You know you’re oversensitive when Stewie (from the obnoxious yet addictive TV show The Family Guy) offends you.
I’ve been feeling insecure ever since the high brow intellectual infant, whose television series we have recorded thanks to DVR technology, made a jab that socked me in a place I’m still a little sore.
Stewie was in a strip club on a Tuesday afternoon, lamenting, “Is there anyone here who hasn’t had a cesarean?”
Ouch, Stewie. As if it isn’t difficult enough to become accustomed to a body that still feels overstretched from 38 weeks of pregnancy, I also get to fixate on the still red scar bisecting my lower belly. Great.
Unlike the ladies in Stewie’s strip club, I don’t plan on anyone except my husband actually ever seeing this remnant of Elle’s birth. Yet it’s like a tattoo of an ex-lover’s name etched on some private part of your body: It’s something you’d rather forget about, and yet never can because the evidence is always looking up at you in the shower.
I recognize that c-sections have and will continue to save the lives of moms and babies in hospitals around the globe. Yet in the past decades, the procedure has become much more than a last-resort method utilized only when there’s no other choice. If you are pregnant today, you have better than a one in four chance of carrying your baby out of the hospital wearing a new cesarean scar.
In 2006 (the most recent year I could find data), more than 30 percent of women who had babies in America delivered via c-section. That represents a nearly 50 percent increase from the previous decade. The World Health Organization reports that the best outcomes for mothers and babies appear to occur with cesarean section rates of 5-10 percent. Rates above 15 percent seem to do more harm than good. So why are mothers still going under the knife?
There are a few theories. One is that more mothers are electing to deliver by c-section with no medical reason to do so. After having gone through the surgery myself, I have major questions about why someone would chose to do that. A more common theory is that the procedure has become so commonplace in recent years that many doctors chose to do it at even the smallest provocation. Doctors in huge hospitals don’t have time to offer women continuous support during labor; getting the baby out using the easiest, fastest – and not necessarily most natural – means seems to be the standard operating procedure (no pun intended).
Labor interventions like using synthetic labor induction drugs or utilizing continuous electronic fetal monitoring, which in the past were less common, have additionally been shown to increase the incidence of cesareans.
All of which leads me to wonder: Have we collectively lost confidence in the ability for a woman’s body to do what it was meant to do in labor, and has done since the beginning of humankind?
At around week 26, we were told Elle was breech, or butt- instead of head-down. “So you should probably prepare to have a cesarean,” my doctor told me, “since at this point, the baby isn’t likely to turn.”
People my age and older were born breech vaginally. But not anymore. With the advent of high cesarean rates, most doctors no longer even know how to deliver a malpositioned baby – even one who is in the best position to be delivered vaginally (butt-down, like Elle was).
So I embarked upon willing my baby to turn. I did acupuncture. I went to an osteopath. I meditated. I played music on my belly. At nine-and-a-half months pregnant, I donned a bathing suit and went to the local pool where I did handstands and made Craig shake me upside-down by the ankles underwater. I’m not kidding.
Nothing worked. On Feb. 22, I checked into the hospital to have a scheduled c-section.
(I will interject here that I was in France for Elodie’s birth, a country that has only slightly higher rates of cesarean deliveries than the U.S.)
While a team of white-coated medical professionals sliced, tugged and wrestled their way through my abdomen, I tried to be Zen. This isn’t the way I had imagined welcoming my first baby into the world – strapped to a metal table beneath a blinding spotlight in a sterile operating room – but, c’est la vie. I felt a flood of relief when the nurse standing next to me finally announced, “OK, here it comes… I see the head!”
Wait a minute. The head? WHAT?
My Zen evaporated. I’m having a cesarean, and this baby isn’t even breech? Instead of feeling joy at the moment of my daughter’s birth, I was livid.
The doctor explained later that Elle most likely turned right after I was given the epidural. My stomach muscles had kept her bound too tightly, and when the numbing drugs relaxed them, she was able to turn. But it was too late. The scalpel had already made its mark.
Deep in my heart I had felt all along that my baby, and my body, knew what they were supposed to do. The words of the osteopath echoed in my mind: “Doctors may tell you otherwise, but babies can turn late in pregnancy – sometimes even in labor.”
I’ll never know if Elle would have turned, had she been allowed to percolate in my belly a little longer and had I been allowed to go into labor naturally. I’ll also never know if I could have had a safe breech delivery. I have a beautiful, healthy baby, so I often tell myself that a little belly scar is well worth it.
But that scar is also a continuous reminder of the growing trend of the economization of childbirth, in this country and around the world. Stewie may have hurt my feelings, but his dig hit at something we all should consider. Perhaps there are too many cesarean-scarred bellies in the world.