Opinion: I Had a C-Section - Does That Make Me Less of a Mother?

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surgical instruments

A cesarean section can be just as joyful as a vaginal birth. Credit: Getty Images

The National Institutes of Health got a bunch of medical bigwigs together last week to talk about cesarean delivery and what they called the "troubling fact" that women who want to try for a vaginal birth after a C-section (VBAC) are often denied that option.

The panel supports the idea of allowing a woman to pursue a VBAC, and the research seems to bear out the fact that, for many, a vaginal birth after a surgical one is a viable option: According to the NIH press release about the panel, labor is successful in nearly 75 percent of VBAC cases.

"About 70 percent of women who have had Cesareans are good candidates for trying for a normal birth, and 60 percent to 80 percent of those who try succeed," Dr. F. Gary Cunningham, the conference chairman and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, tells The Money Times.

What's troubling to me is not the fact that Cunningham wants more women to have access to VBACs. No, what's troubling to me is how he called the way I birthed my children abnormal. I had two C-sections -- the first one because my daughter was breech, and the second an elective repeat C-section. The assertion that my birth experiences were less than normal is totally insulting.

I had surgery. I had an epidural. I had stitches and pain medication for weeks afterward. Does that make my birth experience unnatural? Does it make me less of a woman or a mother? What do people get out of vaginal birth that I didn't experience? I had a baby, I saw her face and nearly broke from the love of it.

But if you listen to other mothers, and some fathers, too, what happened to me was not a joyful emotional experience. What happened to me, some would say, was akin to rape.

Yes, you heard that right. Rape. A post about C-sections by writer Julie Marsh (she had three C-sections) on her blog, "The Mom Slant," drew comments so inflammatory that she eventually closed them down. Marsh writes about a Twitter debate sparked by a joke about post-baby sex, in which some compared a C-section to torture and yes, rape -- the idea being that a woman suffers a loss of control over what happens to her body when a doctor proposes a surgical birth.

"As far as the 'rape' issue, it holds water. The rape is not necessarily the c-section. It is the lies told by the physician. It is the physician imposing his 'knowledge' to intimidate women into doing something they don't want. We're not talking about life saving situations," writes one commenter.

What strikes me, beyond the complete disregard for the victims of actual rape, is how viciously women will attack one another for making a deeply personal decision about the birth of their children. It's another flag of superiority to wave around: I had a vaginal birth, hear me roar! Oh, you poor dear, they must have steamrolled you into that abhorrent C-section! Even better are the moms who choose to have a drug-free birth and then run around proclaiming that no other method of delivery should be considered.

It's just one more way to divide us -- C-sections, breastfeeding, attachment-parenting -- oh, so many ways to judge! So many ways to disagree! So many ways to assert moral superiority!

I'm sympathetic to anyone whose birth was marred by any kind of trauma, mental or physical. I know there are women out there who do suffer tremendously during their C-sections. I also know there are women out there who suffer tremendously during their vaginal births. Let's face it -- birthing babies is no picnic, no matter how they make their entrance.

Do I think women who want to attempt a VBAC should be allowed to do so, if the circumstances dictate that it's safe for both Mom and baby? I sure do. Hey, it's even A-OK with me if you want to pop a squat in the forest and have your kid while someone braids your hair and sings "Kumbaya." Bottom line: How you give birth is your decision and how you arrive at that decision is no one's business.

Women -- all human beings, in fact -- have the right to make decisions about their own bodies.

What we don't have the right to do is cast aspersions on how other people's children enter this world. This is a fundamentally personal moment in the life of a mother and no one -- not even Dr. Cunningham -- has the right to tell me that what I experienced was wrong.

Related: Should I Have a VBAC Trial of Labor After a Previous Cesarean?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.