- The Million Dollar Cesarean
My husband and I devoted six full Wednesday evenings to fully prepare for the birth of our first child. We joked about competitive swaddling, learned the different stages of labor, and how to measure time between contractions. What we didn’t learn in that six week class on childbirth was that I might die during delivery.
In all fairness to the instructor, it wasn’t that birth specifically that would try to kill me. But my first birth did set off a series of events that would later culminate into a two month postpartum hospital stay, a medical journal article, and eventually, national attention. When I received my signed certificate of completion for the birthing course (yes—there really was one), I was completely unaware of the impact a woman’s first birth can have on her reproductive future and health.
My first pregnancy was picture perfect. I enjoyed watching my belly grow and smiled whenever my iPhone alerted me to which fruit my baby most resembled that week. After an entire pregnancy’s worth of uneventful appointments, at 36 weeks I was shocked to learn that what I thought had been my son’s butt jutting against my ribs all this time was actually his head. I had a full term breech baby.
I lived in San Francisco and had a vague awareness that cesareans were becoming alarmingly common in the United States. I had heard people talk about the overuse of interventions like inductions and Pitocin, which could cause a cascade of complications often resulting in a cesarean. That’s why I had chosen the long haul series birthing class over a Saturday crash course. That’s why I had hired a doula. That’s why I watched The Business of Being Born. I thought if I was prepared and had a game plan everything would work out.
I never wanted a cesarean, but I was also rational and risk averse. I wanted a healthy baby. I knew that a cesarean was major surgery, had a longer recovery time, and that things like blood clots and infections were more likely to occur (although still very rare). But I also knew many people who had cesareans, multiple cesareans even, and they were all fine. It felt selfish to put my baby at serious risk by pursuing a vaginal birth instead of just taking the hit myself. And isn’t keeping your baby safe the universal top priority of motherhood?
At exactly 39.5 weeks pregnant I gave birth via planned cesarean. I was relieved that the surgery went fine, casual even, not the big scary event that it had been in my imagination in the days prior. It was faster than I expected, and my son was perfect. We named him Everett. Consistent with my pregnancy experience, I had no postpartum complications.
At my six week follow up I asked my obstetrician what it meant for my future, if there was anything I should know, now having a prior cesarean. She smiled and replied that I was young and healthy and had recovered well, no impact at all.
I now find it remarkable that I even asked that question.
I had no idea that a cesarean carries risks that extend long beyond time of delivery.
The following year went by quickly as we adjusted to parenthood. It was thrilling to watch Everett become interested in toys and learn how to sit up, roll over and crawl. Everett was a model baby. He slept well, he ate well. He was deliciously chubby and when I parted his fine bright blond baby hair to the side, he literally looked like a cherub.
On the day of Everett’s first birthday party I found out that I was pregnant. I had learned about VBACs, Vaginal Birth after Cesarean and was excited for a birthing do-over. And everything looked good for awhile.
At my 18 week anatomy scan I learned that we were having another boy and that I had placenta previa, placenta covering the cervix. I was alone, hormonal, and unsuspecting. I had never had a scary doctor’s appointment before. I knew that placenta...