In the modern world, more and more women are giving birth via C-section. In certain cities, almost 50% of babies are born through what is one of the oldest surgical procedures ever recorded. Africans for centuries have developed unique treatments and procedures to treat illness and disease. One 19th century English missionary physician Dr. Robert Felkin recorded one of the first C-sections to be witnessed by outsiders in Uganda, in the Kingdom of Bunyoro. He described his experiences in a very detailed account: the woman would lay on a slanted bed, her head on the raised side. For anesthesia, they would intoxicate the patient with banana wine, and tie her thorax and legs to the bed. Banana wine was also used to sterilize the operator’s hands as well as the patient’s abdomen. The operator would then murmur an incantation and make the incision on the midline of her lower abdomen. An incision is so precise it cut through the skin, underlying tissue, and the uterus. The bleeding parts were then cauterized by a red hot iron rod by a fast-moving assistant. The operator then quickly finished the incision– amniotic fluid gushing out while the assistant held the abdominal walls open with both hands. The child was then quickly extracted and handed to another assistant. The placenta was delivered next and the operator attempted to clear a lot of the blood clots through the incision.
No stitches were used to seal the wound, the edges on the abdominal wound were put together by use of 7 polished iron nails resembling acupuncture needles and a porous grass mat was placed over the wound and finally, a thick plaster made of chewed up roots was applied and a warm banana leaf was placed on top. The patient did not utter a single sound the entire procedure. Remarkably, the patient was moving around by the 3rd day and the wound was completely healed by the 11th day. Dr. Robert Felkin was thoroughly impressed by the precision and surgical ingenuity of the clansmen, especially because sterile and successful surgeries like these were rare in other parts of the world, also suggesting that this procedure was performed for centuries in Uganda.
Elsewhere, early Chinese drawings depict babies being pulled out of their mothers’ abdomens, while ancient Greeks believed that Apollo, the sun god, tore open the belly of his son’s dying mother to deliver Asclepius into this world. One unlikely- and to some laughable origin story that is told to explain the name given to the procedure- is that Roman emperor Julius Caesar was allegedly born through a surgical cut on his mother’s abdomen. It is well known that Caesars’ mother lived well into his adult life, and before the 17th century, a C-section was performed as a lifesaving maneuver for the unborn child if the mother was facing certain death from labor and delivery, making this story unlikely. Later on, DR. James Barry performed the first successful C-section in the British Empire, the famous female army doctor who masqueraded as a man her whole life in order to become a physician.
Today, a C-section is as normal and as common as a vaginal birth. After all, no birth is an ‘easy birth’. Antenatal care and ultrasounds have made it easier to anticipate challenges during birth and even allow mothers to have elective C-sections. It’s amazing what the human body does to bring life into this world and it should always be celebrated.