When I was 37 weeks pregnant, I slipped on a patch of unruly ice after a routine OB-GYN appointment and tore a muscle in my inner thigh. I immediately went to the emergency room and spent the night being monitored. While I had planned to have my next baby vaginally, I was scared, sore, exhausted, and desperate. I told my OB-GYN I wanted to have a C-section... and was shocked when she said no.
When I checked into labor and delivery I was in the worst pain imaginable. Hell, the worst pain I have ever felt. I received pain medication immediately, and was referred to a maternal-fetal specialist shortly after. My doctor had already turned down my request for a C-section, so I had hoped this specialist would see things my way and book an operating room as soon as he could. I wanted my pain to be over. I wanted to start recovering from my fall. I wanted to meet my baby.
But when the specialist came to see me the next day he refused to perform a C-section, too. I was in excruciating pain and, as a result, was worried that I would not be able to handle labor and delivery, not to mention recovering from vaginal delivery with a pelvic injury. So I started begging. I pleaded. I implored. I argued. I even started to cry, but nothing would change the specialist's "no" into a "yes." I wasn't going to be getting a C-section, regardless of my excrutiating pain, my immediate fears, or my postpartum worries.
The specialist continued to assure me that vaginal deliveries are best, and while simultaneously scowling at me for suggesting I have abdominal surgery willfully. "You don't actually want a C-section," he said. "I mean, if you have a C-section, you might not be able to give birth vaginally in the future."
I knew the risks, I weighed my options, and I made what I believed to be the best decision for me. Surgery.
"But I'm in so much pain," I replied. "Can I speak to a different doctor?"
Look, it's not that I wanted to do something risky or dangerous for my baby. I just wanted my pregnancy to be over, and for my baby to be born healthy. I also wanted my incredible pain to stop, and I knew (having had children before) that being in so much pain already wasn't going to help me birth a child vaginally. I knew the risks, I weighed my options, and I made what I believed to be the best decision for me. Surgery.
But instead of having a conversation with me about it or discussing what I wanted further, the doctor turned to my husband and asked him for his thoughts on the matter. In that moment I realized that this specialist didn't trust me to make my own decisions about my body or how I experienced childbirth. "Are you sure that's what you want?" he asked my husband. "Vaginal birth is better, you know."
I tried to assure the specialist that this was, in fact, my last pregnancy, and that my husband and I were done expanding our family. I was also way more concerned with the birth of the child I was currently pregnant with, and not some fictitious birth that may or may not happen in the future. So I tried to regain control of the conversation and assert myself, my wants, and my needs. But all I heard in response was another no.
"You'll just have to be patient and wait to go into labor on your own," he said, shutting the door on the conversation entirely.
Whether it's ignoring the wishes of a woman who wants to experience a vaginal birth, or a woman who wants to schedule a C-section, this country clearly has a problem dismissing women's pain and their wants and needs when it comes to their own bodies.
Neither my husband nor I could believe that my doctors wouldn't perform a C-section so I could have my baby safely and start to recover from childbirth and my injury. I had heard of doctors ignoring the wishes of a patient before, especially a pregnant patient, but aren't those situations usually reversed: the mom-to-be doesn't want a C-section, but the doctor insists?
Whether it's ignoring the wishes of a woman who wants to experience a vaginal birth, or a woman who wants to schedule a C-section, this country clearly has a problem dismissing women's pain and their wants and needs when it comes to their own bodies. For example, I rated my pain a 9 on a 10-point scale, but I know the doctor didn't believe it was really "that bad." I was pressing my fentanyl pump every 15 minutes, and still I was faced with a health care provider who told me to simply "wait it out."
I still remember, all too vividly, what it was like to sit in excrutiating pain for five days.
Perhaps we, as a culture, have demonized C-sections as unnecessary or even harmful, and to the point that we actively try to dissuade women who need them from having them. Maybe we've become so accustomed to people in power telling other women to do with their bodies, that discrediting the needs of a woman is pain is considered "normal."
Regardless of the reason, I was denied a C-section and, instead, was left trapped in a hospital bed and in horrible pain for days, just waiting to have my baby. I wasn't in control of my body, I didn't feel empowered going into labor and delivery, and I didn't believe that I had a voice that anyone would actually listen to during childbirth.
I ended up needing to be induced to have my baby safely and after my blood pressure reached unsafe levels. I had an amazing epidural, a short labor, my baby and I were healthy, aside from some tearing I experienced during delivery. In the end I am OK with how everything went down and am so thankful that my baby is here... but I still wonder if things might have gone differently if I had received the C-section I wanted and believed I needed.
After all, I still feel pain in my pelvis and tail-bone almost 18 months later. I still remember, all too vividly, what it was like to sit in excrutiating pain for five days.
Perhaps having a C-section would have helped. The problem, of course, is that I will never know.