Hopefully, you have chosen your ob/gyn carefully and done your homework, because your birthing choice is the first real parenting decision you will make… And everyone is going to have an opinion, especially if you choose an elective c-section!
C-sections are major surgery, and that always comes with risks. Although, statistically speaking, the risks are lower for an elective c-section vs. an emergency one. Your doctor probably went over the risks and downsides of the procedure with you already. Here are a few things he or she may not have mentioned…
1) Other women are going to judge you: Women are unbelievably judgemental about each other’s birthing choices. You just have to mention the word ‘elective’ in a circle of granola-crunching earth mothers to get a sense of the horror they consider it to be. For others, the thought of labouring naturally is every bit as disturbing. The good news, even if you care what other women think of your birthing choices, your elective c-section controversy will soon be forgotten and replaced by parenting advice the moment another controversial decision comes up, and you can rest assured that there are lots in the first few years of your child’s life!
2) There will be damage to your body: Doctors often play down the infamous c-shelf or droopy belly. But if you are choosing to have a caesarean because you think your body will be spared the ravages of childbirth, think again. The c-section scars of today are a far cry from the war wounds of yesteryear but the scar will be with you forever, and it might lessen your chances of delivering vaginally in future pregnancies. A c-section cuts through your uterus and the scar tissue extends all the way through. For many women who have had c-sections, their stomachs never quite look the same again.
3) It’s going to hurt: Sure, it might not hurt quite like a natural birth during the procedure; it’s afterwards that the suffering becomes evident. Most women who have had both c-sections and vaginal deliveries speak of the post c-section pain as the worse of the two. In the beginning, sitting hurts, standing hurts, pretty much anything that uses abdominal muscles hurts. And you can forget about going to the bathroom without pain, that’s if the freakish abdominal gas build-up hasn’t already caused you to take leave of your senses. And through all this pain you’ll want to be holding, feeding and loving your bundle of joy, not wondering how you might pee without crying! Although the pain isn’t the same for everyone, and some women function near normally in the weeks afterwards, not everyone is as lucky.
4) You have options: If you are lucky enough to be having a baby in a private hospital, with good medical aid, you can have your baby in whatever way you decide. There’s no need to go all natural, but there are plenty of other ways you could birth your baby should you decide. Having a c-section with an epidural is one way to minimize the potential negatives. There are even innovative options like acupuncture-induced anaesthesia or use acupuncture for pain relief after the operation to ward off some of the potential negative after effects of your medications. You can also have some input on the operation itself. You can ask for the lights to be dimmed, or that your partner is able to cut the cord, or even for the cord to be cut only once it has stopped pulsing. Ask your doctor about your options and try to be as involved as possible.
5) You will need help afterwards: Expectant mums often underestimate just how incapacitated they will be in the days and weeks following a c-section. It can be especially difficult for previously childless women with a superwoman attitude to accept the help they’ll need. The early days of motherhood are likely to be some of the most euphoric, and difficult times of your life. Organise help with housework, ensure your partner takes the full extent of his paternity leave and enlist the help of all the grandparents, friends, aunts and uncles you can.
6) You might not be able to hold or breastfeed baby immediately: Due to the location of the incision, even holding your baby can be excruciating after a c-section. Many mums manage to breastfeed after their elective c-sections, but it is difficult and adds yet another dimension of challenge to the process.
7) There are risks to you: A lot has been written about the many dangers patients face in hospital. The much-feared MRSA is just one of the many hospital-acquired infections that can attack your vulnerable immune system. Evidence has shown that women who have c-sections are more likely to; suffer from infections, spend longer in the hospital, have to have emergency hysterectomies, suffer blood clots, and suffer from a range of psychological problems. The risks are significantly lower in a planned c-section versus an emergency caesarean, but they are still far higher than vaginal births. After the birth, you are 20 times more likely to develop endemetriosis around the c-section scar than if you had given birth vaginally.
8) And the baby: Hospital-acquired infections, unnecessary medications and the occasional story of babies being nicked by the surgeons scalpel on the way out are just some of the horrors that can befall your baby during a c-section. More often, babies born by c-section will have breathing difficulties, a condition known as transient tachypnea. Statistically, babies born by c-section are more likely to have lower Apgar scores as well.
9) There are risks to future pregnancies: Because your uterus has a scar, your next pregnancy will be riskier. Uterine rupture is a well-documented risk, but there are also risks to the baby as well as problems that can occur in future pregnancies. Placenta accreta, placenta privia, preterm labour and possible emergency hysterectomies are just some of the potential problems that become more likely with each c-section.
10) Your baby might be bigger, or younger than originally calculated: Sure, you’ve probably heard of gender mistakes with ultrasounds, but have you been told that the exact weight and age of your baby could also be less than accurate? Don’t schedule a c-section because your doctor thinks your baby might be too big, and be careful about the timing, you wouldn’t want to give birth to a premie for no good reason!
For many millions of women, their c-section experiences go smoothly and resulted in a happy healthy baby. And yours will probably too. Go into the experience with your eyes wide open, knowing what to expect will allow you to make plans with help and to plan your recovery time afterwards. An elective c-section isn’t all roses and tulips, but for many women it’s a lifesaving procedure that results in a beautiful healthy baby. And at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.