Bioethics Blogs

‘A bit of a compromise’: Coming to terms with an emergency caesarean section by Terena Koster

During the midwife-hosted antenatal class Cath attended in a private hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, where she would eventually give birth, pregnant women were encouraged to name the kind of birth they wanted. They were presented with three options: “natural all the way with no medication”, “natural but open to medication”, or “elective caesarean”. The ‘choice’ women were expected to make featured as an important point of concern in their antenatal care and in their preparations for birth.

Hannah, a participant in the class, recalls a particularly striking moment when the midwife went around the room and pointed at each of the participants and asked, “Who is your gynae”. She went on to predict diverse birth outcomes, irrespective of participants’ stated intentions to birth vaginally. For Hannah this was an “eye opening” experience. A first time mother, she was now invited into a highly politicised birthing environment. Hannah had been uncertain about what kind of birth she wanted, but at 8 months pregnant she had decided on a ‘natural’ birth as opposed to a ‘caesarean’, with the caveat that in the event that an emergency caesarean section was a likely outcome, she would proactively opt for an elective caesarean.

At 39 weeks and near the end of her pregnancy, she found herself sitting opposite her obstetrician who told her there was “a real threat of the umbilical cord wrapping around [the baby’s] neck as she … drop[s] down,” adding that because the baby was “so big” there was “a high likelihood of [Hannah] tearing”. For the first time, the obstetrician instructed her to make a birthing decision: to continue trying for a vaginal birth or to opt for an elective caesarean section.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.