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The Most Important Thing

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by Courtroom Mama

 I generally try not to get all butthurt over trolls, but I couldn’t contain my gasps of impotent horror as the following conversation unfolded in the comments of Emjaybee’s last post.


Screencaps in part:






Jill and Emjaybee were on it with lightning speed, of course, while I was puttering along on my phone totally unable to do anything about it. So, I thought I’d take a short break from “wallow[ing] in [my] unnecesarean grief” and voila, unpublished-reply-turned-post.


First of all, it bears mention that a person exposes him or herself as a troll when they ask the question in the form “So how exactly does a c-section ruin your life?” (Well, for starters, when it kills you, like folks sometimes seem to forget can be the case.)  Nevertheless, I think that there is a kernel of truth under there that needs to be addressed. I’m posting this in the hopes that someday someone will google “Why would the method of birth ever overshadow the birth of a healthy baby?” and get my very earnest explanation.

Human emotion is nuanced and complicated.  The singular nature of pregnancy and the unique relationship between a woman and her unborn baby seems to play hell on our need to simplify, homogenize, and categorize. Regardless of the headway that we have made in terms of gender equality in civil and political rights, we have a pretty rigid schema for what a normal pregnancy looks like: woman is pregnant, woman delivers baby, woman is happy.

That is not a woman, that is a paper doll.

The truth is that each of those clauses and each of those commas contain nearly infinite possibilities. The experience can be punctuated with an exclamation point, a question mark, or the silence of an ellipsis. We can acknowledge that women may meet their pregnancies with a variety of emotional responses—joy, shock, anger, ambivalence—but the idea that women might meet their babies with the same variety of emotion seems to be beyond the realm of comprehension. Aren’t babies supposed to make women happy?

I know that the question of the method of birth “overshadowing” a healthy baby is not one asked in good faith, but my answer to that sort of question has always been that women with negative feelings about their cesarean sections are, as a preliminary matter, grateful for their healthy babies and are able to experience other feelings in addition to and outside of joy and gratitude. Like when your mom explained to you that when your little sister was born she could love her and still love you just as much as she ever had.

But Dana made me think a little bit: are babies a balm that should heal all wounds? Even if we function under the assumption that a healthy baby is the most important thing in a birth (which, some people may be surprised to hear, is not universally the case across cultures or to individual women), is having even a welcome and wanted baby a substitute for the autonomy lost by a woman who has had the experience of being tied down and operated on, or the horror of seeing herself in a pool of blood in the reflective surfaces in the operating theater?

Is having a baby a substitute for posttraumatic stress? For the flinch and recoil of damaged nerves when a lover brushes her scar? For the knowledge that she may have to fight to even attempt to avoid scheduled surgical delivery even in the face of evidence suggesting that she’d most likely be able to deliver vaginally without any problem?

This is something that may be difficult for a person who had a necessary surgery, or who is okay with having had an unnecessary surgery, to understand. I’ve tried to explain the fact that the outcome doesn’t erase the pain of the journey, but there really is no metaphor. The closest I have come is this:

Imagine you get in a car to drive and see the person you love most in life. You get into a car accident on the way there, are rushed to the hospital, and the doctors save your life. When you open your eyes, your loved one is there to greet you. Now imagine instead that you get into the car, and on your way there, you’re pulled over for driving too slowly, and then taken to the hospital, where your healthy appendix is removed. When you open your eyes, your loved on is there to greet you.*

Notwithstanding your happiness to eventually get to your goal, you might have some questions—or even anger, sadness, or grief—about what happened to you on the way there. Why were you interrupted just for getting where you were going too slowly? How did that justify unnecessary surgery? Even in the first circumstance, might you not still feel trauma from the terror of fear of dying or never seeing your loved one? Getting to see that loved one might be the most important thing, but it doesn’t diminish the importance of your own physical and mental health. This is something that mothers don’t often get to hear: you are important too!

In closing, to those visitors who are not in the “choir”: nowhere on this website, or in ICAN’s materials, or in any of the countless books about healthy birth does it say that women should grieve or feel a sense of loss over cesarean surgery. In fact, my greatest wish: every cesarean a wanted cesarean. I wish that every woman who had surgery could feel at peace with it and supported and cared for by her medical team.  To express negative emotion or question the overuse of such a major medical intervention is not to condemn the women who made it through healthy and happy. Please, don’t take it personally; it’s not about you.


*Again, metaphor is imperfect. I’m actually having fun thinking about all the ways to tweak the image: the baby is riding with you and they pull you over for an appendectomy because they think it’s crying? Because your car has had a flat tire in the past? Because the traffic cop wants to fill a quota and go home early?

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Reader Comments (81)

Ha, courtroom mama, here's the metaphor I came up with:

You need to eat Thanksgiving dinner. You're very excited--you love Thanksgiving dinner! But people sometimes choke when they eat that much food, and DIE! So, when it's time to eat your meal, you go to the hospital to be safe.

They have to make you lay down with your feet elevated to control your blood pressure, and they keep a monitor on your throat, and they watch you intently as you eat your meal. So they can catch any choking immediately.

But then you cough a little--oh no, a piece of turkey, lodged in your throat! I mean, yeah, you were head down and trying to swallow with a beeping device strapped to your adam's apple, but still! You could DIE!

