There are a lot of things you learn when you get pregnant, but one of the super disappointing truths you’ll uncover, pretty much from day one, is that mom-shaming exists. It’s not always in outright vicious ways, either—sometimes the most hurtful shade comes in subtle, snarky remarks made about how much you’re working out while pregnant, the ways you’re disciplining your kids, what you’re feeding them (huh, baby-led weaning? Thanks, Karen, did I ask you?), oh, and how you brought them into the world. Yes, even in 2021, mamas who have delivered their littles via C-section have been made to feel that their birth stories weren’t as valiant or venerable as the one ones of their vaginally birthing counterparts. And as a mom who has welcomed two gorgeous humans via a slit above my hooha, I find the stigma surrounding cesareans as infuriating as it is invalidating.
According to Portland, OR OB Hospitalist, IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and proud mom, Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, the shaming and the slippery slope of self-doubt that follows starts really early on. “Let’s be real, mommy groups can be pretty toxic sometimes, and the comparison game is pretty intense,” she says. “How you birthed your baby is another way to be categorized, and as an OBGYN and a mother myself, it frustrates me so much.”
We spoke with a number of moms who have had their babies via C-section and several healthcare practitioners; the consensus is that a birth is a birth is a birth, whether you push the watermelon-sized baby out of your vagina or have them pulled out of your abdomen. With that said, it’s more than time to dispel these C-section myths.
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Your Body Was Made For Vaginal Childbirth, So Any Other Way To Birth Is Unnatural
Sure, anatomically, our bodies may be primed to push, but that doesn’t mean that vaginal birth is the only way. Emily Silver, former Labor & Delivery nurse and co-founder of NAPS, the country’s most experienced provider of virtual pregnancy, newborn, and parenting classes, urges moms to remember that “natural” only really applies to an unmedicated birth, not the delivery route. (And shaming around using a medication is a whole topic for another day.)
“As a former L&D nurse, the term ‘natural childbirth’ has typically implied that a patient goes through labor and delivery completely unmedicated,” she explains. “Somewhere along the way, I noticed a trend where people started referring to a vaginal delivery as a ‘natural delivery.’ Maybe this is because they were confused, or perhaps it seems more ‘natural’ for a baby to come out of the vagina.”
The problem is, once we start referring to a vaginal delivery as natural, it makes any alternative, especially the C-section, seem unnatural. Echoing Dr. Lincoln’s sentiments about the damaging influence of social media, Silver shares that “through blogs, mom groups, and social media, our society has thrown it in our faces that natural deliveries are the best, most magical way to bring our babies into the world, so intentionally or unintentionally, moms are made to feel like ultimate failures when C-sections are the preferred or most necessary options.”
Because It’s ‘Unnatural’, If You Require A C-Section, It’s Some Fault Of Your Own
I mean, just reading that out loud makes me equal parts incensed and insecure. For me, I labored for 24+ hours and reached 7 cm dilated before my son went totally transverse in my uterus (sideways, basically). My doctor pretty much told me that I could keep contracting and pushing through, but it was very unlikely that he’d change up his positioning enough to be able to descend and come out the “old-fashioned way.” At that point, I was exhausted physically and emotionally, totally tapped out, and ready to meet my baby. Add to that a terrifying 25 minutes of vomiting and the shakes (also, a fever and IV antibiotics), and I was kind of begging them to wheel me into the operating room for this final act in my labor and delivery debut.
Nicole, a New Jersey mom of two, had no reason to believe she’d have a C-section, but when her daughter started showing signs of distress during her already marathon-length labor, she didn’t hesitate to heed her doctor’s emergency C-section recommendation.
“I’ve always been an athlete—I worked out all nine months of my pregnancy—and everyone told me that for those reasons, I would definitely have a vaginal birth,” she recalls. “Fast forward to the end of the third trimester, I’m a week late, being induced, laboring for 12+ hours, asking for the epidural and seeing my daughter’s heart rate drop twice as it’s being given. My OB knew it was not my hope to have a C-section, but in God knows what state of mind I was in, I said do whatever you have to to make sure she’s safe.”
