Every once in a while, maybe more often than I realize, I find myself touching my c-section scar. I run my fingers back and forth, over the incision site, its bumps, and lumps, almost willing myself to touch the bigger scar that lies beneath. It’s an interesting sensation, touching something that’s devoid of most feeling, yet painful at the same time. Even two years after my second section, and five years after my first, it still hurts.
I was 35 weeks pregnant when I suddenly started having contractions. Over the course of the day, as the contractions strengthened, I grew more and more panicked. Just after midnight, I called my doctor and was told to head to the hospital. Visions of my perfect, natural, peaceful birth plan were flying out the window.
Everyone tells you not to hold on too tight to your birth plan – that babies have a way of coming how and when they please. But, for mothers like me, for whom pregnancy feels like an exercise in lost control, birth plans bring the solace of a plan, a way things should ideally progress. We know that it’s not written in stone; it often changes in the blink of an eye.
We know this, but it still hurts.
After hours of laboring on my side in an oxygen mask due to baby’s disappearing heart rate, I spiked a fever. “It’s time for him to come out,” my doctor told me, wiping a tear from my cheek. “You need each other, so it’s time.” I knew she was right, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of failure. I was supposed to protect this baby, to keep him safe inside of me for 40 weeks; he needed the opportunity to grow and develop in all the ways he should and my job was to give him time to do so.
Instead, we went to the OR, me and my little boy, and the anesthesiologist got to work. He jabbed me with a scalpel to check the dosage. “Can you feel this?” he asked, assuming I couldn’t.
“It hurts,” I said, unable to hold back the tears. “It still hurts.”
As it turns out, the scalpels that make those c-section incisions cut into a lot more than skin and organs. 5 years after my baby boy was born, I still struggle with the experience. After years of hearing comments like, “Oh, a c-section, you’re so lucky, how easy,” and “Oh, you didn’t have a normal delivery,” it’s not uncommon for women who’ve had c-sections to feel lesser than their vaginally-delivering counterparts.
C-section deliveries are made out to be something of a birthing failure – the one seemingly unnatural option that everyone, as I did, wants to avoid. In our rational minds, we know a c-section was the right decision as it kept us healthy and delivered our sweet babies into the world in a safe way. But, we are also sometimes riddled with guilt at that somehow our birthing experiences have impacted our children in ways we don’t yet know or understand.
But, there are ways to cope with your birthing experience disappointment.
1. Accept that labor and delivery is not something you can control
Pregnancy and birth are unpredictable and hardly ever goes the way we think it will. In the end, you and your doctors make a decision that is in the best interest of both you and your baby. By agreeing to have a c-section, especially in an emergency situation, you are sacrificing your vanity and ego for the health of your baby. Even if it’s not completely certain that you or your baby are at risk, you are saying that a c-section is the price you are willing to pay to make sure your baby is okay. That is a courageous, love-filled act.
2. Understand that having a c-section is not easy
Disregard those remarks of c-sections being the easy way out. C-sections are major surgeries, and the road to recovery echoes that. There is nothing easy about taking care of a newborn while recovering from an intense, abdominal operation. It is a long, arduous process filled with pain. And you did it all for your little one.
3. Let go of the guilt
C-section guilt is often triggered by studies that suggest that c-section babies are at a higher risk for certain conditions due to the increased stress and sterility of their birthing experiences. As a mother, it’s difficult to not be completely paralyzed by the thought that somehow you could have contributed to those possibilities. But, things work out in ways we’ll never quite understand. And, though you may worry, you will also do whatever you can to provide an amazing and healthy life for your babies. That’s all that matters.
Ultimately, if we want this phenomenon of c-section shaming to disappear, we’ll have to work actively as a society to let go of the notion that one type of birth experience is somehow less than another. Medical interventions are often necessary and sometimes chosen. But, in either regard, a mother is still a mother.
If we want to progress as a generation of women and mothers, we need to stop judging others who make choices or have experiences that are different from our own. In a world where women are still fighting for equality of rights and life, we need to lift each other up, instead of looking for ways to tear each other down.
I’ll likely never know why my body went into preterm labor or what exactly happened during my birthing experience for it to have ended up as it did. What I do know is that five years after my first c-section, thanks to medical intervention, I have two precious little boys and a body strong and able enough to chase them around with — and for that, I will forever be grateful.