April is Cesarean Awareness Month, and I thought it was a perfect time to write about c-section mamas and how they are full of beauty and courage, especially those mamas in our pregnancy after loss community. You’ve experienced the worst tragedy possible, and you would make (or have already made) any and every sacrifice possible to make sure that your subsequent baby is born safely. That makes you pretty amazing and, quite honestly, superheroes by my definition!

C-Section Scar - C-Sections: Real Birth, Real Courage

Adobe Stock/Ekaterina

So often it seems there is a stigma attached to c-sections. I’ve heard so many crazy things in the 12 years since my first c-section, and I wanted to take a moment to address those comments because I’m sure I’m not alone in hearing them.

Maybe I’m biased, but I think c-sections are awe-inspiring. Think about it. For many moms, one moment you are laboring along, and in the next, you are being rushed into an operating room where your baby is cut out of you in a matter of minutes: all this while you are still awake, and all in an attempt to keep you and your baby safe. If that’s not absolutely incredible, I don’t know what is!

My first baby was born safely by an emergency c-section after his heart rate dropped.

As a first-time mom, I had grand ideas of an unmedicated childbirth and a quick, uncomplicated labor. As it often happens, my baby had a different plan. Cole was stubborn from the beginning and refused to come out. He found a comfortable position in the womb and was in no rush to leave. Even with 17 hours of labor and 4 hours of pushing, he wouldn’t budge.

Getting prepped for C-Section - Real Birth, Real Courage

Author’s Personal Collection/Tara Bennett Kilian – Getting prepped for my 3rd c-section

Due to his posterior, and partially sideways, position, he was still too high in the birth canal. The doctors could do nothing to assist his descent. His position also meant that the back labor was particularly painful. Two hours before it was time to push, I opted for an epidural, but the joke was on me. While it worked perfectly on my left side, I could feel every contraction radiate across my right side and down my leg. When the stress of labor became too much, and his heart rate dropped, a c-section was the only way to get him here safely.

Even in my exhausted state, I remember how all that mattered was what was best for my baby. Really, that’s all any of us here want – a healthy baby. As a result, I get upset when people don’t think before they speak or when they say hurtful things about c-section mamas.

newborn baby getting oxygen

Author’s Personal Collection/Tara Bennett Kilian – Jesse, my rainbow baby, getting a little oxygen in the OR

Here are some of the most common and craziest comments I’ve heard over the years. (Disclaimer – not all of these comments are awful, but they do get tiresome over time):

C-sections aren’t real birth. / Do you regret not experiencing real birth? / C-sections are the easy way out

I don’t know how the rest of you feel, but I’m guessing your c-section wasn’t the easy way out, and I’ll bet you very much consider it a real birth. My first c-section was pretty traumatic as c-sections go. I was rushed to the OR as my baby’s heart rate dropped. I was awake as they strapped me down with my arms stretched out, spread-eagle style. Images of The Crucifixion leaped immediately to my mind. As the next contraction hit, and the pain radiated across my right side, the terrifying thought hit me – I was going to feel everything they were about to do to me, at least on the right side of my body. I remember whispering to the anesthesiologist, please, if possible, don’t let me feel them cut me.

As the frenzy of activity began around the table, twice he adjusted the medication running into my spine and twice he rubbed an ice cube across my stomach. As he reached my belly button both times, I could feel the cool sensation. The third time he adjusted the medicine, and as the chaos around me heightened, he asked if I could feel anything, I said no, only pressure. To which he replied, good, they had to start the procedure. I’ll never forget how I was seconds away from feeling that first incision, and I’m unsure of how I would have responded, but I’m forever thankful they got my firstborn out safely. I’ll always be grateful that my c-section ended with the best possible outcome, regardless of how scary it was.

Did you really need a c-section? / Why would you schedule a c-section? / Why didn’t you try VBAC first?

I can’t remember how many times I got asked some version of this question after my emergency and my two repeat c-sections. Yes, I understand that c-sections are overused. Yes, we need to be educated about c-sections and their risks, but we don’t always have a choice. Yes, I know that some parents and doctors have been guilty of scheduling c-sections and inductions for convenience, but that does not mean that c-section mamas should EVER have to defend their need for a c-section or their decision to schedule a c-section or repeat c-section, especially when it is a needed procedure.

I was usually nice and explained my situations, and why both the emergency and repeat c-sections were necessary. Believe me, with my second pregnancy, I did a lot of research about VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) and had a VBAC-friendly OB. We had a lot of conversations, and ultimately we decided for several reasons, I was not a good VBAC candidate.

My best advice to all PAL mamas is to be an advocate for yourself and your baby and to find a medical provider who sees you as an individual and cares about you and your baby. This was especially important to me in my fourth, and rainbow, pregnancy. Having experienced loss, all I cared about was getting my son here happy and healthy. I grew wary of defending my decision to have a repeat c-section, especially since it was a decision made between my doctor and me. It was really no one else’s business.

I’ll bet the epidural stalled your labor. / A c-section? But your body was made for having babies. Just look at those childbearing hips! / Maybe next time you should _________.

There really isn’t much to say to any of these.  All of these statements are hurtful and unnecessary. Basically, they just suggest that I’m a “failure” at giving birth because I didn’t deliver my baby the way society perceives to be the “normal” way. If I could have, I would have.

You’re so lucky you had a c-section because _________.

Just because I didn’t push a 7.5-pound baby out of my vagina because I had a c-section does not make me lucky. Maybe I’m not dealing with the pain of vaginal tears or an episiotomy, but recovering from abdominal surgery after 17 hours of labor and 4 hours of pushing was certainly no walk in the park. It’s major surgery, and it comes with its own risks and recuperation. It’s not much easier the second or third time either, especially when you’re chasing after toddlers or keeping your school-age children in line and running a household smoothly…or if you’re crazy like I am and go back to work two weeks postpartum! You are absolutely right about one aspect though. I’m lucky because my baby arrived safely. That’s all that really matters.

At least _________.

Just like with pregnancy or infant loss, words of comfort that begins with “at least” should be avoided at all cost. It has no place in any conversation. Just don’t say it! It’s insulting and hurtful.

And no list would be complete without my favorite: You should be thankful you’re alive now and not during the pioneer days. Both you and your baby would have died in childbirth!

Just no. I promise, any mom who has experienced an emergency c-section knows how wonderful it is that we live in an age where medical advancements have come so far. We don’t need another mother smugly telling us how thankful we should be that we aren’t dead! Somehow I avoided collapsing into a postpartum crying session during that conversation. Looking back I think I was too shocked to really process the comment until much later, which is probably a good thing.

mom doing skin-to-skin

Author’s Personal Collection/Tara Bennett Kilian – Skin to skin with my rainbow after we were back in our room.

People say crazy things to moms, whether they mean to or not.

Sometimes they are honestly curious. Sometimes they are just clueless. Sometimes these words are meant to comfort us. Regardless of what had been said or who has hurt you, please remember these words: My fellow PAL c-section mamas, you are absolutely beautiful and courageous. Yes, you! Yes, you are!

You may not have the birth story you wanted. However, even in your fear, you put your baby first. You sacrificed so much, and you did it out of unconditional love for your child. (Often while being looked down upon by society.) You may be scarred, but you should proudly wear your badge (or badges) of honor that physically symbolize your motherhood. I know mine aren’t supermodel “pretty,” but they are a perfect part of me. I wouldn’t change them for the world.

Our c-section scars are beautiful because of what they represent – unconditional love, courage, and sacrifice. Let them serve as a reminder. They gave our children passage (hopefully safe passage) into the world when traditional means couldn’t, and that’s pretty amazing! You’re a superhero!

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