I never used to think I gave birth to my children. They were born, obviously. They came from my body, and are now happy and thriving. But it took me years to reconcile with the way they were born, and my role (or lack thereof) in bringing them into this world.
That’s because both my kids were born by emergency C-section. Those cold, sterile and scary surgeries were bitter pills to swallow after my crunchy granola pregnancies and subsequent attempts at drug-free vaginal births. For years I’ve mourned my births, grappling with a sense of failure and shame. And while I’m trying hard to overcome those feelings of loss, the way we tend to talk about C-sections makes that hard.
You see, the language we use to differentiate between vaginal births and Caesareans robs C-section moms of any sense of ownership over how their children were born. “Natural birth” implies that C-section births are “unnatural.” Women whose babies are born vaginally give birth, whereas women whose babies are born via surgery have a C-section. Vaginal births are something you accomplish; Caesareans are something that happen to you. See the distinction?
It may seem like splitting hairs, but to a mom still recovering from the shock of an unplanned C-section, this language can be devastating, and it contributes to the stigma and shame surrounding Caesarean births. Which is why I love, love, love a growing trend of referring to caesareans “belly births.”
Go ahead, roll your eyes. I’ll give you a full minute to scoff.
OK. Done? Now I’m going to explain why this term is beautiful:
C-section moms want to feel empowered by the way their children are brought into the world. We want to feel like we completed a herculean feat. And we’re tired of hearing that we were “too posh to push” or “took the easy way out.” We’re also tired of hearing people say that women who had Caesareans didn’t really give birth. Enough with that noise.
My births were scary. I was whisked into a bright, sterile operating room after labouring for hours. A blue sheet was placed just below my chin, and I lay there paralyzed and alone as a team of masked strangers brought my daughters into the world. It was cold and impersonal, and I felt completely detached from the experience.
But the tides are shifting in the way we talk about and perform Caesareans. More and more mothers, doctors and midwives are performing “gentle” or “family-centred” C-sections, which offer immediate skin-to-skin and, in some cases, the opportunity to watch as babies are born. There’s an understanding that mothers who feel empowered by a positive birth experience—regardless of whether this happens in a delivery room or an operating room—have better recoveries, physically and emotionally.
Calling a C-section a “belly birth” is another huge step toward empowering women by admitting that Caesarean moms do give birth, and that yes, it’s still a herculean feat. Women who deliver by C-section deserve to feel empowered, and they deserve to feel pride. “Belly birth” gives that sense of ownership back to them, using positive language for an experience that’s often seen as negative.
Any movement that aims to bring a sense of ownership and empowerment back to the birth experience of a C-section mom is something we should all get behind.