April is Cesarean Awareness Month as sponsored by the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN). In the United States, 1 in 3 babies are delivered via c-section. This is the highest rate in the Western world and significantly higher than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended 1 in 10.
The need to bring awareness to this issue is warranted. C-sections are major surgeries that impose additional risks for mother and baby. Research suggests that changing hospital policies, insurance influence, and changing the culture of deliveries can safely lower the instance of c-sections in the United States. Groups like ICAN and documentaries like Business of Being Born have brought much needed light on the situation and have helped many women better advocate for themselves and their children.
However, all of this information and empowerment comes at a cost to c-section moms. Everyone who has read an NPR article or seen a documentary feels they are an expert about childbirth. “Your body won’t grow a baby you can’t birth,” “You shouldn’t have let them break your waters,” and “You didn’t really need a c-section” are phrases that sting mothers, like myself, who had cesarean sections.
There is absolute truth in many of those statements. Most women can birth babies of any size. I mean, you’ve heard of those 14 pound babies born naturally? Allowing amniotic membranes to break naturally does offer benefit to mother, baby, and the outcome of delivery. And research from WHO does suggest that many women who have had c-sections could have avoided the surgery had different (or fewer) interventions occurred.
Most women don’t want or need to hear those phrases, though. They don’t help them advocate for themselves, they don’t help them mourn a delivery they likely didn’t want, and make them feel like failures. Moreover, at least 1 in 10 c-sections are necessary: c-sections like mine.
After 29 hours of natural labor, my son’s heart rate started dropping and would not rebound. I was hurried into the operating room and a few minutes later my son was born, healthy as can be. The obstetrician that performed the surgery told me there was an anomaly in my lower spine that made it impossible for my tiny, 6 pound baby to make his way out. My c-section was unavoidable.
Twenty years ago, no one would have said shit about how my son was born. Now I hear phrases come my direction like “too posh to push?” and “they should have let you try longer” that make me fall mute when the topic of childbirth arises. Women who needed c-sections are being shunned. I’ve actually seen comments about how c-sections aren’t really birth.
The need to bring awareness to the U.S. c-section rate is real. If you weren’t in the labor room, you don’t have all the facts. And to that end, it’s not your place to comment. Unless you are an obstetrician, WHO researcher, or ICAN employee, keep your mouth shut about someone’s delivery.