Why I Want To Know About C-Sections (Even Though I Don’t Want Another)

Like me, did you skip the sections in the pregnancy books about cesarean sections?

I was horrified — simply horrified — by the idea of a c-section when I was pregnant.  Everything about it seemed barbaric.  I had never had surgery, and I didn’t want to start now.  I refused to accept a c-section as a possibility.  Even during our childbirth class, I purposefully tuned out during the c-section lecture.  We hired a birth doula to attempt to have a natural childbirth.  Ironically, she and her doula partner had both had difficult c-sections, and these experiences were the catalysts for studying and beginning a career in childbirth education.

April is Cesarean Awareness Month, a worldwide campaign to raise awareness and educate people and the medical community about the facts and experience of c-sections.

My last post was about developing the “baby bug” and wondering about a second baby.  I’m not sure if the baby bug has completely passed, but I’m thinking more about the reality of what having another baby would mean.

My son, the day after delivery by c-section

And today, as part of this April campaign, I’m asking you to do two things:

1.  If you are a pregnant woman, or know a pregnant woman, or treat pregnant women, make sure that you know the facts about c-sections.  Seriously, just do it, even if it grosses you out.  Even if a c-section is in no way part of your birth plan — it certainly wasn’t in mine — read about them, ask other women about them.  Learn about why you might be given the option, or why you might not, what the recovery is like, what you can expect if you have one.  Ask about your hospital’s c-section delivery rate and find out how it compares to other hospitals in your area.

I had an emergency c-section after a completely normal pregnancy and several hours of normal labor.  I was in active labor, pushing, when my son’s heart rate dropped and wouldn’t recover the way that the doctors expected that it should.  They rushed me to the operating room, and I was not given any choice about whether to continue with labor.  And I should not have been given a choice.  My son’s life was at risk, and I’m thankful that the doctors were skilled and fast.  My son’s umbilical cord was too short for him to be able to exit the cervix, and he was literally stuck.

My son and I in the hospital after c-section

After a terrifying birth, I was completely unprepared for every aspect of what to expect after a c-section.  I didn’t know how long it would take to recover, how difficult breastfeeding would be, how long I would stay in the hospital, how much pain I would be in, how many complications were possible, how much medication or which kinds I would be offered.

2.  I also want to ask about your experiences.  Did you have a c-section?  Did you have a repeat c-section after your first?  Or were you able to have a successful VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean)?    Did your doctor or hospital push you into another c-section?

The United States has a remarkably high rate of Cesarean deliveries — about 30% — but the rates vary widely from hospital to hospital, even in the same city.  And it has a very low rate of VBACs, because hospitals often refuse to cover them in fear of litigation.  And many doctors don’t provide women who have c-sections with complete information about the risks and benefits of a repeat cesarean. It’s so hard for women — like me — who want good information about future pregnancies after a c-section.  Do you recommend any resources?

What was your experience?  Do you have any advice?




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14 thoughts on “Why I Want To Know About C-Sections (Even Though I Don’t Want Another)”

  1. I still remember seeing the c-section video during the childbirth class we took with out first. I was completely petrified after that. And when I had to be induced with that pregnancy and they thought I may need a c-section I cried to every nurse that would listen to me. Yes, I was a big baby about this, because just like you said I had also never had any real surgery before this. I still thank god I ended up with a vaginal delivery and also with my second the same. I am done having babies now, so thankfully I think I will never have to worry about this again. Seriously, not much bothers me, but this did!!

  2. Emergency c-section with pre-eclampsia the first time. I’m not sure how much the recovery was affected by the drugs to treat the pre-e, but it was pretty grueling getting on and off the couch for at least two weeks after. I’d had one exploratory appendectomy before, and the pain from that was on par but far more limited.

    My second c-section was much less painful, even with a kid in the NICU. I had to be reminded to be careful. Maybe it’s because I knew what to expect. The tubal ligation I had two months later hurt much, much more.

    1. I do think that a lot of why my c-section was so stressful was because I was so unprepared for it. I can see how a second one would be less bad. No matter what though, abdominal surgeries suck.

  3. Wow. I had no idea. How scary! I think this post is fantastic. As much as I love the natural birthing movement, it has done some women a disservice who feel “inept” when a c-section is the outcome. That’s such a shame. When baby and Momma are healthy – that’s the winning outcome. We’ve become so accustomed to births that don’t result in death, we’ve turned birthing into this status thing…ugh. Don’t get me started!

