A home birth made perfect sense to me. I never even considered a hospital. More than anything, it just seemed convenient as hell. And it was. For my entire pregnancy I had the luxury of having all my prenatal visits at home. I followed the doctrine of “natural” childbirth closely. I read everything written by Ina May Gaskin, took childbirth education classes using the Bradley Method, I ate right, I did prenatal yoga. Not only was I going to have a natural birth at home, but I was pretty convinced it would be orgasmic. I would push out my baby at home while moaning loudly in my husbands loving arms. I crafted the story of my perfect labor and repeated it to myself and others like a mantra. A C-section was the worst case scenario and I never let the possibility enter my mind. Within the natural birthing movement, nobody mentions the “C” word except to demonize women who get them and the doctors who rush them into it. My midwife spoke of hospital transfers and C-sections as if they were something rare and foreign that happened to those “other” women and I eagerly accepted this narrative.
The night I went into labor I was prepared for everything except what was about to happen. I labored all night long. My midwife, present and compassionate during my prenatal care, checked out during my labor. Between contractions, I saw her laid out on my couch. Thank goddess, my good friend who is also a student midwife was there with me. After hours without progress, my midwife broke my waters. Nothing. Hours later, exhausted and in pain, she suggested we transfer to a hospital and because she was a “midwife” and not an “doctor”, I put my trust in her 100%. I didn’t question or challenge her the way I know I would’ve done had she been an OB. I regret that.
A painfully long car ride brought us to the hospital where, after a series of interventions yielded no progress in my labor, a C-section was recommended. By this point, my midwife was long gone. Her “work” was done. See, she was a home birth midwife, and what good was I to her anymore? If anything, I was a negative tick on her track record.
Everything that followed happened too quickly. The anesthesiologist injected shots into my abdomen and then kept asking if I could feel him pinching me, “Yes”, I kept saying, “yes, I can feel it.” They sliced me open. “You’re going to feel some pulling” the nurse said… and then I screamed in pain as they yanked my baby out of me. I watched from a spiritual distance as my mother and husband held their breath while the doctors worked to get my son to inhale. And as he cried out, I trembled uncontrollably from head to toe, completely detached from the moment. This was the part where they were supposed to rest my baby on my chest, where we were supposed to bond. Supposed to, supposed to, supposed to…
When we finally came home, I did what I am prone to do when dealing with trauma, I wrapped it up neatly and buried it. As the first in my circle of friends to give birth I felt a need to protect them from my experience. I was supposed to be the shining example and I had failed. So, I gave the shortest and most positive version of my story that I could muster. And when people inevitably said: “at least he’s alive and well!” I smiled brightly and agreed.
Nobody knew I was in deep mourning and drowning in shame. I felt discarded by my midwife. I avoided contact with women who I knew had successful home births. I refused to touch my scar and prohibited my partner from doing so. I was disoriented and confused; I was no longer pregnant but the main event that I had been waiting nine months for hadn’t happened.
Two years later, I’m still gripped by dread and shame each time I’m asked to share my birth story. When I simply say, “I had a C-section.” I’m usually met with words of pity, awkward silence or a quick change in subjects. Immediately, I’m on the offense and find myself explaining and apologizing for my experience: “I PLANNED to have a home birth.. This is the way he had to born!” This last one especially, I’m never sure whether I’m trying to convince them or myself.
Public discourse dichotomizes birth: a woman is either having a natural birth complete with burning incense and a pool or she is on her back sedated in a hospital bed. Home and natural birth warrior mothers are pitted against unempowered cesarean birth mothers. This dichotomy has denied the full range of birthing possibilities for women and has made women like me, who have had imperfect births, feel isolated and alone.
There are many reasons why I don’t want to have another kid. But my C-section has become a point of contention in my internal debate. On the one hand, I’m terrified of reliving that nightmarish experience, but on the other the idea that I may never experience a vaginal birth is heartbreaking. Look, I’m a feminist so intellectually I reject the idea that my anatomy somehow predetermines me for motherhood but I’m also human and have absolutely connected my womanhood to my ability to give birth vaginally.
We need a more balanced birthing community with space for women who give birth in different ways. We need more postpartum support for home birth cesarean mothers. We need midwives to provide a more comprehensive view of birthing possibilities and to be equally supportive of all outcomes. There are scores of women out there who are hurting and need a way of processing their feelings and validating their experiences. We are eagerly awaiting our long over due invitations into the birth warrior club.
You can find more of Marly’s work at marlyatlarge.com.