I love reading birth stories, especially when the author is able to really describe the process in unflinching, funny-only-in-retrospect detail. I love in Waiting for Birdy when Catherine says she “made a creepy didgeridoo sound for 16 hours straight, said ‘Kill me’, then barfed into a trash can.” I love the written choo-choo pantings of laboring women, the geysering bodily fluids, and best of all—of course—the slimy, squalling, heartbreaking result to the whole ordeal.

I have a much harder time reading about the bravery involved with so-called natural births (as though any viable entrance into this world should be described as unnatural). The powerful, indescribable wonder of a drug-free birth, the gift the mother is giving her baby by choosing to be so very strong. The floored wonder of her partner, standing nearby marveling at this pinnacle of human achievement.

It’s not that I don’t understand this. I fully acknowledge the superwoman qualities of someone who endures hours of the most challenging physical situation of her entire life and refusing the intervention that could make it less painful. I am awed by women who have the birthing experience they wanted, that they read about and prepared for and engineered to conform to their preferences.

I understand it and I can empathize with it, but it hurts, a little. I thought I would have that moment of turning to my husband and saying, it’s time. The escalation of it all, the trip to the hospital, the scariness and elation and pain and everything else. Instead, it was a routine visit followed by hours of being drugged and sick and miserable and eventually a surgery and I felt as far from brave as it’s possible for a person to feel.

I guess I will always wonder, was it absolutely necessary for me to be put on the magnesium with Riley? Were they erring too far on the side of being conservative, wasn’t there something else they could do to deal with the blood pressure situation? I felt perfectly fine when I walked in the door, and next thing I knew I was hooked to an IV and gripped by the effects of the medication.

The second thing I wonder about: after the hours of Cervidil with no effect, and the progression of feeling worse and worse with the magnesium, they gave me a choice of Pitocin or trying to rest overnight and having a C-section in the morning. I asked a nurse to be as honest with me as she could, did she think the Pitocin would work in time? They wanted to do the C-section in the morning anyway, because of my blood pressure. She paused, and shook her head. She said it was doubtful. I thought about dealing with the Pitocin-triggered pain all night long, on top of the unrelenting nausea and aching head and trembling, exhausted muscles the magnesium was causing, only to need the surgery anyway. I chose to try and rest.

Maybe I should have tried the goddamned Pitocin, you know? Maybe there would have been a different outcome. Maybe if I had done that, both my babies would have been born without use of a scalpel and a drape.

I don’t have bad feelings about either of my C-sections. They weren’t terrible, they were fine. I saw my babies right away and held them moments later. I recovered with no problems. It was fine.

But. It doesn’t feel brave. It doesn’t feel like that magical spiritual I-am-woman-hear-me-roar experience I now have such a hard time hearing about. I’m torn between thinking, well, that’s great for you, but not everyone gets the birth they thought they were going to have, and my babies came into this world perfect in every way and you know what, we’re ALL brave . . . and I wish I could have had that. I should have tried harder.

Still, still. It’s not too difficult to regain perspective.

August 31, 2005

February 2, 2008


223 Responses to “By any means”

  1. MEP on July 30th, 2009 7:13 am

    “Speaking as someone who’s never had a child I can’t understand why it matters.”

    It’s kind of like listening to someone go on and on about how wonderful her college experience was, with the sorority sisters and the parties and the football games, when you went to community college and worked a full time job. Both of you got your degree, but she makes it sound way fucking cooler than you thought it was. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, as anyone who wanted to go to college but couldn’t afford it would tell you. But there are still residual feelings of regret for an awesome experience you missed out on.

  2. Leigha on July 30th, 2009 8:28 am

    Let me tell you something – it took WAAAY more courage for me to walk into the hospital the second time around for a scheduled c-section than it did for me to go in the first time for an induction. I told my husband to stay close in case I turned and ran while we were entering the hospital; he didn’t know until later that I was dead serious. Two c-sections, two healthy kids later, and I’m content with the births that my children had. Did they get the trip through the hoo-haa? No. Are they damaged forever because of it? Absolutely not. The whole point of it is a healthy baby at the end of the day, and the Mommy Olypmics don’t do anything but make some folks feel superior. If they need that, good on them, but I’ve got two kids under five to take care of, and I really don’t have time for the competition.

