Q: What is an unnecesarean?
A: An unnecessary cesarean section.
It’s not very common to know it’s unnecessary at the time. It is often after a long journey of healing does one find out that a surgical birth was unnecessary. And when you find out, it is hard to wrap your mind around the concept. To think that an entire medical community’s “standard of care” would set you up to fail at normal childbirth is just unfathomable, and, yet, that is exactly what happens every day. The cesarean rate is rising annually in this country, with the cesarean rate at 32.3%. There is no corresponding decrease in infant mortality rates to justify the increase. What we are seeing is an increase in maternal mortality. An increase that has garnered the attention of Amnesty International. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that developed countries should have cesarean birth rates no higher than 10-15%. So why is the rate in the US, one of the most developed nations in the world, more than double the high end of the WHO recommendation?
I’ve had an unnecesarean. It took me years to discover that the surgical birth of my first child was not necessary, and even more years to come to terms with what I learned. It’s a hard pill to swallow. I don’t know whether to be more mad at myself for not knowing better or at the obstetrician for being part of the medical machine that set the stage for a surgical birth.
Some people might say “What’s the big deal? Your baby is healthy. You should be grateful.” Yes, my son is fine, and I am very thankful. But that does not mean the experience was not traumatizing to me. I missed the first two days of my son’s life. I was not even conscious during his birth. The pain lasted most of the first year of his life. I suffered extreme postpartum depression and some breastfeeding problems the first week as a result. I count myself blessed that we were able to work through the breastfeeding difficulties. Not all women are able to sustain breastfeeding while recovering from major abdominal surgery. It is just one of the many unspoken effects of a cesarean on mother and baby.
While I was not awake during the surgery, I know my body remembers. It must in order for me to carry this extreme fear of another cesarean birth. Truthfully, I’m glad I was not conscious at times. I’ve heard stories from other women that are much more horrific than my story. Stories of inadequate anesthesia frighten me the most. Can you imagine them cutting your baby out of you and being able to consciously feel it? Anna Nicole Smith did and many people dismissed her as crazy. She is not alone. And in the case of inadequate anesthesia, a reality for too many, she is also not crazy.
While I did recover physically and emotionally I still carry that fear. I have given birth to two babies vaginally since my surgery. During each pregnancy, that fear bubbled right up to the top and simmered for nine months. The stress of planning a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) was enormous for me. The same medical community that betrayed my trust put up a huge brick wall for me to get through when planning a VBAC. I was blessed. I had a care provider for my first VBAC that was reasonable and did not practice medicine with fear of litigation. When I was pregnant for the third time, I found myself starting all over with my planning and the stress was too much. So I ditched the stress-inducing medical model of obstetrics in favor of the normal midwifery model of care and birthed my third baby at home. It was the most peaceful of all of my births, and I would never again give birth in a hospital unless there was an emergent reason.
While I came full circle with my unnecesarean to a home birth, I still carry some anger at the system. Not an unhealthy anger, but a purposeful anger. I have started a cesarean prevention and support group in my community to provide information and support to other women who want to avoid a cesarean.
I still carry some anxiety and anger in spite of my birth history and efforts to improve maternity care for women in my community. I intend to use it for the future of birth for my daughters.