When it comes to birth options, C-sections usually get a bad rap. A C-section is a major, often un-planned surgery with a long recovery time and all kinds of social baggage that can make even discussing your experience challenging. But my C-section made me feel stronger than ever (well, maybe it took the abs part of me a while to feel stronger) and I think sharing the ways this often controversial surgery made me feel powerful is an important step towards de-stigmatizing the entire experience.
My C-section was one of those super-fun emergency types. While I wasn't scared of the possibility of a cesarean birth, I was hoping it wouldn't come down to any situation with the word "emergency" in it. And yet there I was, over 18 hours into a hard-ass labor (oh, yeah, that was super fun) when my doctor told me that my baby was in distress and she recommended surgery. I liked my doctor, I trusted her, and I didn't question her call for an instant. But while I'd read up on what happens before, during, and after such a delivery I didn't exactly know what to expect.
There were some surprises, to be sure, but overall I think the biggest revelation was how overwhelmingly positive the experience was, and how pleasantly surprised I felt about it, my body, and how things went down as time went on. I know everyone will have their own thoughts and feelings surrounding their C-section experience (and they're all valid), but here's how my emergency surgery made me feel like one badass mama:
I Got Through My "Worst Case Scenario"
Like I said, I was hoping to avoid the exact kind of birth I wound up having. But it turns out that birth experience as unavoidable, and the fact that I got through it (with, as it turns out, a smile on my face) made me feel really powerful. Sure, I didn't want a C-section, and I was nervous about it, but it happened and I lived through the situation and the accompanying fear to the point that, if I ever needed another C-section again, I wouldn't be afraid.
Overcoming fear is a damn rush, and it made me feel awesome.
OK, statistically I was going to to live because it's extremely rare that a mother dies during a C-section. So it's not that I was realistically afraid of death during childbirth (though I'm sure we all are to some degree, of course). But I had a team of doctors cut me open and pull out a screaming, bloody infant, and then they just stapled me back together and wheeled me into a recovery room. Oh, and I was awake the entire time. On paper, C-sections sound like something out of Greek mythology, or an ancient Viking legend about some warrior maiden with an impossibly cool name famous for her metal-ass birth story.
Yes, there are factors here that make it far less dramatic than a cosmic legend (anesthesia being a big one), but just thinking about what this delivery entails is enough to make you feel badass about it.
I Was Walking Within A Few Hours
You'd think major abdominal surgery would take walking off the table for, like, weeks, right? I mean, I've seen enough movies to know that when a man is wounded in battle with a bayonet he's reclined in a field hospital for several weeks. But there I was, postpartum, walking around carrying my baby within hours of surgery. How cool is that?!
I have to admit that I felt pretty damn proud of myself and my ability to move around after delivery. It took effort, and I knew it was important not to overdo it, but I was doing it.
I Survived Breastfeeding Even When My Milk Came In Late
Probably one of the worst aspects of C-section recovery, for me, was the fact that the surgery can delay milk production. In my case, my milk didn't come in for five days. This is within the realm of normal, but no one told that to my very, very hungry and increasingly pissed off infant who took to nursing every 20 minutes to try to fill his tummy. Have you ever tried to do anything every 20 minutes for several days? Much less something you've never really done before? Something you've never done before but need to do in order to keep someone else alive? Well, let me assure you it's not pleasant.
Eventually it became clear that I wouldn't be able to get through this trial period without the help of formula supplementation, which worried me because I knew there was a chance doing so might ruin my breastfeeding efforts. But I persisted and went on to nurse my son for 17 months in spite of a rocky start.
I Eventually Sat Up On My Own
Basically every human activity requires some degree of core strength. You never know that more than when you have zero core strength whatsoever on account of having had major abdominal surgery. It took a long time before I was able to sit up without assistance, but I did and it made me feel like a goddamn Amazon queen.
I Could Feel Myself Healing Over Time
It was cool to track my progress. My first day home from the hospital I walked around the floor of my apartment building. The next day I walked down to the corner. The next day I could walk around the block. I could feel myself getting better and better, stronger and stronger, and more and more like my old self.
Of course, I think I got drunk with that power and pushed myself too far too fast, but the point remains that my accomplishments made me feel like I could accomplish more.
I Became Strong Enough To Admit My Limits
There's strength in strength, and there's also strength in being able to admit when you need to sit one out. The latter really requires you to take account of your experience, own it, and own it enough to feel like you don't have to prove anything to anyone (including yourself). There was a freedom in that feeling, and just a sense of power. I knew I could push myself, but I decided that I didn't have to. I was awesome. I was doing enough. And I was worthy of self-care and a considerable amount of recovery time.
I Got A Badass Scar
My C-section scar (though largely invisible now, which is in and of itself miraculous because a baby came out of there) is incredible. It started off as a massive, swollen, puffy, scary looking wound and then over time just became this long, thin line. Whenever I look at it (or, since I can't see it so well anymore, press down and still feel the puckered muscle and scarring beneath the skin) I feel a surge of pride. I think about everything that I went through before, during, and after my birth and get a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
I Gained The Ability To Talk To Other People About Their C-Sections
My experience empowered me to be able to talk to other people about their C-section experiences, and I'm really grateful for that. Unfortunately, I think this is a procedure that has one of two narratives written into it: either you're a failure who didn't really give birth, or you're a martyr who underwent something tragic to deliver her baby safely and "all that matters is that everyone is healthy."
But that first narrative is complete crap and the second one leaves no space for the million other emotions that can come up during a C-section delivery. So talking to other people about their C-sections by talking about mine made me feel empowered. Hopefully, it can make other people feel empowered as well.
Birth Is Badass
No matter how you do it, the fact remains that birth is basically one of the most badass things someone can do with their body, period.