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Cesareans and Grief

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Guest post by reader Natalie


I get upset when I hear women denying validation of grief for other women, but I will admit I was once one of them.  I couldn’t imagine “grieving” because I needed a c-section to give birth.  Really?  Grief???!?! 
I was smug.  You see…I thought I could give birth in any situation.  I gave birth to my first daughter, 7 lbs. 4oz, who was “sunny side up”.  I had an induction, because I was a first time mom.  I was ignorant, and was still suffering from hyperemisis after 10 months of pregnancy (she was almost 2 weeks overdue).  I pushed for 9 minutes, and ended up with a very bruised baby and 30 stitches.  If I could birth her, I could do anything.   After reading and researching I found out that her birth position was probably due to too much pitocin, too fast of a decent, and a way too fast labor.  I was discouraged by the lack of compassion, especially when I told my nurse that I was ready to push.  She stated, “Honey, you have hours to go….!” and left the room.  I started pushing on my own, because I couldn’t stop, and my husband ran out in a panic…..”I see the baby’s head!!!!”  I finally got some attention after that!!! 
Just 2 months after her birth I was pregnant again (yes, I was breastfeeding on demand!).  Her brother was born easily, naturally (meaning: without pain management), with a hospital midwife, and was close to 10 pounds.   He was genuinely 3 weeks “late” born via induction, and came out green with long fingernails. 
By this time I was done with medically managed births.  I never wanted an induction.  I wanted to know what it would be like to have a baby born on it’s natural time schedule.  I started looking for home birthing midwives, and planning on a homebirth for baby #3. 
When I got pregnant again, I felt wrong.  Something was off.  I had previously had several miscarriages, so I went in for a progesterone level.  It was off the charts.  I went in for an ultrasound, and they found my triplets.  Spontaneous triplets. 
I was distraught, for several reasons, but I won’t deny that my loss of a homebirth was near the top of the list.  You see, I have a blood clotting disorder that made my midwife leery of a homebirth in the first place.  Triplets would be out of the question. 
I was desperate.  I asked my OB if a trial of labor would be OK.  She said, “Absolutely NOT.”  I was heartbroken.  I LOVE the process of giving birth.  To me, it’s empowering.  It’s raw, and it’s real.  I was scared.  I made “plans” to go into labor at home, and arrive at the ER giving them no choice but to deliver me vaginally. 
Little did I know that I was about to have the most necessary c-section ever. 
At 35 weeks I developed HELLP syndrome.  I also had 3 breech babies, and I was in preterm labor.  I had a mild placental abruption, and I had no choice.  It was either a c-section, or it was a dead mother.  THIS is what c-sections were developed for.  I was a REAL case of a necessary cesarean. 
I was laid out on the table, after my spinal, and my husband was brought in.  I was not allowed to have video cameras in the room.  I was not allowed to photograph the c-section, though we were allowed to photograph the babies…just not the “surgical area”.  I was not allowed to watch.  I was not allowed to hold my babies.  They allowed me to see “baby B” briefly, before they were sent to the NICU (and proclaimed to be in perfect health).  I was wheeled to recovery, and was alone.  I made my husband swear that he would follow the babies where ever they went, and that left me devastatingly alone.  I ended up being allergic to the morphine that they put in my spinal.  I was itching my skin off, so they countered the morphine with another drug.  It knocked me out for 8 hours.  When I woke up, I met my babies.  I felt disconnected from them.  Who were they?  Did they REALLY come out of me????  It just didn’t feel like it. 
I was very, very, very sick with HELLP.  My liver was failing, and I was on many different drugs.  I couldn’t hold my babies.  I didn’t birth my babies, and nothing was helping me connect with them at all.  I attempted to nurse them, as I had my older kids, but with all of the drugs doping me up…I just couldn’t do it.  I gave up on day 6 in the hospital, and I was applauded for it.  I was feeling resentful of these babies who were keeping me away from my older children, who I missed like crazy.  They still just didn’t feel like they were mine. 
I finally made a turn for the better around day 8, and they let me go home with home health care nurses to monitor me, and to give me meds and blood work. 
It took me weeks to bond with my babies.  It finally happened, and I was in love…hook, line, and sinker.  It was different, it wasn’t immediate.  It was different.  My older kids when from inside my belly, to on my belly directly after birth.  I connected.  I nursed them within 3 minutes of birth.  My babies went from belly to the NICU, and from the NICU to bassinets beside my bed….even though I was too doped up to hold them without assistance. 
With my vaginal deliveries I healed within a few days, walking never hurt, and I didn’t have any staples in my abdomen.  The c-section brought me pain, a seeping wound, and a 6-10 week recovery that I was not ready for. 
Most of all, I learned that c-sections are a LOSS of a DREAM.  If your dream is to be cut open to give birth, that’s great for *YOU*.  If your dream is to passively let a doctor control your birth that’s great for *YOU*.  BUT…if you’ve researched, and educated yourself, and you come to the conclusion that YOU want a natural birth, or a birth at home, and for some reason you had a RARE necessary cesarean, I learned that it’s OK TO GRIEVE!!!!  It’s ok to grieve the process that saved your life (and your baby’s life).  It’s not wrong to wish that it had been different, because who WANTS to have major surgery?  Who wants to have a brand new baby, AND to recover from major surgery?  Not many people sign up for that…and it’s OK to be resentful that you needed to have it done. 
I can also now sympathize, get angry, and advocate for women who have had truly unnecessary c-sections….because for as sad as I am for myself, I can’t imagine the grief of women who were bullied into a cesarean that was just not necessary.  My sister had an unnecesarean, and I was angry for her.  She was *bullied* into a c-section, at a hospital with a 44% cesarean rate.  She was meek, passive, and lost her voice.
In the end, I find it appalling that feminists advocate for women to have the choice to terminate a pregnancy in any way they please….but it’s rare to find a women who will let a woman advocate how she gives BIRTH!  Can’t we all band together and let our voices be heard?  All we want is a choice in childbirth, whether it be an elective c-section (something I personally could never understand!), an unassisted homebirth, or something in between.  This is not a governmental decision, this is a woman’s decision. 
For information on HELLP:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HELLP_syndrome  (I have also become an advocate for mothers with HELLP.)



