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.

Share this article with a friend: https://www.improvingbirth.org/2014/08/silence

Does this article resonate with you?  Share your story in the comments.  #breakthesilence


Have you seen what Improving Birth is up to?  We’re supporting women all over the country, as well as working with mothers, providers, and policy makers to lead change in numerous communities.  Please support our work with a gift here and plan to attend the 2014 Rally to Improve Birth this Labor Day, September 1–the only national event of its kind, where consumers come together to raise awareness about the maternity care crisis and demand change.  We’ll see you there!

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  1. Krystal says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I too had an unessecary C-section 5 years ago. My doctor used a scare tactic saying my baby would be large and would be born with shoulder dystocia. I trusted what she told me and went against my own instincts and had an elective C-section. To this day I am angry at that doctor but more at myself for not researching things on my own and making my own informed decision. I know exactly how you feel. I plan on having a VBAC in a few weeks!

  2. MR says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I had a similar experience with my daughter this winter. I had a wonderful midwife who assured me that they practiced with the philosophy that “we don’t intervene unless we have to” however as soon as I got to the hospital I was put in bed with a monitor because my blood pressure was slightly high (and whose wouldn’t be after 15 hours of contractions am I right??). Being stuck in bed instead of being able to move around led me down a spiral of things I DID not want. I wasn’t in my right mind to think about all the coping mechanisms I had practiced with my husband and ended up with an epidural, and my baby ended up getting stuck posterior. I got to 10 cm, and I pushed for 4 hours, but she WOULD. NOT. COME. OUT. so I ended up with a c-section. The memories are so hazy that I can hardly remember what was happening at the time, but I do remember the midwife and OB stepping out of the room to talk several times and coming back in to tell me “c-section or vacuum, but we think c-section is safest”. I didn’t even ask questions. After nearly 30 hours of labor and 4 hours of pushing hearing “c-section” meant “your baby will be out!” and I said yes. Now 8 months later I beat myself up about this EVERY DAY. I feel like a failure, and it hurts so much to look at my beautiful healthy daughter and feel like a failure. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Just knowing there are other women out there who feel like I do helps SO MUCH.

  3. Amanda Sullivan says:

    This resonates with me so much. Two years ago in August my beautiful second niece(my sister’s first) was born via section 24hours after my sister was admitted for an induction she didn’t want. Her midwife, who we had liked and trusted from the beginning, seemed to have forgotten her entire birth plan which did not include anything that happened other than an “attempt” at a vaginal birth if you can reason to even call it that. I post this to share my shame at not advocating harder for my sister and her rights. I am a nurse on top of being educated and knowledgeable in her right as a patient and I knew it didn’t feel right the whole time and didn’t say much. Granted it wasn’t my pregnancy and birth and wasn’t my place to interfere with her and her husband’s decisions but it was my place as her sister and advocate to make sure she got what she wanted and I failed. By the time her midwife managed to scare her into a section she was so tired and hungry and drugged up(IV pain meds cause she wouldn’t consent to an epidural but was in excruciating pain from the cervical drugs causing hard contractions before it ever made her dialate) she just wanted the ordeal to be over and hold her baby, which I do not blame her for. I’m breaking my own silence today.

    1. Amanda Sullivan says:

      Forgot to mention what my mom heard after they got her consent on the section. Midwife was standing at the desk signing her patient (my sister) over to the surgical OB and mentioned leaving. My sister’s nurse looked surprised and asked wasn’t she going to stay for after the birth and midwife replied “no I’ve got a kid I’ve got to go pick up from school” and my sister did not see or hear from her again until her staples were taken out a few weeks later at the midwife’s office. My mom was almost angry enough to spit fire that day.

  4. Narelle says:

    This is me 8 years ago. I was a failure to progress, as well. I went overdue and they put pressure on me to be induced. I thought, hey fine, but nothing happened. They broke my waters and kept me in a bed. I had to have antibiotics due to a urine infection I had early in pregnancy and when one midwife suggested they find me a portable drip, well, the one they had was being used.

    So I was stuck in a bed, for hours, the drug dose going up and treated like a medical student’s tool. Women coming and putting their hands on me to practice measuring contractions, not talking to me.

    Then the pressure to take the gas once I started to make noises. I said sure, when I need it. But as soon as the tube drifted away from my lips they were at me to use it again. I went into a daze.

    Labour went nowhere. A midwife walked in around 6pm and said
    brightly, so we’re having a c-section, are we? And I said NO, shocked, and burst into tears. From that time on, they kept talking at me about it. I asked was something actually wrong with me and my son? No, but infection risk was growing. Better to do it now rather than wait for an actual emergency. I didn’t understand. Why not wait?

