I had coffee the other morning with the mother of a boy in Bama's class. It was an unusual outing because parents tend to scatter to the corners after drop-off, each with errands to run, work to do, quiet time to enjoy.
We had delicious coffee at a place she frequents, tucked in from the morning's bitter cold. We talked aobut babies and blood tests; a friend of hers had a child with Down's Syndrome. We marveled at how much can be seen, and how much is still unknown, in ultrasounds. I described the differences in our CVS and ultrasound findings in the two years between Bama and Rabbit. When Bama was born, she had a small hole in her heart (undetected in utero), so they looked carefully at Rabbit's heart in utero. There was a possibility of something they couldn't see, but not likely. His heart was and is solid. She was born, I added, with velamentous cord insertion — her umbilical cord's veins and artery were incorporated into the placenta. To me, the placenta looked like a sea fan, with three thick cords parsing the delicate web of the placenta. Kind of like this:
(image from http://www.globalrums.com/diving.htm)
I joked about what our doctors said when Bama was born — that we made a good choice (as if we had one) about the C-section because her head was so big.
"That's not true," she snapped.
And thus, the conversation took the inevitable course that most talks between women who have had C-sections and women who had vaginal births, especially those who went natural or birthed at home. It went to pursed lips on her part and irritation on mine.
I will concede at this moment and not again that my reaction may seem defensive, and maybe it is but I no longer see it that way. Here's how I see it.
Women who were lucky enough to get pregnant (because it's luck, sisters, not a skill) and have a vaginal birth (see my first parenthetical) shouldn't crap all over those of us who didn't. I wanted a vaginal birth, I did. Mister and I suffered through a 10-week Bradley class with an insufferable teacher whose primary instructions were to lie to our doctors about anything labor-related. I'd seen the effects of pitocin and heard horror stories of the contraction-inducing drug. I didn't want it. I wanted to do it with Mister by my side but no drugs. I wanted to sweat and scream and spread my legs and have all the juicy goop that goes with delivery. I wanted my babies to climb up my belly like joeys looking for a warm pocket and some milk.
It didn't work out that way for me. I did what I was supposed to do. I walked, I stopped drinking alcohol, no black tea, no sushi, I swam, I went to prenatal yoga classes. My hands cramped up, I was Violet Beauregard after she eats Willy Wonka's gum except that I was filled with water. So full that my doctor was sure Bama at 32 weeks was already weighing 9.5 pounds (she wasn't). When my water broke, we stayed home until evening, per my doctor's suggestion. We checked in with our doula. I napped on the couch. I read.
And nothing happened. Laps around the hospital floors and garden did nothing. My cervix shrugged at the two nights of cervidil. I was tired from the pitocin, but I never had contractions. None. Our incredible nurse, who set up my room with a rocking chair and chucks everywhere and snagged one of two telemetry units (a walkable monitor) said it was likely, at hour 54, that one of three things would happen: a different cervix softener (we rejected this); break my bag of waters again (my cervix was solid, the doctor wasn't getting in there); C-section. We took option three.
My girl was comfy at the top of my womb and wasn't coming down. They had to pull her, big head and all, out.
(Bama, being turned. Mister took all our birth photos; all copyrighted.)
None of this mattered to my listener. When I described the placenta, and its unusual markings, the doctors sent it to pathology because it was the most intricate either had seen, the woman's lips continued their pursed judgement. And I wondered, what the fuck is wrong with you?
(The nursing crew. Alta Bates. Our doula on the left in blue, the charge nurse on the right in black,
Bama latching on. We are in recovery, waiting for my legs to move.
You can't leave recovery until you can lift yourself from the bed.)
When it came to Rabbit, she said, "Oh, well, NY is C-section only. No one does VBACs." And I disagreed. I found several VBAC-friendly doctors, including my doctor. He wasn't thrilled, but he went along with my VBAC plan. Other women I know through my various mama lists have had VBACs (vaginal birth after Caesarean). Her lips went white as though I was lying, to myself or to her I'm not sure which she thought or which would be worse.
