I’ve had five c-sections. Only one of them was “planned.” Yes, I labored four times for too many hours, pushed for too many more, and still ended up in the OR having my babies by scalpel. I had three different doctors, two midwives, and delivered at three different hospitals. At one point in this journey, I joined a rather violent, anti-c-section, online group. I left after someone posted that they would rather their baby had died than have been born via surgery. I suggested therapy. She suggested I was insensitive and should leave the group.
It was a moment of clarity for me. It was when I backed off the birthing train, looked at my children, and was able to just say, “Thank you.” This past week though, someone posted the following on an online forum:
“A woman that has a c-section did not educate herself before labor.”
I didn’t throw my hat into the fray (it was on a cooking forum, which is completely insane by itself), because I knew it was no doubt spoken by someone with zero experience. But as someone who went through so many surgeries, did the research, tried all the herbs, the positions, the midwives, the doctors, the doulas, the breathing, the hypnosis, the castor-oil labor inductions – I think I am in a position to give some words of advice to those of you who never had the same experience but continue to offer advice to those of us on the other side. I’m all for VBACs and natural births, mind you. But there has to be some pragmatism at play which, for some reason, disappears whenever this topic comes up.
So here you go. Your friend just had a baby and it was delivered by c-section. When you go and visit her in the hospital, keep the following in mind. These are things you should never say to a woman who has given birth by c-section. These were all said to me at one point, by the way, and at the time, I died a little. But now, older and wiser, I can roll my eyes and confidently say, “You are a moron,” even to the most educated of my friends.
1. “Oh, you are so lucky! I wish I could have a c-section!” Yeah, so you’re pretty much ignorant and stupid. I know all you are thinking about is the convenience of scheduling a birth, and maybe missing the hours of labor, but seriously, no one in their right mind would ever wish for major abdominal surgery just days before having a newborn placed into her care. While you can’t walk. Or turn over. Or, sometimes, breathe.
2. “Have you considered a homebirth for the next one?” Thanks! I’ll look into that. Home birth! Great idea. Yes. I did. But once you have a c-section that saves both your life and the life of your baby, you tend to want to focus on surviving more than the experiential aspect of the whole thing. This is a comment that is always made by someone who does not care what went into the decisions prior to the c-section. They just care that you had one. Don’t assume that the surgery was frivolous. It isn’t always. And suggesting a home-birth for someone who could be high risk is just unwise.
3. “I heard you had an epidural. Once you start down that path, you’re pretty much guaranteed a c-section.” I loved this one. You can swap out epidural for any sort of pain medication, by the way. It’s the martyr line. The one that implies that if you would have just held out a little longer…
Here’s what I learned: every labor is different. And your 4 hour labor is not the same as my 26 hour labor. And for the record, the main side effect of an epidural is not a c-section, it’s pain relief. It can also, as in my case, make the labor speed up. So take your “I didn’t have an epidural!” badge, mix it with your granola and wheat germ, and kindly shove it up your ass.
4. “Did you try a different position?” I got this gem after I had given birth to my son. I pushed for close to three hours. Though a lot of it is fuzzy, I think at a certain point I was hanging from the ceiling. The assumption is always that if I had just tried one more position, the baby would have just flown right out. It isn’t always the case.
5. “I am so sorry for you!” Why? Because I just gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby? The correct greeting should really be, “Congratulations!” It’s a happy event, not a death. It’s true, it didn’t go as I planned, but give that time. Parenting doesn’t go as planned either. Not much in life does. In fact, there is something to be said about learning that you can’t control everything when it comes to your kids. I just learned it on the labor floor. It’ll hit you when your kid turns three.
6. “Babies born by c-section have all sorts of issues later on. Like learning disabilities. And allergies.” This was brought to my attention by a well-meaning friend who wanted to warn me that I should look for those signs later on in my child’s development. Ironically, years later, her kids were pretty much allergic to air and struggling in school. Go figure.
7. “You live in a state with a high c-section rate.” Yes, that’s true. Your point? Should I move? Or again, are you assuming that it was needless? Don’t go there. Yes, there are high rates of c-sections, but there are also low rates of infant and mother mortality. Keep that in mind when you visit your friend.
8. “It’s such a violent way for your child to come into the world.” Hmm…. Yes that’s true. Giving birth underwater, humming to Enya, surrounded by scented candles – sounds lovely. It’s kind of the same vision I had about breastfeeding. I imagined sitting under a tree, wind in my hair, nourishing my baby. The truth? It’s painful. It’s not “simple.” And more often than not, it is almost savage. Childbirth turns the weakest women into Amazonian war-lords. I don’t think there is one species on the planet that gives birth in peace. (Maybe whales, but even then, it’s a WHALE.) Birth is a natural part of life, but don’t kid yourself, it’s called “labor” for a reason. My c-section is no more violent than the woman whose baby is born breech, or after hours of labor, or even falling out with seconds to spare.
9.“Why do you want your child born in a hospital?” So, first off, see #2 above. Then, consider this: I’d like my kid born in a hospital because there are DOCTORS there. And pain killers. And specialists. So yes, I choose to err on the side of caution. It’s why I also vaccinate my kids. Do you want to have that conversation as well?
10. “You should read this book about childbirth in America.” Someone actually handed me “Silent Knife” a day after my c-section. It was a great read and put me in touch with a whole crew of people who preyed on my feelings of inadequacy in my failure to have a baby the “natural” way. It educated me, but ultimately, I probably would have been happier with some lighter, positive reading. Like Stephen King.
So much planning goes into childbirth and when those plans go awry, it’s difficult to recover. I struggled with it for years before ultimately seeing the big picture – that childbirth is not about expectations. It is about the baby. It is about a healthy mom. Stop judging women for how they have their babies and stop making it something much more than it is. My oldest kid is 17 and those few seconds when she came into this world do not hold a candle to the years that followed. They do not define her. And they do not define me.