It’s C Section Awareness Month, and I talked about my C Section a bit here last year.
Often, mamas are expected to heal emotionally from birth trauma just as fast as they heal physically. The purpose of this post is to bring light to the fact that C sections can be traumatic and emotional. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but there needs to be more empathy and compassion for mothers who have had a C section, or have experienced birth trauma.
Mothers need to be supported both emotionally and physically. A C-section is a major surgery, and is often not what a mama has envisioned her baby’s birth to be like. How a baby is born, and how a mother experiences her birth the way she chooses to or has to (and how she is given grace to process it afterwards) makes a significant impact on her adjustment to life with new baby.
I was expecting a home birth. After my C-section, I felt like I was rolled into the hospital and ordered a baby. I felt like I missed so many important “firsts.” A nurse came into the recovery room as I was coming to, and muttered, “Baby Girl. 7lbs 2oz.” at me and walked away. (Juliette's birth story here)
I felt robbed, powerless, and weak. I wished that I could have had the birth that I envisioned. I felt like I needed to be empowered. I was lucky to have help with the practical things like meals, child care, and laundry for the first week. And though I am thankful for those things, the things that really helped me through the healing process were the people who affirmed me as a person as a mother. Those who stopped to ask how I was doing helped me in more ways than one. Although my incision healed very quickly, the emotional healing was a long process.
I was told to “get over it.” Although well-intended, I was pushed to recover and "toughen up." But this mama was so broken and I needed space and grace. I was sad even though I had my healthy baby, and I felt guilty because I was sad. I felt guilty because I was scared to hold my baby because I didn’t feel like she was mine, since I never saw her come out. I felt guilty because our bond was slow and not instantaneous. I felt guilty because I was scared to look into her eyes. I was scared because every time I looked at her, I was painfully reminded of how close we were to losing her. I feel guilty even saying this, but it was hard for me to gaze into my baby's eyes because I was reminded of the birth trauma that I had just experienced. There was so much guilt and shame from feeling the way I did. There was no doubt about it - I was over the moon for my new baby, and I was so thankful and relieved that both her and I were alive. But it did not take away the sadness or my need to process trauma.
We need to support other mamas so that they do not have to feel guilty about grieving the birth they envisioned. Feelings are valid. We need to hold our fellow mamas’ hands as they heal. We need to trust that mamas will heal, instead of pushing them into healing, as healing cannot be coerced or forced. Mothers are powerful, no matter how they brought their children into the world. Mothers are strong, and they do not need to be "toughed up," or told to "get over it." Although it is well intended, I did not like hearing that one day I'll look back and realize that I'll be just that much stronger after I "get over it."
No, I didn't need to "get over it," to be strong. I was strong then, and I am strong: I was strong as I healed, and not because I healed. My powerful, maternal strength allowed me to find healing within. All I needed was affirmation of that strength within me. I needed to be reminded of that strength.
We just need to give mamas the grace and space to find their own strength. We need to help mamas unlock their own strength through affirmation, instead of pushing them into "getting over" trauma. All mamas have that strength, sometimes they just need a little help to find their strength when it is a little dark. That is how we support those mamas who have experienced birth trauma via C-section: we empower them with their own strength without guilt, shame or coercion. We come along side and show them that they already have what it takes to pick up the pieces, and sometimes we pick the pieces up with them as they regain their bearings. As I thought about C-section awareness month, I was inspired me to write this letter:
Dear C-Section Mama,
You are brave, you are strong, and you demonstrated self-sacrifice so that your baby could have the best chance at life. You have strength.
You put yourself down on a cold, hard table, and said “Cut me open and sacrifice my well being, so that my baby may have the best chance to thrive.”
You are not less. Your birth story may or may not be how you envisioned it to be, but it is not any less valuable or powerful. It does not hold any less strength or power than any other birth story. It does not take away the time that you spent nurturing your baby inside your womb.
You may feel broken, but you are not any less valuable. Kintsukuroi is the art of repairing broken pottery with real gold instead of throwing the pottery out. The break becomes a feature of the piece, and the gold content makes it even more valuable. There have been studies to show that C-Section scars contain fetal cells from when the baby was pulled out. Your story is your gold. Your scar is filled with beautiful gold in the form of fetal cells.
Nothing could ever tame your strength or the love that you have for your baby. There is so much power deep within you, and if you give yourself space and grace, you will find it. Once you find that power and strength, it will ignite and your journey to healing will begin. Just know that that power and strength is already within you. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You are strong now, and you are strong - your display of strength is not contingent on what your road to recovery and healing looks like.
You are entitled to grieve over a vaginal birth if you had wanted one. You are entitled feel all the hot tears that come flowing, and you have every right to feel sad. Let the tears roll down and let your cries roar.
When people point out the painfully obvious, “At least you have a healthy baby,” it’s okay to feel a rush of emotions, or wish that you had a different birth. Do not feel guilty if you wanted or hoped for a different birth scenario. You are not ungrateful if you need to grieve over your birth story. You do not love your baby less if it is taking you time to heal. And it is okay if you feel broken.
Surround yourself with those who are brave enough to see your strong, maternal being emerge as you heal. Build boundaries around those who coerce or pressure you to heal and “get over it.”
Give yourself time to heal because healing in itself is a journey. Know that you’ll get in touch with your inner power because it is there. And once you find that healing, celebrate with all your heart, because your story is worth celebrating.
You got this mama.