Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

Making Peace with My C-sections

I was able to hold M for the first time the day after my C-section.

I was able to hold M for the first time the day after my C-section.

Before I had children, I hoped I would never need a Cesarean section. I thought I stood a pretty good chance of avoiding them. My mom didn’t have C-sections, and I have wide hips. I was young and healthy. I knew better than to write a birth plan in stone, but it seemed a shame to have major surgery to deliver a baby. By the time I became pregnant, the national conversation was about about the overuse of C-sections, and there seemed to be a stigma against them. I didn’t judge people who had them, because before I had preemies, I was a preemie. I knew from my mom’s example that labor and delivery often takes on a life of its own.

At 26 weeks, I went into labor with J, and after a few fruitless hours of magnesium sulfate in my IV and pointing my legs toward the ceiling, we all realized J was coming, like it or not. I wanted to deliver him naturally, after all my labor was fast and he was tiny. But, just a few weeks earlier, he had turned himself, and one of his legs was precariously forcing its way out into the world. One false move, one second too long, and his fragile body might have been fatally injured in the birth canal.

I met the doctor on call for the first time in the hospital room. I had to trust that she was right, that we had no alternatives. I had to accept that I would be put under full anesthesia, that my son might die before I awoke, that I would be alone in the operating room while my husband was alone in the waiting room. Our families were hours away; my dad was already in his car, driving as fast as his car would carry him. And nothing was as I had hoped it would be.

I was unconscious when I became a mother.

It took me weeks to feel like a mother. My brain couldn’t understand what had happened. In one waking moment, I lay on the operating room table pregnant, and in the next waking moment, my baby was gone, whisked away to another hospital. I sometimes wonder if he’s never needed much of my physical touch because he went without it for so long.

My son will be five in a few months, and if I spend very long thinking about his entry into the world, I cry. I could fill buckets with the tears I’ve shed over that night. I will admit it: I am bitter when someone complains about a less than exceptional birth experience because nothing went right in mine, except that my son and I both lived. Given the odds stacked against him, we had the luckiest outcome. Sometimes, I wonder if in all our discussions about the optimal birth experience, we forget how precarious life is. Birth is miraculous, no matter the baby’s entry into the world.

When I was pregnant with M, I had many conversations with my obstetrician and my high-risk doctor about a VBAC. I really wanted to try to have a baby the old-fashioned way, and all my doctors were supportive. Then, I developed severe preeclampsia at 29 weeks. Sitting in the hospital bed, realizing that I was very ill and that I was facing another early delivery and a NICU stay an eight-hour drive away from home, I had to prioritize my prayers. I was realistic. Asking, hoping, and dreaming of a VBAC was pointless. M was coming very early, M was very small, and I was very sick. The best that we could hope for was that we somehow got home to a familiar NICU, and I had to accept that I was going to have another C-section.

The second time around I was miserable, so swollen with my blood pressure swinging erratically, and I was terrified. I hated knowing that doctors and nurses were cutting on me, and they had a difficult time getting to M. My doctor had to laser a second incision on my uterus, and I had to remind myself over and over again not to freak the heck out while I waited for him to deliver her.

But, my second C-section was also full of blessings. I was awake, my husband was by my side, my parents were in town, and—best of all—I heard M cry. She sounded like a mewing kitten, but I heard her very first sounds. I was present at her birth, and the significance of that healed a wound in me. My husband and I welcomed her into the world, and she and I both lived. When I feel tempted to mourn all that was not, my husband reminds me that mere decades ago, he would be a widower with no children. None of us could have lived.

My C-sections were not elective. Nothing was by choice. Both of them were emergency surgeries to save lives. When the statistics say there are too many C-sections in this country, they’re not talking about me.

When I say I had two C-sections, I sometimes feel that I’m supposed to apologize or explain why my babies came into the world through surgery. Believe me, I wish I knew the joy of pushing a baby out of my body; I wish I understood the sense of accomplishment, of relief, of amazement. I will never know about that. But, am I any less of a champion because I had to have two emergency surgeries? So many of us with preemies owe the health of our babies to C-sections, and to all of you who have also had C-sections under some very dire circumstances I say this: I refuse to accept the stigma of C-sections as the easy way out, as a failure of sorts. I endured and sacrificed and fought. I was resilient and brave and strong. If mothers are warriors, then I am one too. And so are you.

