April is C-Section Awareness month, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mine, particularly my first c-section with LJ. I never really wrote about that experience before but today it is really on my heart to share it. I discovered after mine that c-sections aren’t really widely discussed like other births are and if I can be a small part of making this a larger conversation and help even one woman with my story, I am honored to do that.
When I was pregnant with LJ, I knew one thing: I wanted Justin to be the one to catch the baby. Because of his medical experience, our doctor was 100% comfortable with this and I was so excited for Justin to be the first one to welcome our son or daughter into the world. I wanted his arms to be the first ones our baby felt. I was so excited for him to be the one to look up at me and tell me whether we had a boy or a girl. I could see that moment so clearly and I wanted it so badly. I didn’t care if my birth was medicated or not, I cared about that moment. But I didn’t get it.
My water broke around 10 pm on a Monday. We headed into the hospital and I labored all night and all the next day. By 11:00 pm Tuesday, I had been stuck at 9 cm dilated for 5 hours and wasn’t progressing anymore. When the doctor came in to talk to us around 11:30 pm, we knew what she was going to say and my heart broke. I had prepared my heart for a lot of different birth scenarios, but I was not prepared for a c-section. It sounds silly, because of course I knew that a c-section was a possibility, but I did not prepare my heart and mind to actually have one. It just didn’t seem like it would happen to me! We knew baby was head down, there weren’t any known complications, and I assumed I would be able to deliver my baby vaginally.
The doctor did not say I outright had to have a c-section, but she did say that that was the direction things were headed if there were no changes soon, as they were concerned with how long my water had been broken (after 24 hours, the risk of infection greatly increases). I asked for everyone to leave the room for a minute so Justin and I could talk. We held hands and just cried – this was not the scenario we hoped for and we were both so discouraged and disappointed. I remember saying “this is just the first of many tough decisions we are going to have to make as parents in this baby’s life” and we decided to make the decision to go ahead with the surgery. We felt like it was the best choice for the health of our baby. I’m thankful that it felt like a choice – like I did have a tiny bit of power over the decision to move forward and wasn’t forced into it. And within 45 minutes, LJ was born. The doctor held him up, and Justin got to announce “it’s a boy!” We discovered the cord had been wrapped around his neck, and I was immediately extra thankful that he was alive and healthy.
I had a son, and I was of course thrilled about that, but laying on the operating table, I still felt robbed of the birth experience. I felt like I had failed. I felt like my body had once again let me down (the first time being our experience with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy). It was a bittersweet mix of happiness, disappointment, confusion, and just complete and utter exhaustion.
I was grieving but I didn’t really let myself accept and feel grief. People kept finding the silver lining for me: both me and the baby were okay. LJ was here safely. We were lucky. We were blessed. And I felt like I should just be happy and thankful and grateful. What kind of mother grieves when she has a healthy baby to love on? I kept reminding myself over and over again that it didn’t really matter how he got here as long as he got here. And truthfully, I was also just so so so tired from losing 2 full nights of sleep through this whole experience (LJ was born at 12:16 am Wednesday) that I didn’t really have the mental capacity to process my feelings in the moment. And then, we got the news of corioamnionitis – essentially, my placenta did get infected during labor and LJ would need to go to the NICU for 7 days for antibiotics. That experience is a post for another day but it was absolutely gut-wrenching to have to hand my baby over to the NICU nurses and leave the hospital without him. My postpartum hormones were an absolute mess, I was crying all the time, and I didn’t really allow myself to process my c-section because I was in full-on mama bear mode visiting my son as often as I possibly could.
I know that my number one priority was a healthy baby, but it did not happen how I wanted. It did not go the way I dreamed. And even now, 2.5 years later, I have tears running down my face as I write this because I am still grieving this experience.
I think it’s hard for mothers to outwardly grieve or process their feelings on their birth experiences for fear of responses like “at least you . . .”, “be thankful you . . .”, “you should be grateful that . . .” And I’m going to go out on a limb and speak for other mothers when I say: WE KNOW. We understand that there are worse scenarios out there. We know that we may be lucky compared to others. We are grateful for the blessings we have and for the things that did go right. Of course we are so dang happy that our baby has arrived! But telling someone they shouldn’t be sad because they could have it worse is like telling someone else not to be happy because they could have it better. You are allowed to be thankful for your baby and still feel sad about your birth experience.
Let me say it again: you are allowed to feel sad about your birth experience. Even if it still resulted in a healthy baby. There are all sorts of birth scenarios out there, and it’s okay if you’re sad the experience didn’t go how you wanted.
Looking back now, 2.5 years after my first c-section, even though I grieve the experience I didn’t have, I know that we made the right decision. I am not ashamed of my c-section. And when I got pregnant again, I felt much more empowered and prepared to schedule a c-section for Vi’s birth, and her birth experience was completely different (read more about that here). I know I’m not alone, and I know I’m not a failure. I am proud of the bravery it took for me to undergo a surgery to bring my babies safely into the world. I’m thankful for all the resources that helped my recovery experience actually be very positive, and I’m proud of how uplifting and encouraging the c-section community has been for me.
Am I still bummed that I didn’t get the experience I wanted? Yes. I cried writing this post, and then I cried again re-reading it! I will probably always have bittersweet feelings about the experience. But more and more, I am becoming comfortable with the paradox of my feelings. I am both overwhelmingly thankful for my son’s life and health, and incredibly bummed that his daddy couldn’t be the one to catch him when he was born. I am disappointed, but I am grateful. I have accepted it, but still grieve it sometimes. I feel both sadness and happiness when I think back to November 22, 2017, and I am okay with that. It doesn’t mean I love my son any less. It doesn’t mean I’m not a good mother. It just means that birth is a complicated experience with lasting effects no matter how it happens, and it’s ok to talk about.
If you’re processing a c-section (whether past or future), know that you are not alone, and it’s okay to feel however you’re feeling. ❤