    So they, along with my husband, said, hey, let’s do an epidural. It’ll help things along. And it’s good, just in case. I should have known then they’d already decided. They were just waiting to wear me down. After trying and failing, and getting the boss to get it in, my husband kept talking to me about it, acting like I had a choice, but when I kept refusing, they wouldn’t leave it alone. He said, hey, let’s find out if they can actually do it so late at night, just in case, let’s check out things, and this talk gradually just wore me down. I felt so harrassed, so pushed, so tired, I gave in. I did the same, just left my body and stopped being a person.

    Ironically enough, after I gave in, the same woman who made that announcement hours ago came in and said ‘Are you sure you want to do this? You don’t have to.’ I felt absolutely mind fucked. I just wanted them to leave me alone.

    After this, I stopped trusting my husband. I became depressed. I couldn’t connect my son to me – it didn’t feel real. I had stopped feeling him many hours before they cut him out of me. When I expressed my anger about things, my husband said I should be more grateful to the hospital for what they did. Our relationship fell apart within a year.

    I tried to find some way to recover from it, to come to terms with it, but even my doctor said ‘you know most women would have the surgery rather than risk their child’s health.’ People seemed to think I felt guilty for needing a c-section, rather than realising that it wasn’t neccessary at all.

    And even 8 years later, hearing people talk about childbirth is enough to send me walking out of the room. Going into hospitals makes me feel violated. I trusted them like I trusted my husband. And I was betrayed. I went to their childbirth education classes where they hardly discussed anything of the reality of what would happen in hospitals. Barely mentioned anything about c-sections. Led us to believe it was used for actual emergencies.

    I can’t forgive them. And I can’t forgive myself for not being prepared. I hope if I have more children, I can find a better outcome and perhaps things might feel better. Mainly I just try to not think about it at all and focus on my son in the present. Because it just traps me in a world of bitterness.

  5. Valerie Reel says:

    I did have to have an emergency c – sections. But I still think back on it in a similar way. But different. It’s hard to explain. For a long time I didn’t “feel” like I had a baby. I Still Feel Strange AND Sad AND depressed About It. It’s not a fun feeling. And to think of it being forced. That’s just terrible. I hope you continue to share and find strength to get through this.

  6. Bonnie Mandell-Rice says:

    This was not your fault. Be gentle with yourself. You might also consider filing a complaint against the doctor with the state medical board. Doing so might help you feel more empowered now – regardless of the outcome. Above all though – be gentle with yourself, forgive yourself for what you think of was your failure (it was not a failure), for all the things you thought you were not enough of (assertive, etc.) and get down to the important business of loving your baby and yourself.

  7. Monica says:

    Thank you to the author and all of the commenters for sharing your stories. Storytelling seems to me a wonderfully feminine form of processing and understanding and even social change. I am working on certification to become a doula and while I have not yet been the woman in labor, I have experienced intense vulnerability. Reading this have me exactly the insight I need to better support others. Together we are changing this trend, little by little, for our daughters and their daughters. Please keep telling your stories, they do make a difference.

  8. Sophia S. says:

    My heart goes out to you, Cristen. You’re a brave woman!

    Not only this affected Cristen’s son and this birth experience, it will also affect the future babies. Too often I hear first time parents say, “We’ll have our baby at the hospital this time, then maybe next time we’ll have it at home.” Little do they understand, one thing lead to another. Will she be able to have the next one out-of-hospital (due to the law of the state)? Will she find a doctor who would support her to have a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC)?

  9. Ms. Jack says:

    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.

    And this is the part of the story that really bugs me.

    I was put on Pitocin at my daughter’s birth in 2006. I was told nothing about it other than “it will speed up your labor.” Faster labor? Baby sooner? Of course I readily agreed! I wound up with a forceps + episiotomy delivery and three years of dyspareunia.

    Unexpectedly, I found myself agreeing to a Pitocin induction just under a year ago (for good reasons). But I had wanted intermittent monitoring or auscultation, had wanted to walk the halls of the labor ward and labor in the shower and untethered. “But we’re using Pitocin! It can make your baby’s heartbeat crash at any minute! We have to use continuous monitoring so that we can know your baby is safe!”

    I know now that the doctors I had last year were absolutely right, and they were good doctors who made correct usage of Pitocin (it was shut off 5 hours into my labor, once it was clear I was laboring on my own). I know that Pitocin is dangerous and continuous monitoring was the correct call. But why didn’t the doctor I had in 2006 inform me of the risks of Pitocin? How many women are given Pitocin without being told ANYTHING about its risks, just that “it will speed up your labor”?

