April is C-section Awareness Month. Get evidence-based information about cesarean birth – why you might have one, what the research says, what to expect and more resources via Childbirth Connection or ACOG. Find out c-section rates of hospitals near you with the Consumer Reports or Leapfrog Hospital Ratings.
It’s been one year and four months since my unplanned, unmerited C-section for the birth of my second son. And in all that time, I had never been able to watch my delivery video-until last night.
Immediately, I started crying.
It was just too difficult to watch, but I knew it was time. Time to determine if I had indeed healed from one of the most traumatic experiences of my adult life.
I watched as they transferred his little, pink body on to the dressing table. I watched as nurses prodded him to make sure he was okay, as he was born with his eyes open from shock and his crying was a bit too faint for their liking. I listened as my beyond brave husband, who had just almost lost his wife on the birthing table, asked questions about whether she was going to be okay.
As I watched, I realized I could not recall experiencing any of these moments after the operation. I only remember asking if my son was okay before completely succumbing to the medication, and going out like a light.
As I watched, I realized I could not recall experiencing any of these moments after the operation.
I cried as I realized I didn’t get a chance to connect with my baby immediately after birth – getting me into recovery and him into NICU was the primary focus. I cried as I watched what seemed like an unfair way to begin the next leg of my journey in motherhood. I cried as I realized how far I’d come from that moment of nearly dying during childbirth.
I know some might read this and think I am being both dramatic and melancholy – my son was delivered, alive and seemingly healthy. Moms even elect for c-sections. However, watching the video and reflecting on the experience from a new perspective, I realized moms don’t heal fast enough or even properly because we’re keeping emotions of sadness and rage bottled up to be respectable. It didn’t matter that I had been able to breastfeed or that I later created a podcast exploring the often repressed side of motherhood, in search of healing. I realized I wasn’t satisfied with the idea of “at least,” because I had already experienced a natural, vaginal birth.
I realized moms don’t heal fast enough or even properly because we’re keeping emotions of sadness and rage bottled up.
If those who we’ve placed in authority over our bodies would only do us mothers a simple favor of listening, wholeheartedly, I would have never ended up in an “at least,” type of situation.
But my OBGYN refused to listen – to the recommendation of specialists monitoring my polyhydramnios, who said an induction after 36 weeks would prevent rupture and excessive postpartum bleeding (outside of unpredictable complications). Most importantly, she refused to listen to the me, the person who knew my body best. Though I knew my baby was ready to come, and my specialists advocated for an induction at that time, my OBGYN would not grant that permission. At 38 weeks she finally said yes, but a whole cascade of medical interventions led to the moment went my baby got stuck on my pubic bone, his heart rate dropped, and I was forced into an emergency c-section, because I was dying, too.
I get how we are living in a culture where there seems to be gloom and doom hanging over the black birthing experience and birthing community leaders are vested in lifting the weight of it all. But the truth is,
too many mothers of color are suffering in silence. Suffering from the post-traumatic stress that comes from being stripped of the power to make decisions over our bodies and then being expected to just "forgive” our sometimes power-seeking practitioners. I remember my practitioner explicitly coming to my recovery room, three days post-surgery for the first time, asking me for forgiveness. She was placing on me the burden of not only reckoning what I had just experienced, but somehow alleviating her of the guilt she felt for being stubborn. She knew her arrogance had now set me up for life-long effects I hadn’t even had the chance to prepare for. All because she dismissed my maternal intuition.
[My doctor] knew her arrogance had now set me up for life-long effects I hadn’t even had the chance to prepare for.
One year later, as I sat and watched, rage did begin to bubble up on the inside and I can’t help but share with others what I wish I had known then.
1. Ask Questions & Demand Answers
Even if they look like you: sometimes we think if our practitioners look like us, half the work is done, and we need not be vigilant or aware of our birthing options. My OBGYN was a black woman just like me; the medical group she was apart of did nothing to calm, respect , or listen to me. I was deeply disappointed and even guarded towards the end of the pregnancy when I realized I was being treated like a child who needed to keep quiet.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Practitioners
As someone who was already considered high risk due to previous experience with preeclampsia, finding a new practitioner at the midnight hour seemed daunting and almost impossible. But until this day, I wish I had pushed harder to start over with a new team.
3. Know Your History & Stand Firm
My family hails from Haiti and while there are no birthing records sitting somewhere for reference, the women in my lineage know a thing or two about the family’s birthing history. When it comes to modern medicine, sometimes the intuitive wisdom given by our ancestors gets pushed aside as “bush talk.” When I warned my then OBGYN how we traditionally deliver no later than 36 weeks, her response was she couldn’t “compete with my grandmother back in the bush,” but that I better stop “calling that baby to come early.” If the history of people’s mental health, physical health, and sexual health all get considered, don’t hesitate to advocate for birthing history – be it that of your own or your elders.
While this experience has forever changed my life and threatened my desire to bear any more children, I accept that talking about it will forever be my means to the end of healing. I won’t keep silent, and neither should you.