Gentle C-sections: Will this new trend ease the stigma?

As hospitals gradually change the way C-sections are performed, Jennifer Pinarski thinks we need to change our attitudes, too.

gentle csection birth trend
Jennifer with Isaac, shortly after he was born via C-section. Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

Midway through my first pregnancy, my husband and I signed up for prenatal education classes taught by a public health nurse. Many of our classes focused on breathing and massages she said would help reduce labour pain—techniques she used during the drug-free vaginal birth of her twin babies. Each week, I practiced puffing and humming while bouncing on a oversized birth ball as my husband rolled a tennis ball over my shoulder blades. It wasn’t until the last class that I realized that we’d only been taught about what happens during vaginal births.

“But what about pain medications or C-sections?” I asked the nurse. “How do we know what to ask for or what we should do if we need a C-section?”

Frowning slightly, the nurse handed us a sheet listing common labour-pain management drugs and reminded us again that she didn’t need a C-section and she had twins.

On Christmas Eve a few months later, I was rolled into the OR to be prepped for a C-section after nearly two days of stalled labour and three hours of unproductive pushing. I was scared and had no idea what to expect.

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For any woman who has experienced a C-section, they’ll know the OR is a very different place than the birthing room. From the moment you’re wheeled in, there’s no doubt that a C-section is a surgical procedure—but what if it didn’t have to feel that way? A few hospitals in the US are offering moms what is referred to as “gentle” Caesareans.

The idea of making C-sections feel less like an operation was first published in the BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology back in 2008. Researchers from two UK hospitals modified their obstetric practices to include techniques such as allowing women and their partners to watch the birth, changes to how the anaesthetic is administered, a slower delivery process, allowing the partner to cut the umbilical cord and early skin-to-skin contact.

Kristen Caminiti from Crofton, Maryland, had her son last fall using this method, which required a few modifications to the hospital’s standard Caesarean procedures. “It was the most amazing and grace-filled experience to finally have that moment of having my baby be placed on my chest,” Caminiti says in an interview with NPR. “He was screaming and then I remember that when I started to talk to him he stopped. It was awesome.”

I think the goal of gentle C-sections—which researchers claim help women feel more empowered during the birth process—is admiral, but it overlooks how we talk about birth in general. My prenatal instructor, for example, declared her drug-free vaginal birth to be the best way to give birth because it was “natural.” Was my C-section any less of a birth just because it involved surgery? Does having my daughter vaginally make her birth better than my son’s? Of course not! We need to change the way we talk about giving birth because, no matter how your baby arrives, birth is a miracle and joy that should be celebrated and supported.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

Read more:
Prenatal prep: Finding the right class for you>
Guide to labour-pain management>

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