I recently read something where women were referred to as "C-section moms." It was well-intentioned and written by a birth advocate. It still hung in my thoughts. I started to make comparisons: Do I call myself a "vaginal mom?" Or even a "natural mom?" I am a label-disliker, and as much as I can, I try not to label people. "He's a bad nurser." "She's a bossy girl." "He's a picky eater." "She's a C-section mom." It makes me bristle with discomfort.
I was once charged with driving a very well-known neonatologist to her destination after a conference, so I had her ear for a while. "I am still surprised to hear people say, C-section." She asked me why? "It seems like a demeaning term. It is taking this birth experience a woman and baby share, and turning it into a sterile, mechanized-sounding, impersonal event." She thought about that for a moment, and I went on, "Why can't we just say cesarean birth? That's what it is. I have talked to women before, and many have said feelings of disappointment and inferiority often start with that one term: C-section. Like they didn't have a birth experience."
Many times she had used that term in her presentations. And she's not the only one. On TV news and shows, we hear C-section. In books and in journals, we read C-section. At the doctor's office or in the OR -- C-section. Some would argue C-section is a step up from just section, as in, "when were we going to section you?" But really, is it that hard to add a few more syllables to get to cesarean birth? Two more tiny syllables?
Render unto Caesar...(not)
Many believe cesareans were named after Julius Caesar, as legend tells this was his mode of delivery. But in her book Get Me Out: a History of Childbirth, Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein shares this is highly unlikely, as women in those times did not usually live through the cesarean and recovery process, and Caesar's mother "lived to see her son rule" (155). Another explanation states it "was named after an ancient Roman law, Lex Regia, which later became known as Lex Cesaria -- as in Caesar was the ruler, not as in Caesar was born that way" (156). Lex Cesaria was a mandate requiring every baby have a chance at life when it became apparent the mother was not going to make it. Myths and stories aside, there is even one more simple possibility: in Latin, ceasuru means "to cut."
Cesarean operations started as an attempt to save the baby when it appeared there were no other options -- mothers routinely died during the operation. The first recorded successful cesarean operation was done by a pig gelder in the early 1500s when he could no longer watch his struggling wife in the throes of many days in labor and after the help of many different attendants; the story says he performed the cesarean operation himself, and apparently she went on to have more children vaginally, although experts question the validity of this story (Mitford, 45).
From Operation to Section
Cesarean operations certainly had a bad rap. Rarely did women survive, and surely this had to be the worst outcome a pregnant woman could envision. Perhaps the pig gelder's story had a role in it, but whatever the reason, in the sixteenth century, "in what is perhaps the most clever marketing pitch ever, the name was changed...from 'cesarean operation' to 'cesarean section.' That took the edge off, as 'section' sounds so much simpler than 'operation'" (Epstein, 158).
The word section means, in medical terms, to cut.
It was a few hundred years before cesarean success rates increased, due mainly to advancements in technology (suturing up all the places that were rent) and understanding infection control (germ theory). It was still a very long and painful procedure, but it was no longer a mother's death-sentence. In fact, in 1906, the first campaign for elective cesarean section was made by a Boston physician for "overcivilized women in whom the natural powers of withstanding pain and muscle fatigue are abnormally deficient" (Block, 122).
What about the "C"?
What I can't put my finger on is, we went from cesarean operation to cesarean section, but how did we get to C-section? (If anyone out there has leads on this, I would love to know.) I can extrapolate, though: I grew up with Kentucky Fried Chicken. In 1991, they changed their name from Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC. Part of this was because "fried" now held a meaning synonymous with unhealthy. Applying that type of reasoning, perhaps cesarean, much like operation, was holding a more negative connotation; let's drop the word and pick up a letter instead -- abbreviate -- and improve C-section's image.
History aside, isn't C-section a slang term? That should trump any other explanation out there: who wants their birth experience, that day you will remember forever, to be summed up in a slang term?
No More C-Sections
Women grow babies. It is a lengthy, hard process. When it's time for those babies to be born, there is generally hard work involved in physical and emotional forms. One thing I have seen is, no matter how babies make their appearances, it is hard work. Then when it's all done, a mom gets to talk about her birth: have you ever thought, every time she shares that story -- at the grocery store, with her moms' groups, at church or at work, she is judged by self and others? That C-section word easily strips away the intricacies of her story -- did she go into labor? Was her baby breech? Was this a repeat cesarean birth for her? Unexpected or planned?
That's where I say, "No more C-sections!" Let's put this slang term to rest. Every time we say C-section, we strip someone of her cesarean birth experience; we strip her of her birth experience. In this month of cesarean awareness, we all have power -- let's show respect for the journey and help women reclaim their births. I challenge you to stop using this phrase. No more C-sections.
Block, Jennifer. Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Lifelong, 2007.
Epstein, Randi Hutter. Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.
Mitford, Jessica. The American Way of Birth. New York, NY, U.S.A.: Dutton, 1992.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)