When I got pregnant, I had two main goals: to deliver vaginally and to breastfeed. I wanted to do things the way I thought they were "meant" to be done. Fulfilling what I believed to be the two major purposes of my female body — to have a baby vaginally and to nurse my baby — seemed like the ultimate way to feel like a bonafide queen, a super-woman, a magical life-creating goddess, if you will.
Ultimately, however, only one of these goals panned out. I did not end up having a vaginal birth, but I did end up breastfeeding. And even though I no longer believe that vaginal birth is the be-all and end-all of childbirth, I will say that breastfeeding made me feel much better about having had a c-section.
Going into pregnancy, I made every effort to embrace whatever labor experience I was going to have, and to let the chips fall where they may. But after it was all over, I realized just how much I had been holding out for a vaginal delivery. I hadn't realized that, deep down in my heart, I'd truly believed that a vaginal delivery was the only successful way to deliver. Although I know now how untrue that is, and that about 33% of newborn babies are delivered via c-section, that doesn't change how disappointed I felt about it at the time.
So I focused on my other goal: breastfeeding my baby. Luckily, nursing came easily for me and my baby, which served as a balm to my (figurative and literal) wound. If having a c-section took something away from me in my birthing experience, then breastfeeding is what gave it back.
My feelings about my c-section were probably influenced by the fact that my labor was fairly traumatic. I was in labor for roughly 30 hours after being induced. It took forever for me to become fully dilated, but after 30 minutes of finally getting to push, my doctor told me my daughter was "sunny side up," which was going to make it much harder for her to come out. He also informed me that both of our heart rates were climbing higher than they should be while pushing, which is what ultimately made me decide to have a c-section.
Although I had held out for a vaginal birth, I was thankful for the option to have the c-section; after all, my doctor had told me it was best for both me and my baby. But the nagging feeling of never knowing for sure whether I could have had a successful vaginal birth has haunted me.
After my c-section, I had all of these feelings of doubt.
My negative feelings about my c-section were magnified by the fact that my incision burst about two months after my daughter was born. In most respects, I had been an exemplary c-section patient: I did everything I was supposed to do in terms of helping my scar heal, and my doctor had said everything looked great at my six-week checkup. Yet for whatever reason, my incision burst due to infection, which meant I had to seek my husband's help to take care of my now-2-month-old as I re-healed.
After my c-section, I had all of these feelings of doubt about my birthing abilities. Why couldn't my body do what it was "supposed" to in the first place? Why couldn't it fight off the infection on its own? Why wasn't I the amazing childbirth empress I had conjured up in my mind?
Luckily, there was one thing that made me feel better: nursing my daughter. As I recovered, my husband and my parents would bring her to me to nurse, which, aside from being slightly painful because I was sore, worked just as well as it did in the beginning, right after she was born.
A mere hour after my c-section, my newborn nursed like crazy. Although I was disappointed that my labor had not gone according to plan, it was such a wonderful feeling to begin the process of breastfeeding her. Because I was just producing colostrum at that point, I supplemented with formula in the hospital, and then my milk came in two days after her birth. That was the first time I felt my feminine powers of birthing finally arise within me.
Every time I nursed my child, it was as if a little more of the disappointment I'd felt from not having the birth I’d imagined melted away.
From that day forward, whenever I nursed my daughter, I didn't just feel like I was giving her sustenance and life. I also felt like I was feeding my own “mother heart," or the place in my soul where becoming a mother was taking place. Every time I nursed my child, it was as if a little more of the disappointment I'd felt from not having the birth I’d imagined melted away.
I am so thankful for breastfeeding. It was invaluable during my roller coaster of a postpartum emotional journey. Just the act of sitting or lying down to nurse encouraged stillness and calmness in me. Those quiet moments in my daughter’s room spent singing and humming to her as she nursed and we locked eyes did more to help me recover from my disappointing labor and subsequent infection than I had ever imagined it would.
Of course, if I have any future pregnancies, I could potentially end up having another c-section, as well as a baby who turns out to have trouble latching. I hope that I can stand secure in the fact that none of these things truly make me a failure or a success as a mother; plenty of moms have c-sections and don't nurse, and they're superwomen and birth warriors nonetheless. But at least with my first child, breastfeeding after a c-section became the agent for my emotional healing process. I’ll never forget the way it helped me cope with it all.