I didn’t know much about c-sections before I had kids.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was a second year student in OT school, immersed in a world of health education, research, and child development. I was completing my final clinical fieldwork experience, an awesome 8-month rotation at a pediatric therapy clinic. I was getting ready to move from a crowded, smoggy, fast paced city to a smaller beach town with a slower pace and a big sky that actually resembled the color blue. I was studying hard for my board exam, the test that would determine whether or not I would become a real life occupational therapist. I began interviewing for jobs in my soon-to-be new town.
And in the midst of all that, my husband and I were devoting ourselves to three months of weekly childbirth education classes. We (okay…I…) wanted to learn about natural childbirth so we could be prepared to welcome our first baby into the world as naturally as possible. It wasn’t that I was against labor interventions or epidurals. It’s just that, with all I had learned about the human body and prenatal development during my time in OT school, I had developed a HUGE appreciation for how amazing the human body is — the way pre-born babies develop, the way hormones work during pregnancy and labor to facilitate growth and delivery, the way the birthing process actually helps babies prepare for life in the outside world — and I wanted to give it a chance to do what it was made to do.
It was an exciting time filled with personal growth, success, and momentum as I moved forward toward the next chapter of my life — becoming a mommy.
Fast forward a few months.
I had graduated from OT school, been hired for my first job, moved to my new town, passed my board exam, was continuing with an uncomplicated pregnancy, and was now ready for our little baby to make his grand entrance. Everything was right on track. I had continued to educate myself as much as I could about natural childbirth even after our classes ended. A massage therapist friend of mine who was training to become a doula agreed to join our birthing team. We met a few times to discuss all the possibilities and develop a game plan. My husband and I knew we were having a boy and had picked out a name. We had been practicing the things we learned in our birthing classes. We felt ready…ready as we’d ever be.
Three days before my due date, my water broke, uneventfully. And then labor began. It was Thursday morning. 8:45am.
No additional amount of natural childbirth classes or support people could have prepared me to gracefully proceed through the next 48 hours. No amount of breathing, positioning, leaning, grunting, ball bouncing, hot shower (our facility didn’t have tubs), massage, counterpressure, visualizing, finding a mental happy place, or knowing where we were in the labor progression would help.
Basically, my labor progressed very, very slowly (at least in terms of the medical timeline).
After 24 hours of natural labor (and no sleep) that only resulted in approximately 3 cm dilation, medical intervention began in order to stimulate the process. I received the least invasive, most natural option first, the option that is supposed to mimic your body’s hormones and stimulate it to “get a move on,” so to speak. I was monitored for about 8 hours (still laboring, painfully unmedicated) and demonstrated minimal progress. Was barely at 4cm. And baby wasn’t descending. That’s when they brought in the Pitocin — that’s the more hard core stimulant that throws you right into active labor.
Remember how I said my water broke on Thursday morning at 8:45am?
It was now Friday night at 5pm.
32 hours. No baby. No pain meds. Barely any progress.
They told me to “get ready” when it was Pitocin time.
I thought I was ready.
Seven hours later, with the Pitocin being steadily increased and progress still being at a near standstill, I had reached my breaking point. 39 hours. No sleep. No meds. No effective relief measures. It felt like I was going to be pregnant forever, our baby was never going to be born, and I was just going to be stuck in labor for the rest of my life. (An exaggeration, of course, but that’s what it felt like at the time!)
I requested the epidural.
At about 12:15am early Saturday morning, after 39 and a half hours of labor, I welcomed the relief. They increased the Pitocin a bit more to try and support labor progress while I was numb. The epidural didn’t totally work (one side ended up wearing off), but it did help more than anything else had up to that point.
Finally, around 5 or 6am, with a continued lack of progress (both for me and the baby), and with newly emerging concerns about the baby’s heart rate, the topic of c-section was broached.
At that point, I didn’t care. It was no longer about letting the body “do what it was made to do.” It was about making sure our baby stayed safe and healthy. And if that meant cutting him out of me in order for that to happen, then so be it.
At 8:47am on Saturday morning — after 48 hours and 2 minutes of labor — our first baby boy entered the world.
He was born! Except…it didn’t feel like he was “born.” It felt like my body had given up, it had pooped out, it had failed me, and someone else — a surgeon — was responsible for him being born.
Add to that the fact that my body was nauseated and shaking so badly from the fatigue of 48 hours of labor plus the recent c-section meds, that I wasn’t even capable of holding my new baby. The baby that I didn’t birth. The baby that was pulled out of my insides by someone else.
In the temporary recovery area, they kept asking me if I wanted to see my newborn. If I wanted to hold him. But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to. I was shaking too badly, and I was afraid I would accidentally drop him, or hurt him, or throw up on him, or fail him in some other way.
Finally, after what felt like forever (but was probably only about an hour), I held my baby in my arms for the first time. He was warm. And squishy. And snuggly. And amazing.
However, over the course of the next 24 hours, I discovered that I was pretty much useless when it came to baby care.
Because I had just had major abdominal surgery, my epidural had worn off, and I had compression devices strapped to my calves (to prevent post-surgery blood clots), I basically couldn’t move. I hadn’t slept since Wednesday night (remember, this is Saturday morning), so I was exhausted. And because of my c-section, I could barely sit up in my hospital bed, let alone get up to look at or hold my baby. I missed his first diaper change. And his second. And his third. Actually, I missed most of his diaper changes during the three recovery days in the hospital, due to post c-section mobility difficulties.
I tried and tried to nurse him. But it didn’t work. Apparently that’s fairly common with c-section deliveries. Thankfully we had an experienced lactation consultant who helped overcome the initial difficulties, and she taught me some amazing tricks to help make pumping easier in those first few days before nursing was established.
But even still, I felt like my body had failed me. Like I was a failure.
In the days, weeks, and even months after my baby was born, this idea persisted. I didn’t even feel comfortable using the phrase “when my baby was born” during times where I was discussing his birth, because it didn’t feel like I gave birth to him. I wasn’t actively involved in his moment of birth, so how could I say that I “gave birth” to him?
Later on I found out that, in my medical record, the diagnosis used to describe why I underwent a c-section was “Failure to Progress.”
Even in my medical record, my labor was officially noted as a failure.
To me it felt like even though I could achieve all these ambitious, exciting things — grad school, the internship, the new job, the graduation, the new town, the new license to practice OT — I couldn’t do the ONE thing the female body is set up to do.
I couldn’t birth my own baby.
And that made me feel like a failure.
If you are a mama who has had a c-section, or you know you will have to have a c-section for an upcoming birth, let me tell you something…
YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE.
Your birth story does not define who you are as a parent.
Whether or not your new baby is handed to you by a midwife or a surgeon does not dictate your worth as a mom.
And you did NOT take the “easy road” by having a c-section, no matter what a well-meaning (or not-so-well-meaning) family member or acquaintance may say.
Having a c-section does not mean you are not a successful or devoted parent.
You know what does demonstrate your success as a parent?
Your love. Your commitment. Your determination. Your desire to do whatever it takes to make sure your baby is safe and healthy and appropriately cared for.
Your birth story is NOT your parenting story. It is the beginning of your story as a parent. But it is not your whole story. And it does not define whether or not you are a good parent.
So, to the mama who has had (or will have) a c-section…
Feel the emotions you need to feel.
Process through them.
Grieve if you need to.
Confide in someone if you need to.
YOU have brought a new life into the world.
YOU have done what you needed to do to keep that baby healthy and safe.
And YOU are now entrusted with raising a precious little life who will learn to rely on you, bond with you, love you, and learn from you.
And THAT is pretty awesome.
. . . . .
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