Dear C-section Momma,
Nothing I say is going to magically make you feel better, so I’m not even going to try. That’s not my goal.
Maybe you have already made peace with your birth experience. Maybe medical reasons necessitated a scheduled surgery, and you had time to process and prepare for that experience, and you’re doing okay now. If so, that’s awesome.
But maybe, like me, your C-section wasn’t part of the plan. The more of an emergency it was, the less time you had to ask questions or process the situation. Odds are the procedure was medically necessary; let’s assume the doctors made the best possible decision for you and your child. Right now, that knowledge does not do a damn thing to curb the sorrow, guilt, and blame you likely carry with you.
Outsiders viewing the situation with more objectivity will, with the best of intentions, deliver that time-honored platitude to C-section mothers: “All that matters is that you have a healthy baby, and that you are both safe.” (Or they’ll make you feel guilty somehow. If you run into one of those, just tune them out. You and I both know that you’re beating yourself up enough without their help.)
Yes, the health of your child is important. But no, that is NOT all that matters. Telling a C-section mother that baby’s health trumps all really, really discounts her feelings. I know. I’ve been there.
So let me tell you this, C-section Momma, in case nobody else does: It is okay to feel both grateful for a healthy baby and mournful of the birth you expected to have, all at the same time. It does not mean you love your baby any less. You are allowed to feel mixed emotions.
It is okay if you feel like a failure – like your body failed you. Birth is the quintessential feminine experience. If you had planned on a natural birth, you were likely inundated with various “your body was designed to give birth, you were made for this” mantras. This guidance is perhaps backfiring on you now that things did not go according to plan. Your body did not perform, and you sit and blame yourself, wondering what you did wrong and feeling flawed because you could not somehow manage to do what mammals the world over have been doing for thousands of years. In the back of your mind, the little voice of reasons reminds you that countless of these mammals died during childbirth, yet logic does nothing to abate the overwhelming feeling of failure. I cannot take the feeling away from you. Nobody can. But what I can tell you is that I felt it, and you are allowed to feel it. Don’t push it aside. Touch it, understand it, and look at it from as many angles as you need to until you find a place for it in the story of your motherhood. It is only a tiny piece of the larger picture, but right now it is a loud, vibrant piece demanding some of your time and attention.
Go easy on yourself during the healing process. C-sections are so commonplace, we sometimes forget that they are major surgery, and major surgery takes time to heal. Maybe this is your first experience with major surgery. If so, on top of dealing with all of the trials and tribulations of new motherhood, you are having a hard time adjusting to the physical limitations required during recovery. You are also trying to process the very real, scary experience of being wheeled into an operating room, having a cocktail of drugs pumped through your system, and being cut open to retrieve the new life growing inside of you. I hope that someday you are able to look down at your scar and marvel at how the doctors were able to retrieve an entire baby through such a small incision – what a miracle! However, right now it is okay if you move gingerly through your day, secretly afraid that if you make one wrong move you might “unzip” at the seams. You won’t. But surgery is scary. It’s okay to be scared. I won’t laugh at you; I thought I’d unzip too.
You probably won’t believe me, but I will tell you this anyway: You are not less of a mother, but it’s okay to doubt yourself. You are fully equipped to take care of this precious new life in your arms; however, it’s hard to trust your maternal instinct when motherhood begins with a medical intervention. I understand. I struggled with birth and breastfeeding – I felt like every natural process of motherhood was failing me, like this was a sign from the universe that I had made some giant mistake. I know you won’t fully trust me yet when I say this, but all mothers struggle. It’s just hard when those struggles get wrapped up in all the other feelings of doubt and uncertainty and guilt and blame you’ve got going on.
Take a look at that beautiful new baby of yours. He knows nothing of the fraught circumstances that brought him into this world. So while you process all those mixed emotions – and please, process them – also remember that to one small heart, you are perfect, and you are enough. This knowledge does not magically make it all better, and it is not the only thing that matters, but it certainly gives you purpose while you heal. And that is where the nugget of truth behind the loaded words of well-meaning family and friends fits into your story.