The first time my mother had a c-section was when she gave birth to me. The doctors couldn’t find my heartbeat in that Kansas hospital in September 1986, so I was pulled from her womb. At the time, there was little conversation about vaginal births after cesareans, so my younger sister was born in the same manner three years later.
My mom was a lifelong ballet dancer, and she hadn’t bargained for a six-inch scar, nor did she expect the extra fat that was directly above it. “This is where they cut me open," she would say, pointing to the scar on her fair flesh, a hint of remorse in her voice. “This is where they cut into my stomach muscles." She still has the scar to this day.
As a fully nude stripper and webcam model, my body is one of the tools I wield in my masterful craft of illusion and beauty. I wanted no evidence of a mother’s surgery, and no record of my personal life on my body.
So when I found out I was pregnant, I certainly wasn’t planning on having a c-section. When I gave birth to my daughter in March 2012, however, she was nearly 10 pounds and stuck in an uncomfortable position near my pelvic bone. By the end of nearly 67 hours of labor, much of which was unmedicated, I relented to having a c-section, the scrawled signature on the paperwork looking nothing like my handwriting. “I surrender, I surrender,” the paperwork essentially said. “Cut me open, please.”
When my daughter finally came out, I was thrilled. She was beautiful. But to be honest, I was already wondering, “What will my stomach look like?” I tried to stay in shape by walking, eating an organic, low-sodium diet, and breastfeeding for 15 months. But every time I bathed, got dressed, or had sex, my scar stared me in the face like a crooked sneer. I hated it, and I especially hated that my c-section scar made me feel insecure during sex with my then-husband.
It wasn't just my private sex life that I was concerned about. As a stripper and webcam model, my body is one of the tools I wield in my masterful craft of illusion and beauty. I wanted no evidence of a mother’s surgery and no record of my personal life on my body.
Approximately 33 percent of all births in the United States are delivered via c-section, according to the CDC, which means there are literally millions of women living with c-section scars. Yet if you look at the thousands of on-screen images of women we are confronted with everyday — on TV, on Instagram, on Facebook, or even on a porn website like RedTube — it's extremely rare to see a woman who is obviously postpartum, let alone someone who has a c-section scar. Because part of my job hinges on my ability to convincingly portray a sexual fantasy, I worried that my c-section scar would potentially lead to a drop in my income.
I'm not the only woman in the industry who feels that way. Aurora Bordello, a pole dancer and yoga instructor in Oregon, told me that the week she had her c-section, she thought she would never be able to regain her original, pre-partum shape.
“I hate the way [my scar] makes my lower abdomen look."
"I was discouraged and felt like maybe I'd never be able to be a sex worker again because I was unattractive to most men and women," she said. “I hate the way [my scar] makes my lower abdomen look, so I'll probably always wear a high-waisted garter or waist cincher." Bordello added that she also believes her c-section scar affected her pole-dancing skills: "The c-section made pole dancing harder because I had lost most of my ab strength and throwing a piece of fabric over it definitely didn't help.”
I love what I do for a living, and I was determined to find any way I could to continue making money, despite my new physical imperfection. I was grateful that things like waist cinchers and Dermablend could hide my scar, and I was never really concerned that my then-husband would cease to see me as beautiful. But I still saw myself as unattractive.
Let’s be honest: as women, if we're not self-conscious about one body part, we're self-conscious about another. If I had abs like those FlatTummyTea gals on Instagram, I’d probably instead focus on the fact that my forehead wrinkles like a ladder when I lift my eyebrows during my O-face, or that the hairs encircling my nipples now need constant tweezing. After all, I'm not 25 anymore. I'm a lot less young and nubile, and my body is producing less estrogen. Goodbye, second puberty: I’m prepping for menopause.
When I’m in the quiet of my bedroom, and the clothing comes off and the lights stay on, I can’t stand how disruptive my belly rolls and my scar are, and how they impede the pleasure I’m intent on receiving.
There is great pressure on women to be attractive at any age. We talk about our “pretty daughters” or “beautiful brides,” and of course everyone wants to be the “hot mom at playgroup." I buckle to this pressure just as much as anyone else: I maintain clear skin, tweeze and fluff my brows, and wash, color and style my hair to my liking. Yet some aspects of my physical appearance are more difficult to manage.
When I’m in the quiet of my bedroom, and the clothing comes off and the lights stay on, I can’t stand how disruptive my belly rolls and my scar are, and how they impede the pleasure I’m intent on receiving. That's why I love going to a private, dark, primal place in my bedroom, with the lights off and the door locked. If I want to perform, I keep the lights on. If I want to feel pleasure and let go, hello, darkness, my old friend.
Motherhood sacrifices time, money, energy, freedom, and perhaps, comeliness. And to a degree, women choose to birth babies even while the little voice that lives in the back of our brains squeaks, But what will my body look like after?”
The answer to that question varies depending on her birth experience and post-delivery body, says Dr. Evelin Dacker of Salem, Oregon. "Pregnancy and birth can be so traumatic. It stretches and engorges, tears and changes one's pelvis," Dacker said. "I did deliveries for 15 years and found it amazingly beautiful and horrifically powerful.”
I know I’m beautiful, and I expect only the deepest love and respect from my lovers. But the wrinkling asterisk that my belly button becomes while I'm in missionary position still irks me.
Dacker believes that we need to train ourselves to believe that the physical side effects of childbirth only enhance a woman's physical appearance. “Life's scars add beauty to a woman's body," Dacker said. "I tore my labia on my first birth and was just too fatigued to give a sh*t. I now keep my vulva decorated with gold piercings to celebrate everything it has gone through.”
I see the value in what Dacker is saying. I know I’m beautiful, and I expect only the deepest love and respect from my lovers. But the wrinkling asterisk that my belly button becomes while I'm in missionary position still irks me, to the point that I eventually covered the scar with a dark, heavy tattoo, lyrics from a fellow punk mom, Brody Dalle. “The womb is the safest place I’ve ever been, so carry me home baby, let me back in," the quote reads.
I could always get skin-tightening treatment or surgery to suck out the excess fat in my stomach. I could do 100 sit-ups a day to discourage the “overhang” fat pouch that so easily gathers above a c-section scar. But in the meantime, I gaze upon my perfect child and remind myself that I want no hint of remorse in my voice when I show her my wounds from her birth. As a civilian and as a sex worker, I’ve learned that men AND women love confidence in their lovers and in their fantasies. And so I’m still working to accept myself. Until then, I can still turn the lights off.