Over the weekend, a friend forwarded me a recent Times article entitled pithily “Choosy Mothers Choose Caesareans” and although the article itself is slightly less pro-c-section than the title, I still felt compelled to respond.
Having had both a c-section and a vaginal birth after c-section (VBAC), I feel qualified to comment on this topic (although my blogging pals have great posts on the c-section and medicalized birthing debates). The mother that Time cites in this article admits that fear of a painful childbirth was her major motivating factor in electing for a c-section:
I had a fear of going through labor and ending up with an emergency C-section anyway.
What the doctors failed to tell this young mother is that, regardless of how scary or, more specifically, how inconvenient it might be to first go through labor and then have a c-section, it is still better for the baby. For example, as the Times article notes, there is research that suggests that babies benefit from the hormones they get during a natural labor and that babies denied this normal part of birth may have respiratory problems. Not to mention how hard it is to nurse a newborn when you are yourself recovering from major surgery, or how frustrating it is to be unable to be left alone with your baby or change your new baby’s diaper because you can’t get out of bed to do care for your child.
But I’m no doctor, so instead of citing the numerous reasons why a vaginal delivery is better for everyone involved (except perhaps for the doctor that may be treated, as the doctor who attended my second birth was, to a 4am birth instead of a conveniently-scheduled 5pm c-section), I will focus on this particular mother’s motivating factor: fear.
You see, I’m here to tell you that there are a lot more scary things in life than childbirth. That’s not to say that childbirth is not scary–although I felt my c-section to be many times more frightening than my VBAC. My point is that motherhood in and of itself (or, frankly, adulthood) is scary. There are always risks. You have to make tough decisions. Things don’t go your way. That’s life.
So here is the list of things that I have experienced that are scarier than my vaginal delivery was. I want you to think about this and also to think about what doctors might have to gain by making you think that childbirth is, in fact, scarier than it really is (see comment above with regards to 5pm c-section!):
1. Parenting. Need I say more? OK, then, having an 18-month old with rotavirus who consumes literally no solid food for over a week and loses 2 pounds. Not scary enough for you? How about being 6 months pregnant, with an 18 month old with rotavirus, and then YOU get it too?
2. Parenting. Oh, you don’t believe me yet? OK, how about a one-year-old who wakes up in the middle of the night fighting for breath. Because her older brother was already asleep, the two panicked parents have to choose which one will take the tiny frantic baby to the ER so that she can get treated for what ends up being a rather mild case of the croup.
3. Losing a parent. Parenting in some ways can make you feel immortal because you see your traits and genes being passed on through your children. Losing a parent, on the other hand, makes you feel powerless, lost, and scared unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. I’d take childbirth (the beautiful beginning of life) over death any day.
4. Having an abnormal quad-screen. This one hits close to home because I have a friend who is going through this agony right now, but we had a much higher-than-normal risk of Down Syndrome with Lily. Every moment until we got to the hospital for the Level II ultrasound that ultimately showed us a happy and healthy baby girl was absolute agony. And trust me, it lasted longer than even my longer-than-average child births.
5. Parenting. As if I haven’t already proved this point, my husband (reading over my shoulder) said, “Did you mention parenting a toddler?” And I have to agree. Here is a child that is still essentially as helpless as a newborn in terms of ability to survive in the world on his or her own, but who has the added peril of mobility, curiosity, and lack of common sense. The fear you feel when they fall down the stairs, run full-speed into a wall, go flying off of their bicycles, or bash their leg with a hammer or shovel, far exceeds what I felt before or during childbirth. And these scenarios happen every day, not every couple of years.
I don’t want to stretch these examples farther than necessary, nor do I mean to belittle the fear that women today have of childbirth (although I’d like to replace this fear with knowledge and empowerment). I just want to point out that the “magic bullet” solution to the fear of child birth (c-section) is no picnic, and that, once you’ve avoided the fear of childbirth by electing for this invasive and risky major surgery, you’re in for a whole different type of fear as you start your parenting experience while simultaneously recovering from major surgery.
Parenthood is a scary thing and there’s no easy solution to it. Whenever you put all of yourself into something that you love so much, there is fear that it can go wrong. But there are no guarantees in life, and trying to medicalize birth to the point where it is no longer a rite of passage is just wrong.
I used to be terrified of spiders, so I made a habit of heading to the Butterfly Pavilion to hold Rosie the tarantula. In some ways, taking that leap, walking into the fire, is very satisfying and empowering. My birth with Lily didn’t go exactly as I had planned, and neither has parenthood, but I continue to believe that these experiences, even the scary ones, prepare us for what lies ahead and that running away from something (fear) is much less productive than moving toward something (knowledge and power).