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Moms keep getting the C-section conversation all wrong

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine,,...

We need to stop making moms feel judged when we talk about C-sections

There's no shortage of guilt and judgment when it comes to discussing anything related to birth and motherhood. But is it possible to figure out a way to talk about issues surrounding C-sections without falling prey to inadvertently becoming a Judgy McJudgerpants?

It's no secret that the United States has a high percentage of surgical births compared to the rest of the world. Pregnancies resulting in C-sections account for a little over 30 percent of births in the U.S., while the global average hovers at around 19 percent. The high rate does not necessarily translate to better outcomes overall for either mother or baby. All those factors combined makes it understandable that many (both professionals and people invested in pregnancy/parenting) want to discuss C-sections in the U.S.

More: 12 Breathtaking C-section scar tattoos

However, like almost anything related to motherhood, there's immediately a sense of defensiveness, judgment or guilt that pops up around C-sections. Many people who have had a surgical birth feel judged when the topic comes up, that their birth is branded "less than." Others, even those not meaning to offend, may actually be patronizing or downright rude when discussing C-sections.

So how can we talk about C-sections and the issues surrounding them without upsetting, insulting or judging our fellow moms? We can't not talk about them. We need to find a way to discuss them while leaving judgment at the door.

If we stay silent, nothing changes.

A recent Yahoo piece asks if women are being "tricked" into having C-sections. The piece hinges on a recent report that showed that the majority of women who opted for C-sections when told their babies were "too big" could have had a vaginal birth due to incorrect estimation. This could easily descend into a conversation about how some moms made the "wrong" choice and obviously didn't need the surgery. But what good does that do the moms who did have the C-section? They can't travel back in time and change it. Instead, let's look to the future and talk about how this information can be now used to inform pregnant women when they're told the estimated size of their baby. Let's use it as an opportunity to discuss the culture of fear in pregnancy and childbirth.

More: The problem with the words we use when we talk about birth


For starters, when talking about C-sections, the last thing you want to do is make assumptions.

"I was not bullied into mine by a lazy, unscrupulous OB," Jenny, a mother of one who had an emergency C-section, told me. "I was under the care of a doula and a midwife who made the call that a CS was necessary. You also can't assume anything about a person's recovery process. I actually had some complications that landed me back in the hospital for five days when my baby was 2 weeks old, but by 6 weeks postpartum, I was lifting weights and doing ab exercises. Everyone is different."

Jenny says to suspend the assumptions for all parts of the C-section process, since it's incredibly individualized. "Don't assume anything about how I feel about my CS. It was disappointing in some ways and a relief in some ways. I don't feel like a failure."

We need to learn how to talk about the issues surrounding C-sections without personalizing and without speaking for women who have had surgical births. We can talk about statistics and studies as well as theorize about why the U.S. rate is so much higher and what we can do to lower it, all without judging women who have been there.

More: Mom horrified that doctors 'lost' her baby during emergency C-section

Birth is tricky. It's an incredibly personal experience, and many people have a hard time talking about it without allowing their own experience to influence their thoughts and words. And that's normal. But if we can make sure to be a bit more conscious about how we talk about these issues, we might be able to find a way that stops alienating women and pitting them against one another so we can have healthy, productive dialogues to make birth better and safer for everyone.

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