Pregnancy & Childbirth

Stop Treating My C-Section Like a Tragedy

In honor of Cesarean Awareness Month, I’ve been seeing a lot of articles promoting awareness and acceptance of the procedure, which is nice. From photoshoots of post-partum c-section scars to personal accounts of birth stories, I like reading about and increasing awareness about parents who have had c-sections (including myself).

Then I came across this article, and it left me with a bad feeling. It is a photographer’s recounting of c-sections she’s seen and how people should realize that these parents are brave and strong. All in all, the article is well-intended, but here are the parts I took issue with:

Many of you probably read about the amazing footling breech birth I photographed in February. Mom was being prepped for an emergency c-section when she felt such a strong urge to push that her daughter came out, feet first, while she was on the operating table. Again, another amazing birth story that inspired countless women to hold onto their birthing goals.

Oh yay, this mom was able to redeem her near-miss with a c-section! She’s such an example of how to stick to your birthing goals! (/sarcasm)

I’m glad this woman was able to avoid a c-section, but holding onto “birthing goals” is exactly the kind of thinking that harms babies (and moms). There are plenty of tales of homebirths gone wrong that may have ended differently if they had happened in a hospital. Even giving birth in a hospital does not guarantee a trauma-free delivery. I’m glad everything (presumably) worked out for the mom who pushed out her breech baby, but everyone’s “birthing goal” should be to have the safest delivery possible for your situation (in spite of your magical dream world view of what the birth experience should be).

And so, because April is Cesarean awareness month, I encourage us to take a step back and celebrate these three truths about c-section mamas.

Something about this sentence comes across as so patronizing. Like, hey everybody, let’s remember that c-section parents can also have birth experiences that are to be celebrated! Yay, they get a whole month of celebration! Now, back to our stories about how awesome vaginal birth is.

While we’re on the subject of awareness, what about promoting acceptance too? How about, let’s not go around feeling sorry for people who had c-sections?

She knows that in this moment, this is what is best for her child, even though “what’s best” means a major surgery with real wounds and scars. Even though “what’s best” means letting go of a dream or a vision of birth that she’s been building up for the last nine months.

C-section is not the only type of birth that leaves “wounds and scars.” If you have had a vaginal birth, you know already about the tearing and how significant it can be. If not, just look up “perineal tear” and “fistula.” Or how about what happens to your pelvic floor after birth, which affects bladder control and other things.

If you haven’t had a c-section before, I encourage you to let the stark reality of this moment settle in your mind – put yourself in her place, on that table, waiting, possibly fearful.. When you do, I think you’ll quickly realize how brave c-section mamas are.

I agree with the sentiment, that we should promote empathy towards others instead of ripping each other to shreds over parenting hot-topics. (See also: breastfeeding vs formula, co-sleeping vs not, baby-led-weaning vs. rice cereal.) But I think this article is overly sentimental in the “brave” and “strong” language. Does it not occur to people that all parents going through the birth process are strong and brave? Even the c-section ones?

Emotionally and physically, these women are SO strong. And this strength isn’t just necessary on delivery day; this strength must endure in the weeks and months and years ahead – as their bodies and souls heal, crafting new dreams with their little ones in their arms.

“Crafting new dreams”?? Because I didn’t have the perfect dream birth that I wanted, somehow that will taint my experience with my baby? Also, my soul didn’t need healing. In the end, I was grateful to have my baby in my arms.

The words that the author used to describe what it’s like to go through a c-section did not speak to me at all, like they have never had a c-section. Which, is fine, but there are plenty of good articles by people who have had c-sections that have better advice. And this overly-sugary talk of bravery, beauty, and strength just rubs me the wrong way. We need to promote c-section acceptance over awareness. Everyone who goes through birth is brave and strong. It’s not all beautiful, and that’s ok too.

Before I gave birth, I had a lot of judgmental and patronizing ideas about what the birth experience would be like (and parenting, for that matter). Even though I had good intentions! I thought, yeah c-sections are good if necessary but I probably won’t have to have one. Of course, once I got the news that I needed one, I did have to take a minute and mourn the loss of my dream birth. And afterwards, when talking to all of my fellow new moms, I was a little jealous when they talked about having the baby crawl up their chest, or seeing the pulsing umbilical cord and waiting to cut it, or having the option of using a mirror to see the birth happening. Even though I came to terms with my c-section almost immediately after it happened.

