My 18-year-old daughter was delivered by cesarean section. It wasn’t what we had planned, and I’ve quietly bemoaned the fact ever since – especially when I look down at that scar across my abdomen. What if I’d taken more childbirth classes? What if I’d had a different doctor? What if I’d pushed more and screamed less?
I also did a fair amount of hand wringing when I saw the latest government statistics on the C-section rate in the U.S., which has climbed to at least 32% of all births, the highest number on record. Then I had a chat with Lisa Masterson.
Masterson is an OB-GYN on staff at Cedars Sinai and co-host of The Doctors daytime TV show. But she is also founder of Maternal Fetal Care International (MFCI), an organization dedicated to improving the health of mothers and babies in the poorest regions of the world. Her work with MFCI gives her a unique perspective on the C-section issue.
“I actually go to a lot of countries where women don’t have access to C-sections, and their infant mortality rate is higher and their maternal mortality rate is higher,” Masterson told me. These countries – India and sub-Saharan Africa, for example – would like to bring their safety levels up to where they are in the U.S.
And while there are lots of potential reasons for the increased rate of C-sections here at home, Masterson says that doesn’t make them any less needed. “Basically, C-sections are done for medical necessity,” she says. “Doctors aren’t just out there doing C-sections on women who don’t need them.” Even if rates have increased because of doctors’ concerns about potential lawsuits, “that would only mean that doctors are looking more carefully at babies and not wanting to take risks, and that’s what you want,” Masterson explains.
Because while we debate the causes of the rising cesarean rates in the U.S., every minute a mother in the developing world dies from complications of childbirth, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. And every 30 seconds a child dies as the result of its mother’s death. And when push comes to shove, most mothers would agree to be split from navel to nose for the health of their babies. My healthy, grown-up girl is heading off to college in the fall. And I guess that scar isn’t really so bad.