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Tue May 28, 2024, 05:33 PM May 28

After a traumatic C-section, journalist takes on the medicalization of birth

When journalist and professor Rachel Somerstein had an emergency C-section with her first child, the anesthesia didn't work. She says she could literally feel the operation as it was happening. Later, after her daughter was born, Somerstein remembers a practitioner blaming her for the ordeal.

"[They] came to my room and told me that my body hadn't processed the anesthesia correctly, that there was something wrong with me," Somerstein says.

Somerstein considered suing the hospital, but since neither she nor her daughter suffered long-term consequences, she was told she didn’t have a case. So instead of pouring her energy into a lawsuit, she decided to write a book. In Invisible Labor: The Untold Story of the Cesarean Section, she writes about her own experience with childbirth, as well as the broader history of C-sections.

Somerstein notes that the earliest C-sections were performed on women who died in labor or who were expected to die in labor. The intention was to give the baby a chance to live long enough to be baptized by the Catholic priest. It wasn't until the late 1700s or early 1800s that the procedure was seen as a way to potentially save the mother's life.

"One thing that's so interesting about this history, to me, is that it shows that the forces promoting C-sections have always had something to do with an external pressure," she says.


It's true that C-sections are sometimes necessary, but in the US they are performed far more often than in the rest of the world, probably because of the doctor's fear of litigation. When I was in neonatal/L&D, we used to say, "Failure to progress is whatever your doctor says it is, " and "Inductions are a major cause of C-sections".
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