In Australia today, approximately one in three women give birth by caesarean section.Caesarean surgery, like any major surgery, carries risks for both mother and baby and also any future babies the mother has. Despite this, many people view caesareans as the safest and easiest way to have a baby. Womens magazine stories of Hollywood celebrities who have booked in for caesarean births have helped normalise the idea that a caesarean is a desirable way to have a baby rather than a life saving operation to be used in extreme circumstances.
So whats having a caesarean really like? Does a mother really have more control over the birth and her babys wellbeing by having a? caesarean Is it a neat, dignified experience? Are caesareans really pain free? And why do so many women give birth by Caesarean?
Womens experiences of caesareans vary a great deal. Some women feel empowered by them stating that they have more control based on the false beliefs that caesareans guarantee a healthy baby, are pain free or that caesareans avoid pelvic floor damage. In this technological age, it may be true that some women feel more at ease with the clinical, the scheduled and the routine of caesareans. A few women have a pathological fear of childbirth, perhaps due to horror stories? theyve heard or seen on TV, or sexual assault during their childhood. Despite these views, very few women ask for a caesarean without a medical reason. A recent study done by the Childbirth Connection in the US (2006) found that less than 1 percent of women requested an elective caesarean for no medical reason.
The reality for most women is that their obstetrician advises them to have a caesarean. The reasons vary but with some obstetricians having caesarean rates of 50 percent or more, you can bet that not all caesareans are necessary or even beneficial. The same study by Childbirth Connection stated that 10% of women felt theyd been pressured into a repeat caesarean by a health professional. Anecdotal evidence by women supports this.
Gold Coast mother of three, Deirdrie had her first baby by elective caesarean at a private hospital.
“During my pregnancy, I was thinking everything was going well until the week she was to beborn when I was told that my baby was getting too big and my pelvis was too small….I had another round of scans, including a pelvimetry showing she would be at least 9lbs and it also showed my pelvis wouldnt birth a baby over 8lbs. So under a lot of pressure and information based on fear, I decided to go ahead with a planned caesarean.
“I now have three children and my last was my biggest baby at 9lb 6oz, with a head circumference of 37cm. She was born beautifully at home in the water vaginally.”
Brisbane mother of two, Megan was planning a Vaginal Birth After Caesarean (VBAC) and was at the end of her pregnancy when the pressure was put on: “My doctor said we need to get this baby out as you are 15 days overdue and your baby could die if we dont get it out-I really believe I was pressured because the next few days were booked solid with caesareans due to the $3000 payment [new maternity payment by the Federeal Government that came into effect in 2004]. I believe they pressured me so they could get me out of the way. I knew my baby was ok. I had seen the scan and CTG the day before [that showed he was healthy].
Even though caesareans are touted as safe, neat operations, the reality is that many women feel that caesareans are one of the most disempowering and undignified experiences a woman can endure. Experiences like this can compromise a mothers emotional safety. The impact on mental health outcomes of these experiences has not been accounted for to any large extent despite the fact that 15 percent of women in this country suffer from postnatal depression and about 1 in 3 women find childbirth traumatic.