I was reading random articles that people had shared on Facebook yesterday, which led me to more random articles (this is how this works), which is where I found an article entitled “I Feel Cheated by My C-Sections.” It was an interesting article, and more thought-provoking than I’d expected; it ended in a way that told me the author knew what was most important in life and appreciated it accordingly; and yet it left me wanting to respond nonetheless. (Not just me, apparently–I didn’t read any of the comments, but boy howdy, there were a lot of them.) After all, I have a hard time not weighing in when I feel like I’ve got something relevant to say, and in this case, I do. You see, I’ve done both.
My first child was born vaginally, albeit via what some of my nurses called a “vaginal c-section.” Thankfully, my epidural kept me numb through the hour’s worth of stitching that entailed, but I was so trembly and tired (and emotionally overwhelmed) afterward that when my husband gave our daughter to me to hold, I was too worried my arms would give out and I would drop her to enjoy the experience. (My doctor actually noticed and suggested my hubby take her back; I imagine years of delivering babies made him an expert at recognizing my level of exhaustion.) I stayed numb enough throughout the night, but by 6:30 the next morning the pain was bad enough that I could not physically remain on my bed. I got up and lay on my stomach across the bed, my shoulders hanging over the other side; it took me an embarrassingly long time to think to ring for help. The nurse who came into my room took one look at my chart and said, “All they’ve given you is MOTRIN? Oh, honey, we have MUCH better things for you than Motrin.” Every other nurse who came into my room from then until I went home winced visibly when she looked at my chart. (I heard the phrase ‘oh, honey, you’re going to be in a LOT of pain’ multiple times.) I took 2 Percocet every four hours for days, which enabled me to function at a “shuffling like an old man” level. The pain was exacerbated by exhaustion and an insatiable thirst, which I realized only afterward was partially due to blood loss. (The first thing the delivery nurse said when I was ready to go and she returned with the doctor was “WOW, there’s a lot of blood here.”) Healing properly took a long time; there were all kinds of painful and embarrassing consequences involved in that much tearing, and on the day my oldest turned 9 months old, I remember wondering how you conceived a second child if the pain of having the first was still affecting that part of your life 9 months later.
Flash forward two years later: my second child was born via c-section, after my new doctor (my old one had retired from delivering babies and recommended me to one of his partners) told me he was on the fence about recommending I have a c-section based on my chart. My bone structure, he said, was narrow enough that my babies would always be forced out at a bad angle, and if I tore that much again, there could be very unpleasant permanent consequences (think Depends in your twenties). At the thought of a c-section, I felt peace at the thought of physically having a second child for the very first time; when I actually had the c-section, I thought about all of the warnings about it being a major surgery and the recovery time involved and just shook my head. Because I did not know you could feel that good after having a baby. I could walk. I could function. I felt alive.
Now, I’m well aware that my experience with my oldest is really more of a worst case scenario; I also know that a c-section IS real surgery. It does involve recovery time. (And from what one of my sisters-in-law experienced, that recovery time is much, much worse if you’ve been in labor and tried to deliver vaginally before having to have the c-section.) And I confess, since my hubby’s four sisters have delivered vaginally, but his two brothers’ wives have both had all c-sections, I did have a vague desire to prove myself in that regard; I wanted to be able to do what so many other women do simply because I don’t like feeling like so many others can do something that I’m not capable of. Once I’d had the two experiences, however, I realized how little it actually mattered to me. I don’t find the act of childbirth itself empowering; as my sister pointed out to me once, the women in our family don’t exactly suffer from a lack of empowerment. I respect that people do, you understand. I just don’t. When I was pregnant with that first baby, we had a car with working ac and a car without; either vehicle got me to where I wanted to go. If, however, I was dressed up and going somewhere where I needed to look presentable, the car without ac was never going to be a desirable choice. I love my three children and I am grateful to have them; I would not, however, go through that first vaginal birth again for any price. I wasn’t capable of bonding time immediately afterward, and the physical ordeal contributed to a part-partum depression that lasted for weeks.
What’s my point in all this? To the women who treasures her children, knowing that they are what matters, but still feels slightly cheated by her c-sections, I say–DON’T. There is no guarantee that traditional childbirth will be any of the things you have wondered about; the disconnect and the delay can be worse, not better. I know how hard it is to wonder when you haven’t experienced both–for Pete’s sake, I took the SAT when my college of choice didn’t require it just so I didn’t miss out on what everyone else in my senior class was doing. (Also so that we could compare scores. In a friendly and bonding way, but still. I grew up in Ivy League land.) I also, however, know that in this case, everyone’s experience is different. There is no ‘club of ‘real’ women,’ but simply a club of mothers–adoptive, foster, natural, young, old, in-between. I’m so glad you know that that’s what matters.