I think most people know I’ve had two c-sections. Ben’s was an semi-scheduled c-section because my blood pressure was going nuts. Katie’s was planned because it was clear my uterus wasn’t going to cooperate with any plan that involved it working to remove her. Most people also likely know that I nearly died after Katie’s delivery. If you haven’t heard that story, you can read about it here. So I come at the c-section discussion that’s currently happening from a different direction than most.
Having watched the discussion over the last couple of days about The Mominatrix’s Guide to Sex: A No-Surrender Advice Book for Naughty Moms and a couple of throw-away lines that she put in the book about women with c-sections, I’ve come to the conclusion that neither the Mominatrix or ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) really have a good argument.
I don’t think anyone is precisely a villain here, but I do think that both sides would benefit from laying off the rhetoric and the antagonism and try, instead, to focus on empowering women (one of ICAN’s stated goals and one of the Mominatrix’s stated goals, somewhat ironically). Both groups had a radio show yesterday and the contrast between them was striking.
The Mominatrix had as her guest a woman who had what I can only describe as an atypical reaction to a c-section. I’m not saying that she didn’t experience what she did. I do believe that she did, but to hold her experience up as something that is normal or more typical than it really is does a tremendous disservice to any woman who has a c-section and who can’t manage as well as this woman did. I know that I could not have done without painkillers after either of my c-sections. I wasn’t on them too long, but not using them at all wouldn’t have been possible for me. She must have incredible pain tolerance. Her scar is apparently minimal, which again, is wonderful FOR HER, but it is an atypical experience. Because the last entry into that area was an emergency one for me, my scar is less than attractive. It’s not a horror show, I did have an excellent surgeon, but it is not as neat as the first one that I had from Ben. You can see that he was in a hurry and trying to do what was best for me rather than worrying about the appearance of it. I was troubled by the Mominatrix saying that women who have had c-sections should “lighten up” and that they should “have a giggle” about being tighter in the vagina and let it go. It’s easy for her to speak because she hasn’t had one.
What troubles me more is that after she’s been informed how much it hurts people (whom she is presumably attempting to empower in the bedroom) to refer to them as lucky, she continues to do it. I’ve read her book, which likely puts me in the minority of the people discussing this issue. It’s well written. It covers a huge array of sexual topics and I think does help to encourage women who are feeling less than sexual after the birth of a child to find their way back into the bedroom. I think that’s fabulous. It goes much farther than I would, but it’s a good book. She has a great “sexual resolution” challenge going on right now that seems fun and inspired, and, according to her radio show will likely be available as an e-book at an e-retailer near you in the future. Again, I say wonderful. She’s doing a service (and presumably making a profit), but she doesn’t have to get there by beating up on other women and that’s what her continued use of the word lucky appears to be to me. She appears to be doing it simply to get a reaction at this point, and I find that unfortunate from an otherwise inspiring individual.
However, I also think that ICAN started with a wonderful goal in mind, but they seem to have lost sight of that goal in their desperate pursuit of “natural” childbirth. On their radio show it was several women discussing how horrible their c-sections were, how horrible their sex lives were, and how much they wanted to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) or an HBAC (home birth after cesarean). I truly do understand feeling like your choices were taken away and I do understand not wanting your life or your health or your mental well-being to take a total back seat to your child’s. I do.
Most people thought I was insane for insisting prior to my OB agreeing that we needed to do a cesarean for my first child that I was sure something would go wrong if I went into labor. I was certain. I knew it. Ultimately, the decision was made for me and we did the cesarean. So, had my situation not descended into an emergency one, I would have had an elective cesarean. That’s not something I typically discuss, but I recognized, and subsequently my OB has agreed with me, that the risks far outweighed the benefits in my specific case.