Summer Hill-Vinson About Summer Hill-Vinson

Summer (MS) delivered her son 14 weeks early in July 2010 as a result of preterm labor, and he was in the NICU for 3 months. She unexpectedly developed severe preeclampsia with her daughter, almost had her in another state while on vacation, and delivered her 11 weeks premature in January 2013. Both babies weighed 2.5 pounds, and they were in the same NICU for a combined 150 days. Summer, a journalism instructor, is writing a book about her family's NICU years.

Comments

  1. I have had 5 (yep 5!) C-sections. My first two where emergency c-sections and after that I was not given a choice. If I wanted to have more children it would be via C-Section.

    I have also encountered a lot of bias but you know what I tell people? Without my C-Sections, my babies and I wouldn’t be here. My first was after 3 days of labor (and pitocin) and only when my baby’s life was in danger did I have a C. I don;t know many women (or doctors) who would go for 3 days, 78 hours. My second was after 49 hours of labor trying for a vbac. My son barely had a heartbeat while I was being wheeled into the OR. This was no “easy way out”.

    Yes, there are people who decide that for whatever reason, it would be nice to deliver on a certain day and therefor they would rather have major surgery instead of just delivering when the baby is ready or have to go through labor.

    I also know someone who lost the baby because they didn’t want to have a C.

    Yeah, It’s not the way I wanted or expected to bring my children into the world, but it doesn’t make me any less of a mother nor does it mean I love my children less. I am proud of each and every birth and you should be too!

  2. I too am dealing with what a c-section means as a mother. I struggle with saying I gave birth as there was no physical labor. I indirectly decided to have a c-section. I have a medical condition that I worried ( long before I was pregnant and then during those long months) would complicate vaginal birth. Unfortunately my doctor only knew the few details of my condition through my own concerns. She didn’t have experience with the problem and told me it was up to me if I wanted a c-section or not. Up until the day my water broke, I struggled with my decision. I was prepared for a non medicated vaginal birth but was scared my body would not handle it and I would not be healthy after the birth to take care of my child. I ultimately decided on a c-section but I still feel guilt.
    My decision was based on what was best for my child and her mother. I felt I was forced to decide between the known problems of an elected surgery and the unknown difficults of a vaginal birth. I felt and feel alone in having made that decision.

    My pain in reading this article is the emphasis you place on emergency c-section. You seem to ( maybe unknowingly) place the reason the c-section was okay was because it was forced on you. I have seen this type of thinking in other articles. I suppose I would ask that if your point is to put having a section in a positive light then do not qualify the type of c-section, emergency or elective. Very few moms would choose a procedure that puts their baby in danger or is based in selfish need, I hope. My surgery wasn’t an emergency or bc I couldn’t vaginally give birth, but it was a decision by me bc I wanted to be the healthiest mom I could be.

    • Miran, I appreciate your feedback, and it sounds like your decision concerning having a C-section was the best one for you and for your baby. I can see your point about my emphasizing the emergency C-section aspect, and I certainly never meant to leave out other mothers who choose C-sections for any reason. I have no experience with a delivery that doesn’t include an emergency aspect, as so many premature labors do, so I can’t speak to any other situation. But, my personal opinion is that mothers must choose to have C-sections for a variety of reasons, and I’d certainly put you in that camp!

  3. Wow. I needed this tonight. I literally Googled “preemie c-section stories” in the hopes of finding encouragement. Our sweet girl’s birth was very similar to your second and I needed a reminder of the GOOD things of that day. Everything was so out of my control and every time I brush my hand against my stomach it’s a continual reminder of it… but I simultaneously remember the sound of her cry, like you did. Everyone had told us to not plan on or panic at not hearing her cry and I has steeled myself against it… but then she did. A sound I immediately knew, our little kitten. 🙂 All of that to say, THANK YOU for sharing your story, my heart needed to hear it. 🙂

  4. Thank you, Brit! I’m so glad that I could help in my small way. Even amidst all the difficult memories, there are some precious ones, like hearing that tiny kitten mew! I still brush against my C-section scar and catch myself. Sometimes, I’m just so grateful for all my blessings, and sometimes I think that it is such an ugly scar. But, my mom told me that if we are blessed to live long enough, life gives us scars. So, I try to let it be a symbol of my strength and of the resilience of my children and not a reminder of dark days. Take care!

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