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?