The thing is, sometimes when I mention having a c-section, people start talking at me about hospital statistics, lithotomy positions, impatient doctors, moms who want to schedule their births early for non-medical reasons, how epidurals cause c-sections, etc. These things are not related to why I had my c-section, and talking about it like it’s some tragedy is ridiculous. I’m grateful that I had access to experienced doctors and an operating room when I needed it.

One article that I really enjoyed reading was this one, and here’s one of my favorite parts:

When I mention that I’ve had a c-section, people usually just kind of go on discussing what we were discussing without batting an eyelash. After all, about one third of women who give birth in the U.S. will deliver this way. In fact, c-sections are the second most common surgery performed in the US. But not infrequently, I get one the following responses:

  • Over-the-top sympathy: “Oh, you poor thing! That’s TOO BAD! Oh my gosh, that must be SO HARD for you to come to terms with your horrible birth experience!” (This was mostly from fellow moms who hadn’t had c-sections.)

  • Righteously sympathetic anger: “OH MY GOD, WASN’T IT AWFUL!? MY DOCTOR WAS A MANIPULATIVE DICK, TOO!” (This comes from fellow c-section moms who had really crappy experiences where they felt pressured into a c-section they didn’t want.)

Right on. All people who go through birth have different experiences, and they’re all valid. And some people have been pressured into having unnecessary c-sections, and that’s shitty. But on the other hand, some moms, who didn’t plan on having c-sections, did have them and feel just fine about them. So enough with the saccharine talk about how much my soul needs to heal, or how my dreams were crushed, or how “brave” I am for going through a common surgical procedure. I feel just fine.

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Mary Brock works as an Immunology scientist by day and takes care of a pink-loving princess child by night. She likes cloudy days, crafting, cooking, and Fall weather in New England.

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  1. The idea of “birthing goals” seems so demeaning. Why should my bodily functions be aspirational?

    And ‘C-section is not the only type of birth that leaves “wounds and scars.” If you have had a vaginal birth, you know already about the tearing and how significant it can be.’ Yep. Two words. Balloon animal.

  2. Silly me. I thought the usual “birthing goal” was to end up with a more or less healthy mother and baby. (Or at least not so unhealthy that they aren’t able to get healthy, anyway.)
    Anything else is gravy.

    I guess I’m just so last century.

    This stuff somehow strikes me as the pregnant mom/parent version of “who has the bigger dick?”

  3.  And afterwards, when talking to all of my fellow new moms, I was a little jealous when they talked about having the baby crawl up their chest, or seeing the pulsing umbilical cord and waiting to cut it, or having the option of using a mirror to see the birth happening. 

    I had two vaginal deliveries and I didn’t have any of that either.

    Baby crawl up the chest? What am I, a marsupial?

    Looking at pulsating umbilical cords? I had a baby to look at.

    I probably could have cut it if I’d wanted to, but I thought my husband could do something after all of this as well.

    A mirror? I couldn’t have watched because I was too busy pushing.

    But I also didn’t know that I needed to have a “birth experience”. I thought having a birth that ended in both of us alive and well was enough. Sorry that I let womanhood down.

    I’m with you. We need to stop fetishizing birth, especially vaginal birth. It is harmful for people who need C-sections and everybody else as well. I am 100% pro people giving birth the way that’s best for them, which btw includes elective C-sections.

    There’s so much we can still do to make birthing more centred on the person giving birth. There are still so many asshole healthcare providers who need to be put in their place. There are so many social issues surrounding pregnancy and birth that feminists can keep working on them for quite some time. “We need to lower the rate of c-sections” isn’t one of them.

    1. Right?

      They tried that mirror thing with me, but by then I was so tired I could barely see straight. I think my partner cut the cord, but tbh I don’t remember and it meant jack to me. Baby crawling up my chest? I honestly don’t think he was able to. Having him lie there, that was great though. And they do that for c-sections too.

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