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5 Things Much Scarier Than Childbirth

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).

7 Responses to 5 Things Much Scarier Than Childbirth

  1. Mom

    You think toodlers are scary, wait til they’re teenagers!

  2. Nicole

    I read this this morning, meant to comment, but…

    I thought about this all day. This culture is funny about birth. I am a hypnobirthing flunky in that I find birth incredibly painful and I was terrified to birth this last time. So yes, I agree, it’s painful and scary. But it’s one day, a few hours – a SHORT time in your life. You get through it and you get over it and life goes on. It’s not like there are months or years of pain.

    And I agree with you. I’d rather birth every day than have an 8-week old struggling to breathe again or live through that moment after a car accident when you don’t know if your kids are OK.

  3. Hatchet

    Ayup. The interesting thing to me is that as terrified as I was of giving birth naturally the first time, I was prepared to do it anyway but I made sure that I got educated about the whole thing first. Which always helps, I think.

    And then things went utterly south, after a perfectly uneventful pregnancy and Pow! Emergency c-section time. That being said, the planned c-section for the twins? Utterly terrifying. Way more so than the terror of the unknown the first time. Ah well. It’s all over now.

  4. Julie

    The biggest shocker for me was the difference in recovery time between the c-section (where for days afterwards even walking around the block would start a lot of bleeding and discomfort, and my tummy was tender for months), and the vaginal birth where I literally went out for Mexican food with some friends, and Lily in tow in the sling, when she was 3 days old. And I had a longer labor and lost a lot more blood with Lily than I did with the c-section.

    Despite all of this, my OB, who had two vaginal births herself, had the gall to tell me that if my VBAC didn’t work out it would still be OK because the recovery was about the same. What the !?@$$?%#$? Recovery from a natural process is the same as recovery from major surgery? I don’t think so!

    In the end, if someone is informed (and I mean really informed, not just talking to a c-section happy OB and watching a few Hollywood portrayals of birth) and still chooses an elective c-section, they have a right to do it. But what galled me about this article is that the woman did it because she was SCARED. And that’s rarely a good reason to do anything except run from an angry bear!

  5. Kelly Berg

    I have been struggling with this decision for almost 9 months now and currently, I just switched from VBAC to elective c–not because of FEAR for me, but because of the minute, tiny, but absolutely terrifying chance that I could suffer a uterine rupture that results in death or brain damage to my child. That’s it. I am absolutely willing to go through birth without an epidural and actually wish at times I could know what it felt like to experience my body working-natural contractions, dilation, the baby dropping, pushing, all of it-although I’ve heard it’s the worst pain imaginable. I am not afraid of labor; I’m afraid of making a decision that could result in the brain damage or death of my child (and a hysterectomy or a further limiting of the possibility of having more children for me)-and that is it. I see no benefit to “scheduling” the birth or any of that stuff. I’m terrified of difficulties breastfeeding my new baby and caring for my toddler after the birth. I hope my family will support and help me; I care passionately about nursing and caring for my baby and toddler. I resent the sometimes wordless assumption some make that this decision is about temporary and personal convenience for me; I hate that future pregancies are further at risk once I get a second c section and I also hope that I spontaneously go into labor and safely and naturally deliver a healthy child before the scheduled day (not scheduled yet), but I just could not deal with the guilt if anything went wrong with a VBAC. Just because chances are low doesn’t mean a rupture and fetal damage or death can’t happen to me. I’m very happy for and envious of all of you who’ve had a successful VBAC, but I can’t stand the risk for myself.

  6. Julie

    First, I want to be clear that I was commenting on someone attempting a VBAC: the post was in response to someone who was a first-time mama who was afraid of labor and therefore electing for a c-section. A VBAC is a whole different animal. So no “wordless assumptions” here, especially because I have had a c-section and did not find it in any way more convenient, easy, or more comfortable than my vaginal birth–quite the opposite, in fact.

    I do not know enough about your individual situation to give you any advice, but I will say, as someone who has researched this a ton and had both kinds of birth, that in most cases, I would argue that the risk of complications is higher with a surgical birth than an in-hospital VBAC for an otherwise low-risk mama.

    I certainly never would have had a VBAC if I thought my daughter or myself would have been at any more risk. And, sadly, I believe that many doctors have an ulterior motive when they quote the “risks” of VBAC, which is that in all but a few vaginal births, part or all of the labor and delivery happens outside of convenient business hours, but a scheduled c-section never does.

    Having said that, I encourage all mamas to make the decision that feels best for them based on the facts that are available and the unique situation each family is in. I just feel sad when I feel like doctors create unnecessary fear to achieve an outcome that has more to do with their legal liability and scheduling than about what’s best for mother and child.

    I wish you the best of luck with your birth and think that you are absolutely right to hope for help and support from your family–regardless of the type of birth you end up having, a second child brings a whole host of challenges that make family support a huge, invaluable help.


  7. full

    I’m 4 months pregnant with my first baby and consider high risk pregnnancy because i’m over 35 and I have had diabetes for 11 years. My test are fine and the doctor said that everything so far is ok. Nevertheless I’m experiencing the panic and the dread feeling that I’m going to die at chilbirth. I really don’t know if this is my hormones, if it is normal to feel this or if it is just my mind. I just know that this should be a happy and joyful time for me because I pray for this baby for years and I waited until God allowed me to be found by the right man, I’ve been married for 6 months. Anyway. I really want to live to see my baby grow and have my own family and just be there, but I can’t stop feeling this way. Thank you for your article, I enjoyed reading it.