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Reader Comments (22)

Wow, what a birth story, having a primary cesarean for a breech birth brought a lot of mixed feelings but mainly a loss of my birth. Also, it resonates with me the issue of feminists and choice, I see so much action around choice as it relates to abortion but not so much as it relates to childbirth :(

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEliza

Very powerful post! Thanks Natalie!

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBri

"In the end, I find it appalling that feminists advocate for women to have the choice to terminate a pregnancy in any way they please….but it’s rare to find a women who will let a woman advocate how she gives BIRTH!"
I consider myself a modern feminist. I use my voice and I do action to fight for women's right. I also find it appalling that more feminists are not on board with this topic. I fear that there are "leftovers" from the other feminist movements that still scoff at "breeders".
Great post.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Owen

What a compelling story! Thank you so much for sharing it. I have personally always feared cesarean section, but never experienced it with any of my 5 births. However, I can really imagine how I would likely feel if I had a c-section, necessary or not. Maybe it's my personal expectations that would lead to grief, but I know that grief is real and that no one should judge a woman for her feelings. Whether those feelings are considered "normal" or "rational" is beside the point. They are real, and they affect her.

I grew up in a household where the children were shushed and always told to "stop crying". I grew up thinking that it was wrong to express my true emotions and learned to bury them deep inside. I've learned the hard way how damaging it is to bury my feelings, and now as an adult and mother of 5 I'm finally learning how to process my feelings in healthy ways. I think people in general don't learn how to do this, and as a result we don't honor the feelings of others because we don't know how to honor our own emotions. I'm trying to teach my children what I'm just now learning, in hopes that they will avoid some of the pain and suffering that I've experienced.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCherylyn

I'm a radical feminist who happens to birth and run homebirth forums. I totally agree that my beloved movement has passed us by for reproductive justice and I work every day to reverse that.

