I’m not going to name names, but after my first C-section, someone had the gall to inform me I was lucky because I got to forego labour.
It wasn’t the first boneheaded comment someone made about my C-sections. And it wouldn’t be the last. But it was maybe the most presumptuous, because I did indeed experience labour. For four long days. “Lucky” is not a word I would have used to describe any of it.
The reality is that many women who have C-sections do so because they have no other choice, and they may feel profound sadness, shame and guilt afterwards. So hearing things like, “Oh, too posh to push, eh?” *wink*, or “At least you aren’t all stretched out down there” makes many of us want to Hulk rage.
I reached out to friends to collect intel on some of the other ridiculous, hurtful or downright rude things people have said to them after their C-sections. Here’s what many of them have heard—and what you should straight up never say:
1. “All that matters is you had a healthy baby.”
I’d guess this is the most-heard phrase by C-section moms. Yes, a healthy baby matters, and it matters a lot. Any mom who’s undergone an emergency C-section knows it likely saved her baby’s life. But if they found the experience traumatizing, or if they feel robbed of what was supposed to be a life changing experience, those feelings matter too. So validate them.
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2. “You can try for a natural birth next time.”
Please world, please doctors and midwives and nurses, can we start using the term “vaginal” birth? Because anything else suggests my children’s births were “unnatural.” And as someone who’s still dealing with the cold, clinical way in which her kids were born, this term just adds insult to injury.
3. “It was failure to progress.”
I remember reading my doctor’s delivery notes, and under “Reason for C-section,” it said “failure to progress.” I burst into tears, because I had worked so hard to get that baby out. I walked. I bounced. I got acupuncture literally while in labour. I suffered through contractions for four days before giving into an epidural, and at the end of all of that I still needed a C-section. So to see the word “failure” was like being slapped in the face. This term needs to go.
4. “So you didn’t actually give birth, technically, huh?”
A couple of my mom-friends have heard this comment. I’m so glad it was never said to me, because I would have flipped every table around me before making a snarky remark about having hatched my children from an egg. Giving birth is the act of bringing forth life, regardless of how it happened. So don’t take that experience away from C-section moms. Don’t diminish that success.
5. “You’re so lucky you didn’t have to go through labour.”
Many women have a C-section because they laboured pretty much forever. Don’t make assumptions.
6. “At least your vagina didn’t get annihilated.”
I use the term “annihilated” because someone once described her episiotomy in those terms. The thing is, yes, my vagina is fine and dandy, thanks. But do you know what did get annihilated? My abdomen, which was sliced open, my guts pulled aside, and a child hauled out. So maybe we’re even. Or maybe it’s not a contest.
7. “You got a free tummy tuck.”
You know what a tummy tuck is, right? Think of the opposite of that thing, and that’s what I got.
8. “You had it easy.”
Puh-leeeease! If you think this, please go home and read up on what a C-section is actually all about. It’s major surgery, for which you are awake. Then you’re sent home as soon as 24 hours later with prescription painkil—whoops, that was a typo. You’re sent home with regular Tylenol…and a human baby to care for. Anyone else would be sent home with top shelf pain meds and strict instructions not to move for a week. So, yeah, not easy.
9. “You know, the rate of C-sections are on the rise, because…”
Oh, you must have watched Ricki Lake’s The Business of Being Born, and now you’re filled with all sorts of information about C-sections that you’re attributing to my own surgery, which was due to (breech baby/pre-eclampsia/baby being in distress/pushing for three hours/). Please don’t with the stats and facts that suggest I just contributed to some terrible growing trend.
10. “Aren’t you worried that (insert medical reason why it’s better for babies to be born vaginally)?”
Well, if I wasn’t before, I am now. Plus there’s literally nothing I can do about it now.
11. “That’s too bad. At my natural water birth, we lit chamomile candles and listened to Jeff Buckley while my midwife rubbed essential oils into my temples.”
Honestly, if you are talking to anyone who didn’t also have a home birth that involved a spiritual epiphany, this is the last thing they want to hear.
12. “Can I see your scar?”
No. That’s a show none of us want to give. Do you know how far down they make the incision? Just… no.
13. “At least you won’t spend the rest of your life peeing your pants when you laugh.”
So, I learned this fun fact from my chiropractor: A weakened pelvic floor can happen to anyone who’s been pregnant, no matter how they gave birth. So peeing our pants is something we all have to look forward to. See you in the Depends aisle.
I know people usually mean well, and most are simply misinformed, but so many things people say to C-section moms only add guilt, sadness, anger and fear to an experience that may already have been traumatizing and sad.
The most thoughtful thing you can do is simply to ask them how they and the baby are doing. Let them decide how much they want to divulge. And if they express any kind of sadness, avoid positive spin to lighten the mood. Let them be sad and try to understand.
C-section moms want to know they made the right decision, that they are no less of a mother than anyone else, and that what they did took bravery. Because it did—take my word for it.