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Making Peace With My Unplanned C-Sections

Image credit: Christie Tate

There was a time when I couldn't hear about someone else's uncomplicated vaginal birth without bursting into tears. Other women's "successful" labors brought on spasms of grief about my own births, both of which ended in C-sections. While I was immensely grateful that both of my children were born healthy, I harbored a deep grief about the traumatic experience of being cut open surgically then stitched back together on my children's birthdays.

I've struggled to resolve my grief around my birth experiences. Most of my friends delivered babies after me—almost all of them vaginally. I visit them in the hospital, hold their little ones and listen to the story of their births. The pushing, the crowning, the glory of birth without surgery.

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On the way home from the hospital, I'd cry in my car, swamped with grief and anger that I barely understand.

Early on, I would ask other moms who delivered by C-section if they felt disappointed by their birth experiences. None of them seemed as traumatized as I felt, and I didn't press. I was loath to rile up women who were at peace with their experiences.

Of course I never breathed a word of my sorrow to friends who were struggling to conceive. I would sooner punch myself in the face than complain about how my healthy children arrived in the world to someone mired in the world of fertility treatments.

Ari was able to do what I couldn't: give herself permission to feel rage about her experience.

So, I basically stopped talking about it and hoped that time would heal the part of me that still felt devastated by my body's failure to do something I'd been assured it was built to do.

Recently, I read Elisa Albert's "After Birth" and found a soul mate in the main character, Ari, who is deep in the struggle of early motherhood. Like me, Ari had an unexpected C-section and a year later continued to process her feelings. It took my breath away to read that Ari referred to her son's first birthday as "surgery day," because she has "trouble calling it birth." To her, it's the "[a]nniversary of the great failure."

Ari says what I have said: "I did not 'give' birth to him. He was 'given' birth. The great privilege. Instead, the knife."

Yes, Ari, yes!

Here was a character who had a perfectly healthy baby, but still felt cheated that her dream birth experience turned into a scary surgical procedure.

"They cut me in half, pulled the baby from my numb, gaping, cauterized center … I was sewn back up again by the team of people I didn't know."

Right on, Ari. In her, I finally found someone who could articulate the experience. Ari was able to do what I couldn't: give herself permission to feel rage about her experience. I never gave myself that gift because I didn't feel entitled to be enraged when my babies were healthy and the doctors had assured me that the C-sections were the only way to keep us all safe.

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"After Birth" is not a perfect book, and Ari is far from perfect. Just like me. Having had my experience perfectly articulated through Ari, I moved forward in healing and making peace with how my births played out.

That is the power of a well-told story about a mother's experience.

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