I blog about it here: http://janetfraser.id.au/blog/

Thank you for your insightful writing about such an important issue.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Fraser

Natalie, I really appreciate your sharing your story with us. It was certainly moving! I especially appreciate your honesty about your experience bonding with the triplets.

With regard to the issue of feminists caring about birthing, I hope you'll read my latest post on my own blog.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCourtroom Mama

I definitely agree with you that access to all birthing options should be a feminist concern, 100%. And I think that acknowledging grief is a crucial feminist act. Acknowledging that women are legitimate moral agents capable of making decisions about their own lives is a crucial feminist act.

Which is why I was disappointed to read so much judgment in this post. I understand that this is a blog about reducing unnecessary c-sections and empowering women to have births that are empowering and meaningful to them. I totally, totally share those goals. But when you say something like

If your dream is to be cut open to give birth, that’s great for *YOU*. If your dream is to passively let a doctor control your birth that’s great for *YOU*.

It sounds to me like a dismissive judgment of those women who DO want that birth, for whatever reason. Feminism is about believing that women are competent to make decisions about them. That definitely means doing all we can to ensure that women can have the home births, natural births, water births, hypno births, whatever kind of births they want, and that they have the information and the power to choose what kind of births they have. But it also means believing that--whatever women choose--they deserve to have that choice without our comment.

I'm sorry if this is a derail, really, because this is a really compelling and excellent post, and I appreciate that you shared your personal story. Your argument just rang a bit hollow for me when half of the post says that we need to acknowledge women's feelings and capacities, and the other half says, "except if they want a c-section".

(Also, for what it's worth, most of the feminist blogs I read DO cover issues of access to different birthing options, so I think there is progress being made.)

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjm

Natalie, thanks for your post, truly.

And I can tell you; most feminists you run into these days WILL advocate for women's right to birth as they choose. For example the women at Our Bodies, Ourselves devote a great deal of time to issues of women's rights in labor. The National Association of Pregnant Women (NAPW) works to end practices like court-ordered c-sections and shackling of women in labor in prison.

Feminists are your allies in this fight, believe me. The "anti-breeder" stuff never struck me as feminist at all, considering that something like 80% of adult women will have at least one birth in their lifetime.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteremjaybee

Whenever I am writing in a campaign for law changes regarding the birth process (letters to representatives, etc.) I always include the fact that I am free to make the decision to end my pregnancy, killing my baby, but not free to make the decision on where to birth, and how my baby leaves my body! (I have had 2 prior c-sections...one unneccessary, one that is debatable, but I felt comfortable with my decision to re-c-sect.) One of the biggest arguments I hear is that "your baby could die!" ...Yeah, and I could have killed it still in my womb 7 months ago, too!! But no one was worried about its life then!

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaegan

I very much appreciate the reminder to allow women to grieve... in their own time and in their own way. Thank you for that.

I do agree, however, that a great deal of judgment was made about women who *do* have cesareans, by choice or otherwise. Women who choose cesareans, in many/most cases, feel they *are* educated and they are making the choice that works for them and their families. If, by chance, she learns new information afterwards that changes her perception of her first choice, acknowledgement of that, without foisting a "you should have known better" or even (the common refrain) "you just weren't educated" is the kind and respectful thing to do.

I had one of those "horrible births" - figuring it out 2 years retrospectively. I tried to feel as bad as people wanted me to feel, but I *really* liked the birth at the time. With the new information, I would have been horrified and devastated; therefore, I chose not to repeat that type of birth. I don't believe all women who had a different first birth/s always feel grief and that, too, must be honored.

I, too, call myself a Feminist (although, not loudly enough or often enough; thanks for the reminder!) and work hard to allow women to empower themselves through birth. I'm not perfect, but I keep trying.

I'm glad I'm not alone. Thank you again, Natalie, for taking the time to share your story. It is a very important read.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazingMidwife
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