In the homestretch of my first pregnancy, I imagined childbirth would involve some shouting, a fair amount of blood, and in the end a baby. As it turned out — not so much.
I had a C-section. I know women who’ve given birth surgically whose feelings fall somewhere on the spectrum between neutral and ecstatic. I am not one of those women. I am angry.
Labor was a nightmare — the kind where you know you’re having a bad dream but you can’t wake yourself up. It took a night and a day of five-minutes-apart contractions to get a labor room and an epidural (I was progressing, but painfully slowly). The pain eased, but then the nightmare closed in. I was tethered to my IV pole and fetal monitor. The lights were dim. I imagined babies being born in rooms around me in the rush and light and heat that I craved for myself.
At dawn on day two, I’d reached 10 centimeters. I pushed for an hour but it was fruitless, dry and bloodless. The doctor offered a C-section, and I acquiesced. What I’d been through seemed to have no end. Surgery, though I didn’t want it, held out the promise of an end. An hour later, I had my son.
Though his unending needs didn’t at first leave me the brain space to indulge in shoulda-coulda-wouldas, I eventually came to regard my incision, as it hardened into a scar, as a badge of dishonor. The first moments of my son’s life remain at a frustrating remove. I remember the bright lights; the odd, painless tugging at my abdomen; the conversation between doctors and nurses. But I wasn’t really there.
I didn’t want it to happen again. When I got pregnant 16 months later, I discovered that VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section) was no longer the default position. In fact, it was actively discouraged. Caesarean rates, which had dipped in the late 80s and 90s, were on a steep incline. The year I had my second son, 2004, 29.1% of all births in America were surgical — and it rose to over 30% just a year later, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. An increasing number of women request surgery for convenience or fear of labor. Many OBs, whether wary of malpractice or eager to maintain their schedules, seem more inclined take up a scalpel than to try to ease a troubled labor through to a natural conclusion.