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In Defense of C-Sections

By Rebekah Kuschmider |

I found out yesterday that my baby is lying breech. The doctor who figured it out got a little tone of urgency in his voice when he told me his suspicion during my exam and immediately sent the nurse to see if they could work me in for a sonogram to confirm the baby’s position. My immediate reaction was twofold. First, a breech position totally explained the sensation I’ve been having of the baby kicking me (hard) in the tendon in my groin causing my to gasp with discomfort while my leg buckles slightly. Second, I shrugged and mentioned that I was glad that my c-section was already scheduled.

I’m having what was, until yesterday, an elective repeat section. I had a section with my son because after two hours of trying to push him out while he remained stubbornly sunny-side up, he wasn’t moving and we both started to show mild signs of distress. I spiked a fever and my son’s heartrate sped up, so down the hall I went to the OR. My son was delivered shortly thereafter and thus began my life as a mom.

In no way do I consider that c-section a bad outcome. In fact – and this is going to sound radical – I don’t view c-sections in general as a bad outcome. Assuming, of course, neither mother nor baby are injured in the process.

Now, I know that birth is an intensely personal experience. It’s one of the most profound transitions a person can experience and it’s as emotional as it is physical. Many women invest a great deal of thought and preparation into planning for birth and visualize their personal ideal birth in great detail. Seldom does an ideal birth involve surgical intervention at the 11th hour. But that doesn’t make surgical intervention a bad thing.

We are fortunate to live in a time and a place where we have many birth choices and safe birth is the norm. We have the incredible luxury of considering how we most want to deliver our babies and setting plans in motion to achieve our desires. This was not the case for countless generations of women before us and it’s not the case for women living in developing nations today; for example, in sub-Saharan Africa, 1 in 13 women die due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.  The question of hospital versus home versus birth center or use of pain relief methods or avoiding surgical birth never comes up for so many women who will deliver in unsafe, non-sterile conditions. I, for one, am humbled with gratitude when I consider my good fortune to be treated by a team of doctors who have cared for me so well during both of my pregnancies, have counseled me on my options, and will deliver my baby safely. There is almost no doubt in my mind that I’ll be released from the hospital with a healthy baby in my arms, and I understand that that is a privilege afforded to me by luck.

Cesarian section is one of the options for safe birth in the US and I, on the whole, consider that a positive thing. I get somewhat perturbed when I hear women talking about avoiding c-section as if that is the main goal of birth. It’s not ideal, it’s not the first choice, but it’s a time-tested procedure that can resolve complications safely or head them off before they happen. Some literature suggests overuse of c-section, and there are anecdotes about doctors who schedule them for when they’re not really indicated, but that doesn’t make them bad.

Women should all take the time to consider their feelings about c-sections and discuss them with their medical team. They should ask where their care provider draws the line between letting labor continue and calling for a c-section. They should work closely with doctors to manage expectations, be realistic about their likely birth scenarios and work together to achieve the best possible outcome. But they should not vilify the idea of a c-section. C-sections are not a punishment. They are not an indication of failure. They are not conspiracy against women. They are just one option for a safe birth.

And isn’t safe birth what this is really all about?

Read more from Rebekah at Mom-in-a-Million, The DC MomsThe Broad Side
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About Rebekah Kuschmider


Rebekah Kuschmider

Rebekah Kuschmider is a writer and mother with an over-developed sense of irreverence, who has socialist tendencies and a blog. She lives with her husband and two kids outside of Washington, DC. You can read her work regularly at Stay At Home Pundit and The Broad Side. Her work has also been seen at Salon, Redbook, and The Huffington Post. Read bio and latest posts → Read Rebekah Kuschmider's latest posts →

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14 thoughts on “In Defense of C-Sections

  1. Katie says:

    Thank you thank you. Very true. I am one of those women who, 100 years ago (hell! 60 years ago!) would have died in childbirth. I never progressed beyond 5 cm after 24 hours in labor. Almost all the women in my family have this problem…we’re super fertile. But our bodies do not want to push babies out. So I’m thankful for a family full of strong women that would otherwise have died producing more strong women.
    The new movement to condemn American medical practices (vaccines, for one) in this effort to get closer to our foremothers has some shady logic as far as I’m concerned. Yes! Be an advocate for your own birth! Don’t give your business to a doctor who is going to schedule your birth around his tee time. But stop associating c-sections with failure. I’m pretty sure we all win when we get to take a healthy baby home from the hospital.