  3. Ally on July 30th, 2009 9:43 am

    I am probably a really strange woman, but I never experienced any of these feelings. I had 2 scheduled c-sections (by choice), because my biggest fear was to go through hours of torturous labor only to windup with a c-section. I have never ever felt the desire to give birth. it seems to me a horrible, painful, frightening experience, and the LAST thing i wanted was to go through it. All of these shows/movies, with the woman spread eagle and tons of people in the room, pushing and grunting, etc – why is that magical? I never understood. I thought my c-sections were frightening as well, and I think it does take courage to go through such surgeries and to be awake throughout the whole thing. Especially in your case – for a medical reason, and with a absolutely full recovery – why in the world would you even wonder about this?

  4. lola on July 30th, 2009 11:05 am

    I’d just like to point out that women can experience a “high” when having a medicated delivery. I had my first baby vaginally while on an epidural (didn’t feel a freaking thing!!) and man, I’m still proud of that. Years later, I’m amazed that I was able to push a 10 lb baby out of my little body. This may be a bit off topic, but just had to add that it’s not just the “natural” mothers that experience this.

    My second baby was a scheduled c-section for medical reasons, and I do mourn the loss of that birth experience. But then I think – how pampered of me. The audacity of me to actually *complain* about not being able to have my baby the way I wanted – there are millions of women out there who struggle with infertility who would give anything to even be able to carry a baby. I thank my lucky stars to be so blessed. Indeed.

  5. Lisa on July 30th, 2009 11:21 am

    I think the ‘perfect’ birth is a myth. My first son was born an hour after I got to the hospital, vaginally….8 weeks early. He is a strapping almost 16 year old now, but it was very scary for a couple of weeks. My second son was also born vaginally but only 3 weeks early. This after a scary pregnancy – lots of issues. My last pregnancy seemed to be ‘perfect’ only to end in a c-section because I was hemorrhaging. The first and last births seemed so rushed and so scary. My second took 3 hours which was the longest of all. I wouldn’t say any of it was perfect and I had pain meds with all three. I also had three perfect miracles at the end.

  6. Amalah on July 30th, 2009 2:58 pm

    I could have written this post. I’m actually having to turn away from people’s “natural” birth stories because the jealousy is painful. Irrational, probably, but still.

  7. Sam on July 30th, 2009 4:22 pm

    I really do understand. Don’t get me wrong, I *love* reading birth stories, talking about birth stories – and I’m totally thrilled to be a friend’s birth partner in a month or so. (In a hospital, BTW.) I did have my son “naturally” with the help of a blessed epidural and not so fun episiotomy but I felt oh so clueless the whole time. Pushing is freaking HARD and I felt like I was the One Woman in the World who would never actually give birth.

    Because my son had major complications (blood not clotting) after birth, he was airlifted to a different hospital. (There was no way to know this before birth, it’s always a surprise with your first child.) Now I’m worried that I’ll never get to do the “natural” birth again – which I really do want to do, I want to do it BETTER if that makes sense. Any child I have in the future will certainly have the same condition. I want to seriously research my options and not have a C-section unless I have top doctors tell me it’s absolutely necessary. If it is, then there’s no way I would put my child in danger. I think we’re lucky to have options, end of story.

  8. Valerie on July 31st, 2009 7:53 am

    I’d say getting a person surgically removed from your abdomen is pretty damn brave.

    I don’t understand the thought that some people have that a c-section is an easy birth. And it took a shitload of courage for you to go into Dylan’s birth knowing what was coming.

    I planned for a “natural birth” (I also hate that term because) but it just didn’t turn out that way. And I have never felt more brave than when I turned to the doctor and consented to doing the c-section. I was allowing myself to let go of all of the plans I had made, getting ready to go through something that absolutely terrified me. I was doing what was right for my baby and for my health. That’s what a mom is supposed to do.

  9. Trenches of Mommyhood on July 31st, 2009 2:52 pm

    Well, I tend to think that c-section babies have MUCH cuter and perfectly round heads.

  10. Jess on July 31st, 2009 8:32 pm

    Baby, you had a BABY. That’s brave, and heroic, and freaking amazing. I’m sorry, but harboring a child in your body for nine months (more or less) is the miracle. Getting the spudnut out? Details. They started me on pitocin after I’d been dilated to a four for six weeks (dilated to a five for six weeks with my second). Pit. Sucks. End story. I had an epidural after two hours of the worst pain EVER and haven’t looked back. Hell, I had them put the epidural in before they started the pit for my second. I would have had them put it in as soon as i found out I was pregnant again if I could. I’m just sayin. Natural labor is all fine and good, and good for you if that’s your choice and it worked. But you carried CHILDREN in your body and now they’re freaking awesome. If you think you need some killer pain to make the experience more awesome, go knock yourself in the head with a hammer, because brave and awe-inspiring already happened.

