C-sections have peaked at around 30 percent of births in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Elective cesareans are definitely not unheard of, and throughout my first pregnancy, so was my self-righteousness. I spent a chunk of my baby’s gestation, between sweating through my clothes and standing with my head in the freezer for “just one more bite” of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, educating myself on the horrors of C-sections and their unnecessary rampage on the abdominal muscles of women all across America.
C-sections happen to women who aren’t as prepared as me, was my quiet self-affirmation as I rolled on my birthing ball to facilitate optimal position of my beloved fetus while practicing hypnobirthing breaths.
C-sections happen to women who are induced/take an epidural/choose them for silly reasons/have impatient doctors/labor lying down/don’t do enough yoga/don’t have a good playlist/forget their aromatherapy kit at home, etc., I thought obnoxiously.
Damn, was I a real jackass.
I’m glad I prepared for a natural birth, glad I labored with my lavender essential oils and devoted husband for 40 beautiful and hellish hours, glad I grabbed onto the squat bar and pushed, channeling my inner goddess to bring my baby out into the world. I’m glad that, when the doctor told us her head was tilted to one side, we worked harder, trying every position change in the book.
But you know what? My self-superiority and smugness didn’t prepare me for what happened. When our doctor first broached the subject, saying, “with how hard and how long you’ve been pushing, you should have had this baby by now,” while I was stalled at zero station, and “it’s looking like C-section might be the only option,” I looked to my husband and started to cry. This wasn’t what we wanted. This wasn’t our birth plan.
But then, when the baby’s heart rate started dropping hard during contractions, when there was talk of a wrapped cord, and the might turned into an, “I’m sorry, this is it,” I had no more tears. I realized that I had been crying for myself, crying because I had failed at childbirth and become one of those women I had judged. In that moment, all I cared about was our baby, not my pride.
That was it. You can shit-talk the birth industrial complex up and down, but when it’s the only option, the spinal and the knife still welcome you with cold but open arms. As they were pulling my guts aside, elbow deep into my pelvis, doing the very thing I had never prepared for, all I could feel was gratitude. And sweet relief when I heard that first cry.
It still took me a while to let go of my ego though. I didn’t want people to know about the C-section. Or, if I did tell them, I had to include this convoluted story just to prove to them that I did try, that it was absolutely necessary, that I had a good doctor, not one of those who rushes to intervention.
It’s OK to grieve over your scar and the loss of the natural birth that you wanted. But I’m not ashamed of what happened anymore. I’m not going to let the route my baby left my body define who I am. And I’m not obligated to convince anyone that our lives were in danger just so they won’t think I’m a quitter. I’m certainly not interested in listening to any if-onlys or maybe-next-times from Monday morning quarterbacks, however well-intentioned. It doesn’t matter how much you think C-sections are over-utilized; no one with staples across their abdomen who hasn’t pooped in five days needs to hear your thoughts on VBAC.
Hey, I get it—you’re just saying what I was thinking a few months ago. But I didn’t have the right to judge, and I don’t have one damn opinion on anyone’s birth experiences anymore. There is no easy way out, and anyone learning how to get out of bed without using abdominal muscles knows damn well that a C-section isn’t it. Childbirth is horrible and wonderful and messy and complicated, and whatever you had to do to get through it, to live through it, good for you. Whether you pushed or your baby slid out when you sneezed, whether you breathed through the pain or walked in the door and said “epidural, please,” whether you tore or had to hold a pillow over your incision every time you coughed or laughed for weeks, you don’t have to take shit from anybody.