  2. LK says:

    I don’t think anyone doubts that c-sections are a good thing WHEN MEDICALLY NECESSARY. The problem is that obstetric care in the US today is often too quick to impose interventions that are not necessary, and which end up in c-section (which does carry risks of its own to mother and baby, and significantly increases risks for subsequent pregnancies). And doctors are also afraid of allowing VBACs because of malpractice liability, even though it might be a good option for a woman.
    So, you have these interventions that often aren’t necessary, which result in situations where an emergency c-section needs to happen, and then the woman says “thank goodness for c-sections, because without it, my baby/I wouldn’t have survived” – except that you wouldn’t have needed the c-section in the first place if not for the unnecessary intervention. All modern medical interventions are a good thing in that there are situations where they are warranted and save lives, it’s just that when they are applied to most cases of normal pregnancies and birth, they often create more problems than they solve. All that said, I completely agree that no one should feel like a failure for having a c-section – birth isn’t a competition, and we all make the choices that we feel are best for our babies and ourselves. I just wish that the current US medical system was more cognizant about what actually IS safest for mothers and babies in obstetric care, and that women were more educated about the various procedures and the risks they carry.

  3. Rosie says:

    Kudos! and Thank You!
    My first was born “naturally” and honestly it was the worst experience of my life! Hours of Labor, Both of us in distress and finally the use of a vacuum to extract my sweet baby girl from my loins! Needless to say I ended up with a 4th degree tear and was left in more pain then I could ever imagine. The doctor who delivered my daughter, even joked that I looked like a horror scene, as she was stitching me back up!
    Luckily I found a WONDERFUL doctor when it came time to have baby number two and he willingly scheduled a c-section for me, stating that “it should be my choice as to how my child is born!” I didn’t get to make the choice last time, even when I asked for an 11th hour c-section! Baby Boy was born via c-section and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience!

  4. ht says:

    I had a c-section after a failed induction and 36 hours of contractions got me bascially nowhere.
    the c-section wasn’t the problem–though it was awful, recovery was terrible, and it was not what I wanted. Plus I don’t think I gave birth to my child, I think she was ripped from me.
    however, the problem was that the doctors told me that I had to be induced at almost 42 weeks or sign papers indicating that if my baby died it was my fault. Emotional blackmail, to say the least.
    My body wasn’t ready to give birth. My mother’s children were all born at more than 40 weeks gestation. My sister carried TWINS to 41 weeks. Despite this… I had the induction. At the end of the c-section I had a healthy 6lb 11oz baby and a lot of anger.
    Yep. She could have cooked a little longer. Probably i would have gone into labor eventually.
    It’s not that I think c-sections are inherently evil. If the baby is breach, if there is any obvious distress, of course they are MUCH MUCH better than the alternative.
    But the argument you have presented here is overly broad. Granted, there are some folks on the fringe who are militantly anti-section, as though that’s the only goal. But that perspective stems from the fact that there are so many necessary sections that could easily have been avoided. Like mine.
    Maternal/obstetrical care in this country is a laughable nightmare compared to equivalently industrialized nations (and many less industrialized ones). every parent should be outraged by this.
    C-sections are sometimes necessary and can be life savers for both mother and child. And if a woman who is completely educated on all the pros and cons wants to choose one, that is her business (assuming she is not bullied into it by the doctor and the baby is full term). But for the rest of us…let’s fix this system. Let’s give women some agency, and remove the power from the insurance agents.

  5. SDL says:

    I have had one elective C-section, and one emergency C-section. The elective one was way easier to recover from ( about 10 days, compared to 8 weeks for the emergency one.). When given the choice for a VBAC this time around, I once again opted for an elective C. My doctors gave me the choice and saw no reason why a VBAC couldn’t happen, but I made the choice. Medical advancements being what they are, I feel just as safe with that choice. Safer in fact, since so many things can go wrong and result in needing an emercency C (and emergency C-sections are very scary, and like I said, much harder to recover from.). If your health care practioner/doctor is okay with doing one, why not? I certainly don’t feel like I missed out on anything by not pushing.

  6. MG says:

    I’ve asked for an elective C-section without any feelings of guilt, inferiority, or second-guesses. Parenting is about far more than the few, few hours it takes to being a child into the world. I personally think those who are über
    caught up in the birthing experience are kind of missing the point. But, thats just this girl’s opinion. Ultimately I’m so glad to have the choice to get a C-section, and am now so excited about the moments my daughter enters the world, instead of completely dreading it.