  10. Jennifer says:

    Un excuse me. Did you just delve into my brain and read my mind. Or maybe you were there when I gave birth because my story feels exactly the same. Instead of pit I got Cervadil, and although I’m sure my chart says failure to progress I was politely coddled to a c section by decels that were not cause for alarm. No matter how much people will tell us and attempt to comfort us saying that it’s not our fault, we will never stop blaming ourselves because if we are brutally honest, it is partially our fault for giving in. 2 years after my section I finally had an emotional release at my doula training where other women understood and accepted my feelings without judging. Unbeknownst to me I was pregnant at that moment and I went on to have a wonderful empowering beautiful HBAC that went a long way to healing. I hope you can get yours soon xoxo

  11. Ang says:

    So, I don’t get it. I guess I’ve always been a demanding sort. Having worked with doctors prior to the birth of my son I didn’t have that intimidated, “you know best” attitude. I didn’t have the birth I had planned but I didn’t end in c-section. However, that threat was there when my son became distressed towards the end. I was told that he had to come out in the next 3 pushes or we’d have to take him emergency c-section. The cord was wrapped on his neck and when I pushed and he advanced down the canal his heart rate dropped alarmingly. That information WAS provided to me. That was motivating to say the least.

    However, I don’t get the “trauma” of having a birth you didn’t want or feeling less than. I’m not saying it’s not valid just that I don’t understand. If you don’t want a c-section and no one has given you a valid reason for having one… why “give up” why allow yourself to be treated like another project that isn’t wrapping up fast enough? Say no. Ask for a patient advocate. Have your birthing partner take action.

    I’m not at all hinting that anyone who suffered unnecessarily is to blame. I just don’t understand how it happens that someone is not clear on the “why” and allows it roll forward. Because assumptions have been made because of the seeming agreement of the doctor? Doesn’t your birthing partner know?

    Here’s the other thing, I find many women become experts on what they wanted and why it was important ONLY AFTER they give birth. All that “importance” is magnified after. Why not during your pregnancy? Why not set up STRONG guidelines and agreements? Many an OB actually has birth plan contracts saying they’ll abide by your choices as long as there is no emergency. To whit, if you say it seemed fine to take the epidural and something to speed it along but you were opposed to a c-section, wouldn’t you have known that both of those things can slow the birth progression significantly and often contribute to c-sections?

    1. Cristen Pascucci says:

      Oh, Ang, there’s so much to say in response to this. For one, most people expect that they can trust their doctors. So, when you have a conversation about your birth and they assure you they “get” you, you believe them. And you don’t believe they’d ever do anything to put you in harm’s way or betray your trust. You’ve been in labor. I’ve been in labor. It’s not a time you can necessarily fight. I know I couldn’t. You’re exhausted, overwhelmed, and have what feels like two wolves fighting each other in your middle. I literally couldn’t speak. I remember the few times I said anything, it was a monumental effort.

      There is no guarantee you’ll get your own provider, and birth plans are not contracts, either. They don’t carry any legal weight (so far).

      You may not be traumatized by a c-section, but many women are – especially when they feel bullied, coerced, or forced into them. How could a person not feel traumatized by that? It’s very different from having a medically necessary surgery to preserve the health of your baby, which I’m sure any mother would gladly do. Millions do, in fact.

      The reality is that no amount of preparation or questions or self-advocacy can prevail against providers who aren’t respectful of your decisions or your body. Go check out some of the photos at IB’s Break the Silence campaign: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.705655609507930.1073741854.255657527841076&type=3

      We shouldn’t have to fight in labor.

      Check back next week for some more stuff that’s coming out, too.

  12. Erin says:

    You absolutely did not fail that day! You grew that baby, and you brought him into the world. Your care providers failed to treat you with the respect you and your baby deserved, and you are entitled to feel angry and hurt by that no matter the outcome. Thank you for sharing your story. I know it will help other moms and babies.

  13. Traci says:

    It’s helpful for people to have this first hand account of your scenario. I think people picture it differently, if they don’t know. They imagine REAL, justifiable reasons that surgery occurs. And sadly, that’s usually not the case. Keep sharing and advocating, it matters! Thanks for all you do!

  14. Nene says:

    Your story is my story. I had one c just over 2 years ago, and a second after unsuccessful vbac a week ago. Both were due to failure to progress. It was so very sad as I too didn’t want to do this, but trusted that the health professionals were just that, professional and cared about my interests. I can honestly say that I don’t think they were. There was no emergency, but such a guilt trip about doing what is safe for baby. Women are in such a vulnerable position and obviously need to concentrate on the process not the mechanics. I am still buttered over the need for the first. The need for the second, well, looking at vbac rates in oz and you see that the cards are stacked against women who want to do what nature intended. While the profession is both male and governed by risk minimisation I fear that this crime will continue.

