'Gentle' C-Sections: 1 Mom's Experience With This New Birthing Alternative

Joann Crohn and family

In July 2013, JoAnn Crohn went into the hospital to give birth to her son, Dude. (For privacy reasons, she prefers not to use either of her children's real names.) The birth went smoothly and her husband, Josh, never left her side. Afterwards, while JoAnn watched, the nurses quickly checked Dude's vitals. Then, they swaddled her newborn son and laid him on JoAnn's chest. "I loved my [birth] experience," says JoAnn.

What's surprising is that the 33-year-old Phoenix mom didn't give birth to Dude naturally. She had a cesarean section.



From 1996 to 2009, cesarean sections in the U.S. increased a whopping 60 percent. Today, one-third of all babies in our country are still delivered by C-section rather than vaginal delivery.

There's no question that a cesarean section can be a necessary, lifesaving operation for both mom and baby. But many moms who have one feel they've missed out on the actual birth of their child. Perhaps they were under such heavy anesthesia that they didn't get to see their newborn until much later, or maybe their parther wasn't allowed in the operating room. Some moms only get to see their new baby for a few fleeting minutes before they're separated. (Baby heads to nursery while mom gets stitched up.)

"Gentle" or "family-centered" C-sections, like the procedure JoAnn had, are a new -- and welcome -- trend to make cesareans feel less like a major medical procedure and more like, well, a birth. Moms aren't knocked out with anesthesia, family members are invited to stay in the operating room, and baby is handed to mom right after delivery to bond and nurse.

(The procedure is not recommended for women having a preterm birth, who need an emergency C-section, or expecting a baby who may be in distress.)

Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston is credited with pioneering the procedure in 2013 and estimates 20-30% of their cesareans are now "gentle." But many hospitals in the U.S. still only offer one option to moms-to-be -- that of a traditional cesarean.

More from The Stir: 21 Things Not To Do After a C-Section

That was JoAnn's only choice, during her first pregnancy in 2008. When she learned her daughter, Llama, was breech, a C-section was scheduled one day after her due date. "It was a typical surgery," says JoAnn, a former fifth grade teacher turned SAHM who blogs at A Whimsicle Life. "I had a spinal and once the surgeon made the first cut, my daughter was out within five minutes. Then she and my husband were whisked out of the room. I spent 30 minutes alone on the table getting sewn up."

Afterwards, JoAnn experienced post-partum depression.

When she learned she was pregnant with Dude, JoAnn hoped for a vaginal birth. But when her doctor did an ultrasound close to her due date, JoAnn saw a familiar image come into focus on the screen. Just like his older sister, Dude was head up, feet down, in perfect breech position.

JoAnn's doctor was willing to try turning him, or letting JoAnn try a breech delivery, "but both were [risks] that I wasn't willing to entertain," she says. "A C-section was a known entity."

JoAnn hadn't heard of a "gentle C" but lucky for her, her hospital -- the same one where she'd given birth to Llama four years before -- had recently transitioned their birth center to be more family-focused.

One the date of her scheduled C-section, JoAnn checked into the hospital at 7:30 a.m., two hours before operating time. While resting comfortably in a bed, she was given two bags of saline solution by IV, plus antibiotics to stave off any potential infections.

At 9:30, she was wheeled in for surgery. Her lower back was injected with anesthesia, which made her numb from the waist down. JoAnn's chest was covered with a blue sheet and her husband, Josh, was brought in to hold her hand. After a few moments of pressure when her doctor made the incision, JoAnn heard her son cry.

JoAnn Crohn and newborn son

Both Josh and Dude stayed with JoAnn through the rest of the procedure, then they headed back to their hospital room together. From start to finish, the procedure took an hour. "It was the same time as my first C-section," JoAnn says, "but the atmosphere was so different ... It was more lighthearted ... I  didn't feel robbed in the slightest."

To other moms who need to have a cesarean, JoAnn urges them to talk to their doctors about the "gentle C" option. "Everything in a gentle C centers around the family so you will never be alone," she says. "You still feel that moment of awe when you see your baby for the first time."

Crohn family

Does "gentle C" change your mind about getting a C-section?

Images via JoAnn Crohn and Heather Kirchofer/Agnes Art & Photo

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