Personally, I've never felt guilty about having had two cesarean sections. I didn't have an idealized vision of how wonderful a vaginal delivery was going to be, and given the choice, I would have happily opted for an epidural. But that's just me. I know that many women hope to be in control of their birth, and experience natural labor and delivery.
When my oldest daughter was born almost two weeks late, I had a C-section because the fetal monitor showed that her heart rate was dropping. As it turned out, the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck three times, so she couldn't come out the traditional way. She was stuck: I've always imagined how she must have felt an uncomfortable tug every time she tried to move downwards. That's why I was (and still am) very grateful to my doctor for knowing that it was the right time to do C-section.
No matter how I got there, I'd made it to the finish line of my pregnancy, and won the real prize: A healthy baby.
Unfortunately, too many women feel like a failure because they've needed a C-section. Apparently, actress Kate Winslet felt so badly about the fact that she'd had an emergency C-section that she lied for four years. These feelings of regret and guilt can be triggered by studies claiming C-sections may affect a child's long-term health, causing higher rates of metabolic disorders like diabetes or obesity later in life. Researchers attribute these effects to the increased stress babies experience during a C-section versus spontaneous vaginal birth. However, as ob-gyn Amy Tuteur, M.D., says in her new book, Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting, "literally tens of thousands, and probably hundreds of thousands of babies and mothers are saved every year by this procedure. And that's nothing to feel guilty about!
"C-section represents a transfer of risk," writes Dr. Tuteur. "Vaginal delivery poses a much greater risk to the baby than to the mother (approximately 100 times higher). C-section, on the other hand, poses a marginally greater risk to the mother and dramatically reduces risk to the baby." She admits that the C-section rate is too high. Many breech babies could have been born vaginally without any complications, and many babies who were in fetal distress would never have suffered brain damage. However, there's no way to know in advance which babies those are.
"When a woman consents to a C-section, she is saying in essence: I don't know whether my baby is truly experiencing oxygen deprivation, but I don't want to take any chances. Cut me and help the baby; if I'm wrong, it's a price I'm willing to pay to be sure that my baby is okay."
Adds Dr. Tuteur: "Personally, I think C-section mothers should be extra proud of themselves. When offered the choice between risk to their unborn baby and risk to themselves, they chose taking on the risk in an effort to protect the baby. If that isn't the essence of motherhood, I don't know what is."
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Diane Debrovner is the deputy editor of Parents and the mother of two girls.