I’m not a real woman. I’m a coward. I took the easy way out. I’m “too posh to push.”
None of those things are true, but if you believe what a lot of people say about having a baby by C-section, you might have thought one or more of them about women who decide against a vaginal delivery. Which includes me: a woman you don’t know.
It seems to be different if you have a C-section because it’s medically necessary or an emergency. That’s justifiable. But if a woman decides, for any other reason, to bring her baby into the world via a major surgical procedure (yeah, so easy)—well, can she actually call herself a mother at all?
It’s reported that more than 30 percent of all births in the U.S. are C-section deliveries. Of those, it’s estimated that 2.5 percent are CDMRs (Cesarean Delivery on Maternal Request, what most of us call C-section-on-demand). I gave birth in the U.K., but the situation is the same there, insofar as women can elect to have a C-section (compared to other countries, where surgery is a challenge).
It’s widely assumed that a woman who has a C-section-on-demand does so out of convenience (she knows when and how long to take time off work and put a support system in place, can ensure she gets the physician she wants to deliver her baby, etc.) or a fear of labor and delivery pains. And these (perfectly valid) reasons probably account for the majority of CDMRs.
The possibility of a C-section was raised to give me some control over the experience, and ultimately that’s what I decide was best for me, and consequently best for my children—both of them.
But my situation was different. My first child was delivered vaginally. Yes, it was painful. Pain I find difficult to describe, but can still remember vividly, almost 10 years later. I tore and was stitched back together, but not well enough. So six months later I was back in hospital, getting fixed. Around the same time, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. Things weren’t great. At that time, looking after my son and trying to function as a “normal” human being were my only two concerns. Having another baby couldn’t have been further from my mind. But 18 months later, happy and mentally healthy, my husband and I decided it was the right time to add to our family.
It didn’t take long for the yearned-for two blue lines to appear on the pee stick. My dance on top of the world was short-lived; I soon came crashing down. This, my first experience of antenatal depression (and I consider myself well-versed in many of the depressions), made all my previous mental health struggles seem like a case of the hiccups. I could barely function, yet I had a 2-year-old child who needed me—for everything. I was quickly put back on antidepressants and referred to the psychiatrist at the local maternity hospital to help me try to identify any issues that may have triggered my illness. Hormones have a lot to answer for, but it became clear that I had an enormous amount of anxiety about the birth and its aftermath. The possibility of a C-section was raised to give me some control over the experience, and ultimately that’s what I decide was best for me, and consequently best for my children—both of them.
I got my due date (my beloved late nana’s birthday, which reassured me that I had made the right decision) and began to plan for our new arrival. We found out the sex of the baby, something we hadn’t done first time around. I already felt calmer, more in control. I was incredibly excited that I could pinpoint the date I would hold my daughter in my arms. When that warm August day arrived, everything went to plan. I was nervous about the surgery, but at no point did I feel overwhelmed or anxious. I was in charge (as much as a person with long-standing mental health issues will ever feel in charge.)
Some moms might say having a C-section birth is easier than a vaginal one. If those moms have experienced both, that’s their call to make (and I know many who have). Every labor, every birth, every body, every woman is different. But if you haven’t experienced both, you have no right to an opinion on this.
I was nervous about the surgery, but at no point did I feel overwhelmed or anxious. I was in charge (as much as a person with long-standing mental health issues will ever feel in charge.)
It didn’t occur to me that I would be considered a coward, “too posh to push,” or not a real woman until I was on the receiving end of some of those opinions. “If I ever have a baby I’ll definitely have a C-section,” said one (non-parent) friend. As if I had just woken up one morning and decided I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of pushing my baby through my vagina. This was a considered decision, reached with the guidance and support of medical professionals, for health reasons.
Interestingly, I found the postpartum recovery after my C-section harder than my vaginal delivery. I couldn’t stand up straight for days. I had chronic constipation for weeks. It was months before I felt as if my insides were back in the right place. But I could deal with those physical side effects, because my mental health was okay. My C-section allowed me to be the best mom I could be to my two children, which makes it a decision I should never have to justify.
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This piece was originally published by Claire Gillespie on Mommy Nearest. Claire Gillespie is a freelance writer and editor living with her two children near Glasgow, Scotland. She dreams of moving to France, where she may or may not finally finish writing her novel.
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