This week we have a guest post from Jenny who blogs about her experience of giving birth via cesarean section. Jenny has been involved in the pro-life movement since she was ten and has worked for various pro-life groups, including Texas Alliance for Life , The John Paul II Life Center in Austin, and for And Then There Were None. Jenny currently lives in Ft Polk, Texas with her husband and 14-month-old son, Cameron.
April is cesarean section awareness month. My 14-month-old son Cameron was born via c-section and it took me months to be able to say that out loud without crying about it. For a long time, if the topic of birth stories came up, I straight up lied to people about how he was born. I was embarrassed by the fact I had a c-section, and it wasn’t until recently I learned the doctor who performed mine had an over-50% c-section rate… a major red flag and something I wish I had known prior to going into labor.
I never once considered having a c-section. I am young, athletic, and healthy; so having a c-section never crossed my mind. Of all the research I did before the baby came, not once did I delve into anything related to c-sections. Why would I have?
My due date was March 4, but I went into labor the night of February 12 at 37 weeks pregnant. Although this is considered “early term,” it was still full-term, so I wasn’t worried. I stayed up all night, iPhone timer going to count the minutes between and the length of contractions, and they seemed to be getting closer together. Like most first-time moms, the prospect of going into labor and the inevitable pain of contractions made me very nervous. However, once it started up, I felt much stronger than I thought I would. I considered waking my husband up so he could count the minutes with me, but I got into the mindset of “I am woman. Hear me roar,” and decided to let him sleep until he got up at 5:00 am for his army PT test. (Needless to say, he was allowed to postpone it).
We got to the hospital and I was seen immediately. The doctor came in, checked on my progress (I’ll spare everyone those details), and said to us “You’re definitely having this baby today!” We were ecstatic, even though we weren’t entirely prepared for it because everything I had read stated that most first-time moms went beyond their due date, so I thought that I would too.
Between contractions, I felt great. The nurse told me to let her know when the urge to push was too strong so the doctor could come in. Not long after the doctor arrived, he broke my water, and a few minutes later he told me that I needed pitocin to speed up the process. I wasn’t sure about it, but I figured the doctor knew what was best and I agreed to it.
The pitocin worked to speed up contractions, but after less than two hours of pushing, I was told my labor was “failing to progress,” that my baby’s heart rate dropped with contractions, and my options were running out and a c-section was in my future. I was floored. I did not expect to hear that at all, and I said I really didn’t want that. The doctor told me I had the option of forceps or the suction cup to assist in labor, and I declined the forceps because I had heard horror stories of babies being injured or killed with them, and the suction cup was only successful at bruising Cameron’s little head. Then, the doctor put his hands on his hips and told me it was time for a c-section, and I started crying. I felt powerless. If I said no, I was going to tick off the doctor delivering my baby. If I said yes, I was essentially throwing in the towel and giving up. So I just cried.
They wheeled me into the OR and I could tell I was shaking like crazy. Apparently it was super cold, but I couldn’t tell because of the meds I had. Like I said, I had done no research on c-sections, so I didn’t anticipate to be able to feel the blade when the doctor started. It was more like pressure and tugging, but since I wasn’t expecting it at all, I totally freaked out. The last thing I remember hearing was “She needs to go totally under.” I didn’t get to hear my baby cry when he was born.
I’m not sure how long I was under, but by the time I came to, it was evening. It took a while for me to get out of a fog in the recovery room. When I stopped seeing double, I finally got to hold and feed my baby. (I worried about how having a c-section would affect my breastfeeding success, but thankfully, it didn’t, and I was blessed with an overabundant supply.)
The recovery was terrible. Having major abdominal surgery is hard, but it’s worse when you weren’t expecting to have it at all. As bad as it was needing help standing up, walking, sitting up in bed, holding and feeding my baby, it didn’t compare to how bad it felt feeling like a failure and feeling like my body couldn’t do the one thing a woman’s body is supposed to be able to do: give birth to her baby.
It was never made any better being told “at least you and your baby are healthy” or “at least your stomach is still flat.” Hearing these things only made me feel invalidated for being upset, like I was crazy for feeling crushed by the experience. My mind was flooded with thoughts of “My baby and I are safe, so why am I upset? Why am I being so selfish? Why do I feel guilty about feeling guilty for having a c-section? Surely I’m the only mother to feel this way. I’m being so irrational.” I later found that many of my mom friends have gone through a similar experience, so I felt a sense of camaraderie and let that help me heal emotionally.
However, for months all I could think was “I didn’t actually give birth; a doctor had to do it for me. I failed and someone else had to take over.” It was an awful feeling not being able to convey that to those who brushed it off with “well, at least…” (even if it was well-intentioned). It’s only been recently that I have come to terms with the fact that it is not what defines me or any other woman as a mother.
If I could go back in time, I would ask for something to stall labor if possible. Cameron was a 37-weeker, which is full-term but considered “early term,” and he was probably not in prime head-down position to be born, so getting pitocin administered and contracting more than I would have while he wasn’t ready is what led to the “failure to progress” and ultimately getting pushed into the c-section. I’ll never know for sure, but that’s my guess.
One in three women will have one or more c-sections in her lifetime. Many women opt for them for the safety and well-being of their babies, but for those who weren’t expecting to have one, it leaves emotional and physical scars. It’s difficult to explain how that feels to someone who has never experienced it, but if you know a mom who has had one, and she seems down because of it, don’t give her the “well, at least…” line. Let her open up to you about her experience and be the supportive and listening ear she needs.
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