Something happened yesterday to somebody I don’t even personally know, really. I never met her, just her boyfriend. It’s something that happens every day, to millions of women, almost 1/3 of all mothers today in fact. Most people don’t consider that a big deal. But just the knowledge that it happened, the sight of the pictures amidst cheers and congratulations, was enough to send me nearly into a panic attack, one that I drowned with beer and scary tv and scary stories that were old friends.
Somebody had a c-section yesterday, and I was powerless to prevent it.
That’s what my reaction really comes down to. Powerless. Helpless. I couldn’t figure that out at first, couldn’t understand my over-reaction. Why do I care? As I said, I don’t know her personally. I could say, “I told you so,” to her boyfriend, because I did. I don’t want to, though. I want to cry, to scream, to beat something up in frustration. But why? Why does it bother me so incredibly much every single time I hear about another mother getting cut? I realized the answer today as I strove to knock out my bike ride as fast as I could, pumping my heartrate up to its max while the song “Celebration” ironically played on repeat in my head. It’s because I feel so helpless.
And it’s odd to feel that rising back up, so many, many years later. My first c-section was 14 years ago tomorrow, my second 11 years ago next Tuesday. “Damn, woman, why can’t you just get over it already?” I thought I had. I thought the PTSD was put behind me when I had my vaginal births. I haven’t been active in the birth community since Kender was born, haven’t been on the VBAC and c-section boards and forums online. I left all of that behind. So this rush of intense emotion was startling.
You see, I tried. I tried to help. I tried to offer what I knew, to share the risks and statistics with the dad, to point them in the right direction. I tried so hard to do it without being pushy, without sharing my horror stories, to present the good sides to the best decisions. And it was all for nothing in the end, as it always is.
There’s nothing quite so helpless as the feeling of a c-section. Half your body is turned into nothing more than a slab of meat on a table. The operating room is set up to separate you from that slab of meat as much as possible. They even hide it behind a curtain. You’re not supposed to feel or see anything, just suddenly see a bloody baby being passed around the room, followed by a cleaned-up baby burrito being shoved in your face for pictures before being whisked away. To lie there, helpless, unable to move, arms actually strapped down, paralyzed, feeling tugs and pulls and not knowing why, not knowing what’s being done to your very being.
And then to have the anesthesia wear off, to feel the incision, feel clamps being placed, asking what’s going on and being told not to worry, being told that I can’t possibly feel what I’m feeling. To know that I warned the doctors going in that I had a history of spinal anesthesia wearing off too early, and I was ignored, and now I was paying the price, not the doctors, me. I’m the one who had to live through unmedicated major abdominal surgery, not the doctors who ignored me. I’m the one who has to live with the memories still, years and years later, bringing tears to my eyes.
It helps a little to be able to watch, even though you know that everybody in the hospital thinks you’re certifiable for asking for a mirror in the operating room so you can see your own damn baby being born. It helps to be able to connect those tugs and pulls with visible motion and action. It helps to have anesthesia that can be topped off, not complete but adequate to get the job done, adequate to prevent more nightmares and screaming. But still, helpless, watching somebody else carry that baby out of the room, that baby that you carried for nine months in your body. Helpless, lying in recovery, in pain and exhaustion, begging to see your baby that nobody will bring to you. Helpless, knowing when you look back that it was all avoidable, it was all unnecessary, all the pain and blood and scars, if only a few things had been done differently. Remembering the control the midwife had over me, the pain she put me through, and maybe she didn’t even realize how terrible it was, how little control I had, how much I feel violated when I remember that time.
In 2011, the U.S. c-section rate according to the CDC was 32.8%. In 1965, it was 4.5%. Studies have found a rate between 5-10% to be optimal for babies and mothers. The WHO recommends a rate no higher than 15%. Following evidence-based practices and allowing women’s bodies to function as they were designed can easily result in those 5-15% rates. It’s not hard. But modern obstetrics does not operate on evidence. They do not follow the research and the numbers. And patients do not know this. As a society, we tend to believe our doctors are always doing the right thing, are always operating from a base of science and statistics and reality. We believe our doctors are the best, that they know more than we do, that they don’t make mistakes.
And I’m helpless to change that. No matter what I do, I can’t change minds. I can’t change another’s path. I can’t convince anybody. I can’t stop another mother from being sliced and diced. I can’t stop any of the blood and pain and tears.