Walk into any group of moms of children under age five and say the words “C-section” and you’ll be greeted with the same averted eyes and awkward smirks as the parents whose babies have flat heads because they spent too much time in the Mamaroo while mommy fed her Pinterest habit. Telling a group of semi-strangers you have hemorrhoids is far more acceptable than telling them you had a C-section, even though, statistically speaking, one third of them probably had one, too. C-sections are the third rail of birth stories—the nice moms will express sorrow for your loss, the asshole moms will tell you why your lack of feminist fervor and maternal fortitude means your child will likely grow into an asthmatic sex offender with a severe peanut allergy.
I think the most adamant anti-“sectioners” have this image of a woman at 36-weeks pregnant, a martini in one hand and her epidural in the other, growing impatient that her 45 minutes of labor will make her late for the ballet. Even the more sympathetic naysayers, those who grasp the concept of the emergency C-section, seem to harbor the belief that if you were just empowered enough to ask the right questions and build a proper argument to present to your doctor, you could reverse the course of medical intervention and have a vaginal birth like mother nature intended.
If you are currently pregnant with your first child, you are probably in the sympathetic-naysayer camp. You know that sometimes C-sections are medically necessary, and you know that you yourself will not be having one. Your birth plan may be longer than your doctoral thesis, complete with hyperlinked references and a video clip from The Business of Being Born, or it may be jotted down in pencil on the back of a cocktail napkin, but it probably makes pretty clear your desire to push your baby out the ole’ lady canal. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with a C-section—your sister had one and yes, your nephew has a mild allergy to truffle oil and he gets a little wheezy during ragweed season, but so far he shows no signs of being aroused by corpses—it’s just that you plan to do things naturally, and you’re pretty sure you have an above-average tolerance for pain.
I pretty much felt the same way until my own labor experience, which did not involve theater tickets or arguing briefs before my medical team. I was in early labor for 48 hours and active labor for nine hours before I received an epidural. My contractions were perfect, my baby had been at zero station for weeks, but my cervix wouldn’t budge. It may have obliged us eventually, there is no way to know, but after my water broke there was nothing to keep the umbilical cord afloat, and it slowly began wrapping around my son like a boa constrictor. With every contraction, the snake squeezed tighter, and his heart rate began to indicate distress. My doctor explained the situation to me in a way that fit my particular view on nature and biology: My baby was communicating with my body, telling it that he couldn’t come out that way and it needed to keep the door shut. With his heart rate decelerating rapidly, she presented the surgical option. It was my decision, and I didn’t hesitate. You won’t hesitate when your child’s health is in danger—you won’t in that first moment, and you never will again. When your baby is telling you what he needs, no force on Earth will stop you from giving it to him. There's a voice inside of you that says: “My life is no longer my own. I will do anything for you. I will die for you.” You forget about your birth plan because you know that it was never about you.
Despite my compelling tale of maternal strength and love, you probably still don’t want a C-section, and you are probably pretty sure you would’ve made it a few more hours without the epidural and ultimately had the blissful vaginal delivery of your dreams. I don’t blame you—I still second-guess myself, too. I don’t regret consenting to the C-section, but I do wish I hadn’t needed one, and I am currently working on the argument I will present to my doctor in favor of a VBAC the next time around. Just know that if your labor hits a detour or other unexpected bumps in the road, despite the statistics and the data and the regretful sighs of the other Gymboree moms, you will make the right decision for you and your child in the moment based on the information you have. You are a mom now, and that’s what moms do.
Labored by: Kathleen