Even moms who think they are shoe-ins for vaginal births can’t predict how things will actually turn out (and OMG, that’s life!!)
You Have A Birth Plan, So If Your Preferred Is Vaginal, Then You Need To Werk #nopainnogain
So, you know that old phrase, “You make plans and God laughs”? Well, it’s particularly applicable here, because a birth plan is a nice blueprint for what you’d love your birth process to look like, but if things go awry, you have to be flexible to ensure your safety and the safety of that precious baby. NYC mom of two little girls, Marie, had a pretty straightforward plan: get the baby out, become a mom.
“When I was pregnant with Lena, everyone kept asking me about my birth plan and my response always was, ‘my plan is to have a baby,’” she shares. “I didn’t really understand all of these other moms who were making playlists and bringing candles to the hospital, dreaming about the way they’d bring their babies into the world, or writing these step-by-step guides about their wishes … I treated it like I treat most things in life—I had a job to do, and the job was to birth a baby.”
Even without a plan, Marie remembers arriving at the hospital already about 7 cm dilated, getting the epidural, having her water broken, and then seeing things start to progress quickly, until they didn’t. “Her head was stuck; we tried to move her around and it just wasn’t working,” she says. “I remember my doctor saying “you can try to push, but I’m telling you, this baby isn’t coming out this way.” To which I responded, if she’s not coming out that way, why in God’s name would I do that? So I was prepped for the OR. I didn’t think twice about having the C-section.”
It’s nice to have a plan, but when that plan goes to sh*t, then it’s time to regroup and remind yourself that your babe isn’t too far away.
You Know Your Body, So If A C-Section Doesn’t Feel Right, It’s Probably Not
No one really dreams about having a seven- or eight-pound alien pulled from their body, sure, but do they dream about pushing that alien out? Eh, don’t think so. Both births are beautiful, and neither one is fun, says Dr. Michelle Tham Metz, partner at Uptown OBGYN of NY and an Assistant Clinical Professor of OBGYN at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC.
“I think it’s nice to remember that if not for the cesarean, many women would not be able to give birth to a live child or would have long-standing damage to their vaginal tissue leading to serious long-term complications,” reminds Dr. Tham Metz. “I do endeavor to have my patients deliver vaginally, because there is oftentimes less blood loss and fewer complications with subsequent pregnancies, but sometimes the only way to get a healthy mom and baby at the end of tough labor is surgically.”
Takeaway here: you might know your body real well, but your doctors know this body of work even better. Trust them when they outline your options and what they think is best.
You Won’t Have A Birth ‘Experience,’ Because You’ll Be Having Surgery
For Boise, ID mom Erica, the experience she had wasn’t what she expected, laboring for 14 hours and pushing for 3-4 hours before her doctors explained that her baby wasn’t fitting through her pelvic bones. That being said, when the C-section was decided, she was ready for it. It wasn’t until a (former) friend asked her to share her birth story that she started to feel some judgment and condescension.
“I had a friend who is super into natural births, from home, which is her thing and that’s great,” she explains. “She asked me to share my story with her, so I did. That’s when she said that the same thing happened to her and that she probably should have had a C-section, but she tried harder and dug deeper within her superwoman powers to give birth, the ‘real’ way. Total slap in the face.” Yup, pretty much.
The labor and delivery process are anything but universal. Dr. Lincoln reiterates, “Anyone who tries to belittle someone for having a C-section by saying it wasn’t a ‘real birth’ or it was an ‘easy’ way out has no grasp on reality.”
That’s absolutely the case, too, for mothers who have planned or elective C-sections. For Dr. Tham Metz, the planning and the precautions are in place to avoid severe and potentially life-threatening ramifications.
