When we think of life stages – birth, childhood, end of life, death – we don’t often think of giving birth as one of them. But I believe that giving birth is as much of a life stage as childhood. (And it actually turns out that pregnancy and birth and motherhood DO change our brains significantly, similar to going through puberty. I’m guessing we don’t talk about it though because it’s still a secret to menfolk.)
It’s a part of the beginning of motherhood, but a very important stage of life, just like pregnancy. Thinking of it that way, taking someone’s experience of giving birth away is a little like taking pregnancy away – at least it feels comparable to me.
Stay with me. Pregnancy prepares us for birth, right? Yes, we grow a child in our bodies (unarguably a huge deal), but think of the emotional and mental development we also go through during pregnancy. There’s the (hopefully) elation at finding out, the challenging morning sickness and pain, the nights becoming more difficult to sleep through and preparing us for those sleep deprived night with our infant. There’s the anticipation in the last few months and weeks, imagining your child with you, imagining the birth, the moment when your child comes out of your body and into your arms. This is an extremely important moment, and throughout our pregnancy, we mentally and emotionally prepare for it. We expect it.
This is a moment that OBs are quick to dismiss, but emotionally and mentally, think of the value of seeing with your eyes, and feeling with your body, your child coming out of you and into the world. This series of moments is crucial in helping a person wrap their heads and hearts around this huge life-changing event.
This is the moment with a c-section that many, many women miss.
Yes, the baby is removed. But the woman often does not see the baby, and certainly does not feel the baby, during a c-section. What’s more, the woman did not do the c-section. And birth is not about removing a baby from an inanimate machine. Birth is a spiritual, life-changing process and event.
It’s true, I personally feel I did not birth my child. I gave birth, but I did not do the work at the end. I wanted to, but the OB and nurse decided for me that their Saturday schedule was more important than letting my child and I have that life experience. (I am not saying other women with c-sections didn’t birth their children. Not at all. But I am saying I did not feel my c-section was my birth, and it’s a feeling about my individual situation. I did the labor, but I truly feel my physician birthed my child.)
I did not see my baby come out, nor did I feel her. I did not see my husband’s face when he saw our daughter for the first time, nor did I see his face for hours after, while I sobbed in the recovery room, alone, except for my doula, while he held our daughter’s hand.
This did something to me. It took something from me. My body and mind had a hard time figuring out for months just where this baby had come from. My mind had a lot of trouble understanding this baby was mine. Bonding was not happening. When they plopped her unceremoniously on my chest without a word, I remember thinking, this could seriously be anyone’s baby. I felt nothing but distant disgust for this surgery team, who had by then turned on the radio and started chatted while working on my body, like a regular old autoshop. I was also heavily sedated and had gone through too much Fentanyl and at least one shot of Narcan to bring me back when they overdid it.
Then, there’s the end game. There’s the end of pregnancy and the beginning of life – the real transition. This is birth.
The laboring is a long journey that almost mirrors pregnancy. There’s the consistent physical pains, and mental fears, rages, hopes, and anxieties all dredged up. Then, at the climax, there’s the joy of bringing the child into the world, triumphantly.
C-sections steal this joy, especially when they are unplanned and unnecessary.
I could feel my body building toward birth, step by step, the labor amping up palpably, level by level. It was building toward the climax of birth. At 9 centimeters, when they gave me an epidural and overdid the Fentanyl, suddenly my body screeched to a halt. When the epidural kicked in, it was as if I had been charging toward the end of a long tunnel on a train and then suddenly the train had just stopped in some sort of cloud-filled limbo. There I was, hanging out in the clouds as my OB dug around in me like I was a thing and called my husband over to look at me like a thing. She didn’t make eye contact with me once I was on my back.That’s not birth. It actually felt highly triggering and a lot like rape.
OBs need to think of what they’re taking from women’s lives when they perform c-sections like they aren’t the beginning of life. It’s meaningful, significant and every birth is once-in-a-lifetime. And for any provider that doesn’t feel that way about birth, I say get the hell out of our bodies.