One subject Iâ€™ve not shied away from is my experience with two cesarean births and this birth planned the same. I donâ€™t want to make light of the seriousness of major surgery, but I find myself sharing pieces of my story because I see the shame surrounding cesareans, and I donâ€™t think that benefits expectant mamas or those who have experienced the operating table for birth. It took time to be at peace with that first cesarean birth.
I was induced based on borderline high blood pressure and a â€śtraceâ€ť of protein in my urine. It was the day before a major holiday during Americaâ€™s longest holiday season. Though I originally opted for a natural birth plan, 6 hours in I had an epidural. My labor never progressed. After 19 hours my child remained at negative three station (very high), my cervix dilated only to 3 cm, and I developed a fever while babyâ€™s heart rate began to decelerate. A borderline emergency cesarean birth resulted. Baby went to NICU and I saw him 18 hours later (and for about a minute after delivery).
Afterward I felt like I failed, like I was weak for asking for the epidural at all. I felt embarrassed that I was so in pain that I moaned and groaned so desperately in front of my husband (he didnâ€™t care) until I finally received an epidural. I was alienated from the doctor from her hard bedside manner, not to mention indignant at the seemingly convenient, baseless induction to avoid the chance of my birth happening on a holiday. I felt enraged at the nurses for not trying harder to encourage nursing, instead opting to force feed my son formula (to avoid potential blood sugar issues related to a large baby). I felt despair at being so far from my son in the NICU, seemingly powerless to be there with him. Though about one month later baby became exclusively breastfed, every feeding that first month just brought back up these feelings, made more punishing by my exhaustion and hormones.
I hid all these feelings because people insisted that it didnâ€™t matter how baby arrived, just that we were all healthy. Sure, yes. Then I felt discounted like my feelings and hopes were entirely disregarded, seemingly cancelled out by the healthy child that eventually made it to my arms. Now I somehow felt selfish to be disappointed in my experience when the doctor potentially â€śsaved our lives,â€ť as one said.
Healing finally came as I began to observe the culture through othersâ€™ experiences. When I saw other mamas talk of their struggles (mostly online in a cloth diaper group), I saw the pressures, the shame seething under the surface of comments. Sometimes these comments looked helpful, discouraging induction if at all possible (good advice really, but discounting of some womenâ€™s medical need for induction). The horror stories just seemed to amplify the fear and darkness surrounding cesarean birth. People regularly bring up the extra healing and risk though many mamas, Iâ€™ve learned through hearing stories and my own experience, get through the recovery with just a little extra effort.
This helped me shed the shame and feelings of less than. Time (and a change to an awesome doctor) helped me to process the many emotions of the birth, where deep down I felt an overwhelming lack of control. I had to account for myself as well. I never took the time to learn about cesarean birth. I think a lot of my feelings would have been less severe had I not been so blindsided by the unknown. I could have had a birth plan in place. I also may have opted for a C-section earlier had I realized the likelihood of my son going to the NICU due to my fever, but I never took the time to learn about why one might even need surgical birth.
I also never invested in classes for childbirth. Due to our busy schedules, I read a book on the Bradley Method but assumed that was enough. I was ill-prepared for labor. I didnâ€™t even think to get out of the bed at any point in the six hours of labor before my epidural to move around. None of this may have mattered, but I realized I gave up much of my autonomy far before the day of induction. Certainly my doctor failed me in preparing me, but part of my healing came from an honest evaluation of what part I played in my labor experience. These thingsâ€”getting up during labor, knowing about C-sections, more practice of focusing through pain, etc.â€”may have made no difference in the end result, but I judged myself for failing when I needed to offer myself more grace for being human.
Last, I hold out the possibility that my doctor kept baby and me safe. She and a nurse reported to me that the baby was angled into my pelvic bone instead of my cervix. Itâ€™s entirely possible that my son would have never dropped and had no chance of coming out vaginally either at all or without significant effort and risk by the doctor. In all of this I have found comfort in choosing a cesarean for my subsequent births. I face the operating room with grace and courage instead of fear and dread. It may be cold and sterile but it holds the opportunity to birth my child with just as much joy and excitement as any other variation of birth experience.
Annie is a mom of two boys, ages two and four. She enjoys the finer things in life, like compression socks and a full nightâ€™s rest.