Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"No Greater Sacrifice:" Cesearean Birth

Recently, I recieved a message from a friend of mine on my personal facebook page that started like this: "So I see all the stuff you post about vbac and natural childbirth and a few of them had made me feel you think less of moms who have had csections. I had one and it was terribly disapointing but I also needed my child to arrive here safely [. . .]" The message really stunned me because I am currently in the process of planning a vbac in about nine weeks (or less) and am a cesarean mother myself. I realized that, perhaps, in my own exuberance at the chance of giving birth naturally once more, and in making my own emotional struggle with my cesarean largely private or on here only, I may have missed the chance to be clear about how I feel about cesearen birth. I do realize that cesarean birth can seem like it has a bad reputation with mothers who want to experience "natural" birth. I will admit that I, and many of my like minded friends, probably post links about natural birth, its beauty, and how to avoid unnecessary cesarean sections so often that we may forget that people may not always know where we are coming from. So, here is where I'm coming from.

A few months ago, I attended a screening of the film "Freedom For Birth: The Mother's Revolution: Women Take Back Childbirth," in addition to being a great film, the discussion afterwards featured a comment that made me cry and not just because I'm pregnant. A Certified Nurse Midwife, Sameerah Shareef, the only nurse midwife who attends birth in the entire city of Lansing, where we currently live, made the comment that she could think of "no greater sacrifice" in birth than that which a birthing mother makes when she births on an operating table instead of naturally. She went on to describe the heartbreaking desecration of laying youself prostrate and allowing yourself to be cut open not just spiritually, or emotionally, or metaphorically, but literally in order that your baby might live and be born. It was the first time I found myself thinking of my son's birth as something other than shameful and I cried tears of relief to hear her words. I wish I had been able to record them so that I could share them all with you, but I didn't and while the literal words have left me, the spirit hasn't.

A mother who births through a c-section is an unsung hero. At no other point in your life will you have a major surgery performed on you (with all its risks and side effects) and not only have no one really pay attention to your recovery, but will also be told repeatedly to be thankful for it (even though it causes you great daily pain and has permenant repercussions emotionally, mentally, and physically for you). "Healthy mama, healthy baby," is the mantra I was told over and over again, but I have to tell you that post c-section, especially if that c-section was unexpected and the recipient is not sure if it was or wasn't completely necessary, most mothers feel anything but "healthy." When you go in for a c-section, you sacrifice a lot. Often you sacrifice your ability to be the first one to hold your baby, you sacrifice your ability to hold your baby skin to skin right away (in our case, my husband was allowed to step in and give my baby that, but it tore me up to see that I would have to wait), you sacrifice your own health, you (sometimes) sacrfice your ability to breastfeed successfully (I was lucky in that I did not have this problem, but it is very, very commen for women with c-sections to have all sorts of post-surgery delayed milk production and other breastfeeding issues), you sacrifice your own mental and emotional health (many women find that the trauma of a c-section is much more than they ever thought it would be; not all, but many) and sometimes you allow yourself to sacrifice your own ability to say you "birthed" your baby, preferring instead to say your baby was "delivered" (I still struggle to think I "birthed" my baby through a c-section). I've met many women (me among them) who felt that their agency in the birthing of their own children had been negated just because they had a c-section. I often have found myself apologizing or giving excuses for my c-section as if I had let everyone down (most of all myself and my child), by allowing myself to be lain on a table and sliced open to give birth instead of managing to do it on my own. Sameerah's words did much to reshape that image in my mind.

A mother who births through c-section is a warrior in her own right because she fights not just during her birth, not just during her immediate physical recovery, not just through her emotional recovery (which can often take longer), but also through any subsequent pregnancies where she now faces increased risks both if she chooses VBAC or she has necessary repeat cesarean. In fact, in the paperwork the hospital where I am planning my VBAC had me sign, the risks for maternal death, infant death, and other serious complications are the same no matter what course she chooses and those risks are increased compared to mothers who have not had a cesearean. That is a lot of physical, mental, and spiritual work for any woman to have to take on, and currently in this country around a third of all women who give birth face just this challenge. (A third! When in many developed nations both maternal and infant mortality rates remain lower than the US AND cesarean rates are less than 10%!) No one is denying that c-sections save mothers and infants, but many are dedicated to making sure that the c-sections that happen are absolutely necessary and do save lifes.