  7. K. C. says:

    I just don’t think it’s anyone else’s business. I had an emergency C-section with both of my kids. I tried VBAC with the second, but his heart rate started dropping with each push. I felt bad about it for awhile because I didn’t have the “natural” birth experience, but in the end, I didn’t care. I have two healthy kids, and I don’t care how they got here. :)

  8. Steph says:

    Thank you thank you thank you for this post! I’ve had 3 c-sections- 1 emergent, 1 planned due to breach baby, and 1 after 21 hours of labor that ended with the baby being wrapped up in the umbilical cord. I do not feel like less of a mother because I didn’t physically push the baby out, but that seems to be how society views us. If you don’t birth it yourself, without pain meds, you’re a wimp and a failure. All 3 times it was not up to me to have the surgery, it was up to my OB who saw that it was medically necessary to ensure I had a healthy baby. Like Katie I am super fertile- never had a miscarriage, never had a problem getting pregnant. My body is just too small to push the baby out on it’s own. That’s not a failure in my mind, just a fact. Thank God for C-Sections otherwise I would either be dead, or not a mother. I think we need to stop judging women based on HOW their child came into this world. Mother’s who adopt are no less of a Mom than the one that pushed a baby out. And neither am I. Motherhood is not about the method you endured to get your child here, but the years you devote to caring for, nurturing, and loving that child.

  9. Here’s the thing everyone keeps saying bc the medical profession is scared of litigation if something goes wrong if they let you wait linger than 41 weeks, try a vbac or go for days in labor without progression. We have no one to blame but those that did litigate bc those awful things happened bc their dr let them. If your dr allowed a vbac and the worst case scenario happened whose fault is it? If they let you labor to the point of extreme distress and baby had complications after whose fault is that? We all fill out these lovely birth plans but honestly it’s a piece of paper about a situation no one is in control of. I for one am grateful I’ve had c sections. I labored 3 days with my first to almost lose him or he lose me bc of my stubbornness to have him vaginally. I don’t blame dr’s for making people sign liability waivers. They are human and can’t guarantee anything. For me a healthy happy baby and delivery experience is more important than how my baby came out.

  10. Kate Lesny says:

    I too, had a breech baby and a c was a fantastically easy birth, 20 minutes from start to finish! But it was not how I had planned to have my child, and I did feel a bit cheated, even after hearing everyone’s horror stories of natural birth. Maybe because I DIDN’T get to choose my method of birthing my child. I probably could have delivered her naturally, but due to insurance reasons and the fact that doctors and midwifes are no longer taught how to deliver breech babies, I was forced to have a c section. (my husband was breech also, and was delivered naturally, back in 1968.) I think c sections have their place, but like anything else, can be way overdone..especially after hearing stories of women scheduling their c section so as not to interfere with vacations or parties and other frivolous reasons. If I were to have another child, I would do my best to have a VBAC.

  11. ashley says:

    I have had a completely different perspective since reading Ina May Gaskin’s book on the natural childbirth experience. I myself was a breeched birth. I was born at home and had a midwife as well as a nurse-midwife (who had worked as an EMT in NYC before becoming a midwife). When they discovered I was breech, they reached inside, turned me, and delivered me quickly and safely. Sad thing is, there’s not a lot of training nowadays to deliver breech positioned babies, which is a completely FINE way to deliver, just a “non typical” way.

    Also, it is extremely rare to be “too small” to deliver your own baby.

  12. Athena says:

    C sections are great when they are a medical necessity. Why anyone would elect to have one is beyond me. Higher risk, longer recovery, I don’t get it.

  13. Ingrid says:

    The US has a high infant and maternal mortality rate compared to other developed countries. I am not talking about countries where urgent healthcare is four days away. I am talking about countries where the dr is also around the corner. The US also has a high rate of c-sections. The US has a low breastfeeding rate. The US has a high medical intervention rate. So it either means that US women are particularly inept at birthing babies, you know a natural process, or that something else is causing these pretty alarming numbers.

  14. Sarah says:

    Thank you for this post! I had a c-section with my first and now my second is due very soon. I have struggled so much with the decision to VBAC or RCS. I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that after reviewing the risks, I just feel much more comfortable with an RCS. Although the risk of VBAC is relatively low, the outcome can be catastrophic. The struggle for me is that I’ve been feeling really guilty because I “should” want a VBAC and I feel somewhat judged by many for not wanting that. There’s just so much anti-csec propaganda out there and so many people, with little scientific/medical knowledge, are adamantly pro-vaginal birth. So it was really refreshing to read your post! Thanks so much for providing a voice to those of us on the “other side”.

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