My first son, one week post C-section and utterly perfect.
In three weeks, I'll be giving birth to my second boy via scheduled C-section. I'm neither apologetic nor any less of a woman because of it.
“It’s so great you’re exercising so consistently right till the end,” says my neighbour, brown eyes earnest and warm. "I’ve heard that it can make labour so much easier and the recovery so much faster.”
I smile and nod and I choose not to tell her that, actually, I won’t be experiencing labour this time around. I’ve grown uncomfortable with the discomfort of other women when I tell them that I have a scheduled C-section plan and that, in fact, although it’s medically indicated, I did have some choice in the matter. I’m OK with it, I really am. But it makes me uneasy that so many other women are dismayed on my behalf, that there seems to be this pervasive belief that a Caesarian section is a robber of womanhood, a nefarious thief of a beautiful rite of passage; an ugly representation of repression of femininity and womanhood.
I don’t hold that opinion.
My first son came into the world via emergency C-section, after 14 hours of excruciating, Pitocin-induced labour. I was nearly two weeks overdue with him and remember being intensely relieved when my physician informed me during my routine visit that my blood pressure was high and that they were going to induce me. I was uncomfortable and lead-weight and crotchety and so very ready to meet my firstborn.
Labour didn’t go as expected; though I’m not sure there’s any such thing as 'expected' or 'normal' when a woman is about to excrete a brand new human being into the world.
The Pitocin created fast, breathtakingly painful contractions with almost no rest time in between. The pain was nearly unbearable and dilation just wasn’t happening for me. After 14 hours of the worst pain I’d ever experienced, times a thousand, my cervix had only dilated four centimeters. The baby was in distress and I had exhausted my tears. If a kind stranger had appeared at the end of my sweat- soaked hospital bed and offered to throw me into the lake free of charge, I would have ecstatically taken him up on his offer. I was beyond exhausted and frustrated and terrified about the ramifications of all the drugs in my body for my baby boy. An emergency C-section was ordered and I was wheeled into a sterile room by a team of earnest nurses in blue booties.
I was never particularly traumatized by my birth experience, especially since Nolan was a robust, strappingly healthy baby boy. Sure, I wish I could have bonded with him immediately after he was pulled out of me, but I understood that he was so large, he needed to be tested for medical issues, and I was so numb, I couldn’t have held him myself anyway. I didn’t like the feeling of my frozen legs or C-section gash, and, admittedly the long recovery was a bit of a pain. I was a little perplexed a few years ago, when I watched Ricki Lake’s documentary, The Business of Being Born. There were countless women who were induced, given Pitocin, failed to progress and ended up traumatized in emergency, trapped into Caesarian sections that seemed to be created by a dubious system of induction, pain drugs and failure to progress.
Lake’s documentary pointed the finger at a greedy medical system in the U.S. intent on garnering big bucks out of totally unnecessary birth surgeries.
Was that me? I wondered. Was I a pawn of the medical system? Was I somehow robbed of something sacred because my baby was cut out of me rather than pushed? Was I totally denied a sacred rite of passage?
But then I paused and concluded: I was heavily overdue when I was 41+ weeks pregnant with Nolan. I was miserable. My baby weighed more than 10 pounds at birth. I almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to push him out anyway. In the end, I had a healthy child and a healthy body. That’s all that mattered, truly.
I’ve thought about it extensively and I don’t have a shred of bitterness about my birth experience. I don’t feel shortchanged, and I’m not filled with defiant zeal to have a vaginal birth this time.
Six months ago, when my OB recommended a scheduled C-section for this baby, I nodded quickly in agreement. He believes that it’s likely that even if labour weren’t induced this time, I am very likely to fail to progress again. My baby might go into distress yet again and even if I tried diligently for a VBAC, chances were good that this birth experience would again end in an emergency C-section. But, he said, ultimately the choice was up to me and he would support my decision if I wanted to try for a vaginal birth after my first C-section.
I thought for less than two seconds. I thought about the many blog posts and magazine articles I’d read over the years by new moms who’d extolled the spiritual beauty of a birth in a bath tub, free of medical intervention and full of raw, pure female power.
And I think I get it, as much as it’s possible to “get” something I’ve never fully experienced. I understand the uniquely powerful beauty of hard work and the feeling of reward after you’ve pushed yourself beyond your understood limits. It’s why I’ve always been dogged in my career pursuits, why I claim to “enjoy” the always brutally taxing Crossfit workouts. A reward is so much more delicious when you grunt and push and feel pain for it.
But, I have no regrets about the fact that on February 16th, I won’t be screaming in agony while pushing my baby out. I won’t feel robbed or bullied by my doctors. I will have made an informed decision to mitigate trauma to my baby and useless agony to myself by planning for a relatively safe medical procedure that’s been done hundreds of thousands of times before. I’ll go in knowing that my recovery will be longer, that my abdomen will be more sore and that I may not have the opportunity to immediately cradle and breastfeed my baby.
But I’ll also go in knowing that my husband's arms await him if mine cannot, and that, ultimately, I’ll be making the best decision possible for a safe and distress-free entrance into the world for our son. I don’t feel robbed or blighted or any degree less of a woman; I’m just grateful for the opportunity to make an informed choice to bring my baby into the family that’s so excited to meet him, no matter how he arrives.
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