“Sometimes a planned surgical delivery will result in the best outcome for mother and baby. Some babies have serious malformations that require specialists to be present for the birth and planning that can improve the speed with which a baby can receive life-saving care,” she relays. “Some mothers have conditions that would lead to severe blood loss, the loss of their uterus and ability to have more children if not carefully planned with the right surgical team and blood products on hand.”
Even after delivering so many babies vaginally herself, Dr. Tham Metz birthed her first child through C-section. “My first child was breech and I too felt a loss at having to have a planned cesarean, but the benefit was knowing that my baby would not be at risk.”
And Dr. Lincoln and Nurse Emily Silver want to make it clear that while a C-section is a major abdominal surgery, with longer recovery time and increased risks, you can birth this way and still have an amazing experience.
“If you know you are going to need a C-section, that preparation period can be so helpful,” says Dr. Lincoln. “If you need a C-section, everything and everyone that you need on your team is there for you leading up to and/or during labor and delivery,” continues Silver. “You will still get to do skin to skin [sooner or later] with your baby, you can still breastfeed if that’s what you prefer, you are still bringing a beautiful baby into this world and indeed experiencing childbirth.”
So, what do we need to do to put this “C-sections aren’t real childbirth” myth to bed? Well, it comes down to a few things that we can all do collectively:
Stop Saying “Oh, I’m Sorry” When Someone Says That They Had Their Baby Via C-Section
This has to be one of the most insulting things to hear when you’re fresh off the operating table and adjusting to newborn life. Nicole remembers holding her daughter in her hospital room, ashamed to tell people she had a C-section, and asking her husband and family not to tell people how it happened if they asked. “I told a couple people at work when I went back that I had a C-section and received, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, how are you doing?’ responses as a result. Which stung,” she admits. I’ve been on the end of that conversation too, and it sucks.
Dr. Lincoln advises, “We need to treat each birth as an individual story, because that’s what it is. Some stories end in C-sections, and that is more than OK, because it’s what made you a mom.”
Start Molding That Multiple-Ways-To-Bring-A-Baby-Home Mindset Early On
In her childbirth classes at NAPS, Emily Silver thinks it’s so important to remind ALL mothers to give credence to both possibilities and birth scenarios.
“I think step one is informing expecting moms that when you are pregnant, you shouldn’t skip the chapter on C-sections,” she cautions. “In fact, those moms we work with postpartum who have had an unexpected C-section almost always share feelings of blindsided-ness, or that they regret skipping that crucial portion of labor education, because they assumed that it couldn’t possibly happen to them, or they just never even considered it as a possibility.”
Not to mention, “women become mothers in so many different ways,” notes Dr. Tham Metz. “Surrogacy, adoption, fostering, via donor eggs, we should not focus so much attention on this one moment in time, because once the baby is here, it’s incredibly hard to be responsible for keeping said child alive, fed, and healthy!”
And Continue Celebrating All Births And Babies For The Magic They Are
This is the name of the game for Dr. Lincoln, an ardent believer that there are no birth trophies. “It’s important to not glamorize either way of birthing—they are both hard work and both experiences to be celebrated! What a waste of energy trying to stratify births into ones that are more worthy versus less worthy. I think as mothers we need to just stop it already with the comparison game—it is a useless exercise.”
And she’s not wrong. Marie said the same thing when we asked her to share her thoughts on her C-section, her VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), what, if any, judgment she felt after her births, and what truly matters at the end of the day.
“Anyone lucky enough to be able to carry and bring babies into the world at all should do what’s best for them—when our kids and us are all older no one will care about how we brought them into the world, they will care about what kind of people we raised them to be,” she maintains. “To me, that’s why all of the mommy wars stuff (c-sections vs. vaginal, breastfeeding vs. formula, working moms vs. stay at home moms, the list goes on) is all a bunch of bullsh*t.
Images: Aditya Romansa / Unsplash; betchesmoms / Instagram; Giphy