The “C” Word
Updated: Jun 11
One of the hardest parts about life is making an important decision and never looking back. Constantly worrying about things that are out of our control gets us nowhere. This is especially difficult for parents because we obviously want the best possible outcomes for our children. Finding balance between our motherly instincts and our doctors’ recommendations is by far the most challenging part of parenting.
During my pregnancy, I had hoped and dreamed for a natural, vaginal birth. I had never had surgery in my entire life and I couldn’t imagine needing one in order to deliver my baby. Keeping the “C” word out of my vocabulary was one of my many strategies to stay positive in preparation for motherhood. I was a healthy young woman and was extra cautious during my pregnancy, but that didn’t seem to matter.
After being sent to labor and delivery immediately following my 35 week sonogram, I knew my birth plan was useless. Aside from being breech, there were several other factors that lead us to a necessary cesarean delivery.
I’ll never forget how my teeth chattered and chills ran down my spine as they dressed me for the surgery. I had no idea what to expect and I had never been so fearful in my entire life. All I wanted was for my son to experience a natural delivery. I had spent months reading about the many health benefits vaginal births provided to babies and was certain I could make it happen for my son. In the end, I was so disappointed in myself and spent months trying to figure out where I went wrong or where I could have improved.
I couldn’t stop blaming myself for the c-section.
The anticipation was the worst of it all and seemed to last forever. I will never forget the smell of my burning skin as they cut me open. Then, before I could continue to focus on what was happening to my body, my baby was born. Seeing him look at me with his big, round, dark eyes for the first time is a memory I’ll forever keep in my heart. My husband and I were relieved to know our baby was healthy and would be okay, but I still had a million questions.
Our experience wasn’t going to be like those I saw in movies or heard about from friends. I definitely didn’t have time or energy to do my hair and makeup for photos, and I felt far from glamorous. This was my first lesson about why no two mothers can compare their unique journeys. I didn’t know what our future held for us and I certainly didn’t know how I would ever breastfeed such a tiny baby while recovering from this dreaded surgery.
Waking up to a pump on my lap was very unexpected and quite odd. Little did I know, that pump was going to follow me everywhere for the next few months. I was not prepared to spend my time with a breast pump instead of my newborn child during my first few hours postpartum. It hurt to breathe and I couldn’t even move. In fact, I was so upset with myself for not being able to walk to the NICU and hold my baby right away. I felt like I failed him because I had to pump his breast milk rather than cuddle and nurse him in my arms.
As if the pain and guilt from the cesarean section were not enough, I fell ill to mastitis during my first week home and had to go to the emergency room to be treated. The 104 degree fever was my first sign that I had a real problem. Once I realized I was too weak to shower or sit up and attempt to hold my newborn, I knew something was seriously wrong. In addition to the stress and sleep deprivation, I firmly believe that the c-section and antibiotics that came along with it contributed to my mastitis diagnosis, which added to my negative feelings towards the surgery even more. After suffering through the separation from my baby in the hospital for a week, I had to leave him yet again once we were finally home.
It became terribly difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Another thing I hated about the c-section is that it took away my chances of experiencing labor and natural childbirth. It meant that all those birthing books I read, all the childbirth documentaries I watched, and all the birthing classes we attended at the hospital were completely useless. I had spent so much time preparing for my ideal birthing story which clearly never happened. I could have used that valuable preparation time to educate myself on other useful parenting topics.
I have been told that going through labor isn’t “so great“ either. Comments like this would make the old me cringe. Those words used to make me think that the lucky women who had experienced a vaginal birth were ungrateful. Now I am thankfully able to see through a different perspective because I realize more each day how individualized each mother’s experience is during childbirth.
The more I exchange stories, the more I understand that there are countless factors that contribute to a mother’s birthing experience, whether traumatic or positive, and we can never compare one to another.
This surgery seemed to have made everything harder than it already was for me. Walking hunched over back and forth to the NICU with expressed breast milk, trying to breastfeed and hold my baby comfortably, and sitting up to eat were all so painful and exhausting. But after seeing my breast milk come in and watching my baby guzzle it down, I felt such joy and knew I couldn't give up. So maybe this surgery didn’t serve to ruin my breastfeeding journey; maybe it was my first challenge of pushing me to find my motherly strength to toughen up for my baby.
After removing the bandages, I am left with a small, oftentimes itchy and very sore scar. The change of seasons and rainy days over the last year have proved to me that scars do in fact continue to bring discomfort, even long after the procedure. I guess my husband wasn’t exaggerating all this time when expressing such irritation from his own previous surgical scars. My little scar is and always will be a reminder of my son’s birth and it is now a part of me.
Some women have positive birthing experiences and some do not. Some follow the movement of creating change by taking birthing back into their own hands, and others simply continue to trust our doctors. After learning about such high c-section rates and the lack of more natural birthing practices, I can‘t help but to constantly question everything. I am almost certain I had no other option in my specific scenario, but I will never know if things could have been different. We put our faith in our doctors because they are the medical professionals with the proper knowledge and experience. We can only hope that they will make the best choices for us and our babies at the time of our very personal and exclusively unique deliveries.
I wish I didn’t have to worry about healing from a surgery while caring for my newborn. I wish that I could have birthed my son naturally so that he could have reaped the health benefits of passing through my birth canal. Finally, I wish to accept that I cannot change the past; my baby is here and he is healthy.
Not being able to follow all of the recommendations for successful breastfeeding from the start did not mean we would never succeed, it just meant that we would have a few extra hurdles to get over.
My son has helped me to overcome my greatest fear and because of him I will continue to work on becoming the strongest version of me. I will aim to be more mindful on my daily adventures as a mother and will not let stress dictate my life. I will one day stop despising the “C” word and will eventually be thankful for its existence, as it has safely brought my son into the world. Most importantly, I will strive to be more kind and gentle to myself as I am aware that my child is now mirroring my every move.