I’m amazed by the baby-making process: have sex, sperm meets egg, form tiny human and then push it out of your vagina. It’s all pretty amazing, but the last part eludes me. Despite my best efforts I’ve never been able to have the vaginal birth I so badly want.
When I was pregnant with my first, I had a plan: no drugs, no episiotomy and if all went smoothly, no hospital. Just me, my husband, midwife and doula. It was going to be beautiful, the way nature intended. But as I soon discovered, Mother Nature is a bitch.
My pregnancy stretched to 42 weeks, and all “natural” methods to induce labor had been exhausted: acupuncture, castor oil, spicy food, even sex. So off to the hospital I went to be induced. I managed to avoid an epidural for as long as possible, but after around five hours of labor with no end in sight, I broke down and had one. I never really dilated, though, and the baby’s heart rate kept dropping dangerously low. That’s when they whisked me off to the operating room where, 45 minutes later, my son was born via cesarean. I was both elated and crushed.
After months of preparation for my natural birth, including meditation, hypnobirthing and yoga, it had never occurred to me that my delivery would end up in the operating room. I was thrilled with my healthy baby boy – that’s a given – but I found myself weepy when describing the birth, jealous of my friends’ “normal” deliveries. I’ll admit I was even a little resentful of women who seemed to have it so easy (you know, the ones who boasted how three pushes and the baby just shot right out). I was even jealous of difficult labors and the bragging rights that accompanied them.
A few years later I became pregnant again. My midwife assured me that I was a great candidate for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), and all the literature I read backed that up. I did less to prepare for my second delivery; this time, I’d let nature take over and trust my body to do what it was meant to do. After all, women have been doing this since the dawn of time, right? Cavewomen didn’t take classes to birth their cave babies, and most of my friends managed to do it, too (besides, their prenatal classes focused more on what brand of stroller to buy than on how to push out a baby).
When I finally went into labor at 41 weeks, I felt in control – excited, even. I would have my natural birth! As I labored without medication I felt empowered, only to get discouraged when, once again, I failed to progress.
As the hours passed I agreed to more and more medical intervention, until I was strongly advised to have another c-section. I begged and cried, but when you are the sole dissenter in a room of experts…well, I wasn’t going to let my stubborn streak put my baby’s health at risk.
Another healthy boy – I was elated! And totally devastated. To make matters worse, few people understood my profound disappointment. I dreaded being asked how my son’s birth went. “Everything go smoothly?” friends and strangers would ask. I considered lying but I’d answer truthfully, my disappointment obvious.
The typical response was a chipper and dismissive, “Well, you’ve got a healthy baby, and that’s all that matters.” But that wasn’t all that mattered to me. Of course my baby’s health was top priority – it’s the reason I consented to my c-sections – but I also wanted a vaginal birth. The two were not mutually exclusive, and I resented being told otherwise.
I hate c-sections. I hate lying on the cold operating-room table. I hate the sensation of being numb all over and throwing up afterwards from the anesthesia. I hate the pain right after the surgery, and the skin numbness and burning that I still feel now, six weeks later. I hate my scar, and the ugly ridge of stomach above it. Mostly I hate that I was a passive participant in my sons’ births. I had envisioned delivering them into this world, naturally and with my husband by my side, and instead they were delivered to me by a team of strangers under bright lights and amidst beeping equipment.
We did the best we could to make my delivery experience my own. Neil Young played in the background for both (though my first son was almost born to Nickelback – now that would have been tragic!). My husband was by my side in scrubs, my midwives continued to oversee my care. But it wasn’t enough.
I don’t know if I will have a third child. And realistically, even if I do get pregnant again, my chances for a vaginal delivery decrease with each c-section. I’m not sure if trying for a VBAC2 (vaginal birth after two cesareans) would make me crazy or just determined. No one knows why I needed c-sections, and no one can predict what would happen next time. All we know is I don’t dilate. My cervix is as stubborn as I am.
I have friends who point out the benefits of not having a vaginal delivery, the benefits of not pushing a thing this big out of a space this small. One friend likes to joke that I have c-sections to preserve my sex life (as if). Another friend, upon hearing my VBAC plan, helpfully advised, “You’ve already got the scar… Save the vagina!”
But I feel cheated out of an experience that I wanted, left out of a sisterhood of motherhood. I wanted to push my babies out, and I’m upset that I’ve been denied that. Even watching cheesy birth scenes in movies where the woman grunts and screams as her baby is delivered, then all sweaty and exhausted she laughs and holds her newborn, I get emotional. It seems like every other mother, fictional and real, is either able to do this thing or happy to avoid it. But not me.
I’ve gone over my deliveries countless times in my head, reliving the experience and trying to figure out what I could have done differently. Held off on the epidural? Said no to oxytocin? Waited one more hour? Or 10? I asked my midwife what would happen if I were a cavewoman birthing alone in my cave. Wouldn’t I have had no choice but to wait it out, let my baby come naturally?
She reminded me in no uncertain terms, “People died during childbirth.” Point taken. But while I’m grateful for medical assistance and my healthy babies, I’m still not over my c-sections.