Invisible Labor: The Untold Story of the Cesarean Section (Hardcover)

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Invisible Labor: The Untold Story of the Cesarean Section (Hardcover)

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An incisive yet personal look at the science and history of the most common surgery performed in America—the cesarean section—and an exposé on the disturbing state of maternal medical care

When Rachel Somerstein had an unplanned C-section with her first child, the experience was anything but the “routine” operation her doctor described. A series of errors by her clinicians led to a real-life nightmare: surgery without anesthesia. The ensuing mental and physical complications left her traumatized and desperate for answers about how things could have gone so wrong.

In the United States, one in three babies is born via C-section, a rate that has grown exponentially over the past fifty years. And while in most cases the procedure is “safe,” it is not without significant, sometimes life-changing consequences, with its burdens falling disproportionately on people of color. Mothers are often left to navigate these complications alone, with C-sections all but invisible in popular culture, pregnancy guides, and even standard medical advice.

In Invisible Labor, Somerstein weaves personal narrative and investigative journalism with medical, social, and cultural history to reveal the operation’s surprising evolution, from its days being practiced on enslaved women to the ways modern medical technology promotes its overuse. And she uncovers the current-day failures of the medical system, showing how pregnant people’s pain and agency is often disregarded by physicians who, motivated by fear of litigation or a hospital’s commitment to efficiency, make consequential and deeply personal decisions on behalf of their patients.

Candid, raw, and illuminating, Invisible Labor lifts the veil on C-sections so that mothers can navigate future pregnancies and births with more knowledge about surgical birth’s risks, benefits, and alternatives—a corrective to the ongoing curtailment of reproductive rights. Writing with deep feeling and authority, Somerstein offers support and camaraderie to others who have had difficult or traumatic birth experiences, as well as hope for new forms of reproductive justice.

Rachel Somerstein is an associate professor of journalism at SUNY New Paltz. She has written for the Washington PostGuernica, and Wired, among many other publications. Invisible Labor is her first book. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family.


Product Details ISBN: 9780063264410
ISBN-10: 0063264412
Publisher: Ecco
Publication Date: June 4th, 2024
Pages: 336
Language: English

“A decade after my first C-section, Invisible Labor helped me process wounds I thought were healed. Rachel Somerstein looks directly into our bodies and body politic, revealing the gender and racial power dynamics that make the C-section America’s most common surgery. Rigorously and lovingly reported, Invisible Labor is a gift, both long overdue and right on time.” — Angela Garbes, author of Like a Mother and Essential Labor

“Somerstein lifts the surgical drape on the cesarean and explores what it really is, what it has meant for mothers, and how it has been weaponized. The operation affects women most deeply, physically and psychologically, but it ripples out in ways that the ever-expanding literature on modern maternity care has not fully examined and that belie the hidden bikini scar. With fascinating medical history, trenchant cultural analysis, and unflinching personal testimony, Invisible Labor is an important, accessible contribution.” — Jennifer Block, journalist and author of Everything Below the Waist and Pushed

“Rachel Somerstein’s Invisible Labor is astonishing for parents—like me—who never even thought to ask questions about the most important experience of their lives. She has done that rare thing that the very best books do: she has made the unseen seen. And if there’s any justice in this world, this book will change systems.”
Rachel Louise Snyder, author of Women We Buried, Women We Burned and No Visible Bruises

“A sharp account of an agonizing experience of childbirth. . . . The author’s anger over that traumatic experience infuses her investigation of the medical, social, and cultural history of C-sections and, more broadly, of a medical system that denies pregnant women’s autonomy and discredits or ignores women’s pain. . . . [Somerstein] draws on considerable research. . . . A hard-hitting critique of a persistent problem.” — Kirkus