(Same url, but the site was changed to a bloggier format; much nicer and easier to maneuver.)
A few days ago, the cesarean rates for California came out. As I read through each hospitals' percentages, the blood drained from my body; I felt weaker and weaker with each statistic read. From 70% at Corona Regional Medical Center to 13.3% at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, the average in the state 32.7%; more than twice what the World Health Organization recommends. I sat alone, letting the tears fall down my cheeks.
I started shaking, feeling sick to my stomach. How? How? How could this be happening? The sickening feeling grew as I remembered the stats were from 2008; they were most certainly going to be higher for 2009 (and here we are in 2010).
What could I do? What more could I do? I started brainstorming with myself. I scanned the Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) sites, looking for strategies for changing The System. The word "education" came up over and over again. But, how? How do we educate more women earlier, before they have that first cesarean? Those of us in the natural birth world have struggled with this question for over 40 years. We've tried everything from conferences to articles to speaking on national television. But, nothing seems to help.
Expressing my despair on Facebook that night I read the statistics, several of us threw out ideas, considerations of what we might do differently. Some were extreme (a la PETA), like throwing red dye on obstetricians as they walked in the hospital -and others were still noisy- picketing outside the offensive hospitals. After that, we were at a loss. The possibility of being on Oprah is miniscule (she doesn't talk about childbirth on her show), so barring that, how can we get the word out that thousands of women are being unnecessarily cut every single day. Women who become at greater risk for a multitude of complications that can include death and a lifetime of disability.
My body felt possessed.
When I process, think or develop an idea, I do something else, allowing the ideas to run as a constant hum underneath my conscious thought. On the television that night was Stripped: Greg Friedler's Naked Las Vegas, a show about the making of the book Naked Las Vegas. Fiedler photographed people clothed and then naked. Nothing erotic about it at all. Simply a demonstration of what people look like in and out of their clothes.
Watching, I was reminded of Shape of a Mother, a beautiful site where women send in pictures of their bodies, real, stretch-marked, floppy, saggy and not air-brushed. Sarah and I both sent our photos in and are on there somewhere.
The underlying hum started getting louder. I began searching sites for photos of cesarean scars. I found several, but they were more clinical than emotional. As a midwife, I've listened as women talked about their scars, held new mothers as they cried about their surgeries, nodded as they exposed their deepest sadness about their cesareans.
What would the scar say if it could speak?
CesareanScar.com was born.
The site will evolve; I know that already. But, I wanted to start... did not want to wait. I began asking women to send me three things.
1. a photo of their scar
2. what the scar says to them when they look at it
3. what the scar says when they touch it
Within a few minutes of creating the site (before it went live yesterday), I knew I wanted to have a section for photos and stories about the immediate post-surgery days, while still in the hospital. I knew the next section would be photos and stories about the transition to being at home, how having a scar affected those first six weeks postpartum. I also see a section, a resigned and endless place for the long-term stories; how the scar affects a woman years later.
I don't believe all scars speak of sadness. I know some scars are joyous triumphs of a saved life, a rescue for mothers and babies and even silent sentries protecting what lies beneath. I want all stories. I want to hear what women's scars have to say because I am sure they have a lot to tell us.
Beyond what I want to hear, I have illusions of grandeur that women will find the site, prayerfully, before they have their first babies. When women Google "cesarean scar" they will happen upon this site and read -and read and read. If women have already had one cesarean, perhaps hearing there are alternatives to a repeat cesarean will put a bug in their ear about VBAC.
I'm humbled by the two stories already there. For those that join me in this venture, we get to watch the project grow from its infancy. I'm very excited and feel like I am doing something beyond being a midwife for women wanting a VBAC (which, I know, is a great thing all in itself). I just can't sit by watching women be cut over and over again.
Here in San Diego, the hospital doing the most births is Sharp Mary Birch; their cesarean rate is 41.6%. Beyond disgusted, it was long overdue I did something more.