    1. Yes! That’s exactly it! I did feel like I had something to apologize for after having a c-section, although rationally of course I knew it wasn’t my choice and I had done nothing “wrong.” Even trying to research this post in a limited way, I came across so much “research” that was so motivated by a particular “birthing” agenda (either pro or against natural childbirth). This reminds me so much of the arguments surrounding breastfeeding, when something that is no doubt very good for women and babies (breastfeeding) is transformed into something that women might “fail” at.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Like you, I sort of tuned out during the C-section part of class. I have had two vaginal deliveries, but that doesn’t mean that a third delivery would go the way I had planned. My OB’s office won’t even do VBACs, a fact that has caused several of my friends to leave and find a different practice. Several of them have been able to have VBACs with their second and even third child.

  5. Great post and I have lots to say about this. During my childbirth class, the instructor said, “if you have a c-section, you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck.” That was all I needed to hear to practice my breathing exercises all the way home. After 20 hours of labor and not getting past 5cm, I developed a fever and they did a c-section. That was over 15 years ago so the pain and discomfort is a bit of a blur. HOWEVER, my 2nd and 3rd kids were VBACs! My doctors were definitely willing to let me try and although they were not confident I’d have a vaginal delivery (my 2nd labor was progressing slowly and similarly to my first), I did and I pushed my son out in 2 pushes (but still a long labor). I’d say it’s important to find a dr. who is in favor of VBACs if it’s important to you to try to have a vaginal delivery. I’ve had friends who had no interest in a VBAC and have requested c-sections their 2nd/3rd time around. I even have one friend who requested a c-section for her first!! (of course she ended up having a natural delivery, which was definitely NOT in her birth plan). Anyway, hope my input helped….

    1. Yes, it’s definitely helpful to hear about people who have had VBACs! And I can also see the perspective of your friends who didn’t even want to bother. It seems like you’re so much more likely to have a c-section with subsequent pregnancies if you had one with your first. I can see how women wouldn’t want to bother going through labor for hours or days, just to end up with a c-section anyway!

  6. I planned for homebirths with the first two pregnancies and ended up transferring both times. (the first b/c I wasn’t progressing and the second because of a heart rate drop.) The second time I had a c-section and I was totally unprepared. I mean, I read stuff and saw the video and didn’t even really consider it, even though I thought I was considering it. I also ended up having to be put under, so that recovery was nuts. I think women need to look at this, no matter what they want or think they want. I think it’s important to know when you might be encouraged to have one when you don’t need one–because that totally happens all the time–and also to know what to expect for recovery just in case. AND let’s all support each other no matter how birth happens! I know I dealt with guilt, but it wasn’t because of other people and a movement–it was just me. 🙂

    1. Really good points! I think this is one reason why it was so helpful to have a birth doula there with me. She had so much experience with labor, and she could tell — from the doctors’ reactions to my son’s heart rate and the panic in the room — that this wasn’t a “voluntary” c-section. She made me realize that this was simply nothing that I could do to prevent the c-section. I wonder how many doctors are very, very clear when they’re describing to women what their options are during different points of labor what the risks/benefits are.

  7. Hi there. I had a similar story to yours… rushed to the OR for an emergency section. But then… I dilated and they told me to push. So I pushed my son out in the OR after being prepped for surgery. Not ideal! I had 4th degree tears. 🙁

    I completely, 1000% agree with you about c-section education. I am a former hospital administrator; the c-section rate is *too high* in this country. When I talk to OBs whom I trust, they tell me the number should be 10% (sounds like you were one of those 10). But with the climate of malpractice litigation, hospitals and docs would rather perform surgery — major surgery! Pregnancy has also become over-medicalized, in my opinion.

    I could go on forever about this, but I won’t. Good post, important topic.

    Deb (Urban Moo Cow) – if you are so inclined, you can read about my OR push on my blog. Search for Birth Day (Part III).

    1. Wow, we’re not even close to 10%. It still amazes me how little I knew about this surgery — as you said, MAJOR surgery — before I had it done. It’s such a fascinating topic. (Coincidentally, and this is part of why it was on my mind, I had my annual OB/GYN check up yesterday, and I asked about local VBAC rates. Apparently, they are really low.) I’ll definitely check out your post.

  8. Wow, Jessica – your story sounds just like mine. Glossed over the C-section details in my parenting books, never thought in a million years it would happen to me. And then….an emergency C. To make things worse I think it may not have ultimately been necessary, in that it was just a final domino to fall in a long list of unnecessary medical interventions. I wrote about this (and about C-section risks in general) for Babble a while if you’re curious: http://www.babble.com/pregnancy/giving-birth/ob-gyn-birth-malpractice/
    Anyway, I don’t want another C, but I also am not sure how easy it will be for me to find a doctor who will do a trial of labor where I live (I’m about to move to the boonies). I haven’t really looked into it yet. Have you started to? I’m curious as to what you’ve found.

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