I Was Bullied Into Having A C-Section

Photo: A's Images, Pixland | Canva 

Two doctors stood at the foot of my bed strongly encouraging me to get a C-section before they went off-shift. These two doctors, with whom I had developed a good rapport over the past several days, threatened that if I didn't let them operate, the next doctor on shift would be rude and unkind to me. They even insinuated that the other doctor was mad at me for not previously having succumbed to a C-section and that she would not do a good job on the surgery. 

"Trust me. You do not want her operating on you," one of the doctors explained. I later understood that these two doctors were playing good cop, and bad cop and employing any tactics they could to get me to succumb. So I relented and got the cesarean section I’d been fighting for a week to avoid. How did this happen? I am a smart, well-educated woman who studied the overuse of C-sections and other medical interventions in college. My undergraduate thesis was about the medicalization of childbirth. 

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I was also a patient’s rights advocate in law school where I studied health law and bio-ethics. During my pregnancy, I read books and watched movies about how medical intervention often leads to more intervention and, in turn, leads to unnecessary C-Sections. I was planning to have my baby in a hospital with a midwife as naturally as possible. 

And because I'm a single mom, I hired a doula to support me throughout the birth. I was adamant I would not have a C-Section. Needless to say, I was very educated and ready to advocate for what I wanted. And yet, in the end, I had a C-Section against my will.  Was I a casualty of a system that jumps to interventions too quickly?

At about 37 weeks, my blood pressure spiked. Immediately, the midwife who had provided all my prenatal care passed me off to a huge team of doctors specializing in high-risk pregnancies.  The doctor on shift for those 24 hours explained to me that anytime someone has elevated blood pressure after 37 weeks, the protocol is to start an induction. I resisted until week 39, at which point I showed up at the hospital for an induction.

Thus, began a series of failed interventions, a new doctor of midwife every 24 hours, and several misrepresentations. When I arrived at the hospital, I had not started to dilate. Induction started fairly gently with drugs used to "ripen my cervix" so that labor could begin. But when those didn’t work, the doctors wanted to insert a Foley Bulb into my cervix to manually push it open. Because I was barely dilated, the procedure was very difficult and painful. So I agreed to have an epidural to insert the bulb. 

The doctors reassured me that after the bulb was inserted, I’d be able to turn the epidural down get up, and walk around to help induce labor. But as soon as the bulb was inserted. the doctors informed me that the hospital would not let me walk around with an epidural. So, I was then confined to a bed. Walking plays a considerable role in starting labor, so I was very upset about my confinement. But nothing about the hospital seemed conducive to coaxing my stressed-out body to go into labor. I yearned to go home to restore some peace and allow my body to feel safe to start labor.

Sometime on the fourth day of my induction, the doctors informed me that I needed to have a C-section. "It’s protocol," they insisted. When I dug deeper into the rationale and reasoning, I was not satisfied that the policy was anything but financial. I was expensive and occupied a hospital bed for too many days. There were some feeble explanations about statistics of things that could go wrong after 4 days of induction, but they didn't seem to apply in my case.



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I refused the C-section because the baby was showing no signs of distress, my blood pressure was normal if I was lying down, and I had no signs of preeclampsia which was one of the major concerns associated with high blood pressure. At various points, I went up to 8 hours waiting for the next drug to be ordered or the next step of the plan to be decided upon, during which I was receiving no treatment. Added up, the numerous delays amounted to more than a full day. 

So, when the doctors started saying that I had hit the 4-day induction deadline, I pushed back. I was irate that they would not factor that into their calculation. But they were adamant and refused to see my logic. When I refused a C-Section, the doctors and midwives fell into two camps: those who were advocating for me and those who adamantly disagreed. Special meetings were called amongst all the doctors and the head of the practice was called to weigh in on what to do with me. 

