I was unprepared for the possibility of a C-section. There’s a lot I wish I had known before I was facing one.
The minute that my doctor told me I needed to have a cesarean section, I started to cry.
I generally consider myself to be pretty brave, but when I was told that I needed major surgery to give birth to my son, I was not brave — I was terrified.
I should have had a bunch of questions, but the only word I managed to choke out was “Really?”
While performing a pelvic exam, my doctor said I wasn’t dilated, and after 5 hours of contractions, she thought I should be. I had a narrow pelvis, she explained, and that would make labor difficult. She then invited my husband to feel inside me to see how narrow it was — something I neither expected nor felt comfortable with.
She told me that because I was only 36 weeks pregnant, she didn’t want to stress my baby with a difficult labor. She said it was better to do the C-section before it was urgent because then there would be less of a chance of hitting an organ.
She wasn’t presenting any of this as a discussion. She had made up her mind and I felt like I had no choice but to agree.
Maybe I would have been in a better place to ask questions had I not been so tired.
I’d already been in the hospital for 2 days. During an ultrasound checkup, they realized my amniotic fluid level was low so they sent me straight to the hospital. Once there, they hooked me up to a fetal monitor, gave me IV fluids, antibiotics, and steroids to speed up my baby’s lung development, then debated whether or not to induce.
Not quite 48 hours later, my contractions started. Barely 6 hours after that, I was being wheeled into the operating room and my son was cut out of me while I sobbed. It would be 10 minutes before I would get to see him and another 20 or so minutes before I’d get to hold and nurse him.
I’m incredibly grateful to have a healthy preterm baby who didn’t need NICU time. And at first, I felt relief that he was born via C-section because my doctor told me that his umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck — that is, until I learned that cords around the neck, or nuchal cords, are extremely common.
Over the weeks that followed, as I slowly started to recover physically, I started to feel an emotion I didn’t expect: anger.
I was angry at my OB-GYN, I was angry at the hospital, I was angry I didn’t ask more questions, and, most of all, I was angry that I was robbed of the chance to deliver my son “naturally.”
I felt deprived of the chance to hold him right away, of that instant skin-to-skin contact, and of the birth I’d always imagined.
Of course, cesareans can be life-saving — but I couldn’t fight the feeling that maybe mine had not been necessary.
According to the CDC, around
I’m not a medical doctor, so it’s very possible that mine was indeed needed — but even if it was, my doctors did not do a good job of explaining that to me.
As a result, I didn’t feel like I had any control over my own body that day. I also felt selfish for not being able to put the birth behind me, especially when I was lucky enough to be alive and have a healthy baby boy.
Many of us experience a whole range of emotions after a cesarean, especially if they were unplanned, unwanted, or unnecessary.
“I had an almost identical situation myself,” said Justen Alexander, vice president and board member of the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN), when I told her my story.
“There is no one, I think, that is immune from this because you get into these situations and you are looking at a medical professional… and they’re telling you ‘this is what we’re going to do’ and you feel kind of helpless in that moment,” she said. “It’s not until afterward that you realize ‘wait, what just happened?’”
The important thing is realizing that whatever your feelings are, you’re entitled to them
“Surviving is the bottom,” said Alexander. “We want people to survive, yes, but we also want them to thrive — and thriving includes emotional health. So even though you may have survived, if you were emotionally traumatized, that is not a pleasant birth experience and you should not have to just suck it up and move on.”
“It’s okay to be upset about this and it’s okay to feel like this wasn’t right,” she continued. “It’s okay to go to therapy and its okay to seek the advice of people who want to help you. It’s also okay to tell the people that are shutting you down, ‘I don’t want to talk to you right now.’”
It’s also important to realize that what happened to you isn’t your fault.
I had to forgive myself for not knowing more about cesareans ahead of time and for not knowing that there are different ways of doing them.
For example, I didn’t know that some doctors use clear drapes to let parents meet their babies sooner, or that some let you do skin-to-skin in the operating room. I didn’t know about these things so I didn’t know to ask for them. Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t have felt quite so robbed.
I also had to forgive myself for not knowing to ask more questions before I ever even got to the hospital.
I didn’t know my doctor’s cesarean rate and I didn’t know what my hospital’s policies were. Knowing these things might have affected my chances of having a cesarean.
So, I’ve started gathering information in case I ever decide to have another baby. I now know that there are resources, like questions to ask a new doctor, that I can download, and that there are support groups I can attend if I ever need to talk.
For Alexander, what helped was getting access to her medical records. It was a way for her to review what her doctor and the nurses wrote, not knowing she’d ever see it.
“[At first], it made me feel angrier,” Alexander explained, “but also, it motivated me to do what I wanted for my next birth.” She was pregnant with her third at the time, and after reading the records, it gave her the confidence to find a new doctor that would let her attempt a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), something that Alexander really wanted.
As for me, I chose to write down my birth story instead. Remembering the details of that day — and my week-long stay at the hospital — helped me form my own timeline and come to terms, as best as I could, with what happened to me.
It didn’t change the past, but it helped me create my own explanation for it — and that helped me let go of some of that anger.
I’d be lying if I said that I’m completely over all my anger, but it helps to know that I’m not alone.
And each day that I do a little more research, I know I’m taking back some of that control taken from me that day.
Simone M. Scully is new mom and journalist who writes about health, science, and parenting. Find her at simonescully.com or on Facebook and Twitter.