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Cara Paiuk Headshot

My Not So Scary C-Section

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I have a friend of a friend who is expecting her first child. I have heard through the grapevine that she intends to have a natural birth and that if she were to have a C-section, she would feel guilty the rest of her life. I have heard something along these lines before with other women and I find it disturbing. I, too, wanted a natural childbirth. Yet apparently that is not what was intended for me. What was intended for me was that my son and I would be healthy, and for that I am eternally grateful. Devastated I had every intervention in the book? Traumatized I had a C-section? None of the above.

I understand we have a national epidemic on our hands with the C-section rate hovering above 30 percent. Many, if not most, are done for the wrong reasons. But there is a time and a place for them. So to my friend's friend and all women who fear Caesareans, please don't be scared. Sometimes they are medically necessary. Mine was and yours may be too. My baby and I survived just fine. The recovery was manageable. If you need to have one, it will not be the end of the world.

I admit it: from everything I had heard, I was scared of a C-section. The risks to me, the risks to my baby, the risks of having a difficult time conceiving again -- they seemed overwhelmingly negative. But what can be easy to forget in the face of all the downsides is the risk of not having one when it is medically necessary. How can one ignore the risk of the mother or child dying in childbirth without this lifesaving procedure?

When I was a week overdue with my son, I went in for a checkup. Since they found I had no discernible amniotic fluid, it was medically necessary to induce. A natural childbirth was out of the question. A vaginal birth was still possible, though. But my son refused to budge. Pitocin? Nope, he nixed that one. It made his little heart decelerate. He was happy where he was and he would not come out. As my husband likes to say, why the rush? He's going to spend most of his life trying to get back into that sacred space.

Twenty four hours after my water broke, we needed to make a decision: begin antibiotics as a preventive measure and hope I progress enough to push, or have a C-section. We didn't really want to pump our little guy with any more drugs and my labor had hardly progressed, so we opted for the C-section. It was time to get him out before he went into distress. I had wanted zero interventions and zero drugs. Instead I got them all.

Every time an intervention was suggested to me, I kicked everyone out of the room except my husband and doula. I also had three friends who are very educated about childbirth at my disposal. We spent a few minutes alone discussing the issue, making phone calls, figuring out if there were any other options, and then decided what was in the best interest of having a healthy baby.

One of the more difficult choices we made was to agree to an internal fetal monitor. We had heard that these devices are screwed into the baby's skull, and we were hellbent against them before walking into the delivery room. But when we actually saw the thing in person, we realized it was harmless. The screw is teeny tiny, and indeed, the red spot it left on my son's head disappeared after a few days. The other misconception we had was that a vaginal birth is necessary for the baby to digest bacterial flora that colonize the gut. Even if you buy the argument that this is something to be worried about, which I am pretty skeptical about, breastfeeding is supposed to have the same effect.

My son was like my husband on a cold winter morning who won't get out of bed until the blankets are yanked off him. We had to yank him out of my uterus. Neither my son nor I seemed worse for wear from the way he was delivered. I managed to obtain an early release from the hospital 36 hours after he arrived. Mere hours after he was born, he raised his head on his own. When he was 4-days-old we went to a restaurant to eat dinner and at five days we went for a walk in the park. Sure, I felt some discomfort, but it was manageable. Those endorphins (and pain meds) really do help.

Pregnancy is hard. We lose control over our bodies. Delivery is hard, too. We don't have much control then either. But we can be educated and empowered to create a birth vision and deal with contingencies. We oftentimes don't have the birth experience we imagined, but I believe we have the birth experience that was meant to be. We ought to embrace our birth experience no matter what path it took. Because, in the end, we all want the same thing: a healthy baby, a healthy mother, and choices we won't regret.