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C-Sections: What You Need To Know

I can still remember how the sun lit up our bedroom the morning I finally went into labor. Nearly two weeks overdue, I was ecstatic. Later my husband, Gary, called the doctor, who wanted me to come in so he could to see how far I'd dilated. Around noon, Gary and I arrived at the doctor's office, located in the Brooklyn hospital where I was due to deliver. A quick exam showed that my cervix hadn't even begun to dilate. When I mentioned that the baby hadn't been very active that morning, my doctor wanted to put me on the fetal monitor for a few minutes.

Hunched in front of the machine, the nurse frowned at the monitor's paper readout in her hand. She hurried out and came back with the doctor. "This is what we don't want to see," he said, showing us how the peaks of the tracing flattened out after each contraction. "Late decels," he called them. The baby's heartbeat wasn't recovering its strength and rate as it should after each squeeze of my uterus. "Often these things clear up on their own," he said. "Let's move you to the delivery floor and keep monitoring you."

Gary and I -- and a half-dozen medical students -- ended up in a draped-off corner of the maternity ward. Our dreams of a natural childbirth slipping away by the minute, the two of us watched in silence as the doctors-in-training clustered around the fetal monitor.

After three long hours spent watching and waiting, my doctor ordered, "Let's go. Now!" Suddenly, I was on a high-speed gurney ride toward the swinging doors of an operating room. We later learned that the placenta had partially separated from the uterine wall, and my baby had already begun to suffer from oxygen deprivation.

Cesarean delivery. It ushers in more than 1.3 million babies a year -- 31 percent of all births -- in the United States. An emergency c-section is usually performed after labor has begun -- because labor hasn't progressed or the baby's in distress, or for rare but dire situations, when every second counts in saving the life of mother, child, or both. The emotional and physical effects of a c-section can be wrenching, and it's something many parents-to-be don't even want to consider. Yet it can be tremendously helpful to hear how others not only coped with the experience but came away deeply bonded with their baby, and deeply grateful for the technology and expertise that made this new life possible.