This chapter, in ways, is the hardest for me to write, but also the most important, I think.
The weeks that followed my delivery were rough. There was the physical healing with both an incision and some vaginal tearing as well, and there was so so much disappointment. I’m not saying that cesareans are like this for everyone. I know plenty of women who prefer them, and I understand that every woman’s situation and response is unique; all I can write is my own story and what it was for me. I think women who have a hard time healing emotionally after a cesarean birth are often seen as crazy people who care about the vaginal birth above the health of your baby. This is not the case at all, and I understand that surgical birth can save lives that would have been lost a few generations ago. Nevertheless, I feel like a hole is carved in the memory of my son’s birth. I will never feel my first-born, warm and fresh, laid on my chest. I will never be the first one to hold him. I will never feel him pass through my body on his entrance to the world. It is a moment I can never get back, and one that I craved not because I’m selfish or because it’s a medal of honor or because I wanted to feel pain but because I am a mother, and that is how my body is designed to begin that journey.
Yes, I was in love with this beautiful boy and admiring him more everyday, but what surgical birth robbed me of is the feeling of confidence and contentment in my own body, my own abilities as a mother. I’ve written here before about my problems breastfeeding, and that certainly added to my self-doubt. I can remember one instance where my mother and sister came by for a visit, and Jude was something like a week old. I sat on my couch in my dirty, sweaty, stained pajamas and cried about how I was defective. My body didn’t work. I was not capable of pushing a baby out, and now I couldn’t breastfeed. I truly felt, at that moment, like I wasn’t cut out for motherhood and I didn’t deserve my baby. My cesarean robbed me of joy I should have taken from those first few weeks, and that is something I can never, ever get back.
In the end, it took many things from me. What did it give me? A healthy baby boy first and foremost, but a few other things as well. It gave me an appreciation for my hours and hours of intense unmedicated labor. It is because of that time spent working through every rhythm that I can remember Jude’s delivery as ours alone. When I think back to his arrival, it is those 22 hours spent in a dimly lit room focusing and breathing with my husband and my doula that I reminisce on. Many women look back at natural childbirth and remember pain pain pain. I sincerely appreciate that pain and will do it again gladly. I am not sure I would have that admiration for the process of labor if mine had not ended the way it did. My cesearean also gave me a ridiculously stubborn determination to breastfeed. I’d like to think that, even with a perfect natural birth, I would have kept fighting until we got breastfeeding right, but one thing I know is that I craved that confidence in my body and my abilities, and I refused to let my surgery take away my nursing relationship with my son. It was a lot of crying, a lot of pain, weeks of hard work, a pediatric ENT, a frenulectomy, and 5 lactation consultants, but in the end, I felt relieved to have us back on nature’s path that I felt was right for us. Lastly, my cesarean has left me plugged in to the birth community in a way that has proven so helpful. My local chapter of ICAN is very active, and their message board has been infinitely interesting and useful for problems big or small. My interest in birth, ongoing as a result of my cesarean and the choices it has left me with, is blooming in to an interest in informed parenthood that is continually connecting me with others whose stories and advice make me a better mother everyday.
So at the end of the day, what do I know for sure? I know that birth is a natural process. I know that every woman’s body is different, and nature knows what is best. I know that medical intervention is necessary sometimes, and at that moment, it was necessary for my Jude to arrive safely. I also know that medical intervention is overused, and we have to change the way we view birth in this country. I know that, when you really look at the research, VBACs are indeed safer than repeat cesareans. I know that sometimes life is completely unfair and it absolutely sucks. I know that a delivery that was so frightening and so difficult has bonded me with a little boy in a way that I never dreamed was possible. I know that breastfeeding does more than nurture a baby, it heals a mother, too.
I believe that every baby has the right to choose his or her birthday. I believe that every mother has the right to refuse medical intervention that is not absolutely necessary. I believe that even informed women can be bullied into decisions they know are not right. I believe that doctors who intimidate women into deliveries that are “convenient” and overly-controlled make us feel powerless, and they should be called to task for this. I believe that birth is a rite of passage, one of the rare moments in life that women remember for every second thereafter, one that changes who you are in a single instant. I also believe that one day, I will have a beautiful, natural delivery that will validate my body’s abilities and be a source of redemption for me as a woman.
One of the things I love about the blogging community is the inspiration I find from all of you. Kelle Hampton’s approach to life’s obstacles sheds light on my own challenges every time I read her posts. In comparison, my birth story does not hold a candle to hers and neither does my situation, but she wrote something once that hit me at my center. She said birth is a beautiful transformation, “Especially when it’s a little bit scary. It rocks you to the core. Picks you up, smacks you down hard and then rebuilds you with all new parts…..the minute you welcome [a baby] into your life, you inherit a thicker skin…because the bus will hit you plenty of times to the point you’ll think you damn near died. But you don’t. You pick yourself off the ground, dust off your knees…and move on. Because beauty awaits. The beauty that fills in all the holes and rough spots.”
And rough spots there are. The scariness, the ugliness, the overwhelming unfairness is what really began my journey to motherhood in a big way. I cannot forget that. I cannot pretend it didn’t happen. But for now, I can dust off and move on and cherish all that it taught me. I can’t say I’m grateful for it yet, but we’ll get there. In the meantime, there’s too much joy to dwell on the ugly and too much love to be weighed down with disappointment.