Story by Lindsey Tjernlund
I’ve been pregnant twice. I have two healthy, gorgeous daughters. They were both born via cesarean section. According to a well-meaning yet patronizing anti-surgical birth cohort of moms, doulas, researchers, and other birth professionals out there, I have been cheated out of the magical, perfect experience that is vaginal childbirth. I’m tired of reading articles that decry the “tragic” rise in c-section numbers. I’m sick of blog posts and videos that demonize hospital birth in general. I’m bored with the looks of pity I get when I mention how my daughters entered the world. I have a simple request: please stop being outraged on my behalf.
Like many women of my generation who majored in Women's Studies, I used to glorify vaginal childbirth sans drugs and anticipated the orgasmic experience outlined by Ina May Gaskin. I planned to entrust my prenatal care to a midwife in a birth center who would eschew episiotomies and forceps. When I went into labor I’d play tranquil music, slather on the vitamin E oil, and eat lots of snacks. My ideal birth plan involved laboring in a tub and giving birth in a squatting position. I wanted to catch my own baby. We would breastfeed right away and I’d bounce back from the birth immediately.
That was my fantasy.
Early on in my first pregnancy I learned of a uterine abnormality that would make giving birth vaginally highly unlikely for me. First my OB and then the perinatologist, a doctor who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, explained what I was up against. My baby might not have enough room to turn and would probably wind up breech. The limited space could also impede her growth and demand an early delivery. A c-section was likely in our future. While I knew that, in the past, breech babies were born vaginally all the time, doctors all over the country are now effectually banning vaginal deliveries of breech babies because of the potential extra complications.
I mourned the loss of my ideal birth plan that was devoid of all medical interventions for about three minutes. I cried. Then, I shifted my expectations. I decided that what mattered was that I was carrying a baby who would somehow be born into the world. I focused on narrowing down my birth plan to the few key elements that meant the most to me.
I went into labor with my first daughter five days before her due date. She was still breech and we had a c-section scheduled for the following week, but it was go time. My water broke at four in the afternoon. I labored for awhile in the hospital as I was registered and prepped for surgery. Between contractions, my husband and I communicated our new, more concise birth plan to our thoughtful, supportive nurses. I wanted three things: to be told what was happening during the surgery, to have unlimited skin to skin time with my baby immediately after she was born, and to breastfeed as soon as possible.
My healthy, wailing daughter was born at 8:48 that evening. The surgery team talked me through what they were doing. They placed my goo covered little girl on my chest and I held her there while the surgery was completed. We breastfed right away as I lay in recovery. She latched on with ease and I marveled at her tenacity while I couldn’t feel anything below my ribs. Her birth was nothing like what I pictured when I had first learned I was pregnant with her, but it was perfect.
I got pregnant again a little over a year later. What would I do? Attempt a VBAC? Ultimately I decided, to everyone’s surprise, that I wanted another c-section. The same risks that were present the first time around were still in play, and my gut instinct was that baby number two would follow in her big sister’s footsteps and be breech as well. I was right; she never turned head down either.
Halfway through my second pregnancy, we discovered that our second little girl wasn’t growing as well as she should be. She was running out of room. I was prescribed more monitoring and ultrasounds as my OB wanted to keep a closer eye on baby’s well-being. We made it to 35 weeks and I went into labor. For three days my contractions with baby girl intensified. After the first day, I went to the hospital and was sent home. On day three I went back. I labored for hours with no progress. Finally, I dilated to two centimeters and my nurses and doctors snapped into action.
While I was prepped for surgery, a NICU doctor explained how my little one would receive a more intense level of care than a baby born at term. Some babies born at nearly 36 weeks are big and strong enough to thrive right away, but we knew our baby girl was small. Again, I explained my birth plan to my nurses and everyone else who popped into my room. All I wanted was to hold my baby before she was whisked away for testing and to breastfeed as soon as we could try. Everyone reassured me that we could do it all.
My tiny little girl was born at 9:30 that night. I held her briefly, just long enough to see her stunning red hair, before her daddy accompanied her to the NICU. As soon as I was stable enough in recovery, my amazingly kind and caring nurse wheeled me straight to baby’s room. Despite our combined mess of tubes and cords attached to my arms and her feet, baby girl latched on and we breastfed until she fell asleep. She was early. I had another c-section. It was perfect.
I guess I can see how an unanticipated c-section can be disappointing. I suppose that, if a mama carries the expectation that her body will do what she wants it to and then things go differently, she might feel badly. I understand that if a mama is tied to the idea that an unmedicated vaginal birth is the gold standard, then anything else seems like a nightmare, or worse, a failure.
I was lucky. I had time to prepare myself for a birth experience that I didn’t think I wanted. I know; many mamas don’t get the chance to breathe and prepare themselves. I get it. There are awful, impatient medical professionals out there who rush labor and pressure women into interventions that ultimately necessitate a surgical delivery. There are mamas who go into labor with little to no understanding about what their bodies will go through, who feel scared, and end up intimidated into doing what is most convenient for the doctors and not what’s best for baby. But please stop judging and pitying those of us who have gone through it. We aren’t victims. We’re women who have given birth. Your outrage on our behalf works to delegitimize our experiences and it hurts.
Here’s the thing, I love both of my birth stories. I OWN my experiences. I cried a lot, I was in pain a lot, and recovering from the same surgery twice in less than two years wasn’t fun. But my babies were born surgically because that’s what was best for them and me. My healthy, adorable, smiling babies were BORN and that is magic enough.
Lindsey Tjernlund is a writer and stay at home mom to two little girls: an adorably sassy toddler and a sweet, chipmunk cheeked five month old. She was born and raised in the Twin Cities, but has since relocated to the country. To stay sane, she bakes, writes, and watches a lot of terrible reality tv. Read more of her work at countrymousemama.wordpress.com