I became a huge problem. No one had ever refused the recommendation to have a C-section to the extent I did. Midwives and nurses came by to express their admiration for me and cheer me on.  "We’ve never seen this before. You are one amazing woman," they told me. However, the other doctors were furious and continually pushed me to the next most aggressive intervention. The doctors tried numerous tactics and they threatened to cease all treatment. Under this scenario, they would refuse to give me any more treatment but they wouldn’t let me leave the hospital either. I’d be a hostage of sorts. 

Others told me that if I didn’t comply with the medical recommendations, my insurance may refuse to pay the bill — a threat that I later learned was untrue and illegal. In the meantime, my treatment continued because of the doctors and midwives who were on my side. But the Foley bulb did not induce labor either, and I was eventually given Pitocin, which can cause extreme contractions and put the baby into distress Pitocin is associated with an increased risk of C-sections, and I believe this allowed the doctors to come up with a plan to force my hand.

Because of the risk of more extreme contractions, the doctors suggested we place a monitor on the baby’s head to have a more accurate view of whether or not he went into distress. I asked several questions about the procedure. I did not want to risk breaking my water. Because of the increased risk of infection after your water breaks, most hospitals will only give a woman 24-48 hours to give birth. The doctors and midwives assured me that the procedure would not break my water.

As it turns out, it’s impossible to put a sensor on a baby’s head without breaking the bag of water. It’s logical and makes sense now but I was weary from being in the hospital for almost 5 days and constantly fighting with the doctors.  And so, my water broke, and a new countdown began. I believe that the medical team pushed me to get the sensor and misrepresented that my waters would not break specifically so that water would break and they'd be able to set this timer. 

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This was not the birth I had wanted. I was living what I felt was a nightmare. As the two doctors stood at my bed, they tried to convince me to stop waiting to see if the Pitocin would work. "She will force you to have a C-section no matter what," they warned. I was so frustrated. There was some hope that the Pitocin could work if I waited another few hours but faced with their warnings that it would be unpleasant or worse if I waited till the new doctors were on shift, I finally gave in and agreed to let them operate.

My son was born healthy at 5:57 a.m., 7 days after I had been admitted to start my induction. I tried everything in my power to avoid surgery. I was educated and knew how to advocate for myself and ask difficult questions. Not all women have my tenacity or willingness to question a doctor. There’s a protocol, dictated by both medical and financial concerns, that is applied to women regardless of the particulars of each case. It’s possible in these circumstances that women are regularly bullied into C-sections.

My birth did not go at all as I had planned and expected. But, then again, is there any mother on the planet who can say it did go as she expected? I spent weeks reeling from my birth experience. I was infuriated at the medical establishment. And heartbroken that I did not have the birth I had expected. If asked, I could rattle off the injustices to which I was subject. A mentor of mine stepped in and cautioned me about remaining mad after my son was born. 

"You don’t want to bathe your newborn child in your anger," he cautioned and encouraged me to move forward as quickly as possible. "This is a special time that you don’t want to miss because you are still upset about how he was born." I took this advice to heart and examined how I might be able to see the situation differently.  First and foremost, I had a healthy baby. I had never been scared about his well-being throughout the process and I don't think he was ever at risk. But I now realize I might have been a bit too cocky — things do go wrong in childbirth.



In my case, I came to believe that the universe, or whoever watches over these things, knew I needed to have a C-Section. I gave them ample time to intervene and help me change course.  But it was futile. My son also had a 98th percentile head so it may not have worked out well for my small body! But I wondered about those women who are pushed along at a rapid pace, not stopping to question. Could some of them have changed course and had a natural birth if given the time? 

In the end, I learned that birth and motherhood are a process of surrender. I didn’t get to wait to learn this lesson. I was hit over the head with it: my body, my time, my life were no longer about me. I was not in control. I was now in service to this beautiful being I had brought into existence. I could stay angry or I could surrender to motherhood. I chose the latter.

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Sarah Kowalski is the founder of Motherhood Reimagined, a life coach and fertility doula.