Lately something has been bothering me like crazy: the things people sometimes blurt out to those of us who’s been through a c-section.
During my pregnancy I joined a wonderful group on Facebook, a group that helped me through a lot of the stuff that happened during the later stage of my pregnancy (more on that in a separate blog post). I read about mothers who’d just had their c-sections and how they felt shameful for not having ‘birthed’ their babies the ”normal” way. Before my c-section I could only offer my condolences and thought that the stigma around c-section and how it’s sometimes discussed and talked about as ‘not having given birth for real’ was crazy. Now, on the other side of it, I can only say that I get it! While no one has explicitly told me that I haven’t given birth for real, people have dropped comments, comments which I believe do play a part in this whole stigma around c-sections. Comments that makes a mother who’s gone through it feel as though she hasn’t really given birth.
Now, people might mean well when they tell you, following your c-section, that at least you didn’t tear down there! Maybe it’s a way to diffuse, to offer a silver lining kind of situation; however, comments like that has, for me, not done a damn thing! If anything I’ve felt like it’s downplayed and ultimately minimized what I was going through and the pain that comes with a c-section.
Struggling to find the words on what I wanted to say here, I did a little Google search (yes, Google is your friend) and stumbled upon an article by Kristen Thompson (read it here). She perfectly managed to summarize my still quite raw feelings on the topic (hey, it’s only been 9 weeks since I went through it). Thompson writes that someone, after her first c-section, told her that she was lucky because she got to forego labor. Thompson continues to write that in was a very presumptuous comment, seeing as she experienced labor for four long days. In my case I was induced and went through labor and struggled with the first 3 centimeters in a cold, and not very friendly hospital room rather than in the comforts of my own home. I had an epidural at 4 centimeters, so yes, I did experience labor.
Thompson further writes:
The reality is that many women who have C-sections do so because they have no other choice, and they may feel profound sadness, shame and guilt afterwards. So hearing things like, ”Oh, too posh to push, eh?” *wink*, or ”At least you aren’t all stretched out down there” makes many of us want to Hulk rage.
Thompson ended up collecting stories from her friends who’d had c-sections and made a list of things to never say to a mom who had a c-section. I’ll choose some of the points that I feel resonated with me.
”All that matters is you had a healthy baby”
Thompson writes that it’s probably the most-heard phrase by C-section moms. Yes, a healthy baby matters! In my case, when they told me they would have to stop my labor progress (aka, no more induction pills) and that I would have to have an emergency c-section due to Baby B not being able to handle the contractions; of course my thoughts were that he needed to be okay. However, as Thompson points out, the experience of a c-section can be traumatizing and that feeling matter too! It needs to be validated. So yes, while it was no brainer to have my son this way, because it saved him, it was also a traumatizing experience and not at all like I’d thought my birthing experience would be like. I didn’t envision barely being able to hold him at first on account of shaking in my whole body!
”You can try for a natural birth next time”
I’ll join Thompson in begging for another term, why not call it ”vaginal” birth, rather than natural. Calling it natural suggests that children born through c-sections had ”unnatural” births. Like Thompson writes, someone who’s still dealing with the cold, clinical way in which their kid were born, this term just adds insult to injury.
”So you didn’t actually give birth, technically, huh?”
”You’re so lucky you didn’t have to go through labor” & ”At least your vagina didn’t get annihilated”
Yes, I lumped these three comments together as they sort of intertwine. I’ve heard the third one the most, and to me it kind of implies the first one in a sense. Maybe that’s not people’s intention, but that how it comes across for me. Thompson points out that giving birth is the act of bringing forth life, regardless of how it happened and urges people to not take that experience away from C-section moms. She further points out a valid point: don’t diminish that success! It’s only now that I’ve started to think about my C-section, while messy and traumatizing, in the end it was a success! Something that I made it through. I’ve already brought up my personal experience and how I did experience labor and Thompson adds that many women have C-sections because they’ve labored pretty much forever; so don’t make assumptions.
About that third comment which I’ve personally heard the most so far, to quote Thomson ”yes, my vagina is fine and dandy, thanks.” However, if we’re speaking in terms of annihilated, as Thompson points out too, my abdomen was! It was sliced open, both skin and your abs (muscles) gets cut too, guts are pulled aside and a child hauled out. Like Thompson says ”So, maybe we’re even. Or maybe it’s not a contest.”
”You had it easy.”
No. No. No. Nothing about this was easy. A C-section is a major surgery for which you are awake. You get a catheter with its usual side effects of not being able to tell when you need to go after its removal. Fun stuff. My milk didn’t come in until much later, I couldn’t nurse immediately due to the ‘shakes’ that comes with the c-section and my child wasn’t given to me until later. You’re sent home with regular Tylenol, I was promised something prescribed, but they forgot to do it and I was sent home on a Friday. When I called about it, the doctor who could prescribe it had left work for the day. I cried as I waddled out of the hospital three days later.
During my check up at my OB, at around 8 weeks postpartum, she told me that she’d had a c-section too. As well as two natural birth prior to that and she said that a lot of people are misinformed when it comes to c-sections. You bleed after a c-section too, you have weakened pelvic floors too (since this can happen to anyone who’s been pregnant). She also informed me that my tummy flap/pouch, which I was afraid would never go away, is there mainly due to the stomach muscles being cut through and that they’ll knit back together more as the muscles regain their strength.
So yeah, this is not a contest and I wouldn’t say that a vaginal birth is better or easier or the other way around. Every birthing experience is different and so individual. I just wanted to bring forth facts that c-sections aren’t ”the easy way out,” as some people might think. Why don’t we just let people feel whatever it is that they feel and not diminish anything. Deal?