"Women who have second C-sections are twice as likely to hemorrhage as women who have a VBAC," she declared. "No, they're not," I responded. "Yes, they are!" she said. "No, they aren't," I replied, feeling petty and smug. "I have the articles to prove it!" Everyone has articles, I responded. She began packing her things up immediately after.
Look, I don't know who's right in the percentages, and I didn't care. What I was done with was having someone who wasn't there be obnoxious about my deliveries and declare them invalid.
Because that's what women like her do. They purse their lips and think to themselves, "Oh, you didn't try hard enough."
(Rabbit, being lifted from my belly.)
When I told Mister about this conversation, he said, sadly, "Women aren't very good to each other." And we aren't. It's fucking hard to get pregnant and a miracle, yes a miracle, to stay pregnant. Miscarriages, stillborns, inability to conceive, whatever. Those things plague us, even in 2012 and even in the medical first world West. Why would you look down your nose at someone else's delivery as though it wasn't a proper one?
I told this story to Tia B who had, like me, had a first delivery that didn't go as planned and turned into a C-section. Her second was a planned C-section, given the complications of the first she and D decided to skip the 15 hours of useless, exhausting pushing and go straight to delivery and healing.
She was telling me about the upcoming C-section for one of the mamas in our group. I love these women and their babies (now todders becoming little girls and boys), but even within the safety of our group, there was still the notion that those who had vaginal deliveries had triumphed in a way those of us who hadn't would never understand.
In our mom's group of 11 women, who still write and get together and support each other, three of us had C-sections (I think three). Three of us had fertility issues (not the same three). Many of us used doulas. A couple were adamant they would not have C-sections. This sentiment is echoed across Babycenter and mama support groups and at La Leche League meetings. Before I had Bama and was swimming at a public pool in Oakland, a woman literally stalked me around the locker room until my friend cut her off, telling me to stay away from Alta Bates because they would force me to monitor the baby. They would force me to have a C-section! Ask any woman you know who has had a C-section and she will say that more than one other mother has declared, "I was going to push that baby out. No way was I going to have a C-section!"
There are women who have C-sections because they don't want to go into labor, they have a party planned and don't want labor to muck up the schedule, they'd like a tummy tuck after because they are already cut open. Caesareans are seen as the result of lazy doctors and lazy mothers. We must not have tried hard enough. We must not have had our priorities in line.
I'm pissed, my feelings are hurt. An uncountable number of friends and strangers have said, "I would NEVER have a C-section!" or "I'm going to have my second and it might be a C-section but I don't want to!" What the fuck. We're willing to stand on our heads to get pregnant. Take drugs. Use turkey basters. Have sex after taking our temperatures. Do whatever it takes to get pregnant, but delivering the baby only counts if it comes out the door?
Mister and I had a birth plan we gave to anyone who passed by. It is laughable to think about how much work went into a document no one read (which is part of Bradley thought — the hospital doesn't care about your natural birth wishes, I get that). My doula and my doctor bickered over the right way to have a baby. I kicked them both out and told Mister I didn't want to see either of them.
When we agreed we needed to have a C-section, 60 hours after my water had broken, Mister and I had 15 minutes alone at my request (a suggestion from a friend who'd had to have a C-section after doing everything right, she thought). I wept for the loss of my legitimate birth, my change in plans, my failure as a woman to deliver my baby. How fucked up is that? A C-section has become synonymous with not being a real woman and mother and we've all bought into that bullshit.
We tried and it didn't work, for whatever reason. You're right, Bama and Rabbit didn't shoot out of my vagina into Mister's arms in the warm water bath in our own apartment. They didn't slip down in a sluice of vaginal muck into my doctor's arms at the hospital. Both were pulled from my belly and then handed to me wrapped like swaddled apple dolls. They are beautiful and healthy and alive. That was and is what was paramount.
But, none of this matters to those who purse their lips and sit in judgement because you will see conspiracy in all of this and you can't reason with a conspiracy theorist. So, fuck you and your pursed lips. I don't have to reason with you because you don't want to hear anything but what you already believe.
(Note: The unlucky person in this post is not the sole object of my post. She happened to be the last straw for me on this topic before I burst.)