  11. Heather Cook on August 1st, 2009 9:55 am

    I think BEING A MOTHER is the brave bit.

    Billions of us have created children. But not everyone has been a MOTHER.

    Look at the abortion rate. People afraid not of LABOR, but of PARENTHOOD.

    When it comes to the labor or delivery, we can’t compare pain any more than we can compare bravery or happiness. We just can’t. There are as many birth stories as there are babies. Incomparable.

  12. akeeyu on August 3rd, 2009 2:02 pm

    I got the mag, too, but I went for the pitocin.

    36 hours later (about 12 to 18 of those hours being Really Goddamned Unpleasant–I think I had an epidural about four hours from the end), I had a c-section anyway.

    If I had known how it was going to go, I think I would have gone straight for the c-section, because there was nothing of value in that 36 hours.

    Yes, yes. I know labor is supposed to be magical and wondrous and spiffy, but labor on pitocin and mag sulfate, labor without being able to sit up or get out of bed for a day and a half (because your blood pressure shoots up into stroke range every time you become vertical), labor that doesn’t actually WORK?

    That is some serious bullshit right there.

    So…um…good for you for skipping that! Good call! Smart decision all the way to the ice cream shop and back.

  13. pam on August 4th, 2009 7:46 am

    i had no choice in the matter (three babies = automatic c/s) but i still feel like i can’t say i “gave birth” to them. they were removed. fuck that. whatever.

  14. JF on August 5th, 2009 8:37 am

    I was born by C-section, and can I tell you how unimpressive vaginal childbirth sounded to me when my mom explained that not every baby was born the way I was? Coming out of mom’s tummy was MUCH more impressive — it involved a knife!

    Still kind of feel that way, actually. Please don’t think less of your bravery because you had a C/S. I bet your wee ones won’t.

  15. Jessica on August 5th, 2009 11:01 pm

    Yes, I feel as you do. I had many feelings of being less than a woman when I had my first by C Section. And then in preparing for a VBAC with my second I kind of healed emotionally from the first. (Didn’t have a VBAC with #2 it turns out). Still, I feel kind of stung when I read about someone else pushing their baby into the world. And when I mention I had 2 C-Sections and I hear, “that’s ok!” I get irritated. Is that supposed to be empathy?
    I don’t know.

  16. Nicky on August 11th, 2009 5:03 pm

    I’m apparently late to the party here, but I’m just going to chime in with my story anyway. After 23 hours of labor and more than 2 hours of pushing, we determined that the baby was absolutely not going to fit through my pelvic bone. His weight was a little on the large side, but his head was absolutely huge. Baby skulls can compress and deform a bit during labor, but not THAT much. Even after getting this news, I still pushed for another hour, “just in case I could get him to fit,” because I was that terrified of a c-section. As my friends sarcastically tell me, I had the “best” of both worlds. The long labor, the hours of pushing, the c-section, and then the need to recover from it all.

    I know, in my heart, that I did everything humanly possible to avoid a c-section while not doing irreparable harm to either my or the baby, and faced with the same situation, I’d do it exactly the same way. There’s nothing I can point to and say that I would have made any different decisions. Still… it’s hard not to feel regret for what I didn’t experience, and will probably never experience. No guilt, but definitely sadness.

    I’ll also throw out there, though, that I’ve never been made to feel “lacking” in any way just because I had a c-section. Nobody has ever said anything to me in person. It seems to me sometimes that the only place the great labor debate is happening is on the internet.

  17. Haus on August 24th, 2009 9:26 am

    ALL births are courageous.

    There is no perfect birth. Birthing, no matter how you do it, is all about losing control. I don’t care how you end it, just starting the journey takes more courage than your average Joe.

    No one will look at your kids in 20 years and say “huh, must’ve been a c-section baby.” You’re here, so are they — something went awfully right there, no matter what might’ve gone wrong alongside it.

  18. jana on September 2nd, 2009 8:41 pm

    You wanna talk about bravery? Something about going under the knife, getting CUT OPEN to insure the safe and healthy delivery of your baby just screams brave to me. Don’t sell yourself short.

  19. jane dredge on November 12th, 2009 1:46 pm

    i always like to go back and look at older xena warrior princess episodes so I go to http://www.xenaepisodes.blogspot.com – I can get them there for free and they have pretty much every episode.

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