So, make no mistake, if those who advocate natural birth are anti unneccesary and uninformed c-section and are very vocal about it, it is not because anyone feels that women who birth through c-sections are lesser than or somehow not as strong as mothers who birth vaginally. Most (like many of the women on this site who gave birth through c-section and are intimately and painfully aware of just how strong and hard c-section mamas have to be) are actually motivated by the sacrifice and pain women go through and want to make sure that the only mamas who go through that kind of pain and sacrifice are the ones who need to in order for them and their babies to live. Mothers who birth through cesearean sections are amazing, strong, and face challenges that mothers who birth naturally often do not have to face. I am in awe of them. I am in awe of myself. I have come so far and been through so much and am taking on so much more in planning my VBAC that I can have nothing but respect for mothers who birth through c-sections. We are a very strong, resiliant group of women to allow ourselves to be permanently scarred, broken open, emotionally torn, and under appreciated all while performing all the duties that new mothers must perform to keep our babies thriving. I have nothing but love for women who must birth through c-section, but I also want to make sure that no one goes through all that without reason, including myself.

Thank you for reading,


Francesca said... [Reply to comment]

Well said!

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you!

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks for this. I keep consulting my ob-gyn about my condition. It seems like I really need c-section. -- Kiara Plant

ChampagneWishes DiaperReality said... [Reply to comment]

What a great post! I am 17 months post traumatic unneccesarian and it is still so raw. I am currently in therapy for PTSD and although I know logically that I did sacrifice a lot by having a c-section and it was a brave decision, it still is hard to face and not feel "less than". I talk about my struggles a lot on the blog I recently started in hopes that no one has to go through what I have. Thanks for your amazing words and perspective.

tanyamoon said... [Reply to comment]

I struggle with a traumatic vaginal birth (9 years ago), a unexpected c-section birth after fetal distress (6 years ago) and an attempted HBAC that turned into an attempted hospital VBAC that ended 29 hours later in a surprisingly gentle, mama-centered, and respectful c-section (1 year ago). During this birth, I was able to breastfeed my baby while being stitched up which was amazing and healing. I really identify with all of what you wrote about and am grateful that you did. Thank you so much.

Stephanie Houareau said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you for writing this. I struggled when I was pregnant with my son that while I really wanted a natural, unmedicated birth, my doctor decided it was best that we schedule a c-section as I have a septate uterus and the baby's placenta was attached to the septum. They were worried that if I went into labor, the contractions would squeeze the oxygen out of the placenta, leaving no air for the baby. They were literally scared that contractions would suffocate the baby. I was heartbroken, but was also told that same mantra, "healthy mama, healthy baby." I came to terms with the situation, and obviously wanted what was best for both of us, but at the same time struggled with the reality that we had an appointed date and time to meet the baby, and wouldn't get to experience the excitement of feeling that first contraction, and knowing the journey was about to begin. But your words have helped me realize that my sacrifice is no less than one who pushes for hours to bring their child into the world. Thank you.

GreenEternalEyes said... [Reply to comment]

I have never felt bad about needing to give birth to all of my children via c-section. It looks like I might be in the minority. Although I tried and tried to deliver my first child vaginally, it wasn't meant to be. My pelvis would not let him pass through. This was after pushing for an hour and a half and the doctor trying forceps. My baby was delivered c-section and was not breathing at birth. He spent 4 days in the NICU. I feel blessed that we are both still alive. He was 6 lbs 10 oz. Since he was small and the next babies are usually larger, they decided that I shouldn't try VBAC. My son was born with big bruises on his head also from the forceps and his head hurt tremendously. I felt horrible for him. I didn't want to put any more children through that. The next two children were scheduled c-sections, but I went into labor before those dates. I was diagnosed with pemphigoid gestationis during my last pregnancy, which is a very rare pregnancy rash. Due to complications that can occur during the pregnancy and the possibility of stillbirth, I had an amniocentesis at 37 wks 1 day to make sure her lungs were developed. She was delivered the next day. I am blessed to have four healthy children. I will never look back and think that "if only I had VBAC" with any of them. I am thankful for what I have been blessed with. There was nothing I could do to change it, and I accept our Heavenly Father's will.

Katie said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you so much for sharing this.

Blair said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you from a mama who just had my 5th c-section two weeks ago. It has been a scary experience each time and I appreciate being recognized as a strong woman who can make it through these surgeries. Each of my children is a blessing and I hope I would make every sacrifice for them.

Mary-Kate said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you. This is something I still struggle with 4+ years after my oldest was born by csection. It wasn't a decision that we made lightly, but since I had preeclampsia and he was only 29 weeks, it was decided that he was to small to endure natural labor and a csection would be best. I went through therapy for 2+ years after for many reasons including his prematurity but I never forgave myself for not being able to carry him to term AND have a natural birth. I have always blamed myself and my body and I really hate my csection scar. But having read this, I am going to try to come to terms with at least the csection part. None of it was in my hands, it was all decided because we wanted the best possible outcome for a tiny 29 week 2 lb baby. And I appreciate reading those words and starting to understand them as truth. Thank you!

samantha levitt said... [Reply to comment]

I had wanted a natural birth but I realized baby didn't plus I have type 1diabetes so it went well. That day was an amazing day that I will always remember forever plus we have lots of photos. Any way you give life (birth) to your child is . Amazing and unforgettable!!

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