So, in that vein, I can’t speak for women who were trying to labor and who, for whatever reasons, ended up having a c-section. But when I hear women sharing things like, “My husband said he wishes I never had a c-section,” I have to wonder, would he have been okay with it if you had died trying to birth your child naturally? Would it have been alright with him if your child had died because you absolutely didn’t want to have a cesarean? The other thing that disturbs me on this side of the discussion is the number of women who rush in to assure those who’ve just had cesareans that a VBAC will fix anything that’s broken in your sex life. Again, much like with the c-section mom mentioned above, that is one person’s experience and it is JUST as dangerous to make this generalization as it is the other. Not every woman will have the same experience of a VBAC (or an HBAC or whatever). If the goal is truly to empower women, then the goal should be to SUPPORT women with the experience that they’ve had and to encourage them to make peace with that experience.
I recognize that I’m in a different category from women who have tried to labor. So, no, I don’t understand how they feel either. But, and this is a huge one, they have control over how they feel and how they frame their experience. I fully, completely understand being traumatized from a birth experience. I was. I know my husband’s situation was incredibly traumatic. I know that he argued with doctors about trying to put in a central line for me — to the point that my OB managed to pull me back into my head long enough to explain what he wanted to do and why he wanted to do it in order to get my consent. I know P badgered the pulmonologist until he was convinced that being intubated in these circumstances didn’t carry the same risks for me that being intubated due to my asthma would. He did that because he knew I would not consent to an intubation unless I was completely convinced there were no alternatives left to me.
I know that I was, and to some degree still am, not willing to trust anyone but my OB. I don’t even want his partners to touch me. I don’t like his nursing staff touching me. I almost had a complete meltdown when my staples needed to be removed and the nursing manager said that she was going to let someone practice on me. Unsurprisingly, my OB took the staples out himself. That was three days after I was released from the hospital — after staying for several days in the ICU, one day in the cardio-pulmonary stepdown unit, and one day on the maternity floor.
Because of the IV infiltration in one arm, I could not hold my daughter for weeks unless someone gave her to me while I was sitting down. To this day, as in right this second, I still do not have enough strength in that arm to hold her (or my son) for more than a couple of minutes. This is something that I am having to work on. There is no estimate of how much strength I can get back, if I can get it back.
The problem that I have is watching so many women beating themselves up because they didn’t deliver vaginally or feeling like they’ve been “robbed” of an experience. I’m sorry. I don’t understand that line of thinking … and to that end, I do agree with the Mominatrix. You have a choice about how you experience life and how you respond to the things that happen to you. You can allow things that happen to you dictate your self-worth. Your choices, sure, but many of the women involved in the ICAN discussion really didn’t have choices. The thing is, you have to allow yourself to grieve, and then you have to find your way forward.
I’m not saying I’m past what happened to me, not by a long shot. I think there are a lot of women (and men, for that matter) who will need a lot of time to get past the things that happen in the birthing of children, but I think the decision to dwell and feel bad about yourself because of something that happened is a choice that you make. I think that the goal of pregnancy shouldn’t be the “birth experience” or having one’s body “do what it was designed to do”; the goal of pregnancy should be a live baby at the end.
I’m disturbed by the use of terms like “birth rape” and “oppression.” The former is flat out offensive. It is not the same as rape and it is a term that simply should not be used. The latter, yes, I see the medical establishment making it difficult for women to “get the birth experience they want” post-cesarean, and I agree that VBACs should be more commonly allowed, but I do think that if they are, those having them should have to sign a waiver stating they will not sue if something goes wrong as a result of a VBAC they insisted on having. That’s my feeling on it.
So. My point? The Mominatrix is in the wrong for continuing to press on a button that she knows is sensitive. That’s not being a sarcastic, sassy person; that’s being a jerk. ICAN is in the wrong because they’re not really empowering women to feel better about themselves after a cesarean. I’m not sure I completely understand their true purpose; I’ve read their stated goals and I understand a key one is to reduce the number of cesareans performed, BUT that doesn’t help or support the women who have already had one. I had hoped to find support for my experiences, and what I encountered instead were people wanting to know if I reviewed my medical records personally and if I was sure I needed that first cesarean. That certainly doesn’t feel like support to me. Perhaps it is in their world, I’m not sure.
For the record, these are my opinions. I feel as strongly about birth options as a friend of my who is sometimes known as the Cesarean Goddess. Read her post here. If you are interested in more on this topic.