  15. Ybcdoula says:

    You are stronger! You have already made a difference for women by sharing your story. Thank you…. I recommend you find a hypnotherapist to work through this. It will help you. Everything for a reason…. This my friend is education for your next pregnancy…. And education for all the women you come in contact with… This my friend is a gift…. Use it wisely.

  16. Andrea says:

    This is a common story. I didnt end up with a csection, but similar treatment. We hear all the horror stories from the doctors and nurses who are aggressive–but the truth is the “nice” doctors can be just as “guilty”. The truth is, in birth a woman is very vulnerable. No matter what she desires—when you’re exhausted and in pain, and limited in movement, you can’t physically stop someone from doing things to your body. Please find a good care provider and avoid the hospital/obgyn’s if you are low risk and wanting a natural birth. OBGYNS are trained SURGEONS for high risk women. Women should not even seek care under an OBGYN unless there is some high risk issue going on. While Dr’s should be respectful, and I understand the movement for dr’s to change, part of the issue is we get upset that OBGYN’s are doing their job. Their job and their training lies with surgery and dealing with medical issues. We can only get so upset when they offer their services. I put myself in that category- made that mistake with my first. If you want a Big Mac, you don’t drive up to Burger King. Know what I mean?

  17. Christina says:

    I’ve felt this way. At the moment the C-section was necessary, I guess, but it was easily preventable. All I needed was someone to turn my baby to the right position, and there was time, but the doctor, who had agreed not to do a C-section unless it was absolutely necessary, refused to move the baby or even tell me who could do it, and the only person I knew of who could do it was away on vacation. So instead I went through labor and pain for over two days, and at the last second the doctor felt the feet coming out and said “C-section” and that was it. I don’t know whom to trust anymore. And now I’m pregnant again, my children will be only 1.5 years apart, and my chances of a VBAC seem slim. 🙁

  18. Lizzie says:

    I’m in tears as this conjures up similar feelings about my births. Those feelings that I’m just “the woman in the bed” the job that needs to be done. I want to go back and scream But I am a real person! It’s not just a piece of meat you’re slicing on the table, but a real person. And it’s not just me that you are cutting, but all my hopes and dreams for myself and my baby on what should have been the best day of my life. Lots of love to you mumma. x

  19. Audreana says:

    I can not express the amount of gratitude I have to you for sharing your story. Every single word struck home, as if you were speaking straight from my heart. I’ve wanted to write our birth story for 9 months but it hurt so much. Thank you for being my voice. I pray for healing for both of us <3

  20. I can not describe how my heart felt as I read your story. You DID NOT FAIL. You did the best you knew how with the information and tools you had at the time. You have now learned that you were in what is unfortunately a very common birthing scenario and you are brave to share your story. I hope you find comfort in knowing you are making a difference by sharing and influencing women to learn about the birth process, their options, benefits and risks for both baby and mama. Bringing awareness is key in improving birthing outcomes here in the US. Thank you again for sharing. Sending love to you and all who can relate.

    Keli Philadelphia birth doula

  21. Mariah says:

    Your story is my story. The part I went on to experience and hope you will too was two awesome VBACs. The first one felt like two births in one, like I got it back. I hope you will know that feeling too someday.

  22. stubber says:

    Yes, this article resonates with me, as my story is very much the same. During my pregnancy I switched to a more “progressive” doctor, and since he KNEW why I switched, I expected he would strive to help me achieve my goals. A too-slow labor was what ultimately sent me to surgery, too.
    The hardest part was the reaction from others when I dared to mention unhappy feelings about the birth such as you have in this article. It was as if I were saying I hated my baby or hated motherhood if I even mentioned my disappointment!
    I was expected to feel nothing but gratitude.
    The only way to cope my sadness then, was to feel… nothing.

    1. Lili says:

      very sad as I too didn’t want to do this, but trusted that the health professionals were just that, professional and cared about my interests. I can honestly say that I don’t think they were. There was no emergency, but such a guilt trip about doing what is safe for baby. Women are in such a vulnerable position and obviously need to concentrate on the process not the mechanics. I am still buttered over the need for the first. The need for the second, well, looking at vbac rates in oz and you see that the cards are stacked against women who want to do what nature intended. While the profession is both male and governed by risk minimisation I fear that this crime will continue.

  23. Kelli says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I didn’t have the same experience as you did, but I share the feeling that I had just ONE chance to deliver my daughter, and I didn’t get the birth experience I wanted or deserved. I was made to feel less than human, and it was horrible. I still have flashbacks and often feel alone in my trauma. Thank you again for sharing.

  24. Thank you sweet sister for finding your voice.

  25. With my heart on the ground, I hear you sweet sister. Thank you for finding your voice.

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