Those two little words are dreaded by millions of women across the world. According to a report by the American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology, approximately 2 out of every 5 births is either a planned or an emergency cesarean section and each year doctors are having an increase of patients actually requesting c-section as a preferred form of giving birth.
It is important to understand that cesarean section is a major abdominal surgery. However, in many instances, this surgery can be life saving to both mother and baby and although complications may arise; they are generally safe. Women are rarely anesthetized completely for c-section and instead have either a spinal block or epidural during the surgery. Other associated risks with c-section are excessive bleeding, blood clots, bowel obstruction, infection, increased risk of future ectopic pregnancy, and a delay in hospital release. Newborns birthed through c-sections also have some increased risks after delivery that include breathing problems, possibility of cuts, development of asthma and an increased difficulty in breastfeeding post delivery. Yet with all these possible complications, doctors are responsible for making choices for their patients to ensure the best possible outcome (a healthy baby) and in many cases, cesarean section is the answer.
Each year since 1989, doctors have seen an increase in the amount of elective cesarean sections being performed. Essentially, these are women who would prefer to surgically give birth than endure labor and delivery naturally. For these women, many of whom who have already delivered by c-section once; the thought of a cesarean is not scary at all.
If you have had one cesarean section, you may fear that you are doomed to delivery of all your children in this manner. The truth is that having a vaginal birth after c-section is still an option (called a VBAC) however you must discuss the risks with your doctor. This largely depends on the reason you had your first c-section. For women who have smaller pelvic bones or had trouble delivering having a subsequent c-section may be the best option in the future. The worst-case scenario is to labor excessively for hours, compromising your baby’s health and then have to have cesarean section anyways.
Perhaps one of the most detrimental effects of a c-section is the way that it makes many women feel. When you are pregnant and imagine your delivery, few consider the fact that a c-section may be imminent. Even more troubling is that often the events preceding a c-section can include a trying labor or one where the baby becomes put in extreme danger. This labor and delivery stress on women can make them feel frustrated or let down at the thought of having a c-section. Many women faced with c-section in the midst of pressure and emotion feel forced into the surgery and as if they do not have time to make a ‘rational’ decision. Doctors rushing around can also make a mom-to-be feel anxiety about the wellbeing of her newborn causing her extreme emotional upset during an already trying moment in her life. Suddenly, this joyous day has turned into a three-ring circus filled with doubt and stress. This can be a factor in postpartum depression which is very common (2 out of 3 women) in women who are surprised with a c-section delivery.
Having a c-section is not a failure by any means. If you are pregnant, of course you want to have an easy labor and delivery; at least as easy as possible. Your doctor may not discuss the risks or potential you have for delivering via cesarean section and you should prepare yourself mentally and emotionally before hand. Even if you have never had a problem with pregnancy or delivery, consider that a breech presentation or complication during birth could make you a candidate for c-section. If this happens, rather than feel let down about the outcome try to be grateful that the option existed for you. Most babies born to c-section are completely fine after delivery and it can be a lifesaver for your baby.
Another piece of advice is to talk to your doctor before hand about your birthing plan. Research your options about pain control, medications and surgical interventions so that you completely understand what you may be facing before you go into delivery. It is difficult to make decisions in the midst of labor and delivery. Your partner should also be well informed of what your wishes are. That being said, the wellbeing of you and your child has to come first! If a c-section can save your life or your newborns, than it is the best thing that can happen.
Many women are also just plain frightened (understandably) about a cesarean section. The truth is that although the hospital stay may be longer and the recovery a tad more cumbersome; the difference in pain and healing are minimal. Perhaps the largest difference is the small scar left behind and the fact that it takes longer for the incision on the inside to heal. Still, after a few days and some care for pain management, you will feel like your old self again.
The incidences of cesarean sections are definitely on the rise. It is important to interview your OB/GYN and ascertain what percentage of their births are cesarean sections as opposed to vaginal delivery. If you are recommended to schedule one, make sure you have a complete understanding of why your doctor is requesting it. Many doctors have found that not only is a cesarean section less time consuming for them; but also they are able to make more money from the surgery than by attending a vaginal birth.
Labor and delivery can be frightening whether you delivery vaginally or through a c-section. As an informed patient and one who remains open and faithful that the right thing will at delivery will happen, you can reduce your emotional and physical healing time ten fold and just be thankful that your delivery was safe for both you and your new bundle of joy.