Proving he’s been a handful right from the start, my youngest son tried to roundhouse-kick his way out of my uterus.
He’s my fourth child, so by then I was pretty sure I knew what to expect when I was expecting. I had been laboring along nicely, waiting for the Angel of Mercy – I mean, the anesthesiologist – to administer my epidural, when things took an unanticipated turn during a routine dilation check. Wrist-deep in my business, the nurse started to look concerned.
“I feel a nodule,” she said.
“A … nodule?” I asked, fear creeping into my throat. “Like … a bump? Like … on his head?”
“Let’s get the ultrasound tech up here,” she said by way of an answer, her voice calm but clearly concerned.
As it turns out, that “nodule” was actually a heel, and my son was presenting as a footling breech – meaning he had turned and was attempting to come into the world foot first. My doctor was summoned from his lunch hour to perform an emergency C-section. By the time he got back to the hospital, things were moving quickly – like, “YOU GUYS THERE’S ABOUT TO BE A FOOT HANGING OUT OF MY VAGINA!” quickly.
Everybody scrubbed up, moving with a surreal sense of urgency that I’d only ever seen on TV. My husband watched in poorly-disguised horror as our son was excised from my body through a deep incision. “They laid your guts on your chest!” he would later report to me with equal parts fascination and disgust.
Afterward, I was at least expecting an easier recovery – I mean, there can’t be anything worse than a stitched-together Franken-vag, right? – but nope. I felt like I had been sawed in half by a magician only it wasn’t really an illusion. Sure, my lady bits were intact, but I couldn’t appreciate that fact on account of the searing pain in my abdomen every time I laughed, coughed, sneezed, or moved. And where my tattered vagina had started to feel reasonably normal reasonably soon after my first three births, my C-section discomfort persisted for weeks.
Why wouldn’t it, though? After all, a C-section isn’t a bikini wax; it’s a major surgery. “Five layers of tissue are cut through, and the abdominal muscles are pulled apart like string cheese,” said Catherine Brooks, MPH, a healthcare professional and C-section mom whose own experience prompted her to invent the C-Panty – a post-operative garment designed to ease discomfort and help speed the healing process.
The recovery process can be grueling, even if there are no complications during the procedure (hence the need for products like the C-Panty). And it doesn’t help that new moms don’t often get the rest that surgical recovery really requires. “If you had knee surgery, the skin closes in 7-10 days, but you wouldn’t be ‘back to normal,’ – you’d be hobbling about with a brace on,” she says. “But moms are up being moms, focusing on the baby, not on the surgery.”
I didn’t think of any of this before I was unexpectedly initiated into the C-section club, so along with a permanent apron of skin across my abdomen (gahhhh), I officially gained a new perspective: C-sections are every bit as painful and difficult as vaginal births, and I can confidently say that as someone who’s had both.
Anybody who wants to argue has probably never had a C-section can STFU at any time.
In fact, let’s take it one step further and STFU about other women’s birth choices period, shall we? Let’s STFU and CTFD and whatever other acronyms aptly describe not giving a shit about how someone else’s baby is born.
When a baby that a woman has been lugging around in her uterus for months is vacated from said uterus, that’s real birth – no matter how it happens. I’m so sick of women trying to one-up each other by diminishing someone else’s birth experience, like a mother is somehow less of a badass superhero if she didn’t squat in the wilderness with only a shot of moonshine and a dirty rag to bite on.
Giving birth is a raw, gritty, real, physically-taxing process, regardless of what kind of opening the baby exits. A mother who chooses an induction of labor, or an epidural, or a C-section, is no less of a mother. We make the choices we make so that we can have our own personal best birth experiences. Like literally every other aspect of our lives, our needs and preferences vary widely, so to say anyone’s birth choices are “less than” or “easier” than others is completely absurd. It’s like saying, “Hey! You can visit New York City, but you have to drive there. If you fly or take a train or ride a horse, you’re not really in New York City.”
“I started to think, what is the ‘real’ experience?” Brooks told Scary Mommy. She wondered if it would have been more “real” if she had, say, gone through her entire pregnancy without having an ultrasound.
“Not many of us have exactly what nature intended, and that’s a good thing,” she said. “We have prenatal care, we monitor, we are prepared for emergencies.” If we can avoid complications and have a better, safer experience by using the technology available to us – C-sections included – why wouldn’t we?
Besides, no matter how our babies get here, pretty soon we’re all subjected to the great equalizer: being drenched in their poop or puke and momentarily freezing as we try to figure out how the hell we’re gonna clean all this up. And that, my friends, is as real as it gets.