After a surgical birth

I spent a lot of time today thinking about how women and babies are treated immediately following caesarean deliveries.  This topic is often in my thoughts because of my own post-op experience.  For reasons I still don’t understand, I was not allowed to touch or hold my perfectly healthy newborn daughter until we were out of the OR and in recovery, about 45 minutes after she was delivered.  In the OR, both of my arms were strapped down, and everyone present just ignored me when I asked repeatedly to touch her.  Being completely stripped of power as an individual, as a woman, and as a parent in the first hour of my daughter’s life is still one of the worst memories I have of that day.  The resulting anger and loss is almost indescribable.

Two things today made me think about this even more than usual.  First, I made the mistake of watching A Baby Story on TV at the gym this morning while working out on the elliptical machine.  (My theory is that watching shows that inevitably piss me off will raise my heart rate a little more, increasing the value of my workout.  Totally bunk science, I know, but it’s my way of justifying really bad TV choices.  Anyway.)  In the show, a woman who had hoped for a vaginal birth gets a c-section.  The hospital staff dismiss her sadness and fear prior to the surgery; afterward, they ignore her as she calls for her newborn baby, who she can hear but not see crying somewhere beyond the curtain separating her head and chest from the rest of her body.  Her baby is brought close to her face for a minute or two—already clean, dry and swaddled—but then whisked away, leaving the woman lying there with a stunned and wounded look on her face that resonated just a little more than I would have liked. 

It wasn’t easy to get the images from this morning’s A Baby Story out of my mind, and then later in the day, by coincidence, I happened upon this post at Cesarean Parent’s Blog.  The author describes a situation that should be the norm post-op in cases where a baby and mother have no health issues requiring immediate attention.  Just like after a vaginal birth, women who have had caesarean surgeries should have the opportunity to have skin-to-skin contact with their newborn babies.  Not all women will want this, and in some cases it won’t be appropriate.  Obviously women and their health care providers need to make smart decisions responding to the specific context and requirements of each birth.  But barring the need for immediate medical procedures, offering a woman the chance to hold her baby—and keeping the baby close to her/his mother— is the humane thing to do.

I write about this here because the reality of a 30-40% caesarean rate means that more women than would otherwise expect or require a c-section need to be ready for the possibility that they will have one.  For those for whom the birth process is important or who want to see and feel their babies fresh from the womb—before they have been sanitized, weighed, measured, poked and prodded by a succession of strange hands—it might be worth spending some time thinking about how an ideal post-op period would look and feel and what the hospital staff, attendants and others might be able to do to support their wishes.  None of this guarantees a positive experience, and achieving an ideal is far from the point.  The point is not to stay ‘in control’ (no such thing in birth), but simply to remain subject instead of becoming object.  For some women, preserving those post-birth skin-to-skin moments amid the challenges of a surgical procedure (especially one with such a troubling political context) can make all the difference in terms of their overall feelings about their births, their babies, and themselves.  If doing so poses no medical risk to mother or baby, and, indeed, has myriad proven benefits, why not?


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rachel
    May 19, 2011 @ 15:35:41

    Interestingly enough, I just had a client who was trying for a VBAC, but ended up with another cesarean. Is was a long a difficult labor, but what I felt good about was that we worked to be able to have her and her baby with her at all times. She had her husband and her baby with her the whole time she was in the OR and in recovery. It was nice that we were able to make that happen and I’m grateful for the medical staff that helped also. I would have loved to see more done, but baby steps:)

    I also thought I’d share a blog post of mine about an experience that happened to me as a L&D nurse. It’s something that I make myself remember, because I never want to experience something like that again. Thanks for your post.


  2. thejugglingmatriarch
    May 19, 2011 @ 18:43:25

    I just read your post–wow, what a difficult experience. As terrible as it might have been, I think your sensitivity to what was going on must have made a difference to that women and helped her in some way, even if you couldn’t change what was actually happening.

    Baby steps, yes. It takes time to change behaviours that are so entrenched. But each mother that has a better experience–and each baby that gets to be born more calmly, with more respect for that new child’s feelings–makes a difference. Even if the system takes years to change, changing the situation for one family at a time is still incredibly valuable.


  3. mj
    May 21, 2011 @ 05:20:48

    I’m glad to see another post about this topic.
    The critical mass is growing.

    I’m so glad I had my baby skin to skin in the OR. It was the only kind thing that happened during my emergency c.s. and even then it was after 10 minutes of thinking he was dying as so one was telling me what was going on as he was weighed, tagged, measured by both a doctor and a student.

    The funny thing is that I wrote a complaint to the hospital and part of it was about the delay in contact with my baby. Little did I know how lucky I had been.

    Now I feel so blessed that the delay was minutes, not hours, and that I was given the chance to answer that I did not want diapering and swaddling.
    Baby steps indeed!


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