When I lie about my C-section, I muddle through something along the lines of “medically necessary” (it wasn’t) and “big baby” (he was, but others naturally birth bigger). Sometimes this is accepted with a nod and a quick look of pity before the conversation moves on. Other times, not so much. People require details. They want me to know that the vast majority of women can birth babies naturally and that this process can be empowering. They get angry on my behalf, like I was bullied into surgery, and throw statistics around along with words like “unneccesarean.” I’m left blushing, a bit ashamed, and slowly nodding my head in agreement.
It’s true—birth can be all of those positive things, and ideally it should be. I had no medical reason for surgery. C-sections are offered for survivors of previous sexual assault, and I have no doubt that giving birth would have damaged me—maybe slowly while the details trickled back, perhaps when the nightmares started again and the panic kept me locked inside my house, checking windows and doors whilst repeating, “I’m safe now. I’m safe now.” Maybe it would have been quick; I could have died inside swiftly, with my feet in stirrups and a stranger dictating what happens to my body—again. A whisper in my ear of “Just breathe honey, just breathe. It will all be over soon.”
Rates for C-sections are increasing; up to 1 in 3 births involve abdominal surgery. For a quiet but significant portion of these women, the reason for this lies in their heads, not their bodies. I had every intention of rocking a natural birth. I read the books and spoke to friends who described their experiences as life-changing. I imagined myself breathing through a contraction, my husband’s hand resting on my back while a midwife told me I would soon meet my baby.
But throughout my pregnancy I knew that the abuse was surfacing in my mind. It was an undercurrent of tension in every examination, every appointment when my body was pushed around without explanation and my feelings unacknowledged. I would go home and would rest. I would talk to my baby and practice the therapy techniques that had helped me so many times before. I drank my raspberry leaf tea, watched birthing videos on YouTube, and had regular acupuncture.
It didn’t do any good.
I made it to 40+2 before I broke down in the midwife’s room. My baby, who was measuring at around 8 ½ pounds wasn’t engaged, and words like “induction” and “forceps” were making my heart race and my vision blur. I couldn’t do that birth. I needed the quiet birth with the gentle breathing and the songs I’d chosen playing softly in the room. I couldn’t do the birth with people walking in and out, checking dilation, and putting my body on a schedule, with the next intervention lined up on my chart.
I couldn’t have recovery from birth mirroring recovery from assault—impersonal in its jolliness. I chose surgery. I signed the consent form willingly and with relief and enjoyed the final four days of my pregnancy fully. The fear was gone. Yes, I could have tried a vaginal birth. But would you endanger your mental health? Would you risk disappearing for months or years while you fought your way back to feeling safe in your skin? I made a choice—a choice I still stand by. My son, my perfect, beautiful boy was born in an operating room. My husband and I laughed as the obstetrician held him up. We laughed because he was here, safe, and so was I.
There are lots of women with a history like mine; maybe they’ll get their quiet birth, at a hospital or in water at home—a birth that heals instead of harms. Or perhaps they’re looking down a barrel of interventions and thinking, I’m worn out already, I have nothing left. Many don’t want any kind of birth, not the home birth tinkly music kind nor the pethidine fog kind. They sign up for surgery feeling liberated, knowing what will happen and preparing for it. It makes no difference either way. It’s the choice that matters; it’s being in control and feeling heard. It’s in looking at your body and saying, “You are powerful. You have survived, and you will continue to do so.”
The presence of a scar on the outside of my body will never bother me because it’s one I chose. I love this scar, and I am grateful for it. If you’re ever talking to someone like me—someone who is cagey about details or doesn’t join in birth discussions wholeheartedly—leave her C-section scar alone. Don’t push her. Don’t tell her what she could have done. She already knows, and she has other, deeper scars to deal with.