C-Section, VBAC, TOLAC, and Birthing in America Today.
I’m going to step out of my comfort zone (which is mainly football, the economy, family vacations, specialty cocktails, craft beers, my job, and the Rolling Stones) to call out a tragic trend with major physical, mental, and spiritual health implications for women, men and children alike: C-Sections, and the collective campaign to cut.
One in every three babies born in the U.S. is via cesarean, totaling 1.3 million every year, often by coercion and unnecessarily.
Every 24 seconds (i.e. now, and 10 more times before your popcorn is ready), a healthy American woman is sliced open with a scalpel, her newborn baby cut from the womb, yanked through muscle, and dragged from the abdominal wall. Violently pulled away from Mom, her only (and shared) source of rhythm, warmth, life, love, and light, baby is handed off to a towering, foreign, Neanderthal Dad, then shuttered out to a cold, steel, sterilized room, where baby frantically searches for a nipple while Goliath (dad) is equally confused, confounded, and ill-prepared (firsthand experience here).
C-Section is now the #1 inpatient medical procedure. Is this really a problem, or am I just cooking up another reason to complain?
While few may care about this subject, everyone should, and here’s why…
The Health Factor
We (on the fringes) are beginning to understand that whole person (i.e. physical and mental) wellbeing are largely tied to having a healthy, thriving microbiome —the (mostly good) bacteria living inside and all over our bodies. They act as colonizers that shape our lifelong health, a symbiotic relationship between vertebrates and microbes. Chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes have now been linked to differences in the gut’s microbiome, which may be more significant for some than even lifestyle choices.
Babies, effectively sterile or without bacteria on or inside them in the womb, pick up their first batch of this flora in passing through the birth canal during normal delivery.
Sounds bazaar at first, until you think about it. It’s another complex ecosystem, characteristic of life itself, which of course it should be (because it is).
How about that? Nature at work, in her amazing, life-giving intricacy.
As another of mother’s defenses, it ensures a better chance to thrive outside the womb. Not something to play fast and loose with like a found quarter beside a Vegas slot machine, it’s really a time-tested, time-honored, biological mechanism carved into our species through millennia by the river of life, and one that should be respected and remain intact with labor except under emergency circumstances.
The Emotional Factor
Look, I’m about as sensitive as course-grit sandpaper in an old coffee can out in the garage, with the emotional quotient of a giant baboon, but I imagine the C-Section feels like an evolutionary air-ball thrown up at the buzzer. Six million years of instinctual, DNA-level programming, usurped in minutes by men in white coats with needles, knives, monitors and machines. Childbirth is not just a rite of passage, it’s the rite of passage and raison d’etre (from a biological standpoint) for women, and an integral part of the transition between carrying a baby inside (as one) and becoming its mother.
Childbirth is all of these things first, and a medical procedure second (if at all).
The Collision Course
It’s easy to point fingers at the medical industrial complex. The interventions today are lined up like dominos, often leading to the inevitable. At 24 and 31 years old, trusting in our OB/GYN (reading much about caring for a baby and none of delivery itself), we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Our doctor suggested induction a week early for our first (Mia), and we said, “Sure. Why not?” Who wouldn’t want to schedule an event this big and get your ducks in a row during a mutually convenient time?
Inducing labor is done with Pitocin, a prescription medication that causes intense contractions, regardless of the body or baby’s preparedness (let alone the phase of the moon or other of nature’s cycles). This led to failure to progress fast enough, manual breaking of the water (with a plastic hook, if you can believe it), followed by more Pitocin, an epidural anesthesia injection into the spinal cord (to numb the pain from all of the Pitocin-induced contractions), and suddenly fetal distress and emergency surgery.
Who knows, but maybe Mia wasn’t ready?
Next came Ryder, pictured above after being pulled through a gaping wound sliced right into the midsection (which later become infected), before the inevitable hand-off to me (devoid of breast milk or a proper birth canal, thinking mostly of the coming NFL playoffs…). Ryder was cut out by an OB who remained positive on VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) up until the third trimester, then campaigned against it for three months, breaking our will. With twins now expected in January, the VBA2C is proving elusive. Most OBs or midwives won’t touch it. The dominoes have fallen.
Time will tell, then, if as a family we hit a 50%, 75%, or a 100% cesarean rate, in any case bringing up the average from one in three nationally.
Have we not learned to trust the infinite wisdom and rhythm of life itself, hardcoded into our DNA over the sands of time? When did obstetrics become surgery?
Today, they no longer bother to train OBs in breach delivery (baby positioned feet first), but only to cut, early and often. Somewhere, a dove cries (into a coffee can in the garage with a giant, weeping baboon, Wild Horses playing in the background).
I could pound on the healthcare system all day long, or tie this right back to the institution of government (as I often do, another easy target), but maybe it’s more visceral than that. Maybe it’s a reflection of the times we live, and the growing chasm between the modern human experience and the natural world.
Maybe it’s hubris. We’ve done a lot of amazing things as a species, but cannot and should not lose sight of our place in a much larger and complex natural world. An ecosystem doesn’t work without diversity of organisms. We should no more sterilize our bodies or babies than we should sterilize the Earth itself. We should honor, admire, and take cues from the beautiful, awe-inspiring symbiosis all around us in life itself.
So, expectant mothers and fathers of the world, question the wisdom of modern medical interventions that may increase the likelihood of an unnecessary C-Section. Don’t get bullied, bamboozled, or coerced into induction, Pitocin or thinking that cesareans are without long-term health implications for you and your children.
Trust in Mother Nature, and let her ride back into your life on her Spirit Horse, hair flowing down to her waste, mud on her hands, smile on face, and spark in her eye…
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