A knife cut through my skin, muscle, tissue and uterus so that my daughter and I could live. It did the same two more times for my other two daughters. Recovery was painful and exhausting paired with the care of newborns and not much help. Yet when I hear from those who have never experienced the underlying trauma of a C-section that I didn’t really “give birth,” I wonder how they define giving birth?
If the narrow definition is “passing through the vagina” then, no, I did not give birth. But if the true definition of carrying a child, caring for her from the time the test turned blue to the time she entered the world and using my body to make sure she got here safely is applied, I most certainly gave birth. Three times.
I am not sure where the backlash against moms who have had C-sections is coming from. But it seems to be a popular topic lately. There was the troll group on Facebook which was shut down after torrential complaints when they posted that C-section moms are taking the easy way out. We should all move over and give the moms who had “traditional” childbirth a bow of superiority because they know what it is like to “really give birth.” Offended deeply, I posted it on my page. As a mom to three C-section babies, my anger took over. I removed the photo a little while later, realizing this group was only trying to get a rise out of people. But a few of the many comments did lean towards believing the same thing. There was a discussion about planned C-sections versus emergency C-sections and how planned ones were a cop-out to avoid the pain, and so on. I shook my head at the uneducated viewpoints.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 32 percent of mothers had C-sections in 2013. Preterm births make up 46 percent of that number. The numbers have stayed pretty consistent since 2009, though a slow gradual trend downward is happening. I don’t have data on how many are emergency C-sections due to a medical issue or how many are planned. But, honestly, why does it matter?
Just as I won’t ever understand what it is like to have a baby pass completely through my birth canal, people who have not had C-sections may not totally understand all of the aspects of the major surgery that results in a child. Forget the surgery that leaves you scarred, with the permanent C-section flap and in major pain, the emotional impact of a C-section, emergency or not, is major as well.
I had it all planned with my first. I had a birth plan, which did not necessarily include medication, a mental picture of what my baby’s birth would be like and an arrogance that all would be perfect. It went well for 19 hours and then something went wrong. The epidural I agreed to have moved, the pain was excruciating and the baby’s heart rate kept dropping. When they told me it was a C-section or major issues, I was wheeled back, in tears, holding on to my mother’s hands, apologizing to her that I could not get the baby out the natural way.
All of my plans changed after that. I did not have a newborn, messy baby on my chest, thus instantly bonding and offering the breast for feeding. I did not have the walking out of the hospital one day later with a newborn in my arms. I was not even the first one to hold my daughter, which was the hardest emotional adjustment I had. It took me six weeks to get my newborn to latch and nurse, something I still blame on the C-section and separation at birth. Something I still feel guilty for.
My next two births, due to the complications with the first and the closeness of the pregnancies (I had three in three years) were proven to be dangerous if I allowed my compromised uterus to contract. I did all the research on VBACs and realized I was not a candidate. In fact, a birth before any contraction at all was the safest way to get me and the baby out and home as a family safely.
The physical recovery from C-sections was excruciating, especially when I slipped in the shower two weeks post-op and tore my incision open on one side, but the emotional trauma is sometimes worse. I wondered for years what I could have done differently. I wonder how I could have changed the outcomes and have had the perfect births. But the bottom line is that I did what was needed to do to give my babies life, and that is giving birth.
C-section moms, planned or not, most certainly “give birth.” We all make the best decisions with the data that is in front of us at the time. Shaming a woman who brought a beautiful child into this world and categorizing one method as superior over another is nearsighted. We all came from someone. We were all delivered as live, happy babies. We are moms. Tried and true, who carried babies, birthed them and love them. That is giving birth… no matter how you slice it!