One of the truly special things about motherhood is that we’re all tied together through this bond we share of having pushed our bodies to the limits to carry and birth a child, no matter how they were brought into this world.
April is Cesarean Awareness Month, so what better time than now to share my birth story with you. Cesarean Awareness Month is an advocacy initiative through the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN). ICAN’s mission is to “improve maternal-child health by preventing unnecessary cesareans through education, providing support for cesarean recovery and promoting Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC).”
I hope all you mamas and mamas-to-be have had a chance to read some of the uplifting C-section posts that have been circulating around this month. Everyone’s story is unique, and it was always intriguing to me to hear other mom’s birth stories while I was pregnant. Everyone tells their stories so passionately and recalls even the smallest details of their eventful, life-changing day. I love hearing them even now.
I’ve gained a wonderful group of first-time mom friends since I entered into this motherhood journey, and it’s been a lot of fun getting to know these women and their stories. A few of us recently recounted our birth stories over Mexican food, sangrias and our little ones happily munching away on flour tortillas. We span the spectrum of childbirth, from an all-natural birth at a birthing center with no epidural and hours of pushing to a doctor-recommended scheduled C-section with a baby born an hour and a half later. Our stories are different, yet the same—we end up with our precious babies in our arms when it’s all said and done.
My story starts like this: After we decided it was the right time to start a family, I was fortunate to get pregnant quickly. At six weeks, my not-so-glorious pregnancy surprise came in the form of severe morning sickness. Every day. But don’t get me wrong; I loved being pregnant and look forward to it again one day. I just would have preferred to spend less time throwing up over the toilet, that’s all! The pregnancy highs made up for it though; every week of growth, every kick, every new flutter of life deepened a connection that made holding my baby for the first time a moment that took my breath away.
I worried on and off throughout my pregnancy about needing to have a scheduled C-section because Baby C measured big the whole time and stayed breech up until the end. But when he finally turned, I figured my worrying was over and I’d be able to have a natural birth like I planned.
I was already 3 cm dilated with a month to go and 4 cm dilated, which is already considered active labor, with a week to go. My doctor made comments about how this baby is going to come fast when it’s time so make sure I get to the hospital quickly. I was thrilled to hear this at every prenatal appointment in the last few weeks because after throwing up multiple times a day for an entire pregnancy, you want to hear that something is going to go smoothly for you. As a foreshadowing, this fast labor I was anticipating didn’t happen.
I worked up until two days before I was due, and my coworkers who were parents themselves were genuinely concerned for me that I was going to go into labor at work, more than an hour away from my hospital. We even jokingly (but not) had a plan in place in case this actually happened (thankfully, it didn’t). My due date came and went, and my husband and I enjoyed our last weekend together as just the two of us.
At 40 weeks + three days, contractions started around 2 a.m. on a Monday morning. I labored all day at home (18 hours) until they met the 5-1-1 rule (contractions five minutes apart, each lasting one minute, for at least an hour), and we left for the hospital around 10 p.m.
I went from 4 cm to 6 cm dilated after my hour of monitoring in triage, so the nurses quickly got me into my labor and delivery room. Fast! Progress! It’s time! The baby is coming!
This is where I’ll say: Throw your expectations out the window. None of this will be how you expect it.
I read all the books. We went to all the childbirth classes. We toured the L&D floor of the hospital where I would be delivering. I already knew what the rooms looked like, and I often imagined myself there so I would feel at ease when the time came. I’m a research-aholic, and I was so mentally prepared for labor and delivery. But you just can’t prepare for sudden surgery.
My “fast labor” turned into 17 more hours and not progressing enough. My cervix only dilated from 6 cm to 8 cm in that 17 hours, and my contractions stopped getting stronger. My idea of a natural childbirth turned into an epidural, Pitocin and, ultimately, a cesarean.
Needless to say, I was disappointed. When you’ve done everything you can do and you’ve read everything there is to read, you expect it to go a certain way. I cried and was in denial after my doctor told me that I needed to have a C-section. I was exhausted and emotional. It was 35 hours into labor and I felt like I didn’t even get to do anything I was there for. It was hard to let go of the ideal I had built up in my head for my entire pregnancy about how I imagined childbirth going. It wasn’t like this.
When the first time in your life to be admitted into a hospital is for this moment, the thought of getting an IV and an epidural in your back is already terrifying enough. Throw in an unexpected major abdominal surgery and layers of stitches on top of it and suddenly terrifying reaches a whole new level.
My entire body was shaking uncontrollably during surgery prep. I remember thinking that the cold operating room with its bright lights everywhere was a stark contrast to the serene labor room with its soothing color scheme that I just left. I got to stay awake for the entire surgery and could feel the pressure on my abdomen but no pain. It was such a blessing to be able to do skin-to-skin with my baby very shortly after the cesarean, while still in the OR. This bonding was extremely important to me, and I was glad my doctor let me have this special experience even though I was in the middle of a big operation. It wasn’t for as long as I would have liked, but those precious minutes made all the difference.
My surgery went well, but I had severe blood clotting and lost a lot of blood afterward, barely escaping a blood transfusion. After finally getting moved to recovery, I was sick and throwing up all night from the anesthesia. It was a rough time! We spent five days in the hospital before they let me go home. Instead of the normal six-week recovery for a C-section, I had three holes in my incision that wouldn’t heal because of the intense vomiting doing a number on my just-stitched-up stomach. It took 13 weeks and weekly visits to a wound care specialist before it finally healed.
All in all, we survived the surgery and the aftermath, and my baby is happy, healthy and thriving at a year old. I can’t ask for much more than that. And me? I’m a happy mama with a 6-inch scar, but I would do it all over again for my baby. As mothers, we will do anything for our children. And as women, we are stronger than we ever give ourselves credit for.
Mamas—the important thing to remember is that you can do everything right and still need to have a cesarean. And that’s OK. You are brave and selfless for doing what’s best for your child, even though for you that means major surgery and a permanent scar. The careless judgments and stigma that go hand-in-hand with C-sections a lot of the time bother me. There’s so much negativity surrounding C-sections that is unwarranted and unsupportive of our fellow moms. When it comes to life and death, or the only way to become a mother, or any other complications, and your doctor is telling you this is what you need to do, then you do it. Be proud of your scar because it shows your strength—your strength to get through something traumatic and unplanned and frightening and out of your control … and then overcoming it and coming out stronger in the end. This strength gets you through the toughest of days. When your body and soul are still healing, you will still selflessly answer to your baby’s every need.
My cesarean story is a bit traumatic and, for that reason, I would consider a VBAC in the future. After more research on the complications, pros and cons, of course. I struggle with that decision though because I don’t want to go through the emotional distress again of needing to have an unplanned C-section. Mamas, if you’ve attempted a VBAC or had a successful VBAC, I would love to hear about it! For now, I’m going to go snuggle my sweet baby and be thankful that I had a successful C-section to bring him into this world.