April is Cesarean Awareness Month, which gives me the opportunity to reflect back on my Cesarean birth and what I needed after. I don’t claim to speak for every mom who has given birth by C-section, but there are six things I gleaned not only from my own experience, but from reading hundreds of birth stories and listening to many other moms talk about their experiences.
1. We need to know that we are not alone.
After my C-section, it seemed that no one could understand the grief and disappointment I was feeling about how my daughter came into the world. The truth is one in three women in the US gives birth by Cesarean, so we are most definitely not alone, and our birth stories are valid. There are groups of people who have been where we have been and who will listen to our stories without judgment. Finding Birth Without Fear, ICAN, and other groups full of women who had experienced surgical birth or birth trauma helped me immensely.
2. We need to know that we still gave BIRTH.
It took months for me to accept that I had given birth to my daughter, Karys. I felt like her birth was something the doctors did to me, or something that I wasn’t even a participant in. It took a couple of good therapists, many conversations with friends and family, and a lot of internal work to accept that I gave birth the way I had to in order to keep Karys safe. As my friend Hakuin put it, “What would you do if Karys had a rope wrapped around her neck, and she couldn’t breathe?” Well, I would tell her to hold still, and that Mommy’s coming. And that’s exactly what I did the day she was born.
3. We need to know that our experiences matter.
A lot of well-meaning folks told me, “It could have been worse,” or “It was only one day; you’ll be her mother for the rest of your life,” or “At least you had a healthy baby,” but I knew those things better than anyone. I was overjoyed that my baby was okay, and that we both came out of her birth alive, but my joy was tinged with physical and emotional pain. All of the “at-leasts” made me feel guilty, and that I wasn’t entitled to feel sad or anything else. Humans are complex; we can and should feel multiple emotions at the same time.
4. We need to know that healing takes time.
Many people try to discount Cesarean birth as “the easy way to give birth” (yes, people actually say that!) But even at its most basic level, a C-section is a major abdominal surgery. Caring for a new baby is difficult when you are not healing from surgery, so moms who give birth his way may need extra help with day to day tasks like feeding the baby, cleaning the house, and caring for other children. Even after the incisions have healed, many moms have to deal with scar adhesions, pelvic floor issues, and other complications from surgery. Emotional healing can take even more time, especially if there is trauma associated with the birth.
5. We need to know that it’s okay to cry.
I used to apologize when I cried while talking about Karys’ birth, but now I just preface the story with, “I’m going to cry. I’m okay with it. I hope you are, too.” It may sound harsh, but her birth was one of the most emotionally-fraught days of my life, and it’s okay for me to cry when I tell it. Birth inspires tears in the most hardened people, and I’ve never claimed to be hardened. Once I became comfortable with crying instead of shaming myself for it, people around me usually followed suit.
6. We need to know that the next birth doesn’t have to be the same.
Almost immediately after Karys was born, I started thinking about what it would be like to have another child. I was scared and worried that I would have to have a surgical birth, even if I didn’t need or want one. It can be difficult to find a VBAC-friendly provider, but they are out there. Even if a Vaginal Birth after Cesarean isn’t possible, family-centered C-section, including a clear drape, local anesthesia, and immediate skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby are becoming more available.
In January of 2017, I gave birth to my second daughter, Saryn, at home, surrounded by my midwife, my husband, my mother, and seven-year-old Karys. A few days after Saryn was born, Karys said to me, “I wish I had been born at home like Saryn.” But I told her, “No, Baby, the way you were born was perfect. I wouldn’t be who I am without it.” And I meant it.