and brought her to recovery for her initial vaccinations. I was there for her first bath and, once swaddled, she nuzzled into my arms and began nursing immediately.
It was as natural as it could be, considering the fact that I’d just been sliced open. And though I know the rule of “once a C, always a C” is not necessarily the case anymore (V-BACs are often encouraged), my experience was so pleasant, I went on to have a second cesarean with my son Benjamin three years later.
Looking back, I think part of what made my first birth experience such a good one was that it was scheduled, giving me perhaps a rosier experience than the women who labored for hours and hours and hours, enduring pain and agony and discomfort and Pitocin only to end up on the operating table anyway.
So should you find yourself in a similar situation where you need to have a scheduled cesarean—or, if you’re being induced or have another issue that makes a cesarean likely after labor—here are some benefits to keep in mind.
1. I was as mentally prepared as I could be. We’d had a pre-op meeting with my OB, I’d read up plenty on the surgery procedure and even watched a C-section birth video–they don’t show those in birthing classes, since C-sections tend to be viewed unfavorably. While the video scared the living hell out of me, it gave me a concrete idea of what to expect. In fact, the only surprises were that I walked myself to the operating room and that my husband wasn’t allowed to be in the operating room when I got the spinal; he was able to come in after. Otherwise, I really knew a lot about the surgery ahead of time.
2. I was calm. Well, as calm as one can be. I had had a few hours pre-op to meditate and talk with my husband and my mom while we waited for the surgery. It was a serene environment. I had even gotten my hair and nails done the day before. While it may sound vain, the little bit of self-care beforehand did wonders to soothe my anxiety leading up to the surgery.
3. I was awake for the whole thing. Sometimes that isn’t possible in emergency situations, but I was awake. Though I couldn’t feel below my waist, I had feeling in my arms and hands and that relaxed me, knowing I’d be able to “hold” my child even on the operating table. I had plenty of drugs coursing through my veins… but I wasn’t in pain or discomfort at all.
4. I was able to choose my daughter’s birthday. I know that sounds silly, but it was a plus. My due date was December 19, 2010 and my OB said I could choose any date in the 39th. So I chose the last, December 18. The number 18 in Hebrew means “good luck,” and our wedding anniversary is November 18th, so we thought it would be cool to have her birth day also fall on the 18th.
Though I obviously don’t think C-sections should be done for any old reason–and I am not endorsing scheduling one for the sake of scheduling one–if you have to have one, just remember: A little prep can go a long way to giving you a beautiful birth experience.