The Most Important Thing
by Courtroom Mama
I generally try not to get all butthurt over trolls, but I couldn’t contain my gasps of impotent horror as the following conversation unfolded in the comments of Emjaybee’s last post.
Screencaps in part:
Jill and Emjaybee were on it with lightning speed, of course, while I was puttering along on my phone totally unable to do anything about it. So, I thought I’d take a short break from “wallow[ing] in [my] unnecesarean grief” and voila, unpublished-reply-turned-post.
First of all, it bears mention that a person exposes him or herself as a troll when they ask the question in the form “So how exactly does a c-section ruin your life?” (Well, for starters, when it kills you, like folks sometimes seem to forget can be the case.) Nevertheless, I think that there is a kernel of truth under there that needs to be addressed. I’m posting this in the hopes that someday someone will google “Why would the method of birth ever overshadow the birth of a healthy baby?” and get my very earnest explanation.
Human emotion is nuanced and complicated. The singular nature of pregnancy and the unique relationship between a woman and her unborn baby seems to play hell on our need to simplify, homogenize, and categorize. Regardless of the headway that we have made in terms of gender equality in civil and political rights, we have a pretty rigid schema for what a normal pregnancy looks like: woman is pregnant, woman delivers baby, woman is happy.
That is not a woman, that is a paper doll.
The truth is that each of those clauses and each of those commas contain nearly infinite possibilities. The experience can be punctuated with an exclamation point, a question mark, or the silence of an ellipsis. We can acknowledge that women may meet their pregnancies with a variety of emotional responses—joy, shock, anger, ambivalence—but the idea that women might meet their babies with the same variety of emotion seems to be beyond the realm of comprehension. Aren’t babies supposed to make women happy?
I know that the question of the method of birth “overshadowing” a healthy baby is not one asked in good faith, but my answer to that sort of question has always been that women with negative feelings about their cesarean sections are, as a preliminary matter, grateful for their healthy babies and are able to experience other feelings in addition to and outside of joy and gratitude. Like when your mom explained to you that when your little sister was born she could love her and still love you just as much as she ever had.
But Dana made me think a little bit: are babies a balm that should heal all wounds? Even if we function under the assumption that a healthy baby is the most important thing in a birth (which, some people may be surprised to hear, is not universally the case across cultures or to individual women), is having even a welcome and wanted baby a substitute for the autonomy lost by a woman who has had the experience of being tied down and operated on, or the horror of seeing herself in a pool of blood in the reflective surfaces in the operating theater?
Is having a baby a substitute for posttraumatic stress? For the flinch and recoil of damaged nerves when a lover brushes her scar? For the knowledge that she may have to fight to even attempt to avoid scheduled surgical delivery even in the face of evidence suggesting that she’d most likely be able to deliver vaginally without any problem?
This is something that may be difficult for a person who had a necessary surgery, or who is okay with having had an unnecessary surgery, to understand. I’ve tried to explain the fact that the outcome doesn’t erase the pain of the journey, but there really is no metaphor. The closest I have come is this:
Imagine you get in a car to drive and see the person you love most in life. You get into a car accident on the way there, are rushed to the hospital, and the doctors save your life. When you open your eyes, your loved one is there to greet you. Now imagine instead that you get into the car, and on your way there, you’re pulled over for driving too slowly, and then taken to the hospital, where your healthy appendix is removed. When you open your eyes, your loved on is there to greet you.*
Notwithstanding your happiness to eventually get to your goal, you might have some questions—or even anger, sadness, or grief—about what happened to you on the way there. Why were you interrupted just for getting where you were going too slowly? How did that justify unnecessary surgery? Even in the first circumstance, might you not still feel trauma from the terror of fear of dying or never seeing your loved one? Getting to see that loved one might be the most important thing, but it doesn’t diminish the importance of your own physical and mental health. This is something that mothers don’t often get to hear: you are important too!
In closing, to those visitors who are not in the “choir”: nowhere on this website, or in ICAN’s materials, or in any of the countless books about healthy birth does it say that women should grieve or feel a sense of loss over cesarean surgery. In fact, my greatest wish: every cesarean a wanted cesarean. I wish that every woman who had surgery could feel at peace with it and supported and cared for by her medical team. To express negative emotion or question the overuse of such a major medical intervention is not to condemn the women who made it through healthy and happy. Please, don’t take it personally; it’s not about you.
*Again, metaphor is imperfect. I’m actually having fun thinking about all the ways to tweak the image: the baby is riding with you and they pull you over for an appendectomy because they think it’s crying? Because your car has had a flat tire in the past? Because the traffic cop wants to fill a quota and go home early?