Giving Birth and the C-Section Stigma

09/15/2016 12:29 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2016

The c-section that delivered my first baby left me feeling cheated. Hurt. Embarrassed. Even ashamed. I read birth stories and sometimes found myself with a few tears. My birth experience wasn't like other women’s.

The thing is that I actually felt lesser because of it. I felt I had not given as much as other women. I was obviously not as strong of a mother. I mean, did you know that I didn't even push, not even once? I never progressed past a few centimeters. My efforts were not enough. The big moment had arrived, and I fell short.

It was my first failure as a mother.

I felt like I couldn't even talk about childbirth with other moms, because, well, obviously I had never done it. And I was certainly not a “good birther,” like some women claimed. I was a very bad birther, inadequate birther, and there was nothing I could do about it.

But it wasn’t birth shaming or being a bad birther that hurt the most. The hurt was deeper. It was the reality that I had not even “given birth” to my child. With every reference and utterance of the simple rhetoric of “giving birth,” I felt my womanhood being stripped away. I felt the meaning and significance of my own motherhood diminish. Giving is an action, and I was immobile when my baby was born. “I didn’t even give birth,” I cried to my husband late one night. “Dr. Lind did. He gave birth to our baby in the operating room. It wasn’t even me.”

It's not like c-section mothers didn't understand pain, I would tell myself. Those three layers of core stitches and weeks of recovery don't come without suffering. Surely the pain of a c-section must be as hard as contractions and delivery. Surely my sacrifice as a mother had to measure up somewhere.

I wanted to shout to people, "Did you know I didn't choose this? I didn't ask for this!" I had wanted to be a good birther, a natural mom, a woman who had met childbirth with strength and grace. I wanted to feel empowered and connected to my body--and connected to my baby that I was bringing into the world. I wanted to meet that hardest thing that all women know faces them and I wanted to feel proud of myself.

But I didn't feel proud of myself at all. I felt weak. I felt so, so weak.

When I got pregnant again I was hopeful for a different birth experience. Hopeful to get a VBAC and escape the shame of another c-section. I surrounded myself with a medical team that supported these hopes and helped me make plans. Then I waited. My due date approached, and I waited. Then it passed, and still I patiently waited. I made it clear: I would do anything, anything at all, to avoid another c-section.

My due date was two weeks ago. Here I sit, with my newborn and an ice pack across my new red incision. With a second c-section, my fate has been sealed. I will never be anything but a c-section mama.

I’ve let myself mourn a bit for the birth experience I will never have. But you know what? Things have changed. This is different. It took this second experience to learn a few things about giving birth.

Giving birth has nothing to do with pushing. It has nothing to do with contractions. It has nothing to do with pain.

Giving birth has everything to do with giving.

In this final sacrosanct act of pregnancy, all is set aside as the mother does whatever it takes to give her baby life. In every birth it requires different sacrifices. But the beauty of it, every time, is that the mother was willing to do it.

Pushing does not make a mother.

Nor does any technique or process, medical or natural. Nor any medication. Nor any sort of facility—be it hospital, or birthing center, or home. None of it has to do with how much she gives.

Some women are called to give through contractions that last for days. Some give through an excruciating delivery. Some women give through patiently waiting for contractions that never start. Some women give at home, unmedicated. Some women give through traumatic emergency situations. Every mother gives it all, every time.

Part of the gift that mothers give is that no woman knows what she'll be called on to give. No woman knows what it will take of her. Birth plans go awry all the time, and women still give and give. The method just actually doesn't matter.

When I vulnerably climbed onto the operating table ten days ago, I was putting myself on the altar of birth and motherhood just as much as any other woman. I was giving all I could, physically and mentally—and emotionally, too. And it's just what both my babies have needed, as none of us would have made it otherwise.

Birth is a humble, submissive, sacrificial act—every time.

It is always a gift.

And you know what?

I have given birth. And I'm a good birther. 

On the operating table, just before my first c-section.
Jason Brown
On the operating table, just before my first c-section.
On the operating table, just before my second c-section.
Jason Brown
On the operating table, just before my second c-section.
Jason Brown
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