I did not give birth.
It’s how I felt after both of my C sections, but I didn’t feel like I had a right to say that.
I’ve written about my birth experiences before (read here and here), but looking back and knowing what I know now, those stories I wrote are laced with my attempt to make sense and be ok with what happened. Now, I want to tell the truth of my experience.
The mantra I saw from almost every woman who had a C section was “I did give birth!” C section advocacy groups encourage women to own it, and say it loud and proud. I couldn’t help but feel that saying it was fake, and yet I hoped that saying it would make me believe it. I didn’t realize for a long time that I was gaslighting myself.
I didn’t give birth.
It’s how I felt, but I was too scared to admit it. The painful truth is that denying my experience made it impossible for me to recognize that both my C sections were traumatic, for reasons I will get into below.
Having a C section was the most dehumanizing experience I have ever had, outside of a horrible transvaginval ultrasound before I was married. To put it in the most understandable terms, I felt like I was an inconsequential piece of the birth of my children. I walked into the operating room, dodging nurses shuffling around the room, sounding out their checklists and making jokes. Just another day at the office for them. I was invisible, overwhelmed and terrified at what was about to happen.
I was told to sit on the operating table and slouch over so the anesthesiologist could administer the spinal. I’ve never felt more alone. I felt pure panic, and I wasn’t allowed to move. My husband was not allowed to be in the room, and I didn’t feel there was a single person there who cared. Right at the last minute, a nurse realized what was happening, and came up and squeezed my hands. Someone cared at least. I laid back and the medicine began to take effect, causing a warming sensation to travel up my legs, leaving numbness behind. The second time, the spinal wasn’t administered by the anesthesiologist, but a student. I didn’t realize this until after I had been stuck 5 times. I honestly couldn’t say for certain if I was informed beforehand this would be happening or not. Everything was a blur.
The doctor came in at some point, said a quick hi and got to work behind the curtain blocking my view of my belly. Five years later, I watched a C section on YouTube. All I could see was a woman getting brutalized, sliced open through layers and layers of flesh and tissue, pulled and tugged as if she were just some piece of meat. That’s what happened to me. Twice. Without my fully informed consent.
My husband arrived at some point by my side, before or after I had been cut open, I don’t know. I focused on his face and his words of assurance, but the truth is my mind was elsewhere. I wasn’t present for the birth. I wasn’t really necessary, so I felt. I was numb, cut off mentally and physically from the birth of my children.
For my first child, I returned to my body when my husband held up my daughter’s footprints. They were crazy long feet and I had to laugh at their size and shape. For my second, I think I came back when they announced my son’s length and weight, but I honestly don’t remember.
I had violent shakes after both surgeries and was told that this is normal, a result of the dramatic fluctuation in hormones. I know now that it was my body responding to the shock of physical, mental and emotional trauma.
My first C section was “necessary” because my daughter was full breech, meaning her head was by my ribs. When I was cut open, they saw she was tranverse, meaning she had moved sideways. I’m haunted by the thought that if I had waited, she may have flipped. I was also discouraged by my doctor from seeking a version to turn her, and wasn’t told that epidurals could be administered to make the procedure less painful and more successful.
My second C section was “necessary” because my son was conceived nearly 8 months after my daughter. I was supposed to wait until 9 months, and the risk of uterine rupture, I was told, was too great. I wasn’t given a choice. I was treated as less because I wasn’t on birth control. I learned later that the risk was less for me or my baby and more for my doctors who didn’t want to deal with potential consequences.
In neither case was there any space for me, a smart, educated woman and the mother of my child, to be trusted or included in making an informed decision. I was never asked what I wanted or thought about what was going to happen to the body I had occupied for 3 decades. I was told what was best. It was my job to listen to my doctors and comply. Because of the risks.
I wasn’t told of the risk of placenta previa or placenta acreta, and how risks of these conditions increase exponentially with every C section performed. I wasn’t told that C sections are major surgery. They were treated as normal and trivial, simply routine. I was expected to resume all normal activities at 6 weeks post-op, and told I could do so without any rehab. At my 6 week postpartum checkup, exhausted and overwhelmed by breastfeeding, I was told I needed to get on birth control because “men have needs.” Years later, I asked a Napro doctor if pelvic floor physical therapy would have been beneficial for me. I received an emphatic no in reply. This doctor was the one evaluating me for an isthmocele, a condition that results from bad C section sutures and can cause infertility, another risk I was never informed of.
I did not give birth. Birth was done to me.
I was coerced and manipulated, given only partial information so that my doctors could be comfortable, and was told that a healthy baby was all I needed to think about. I didn’t matter. I was an object. I was abandoned. And I was left to my own devices to deal with the aftermath, without an ounce of support or sympathy. After many years, by the grace of God, I have been doing just that.
I have been in therapy for almost a year healing my mind and heart. I am learning to advocate for myself in the doctor’s office with my new pregnancy, fighting the instinctive fear and panic instilled in me after years of being conditioned to simply obey. I am opening up to friends and family about things I have kept hidden for so long because of shame and guilt over my inability to prevent what happened and how it affected me. Another symptom of trauma, a desperate internal war to refuse to accept I was powerless.
Yes, I have my children, who I love more than anything, and am so grateful they’re mine. But I lost so much of myself that I am slowly recovering, and that loss has made me feel like less of a mother than I hoped I would be. Birth for me wasn’t beautiful. It was pure pain. Even holding my children for the first time aroused overwhelming sadness in me. I couldn’t connect with them until well after they were born.
I share all this because maybe my story is to some degree yours too, and maybe you have had a hard time sorting out what you felt or feeling like you couldn’t say it. Now you know you aren’t alone, and that saying what happened to you and how you felt about it is the first step to healing.