So then the surgical team is scrambled, your food is taken away and liquidated, and they install a stomach tube. Your body absorbs your meal, and you're done.

Later, when you're in recovery after having the tube removed, you express some misgivings over the whole process. Your visitor exclaims "But you got a Thanksgiving dinner, right? You ate the whole meal! So what does it matter?"

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteremjaybee

There is no perfect metaphor but these are pretty stinking good ones.

April 9, 2010 | Registered CommenterJill

Also, I am familiar with the attitude or assumption that every woman who has had a cesarean, necessary or not, has some kind of deep regret or despair over what happened. Or that someone who couldn't or didn't breastfeed would really regret their decision if they were just informed. Or that every abortion causes profound lifetime sorrow. Or that every woman in her fifties who hasn’t had a baby must be flawed and wonton for that sweet baby love that she never got.

April 9, 2010 | Registered CommenterJill

Great metaphors!

And, as aways, great post Jill. :)

When a troll magically appears, I always ask myself why are they here? Did Dana just happen across a blog called Unnecesarean? Hmmm...

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermichele

Michele, the post was from Courtroom Mama. To answer your question, I have no idea.

April 9, 2010 | Registered CommenterJill

Or you are driving to see the one you love most in the world you are excited. You drive through strange and beautiful countryside, there are struggles with traffic, but you are loved and supported by others who have done this before. They tell you that you can do it. You are tired, the driving is getting more difficult, you are thirsty, but someone gives you sips of tea and you feel refreshed. Hours of driving pass. You are scared you will NEVER get there. Outch, you feel you cannot do it. Will this drive ever be over? Then one of your supporters says" You are almost there, keep at it." and all of a sudden you or your car demonstrates new power, you had no idea you had such power, the rush is intense. You are amazed at your ability. And you arrive at your destination to be greeted by your loved one. You are euphoric! This is what the journey is supposed to be like. You want to do it again. You want to tell everyone that you did it. You know that having done this BY YOURSELF that you can do anything in the world. You are full of love and gratitude. You ROCK!

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBonnieB23

I love both metaphors, both truly capture my very different experiences! Way to go Emjaybee and Bonnie!

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBlynkin

Metaphors aside...I think its hard for most people who have not experienced a particular gamut of emtotions to understand that just b/c THEY didn't feel that way, doesn't mean OTHERS don't feel that way.

I have been accused of being cold...but really I just don't have a lot of empathy. I have my OWN emotions, I just don't often empathize with others' emotions. But at least I realize it...and I either fake the right emotion...or just sort of copycat other emotions that I can see going on.

Instead of asking, "Why are you sad your parent died? I wouldn't be sad if my parent died!" I realize it must be difficult for THEM to deal with a dead parent. And at least offer consolation.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaegan

What I don't get is the concept of mama's needs being somehow against baby's needs. As if they can't coexist, or that for one to be healthy the other has to suffer. How is wanting to avoid a c/s "sacrificing the health of your baby"? Because it seems to me that any condition that legitimately requires a c/s for the baby's health is going to benefit mom equally. If the baby is truly stuck, not just stuck because of a lack of skill on the part of the OB or midwife, but stuck despite every possible position and any other trick of the trade you could try - mama probably is quite uncomfortable and isn't going to be against doing whatever has to be done to get the baby out safely.

So many sections are done because we "think" there "may" be a problem. The baby is "probably too big", or breech, or whatever interventions are being done are impeding the normal progress of labor, and moms are told the c/s is for the health of the baby. It's pitting mom against baby when that shouldn't be the case, because when one benefits, they both do.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I think trolls are great! I think that lots of those people are interested in learning, and maybe don't feel that they have anything to add, until they understand more. Also, they provide the opportunity to teach and share more, and to get deeper into the subject ourselves.
I suspect that many women who have had a cesarean believe that they were not wounded by the experience. I also think that as a society we are so cut off from our emotions that many women don't even realise what some of their feelings are, and they have been socialized to suppress them, in any case.
If a woman who had had a cesarean took the time to be still and open, and to feel into her feelings about the cesarean, how could there NOT be some sadness? After all, her beautiful body has been sliced open, EVEN IF IT WAS NECESSARY. My hope is that people who read these blogs might take that time, to find their own wounds, and begin their own healing process. That is a step that takes courage, and hearing about women who are feeling their feelings will help some of those women to find their courage.
Another thing that many people don't appreciate fully, is that the birth process is perfectly designed to achieve many, many things, some of which we may not even be aware of yet! The birth process benefits both the mother and the baby. When my son was in grade 2, we had a woman do assessments of all our children in the class, to assess levels of development with respect to balance, visual development, and all that sort of thing. She provided us with some very simple physical exercises that would help our children in completing certain elements of development. I had the opportunity to spend some time with her, as this really interested me. She told me that the woman who had taught her could walk into a room full of children and identify which ones had been born by cesarean section. So, while the children are OK per se, they have still missed out on something fundamental. For women, the process of birth can be nothing less than euphoric and transformational. If more women realized what is possible in the birth process, they would be less willing to miss out on that.
So, I appreciate all the efforts to respond to the trolls, and to keep spreading this valuable information! It's a great thing and I thank you!!

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea von Schoening
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