I talked with my doctor about having a normal vaginal birth. I told him it was really important to me, that I wasn’t one of those women who didn’t care one way or the other whether I had surgery. I was terrified of surgery and would not be having it for any reason other than necessity. But, in my very healthy pregnancy, I didn’t think a c-section would become necessary. I was pretty sure this delivery was going to be just fine.
My doctor agreed, “No reason you can’t have a vaginal birth! I don’t like doing c-sections, either – I only do them when I have to.”
I took his word.
Everyone was kind during my labor. I did what I was told and they did their best to make me comfortable. I took the epidural when it was offered; it just seemed like part of the process. Then I agreed to “just a little something” to help labor move along – nothing drastic, but what I was promised was something they liked to use to speed things up just a bit, to get to the part where I got to hold my baby in my arms.
It was hard, but I was doing it. The epidural made things a lot easier in some ways, but it was an odd sensation to not really be able to move myself around. I was totally dependent on those around me. My nurse was sweet and efficient, and the doctor stopped in every once in a while to assure me things looked good.
After a few hours, something changed. My doctor seemed just a touch less relaxed, a little impatient, and he mentioned that if this went on for much longer, we could just do a c-section and get that baby out. I looked at my nurse, and she just smiled and nodded. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t understand. No one had said anything about anything being wrong. I had felt supported until that point, but now I felt like maybe my team and I weren’t totally on the same page.
I said, “But I really don’t want a c-section.”
My doctor said, “I know, honey, and we wouldn’t do it unless we had to. But it’s been a while and that baby needs to come out sometime.” His tone was kindly, but when I looked into his eyes I saw clear as day that he didn’t care one way or another and he was tired of waiting. I knew in that moment that we were miles apart. To me, this was MY BODY. It was the body I’d been in my whole life, that I’d known and cared for and grown a baby in, and I didn’t want it cut open. This birth was MY BABY. I didn’t want anything compromising my baby’s safety – I didn’t want him in a NICU or a nursery or a warmer. I wanted to push him out safely and have him safely in my arms.
But it wasn’t up to me any more. I could tell. I had no power any more. I was on my back, not able to move myself, and uncomfortable. I was weak from labor and weak because I was just the woman in the bed, the job to be done. My “preference” not to have surgery had been tolerated up to a point, but I wouldn’t be indulged any longer. Oh, in that second, I thought back on how I had been so polite and cooperative. That’s what was expected of me. To be cooperative, compliant, and submit to the decisions that were made. Oh, if I could do that over again.
I gave up right there. I didn’t have it in me to protest or to ask the questions that wouldn’t even matter. They were smiling at me, waiting for me to agree. I knew I was going to have a c-section I didn’t really need for reasons I didn’t really understand, and that was all there was to it.
I just gave up. I left my body and let it all happen. I thought, maybe next time…
When I think back to what it had been like in that room, I shudder with the memory of that feeling: I felt like a child. Coddled, indulged, gently reprimanded. It was as if I’d said, “I want a balloon!” and my care providers had chuckled, “We’ll see, sweetheart.” I had not been taken seriously.
I can’t describe how this has impacted me. Sometimes I think it hasn’t and I can just move on. I have plenty of friends who have had c-sections and don’t seem to have any of these feelings. A baby came out of them, one way or another, and life goes on. Isn’t that what matters?
What I’m left with is this vague unsettled feeling, like I forgot to do something, or I woke up to realize I’d slept through something really important. Or when you go on vacation and aren’t exactly sure where you are when you wake up. Sometimes I think for a split second that I can “re-do” my son’s birth before I remember it’s already over.
Today I have a scar across my middle that reminds me of the day I trusted when I shouldn’t have, of the months of ignorant bliss when I thought a casual conversation about the most important day of my life would surely be enough. What I pictured would be a day of toil with reward and smiles through pain, joy and encouragement, became the day I was strapped down like Jesus on a cross and “delivered of” my baby by people who cared, but didn’t care enough. Didn’t care as much as I did.
The truth is, when I am alone and let myself be honest, I know there was a betrayal of trust there that I can’t ever forget. It was a betrayal that led to a scalpel across my belly. Maybe my care providers didn’t even realize they were lying to me when they did, but they did. There was no emergency, no reason for why things happened the way they did.
Sometimes I blame the people in that room, and I always blame myself. It was my failure, that I wasn’t smarter or more assertive or more knowledgeable or stronger in the moment when I gave up.
I’m sharing my experience because I want people to know what an unnecessary c-section can mean. I am a real person behind the statistic of “half a million preventable surgeries every year.” I cringe when I see numbers thrown around in the papers and by medical people about C-section rates, because this issue is so much more than mathematical equations or “quality improvement” milestones. They are real people, physically harmed in the short term and impacted for life.
I’m not stronger because this happened. I’m weaker. Someday, I will find a way to become stronger, but until then, I’m living with this. A puckered scar. A party every year to remind me of how I failed that day. And the beautiful little boy whose mom wishes she could have done better for him.
“Failure to Progress” is a leading cause of C-sections. It is misdiagnosed at alarming rates. More here.
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