Our regular blog contributor Buffy Wennersten shares the riveting birth stories of her children Paul (3) and Rosie (1). If YOU would like to share your birth story and receive a $10 reBlossom gift card as a thank you, please contact us!
I was hanging out at ReBlossom recently (which I do often) talking to a new mommy friend about birthing, and I mentioned that both of my children’s births had been via c-section. Her response was, “Good, well not good, but I also had a c-section.”
I knew immediately what she meant. It’s always a little bit of a relief when I meet another c-section mama. I don’t feel judged, or the need to justify how I labored, or the chain of decisions and interventions we endured before the c-section became necessary.
It was during this conversation that I realized the side effect of our amazing Athens birth culture. There are many options of support for mamas who are interested in natural childbirth. There are numerous types of prep classes, doulas, and even a variety of midwife options to choose from. This is remarkable, and one of the many reasons I love Athens. However, it has been my experience (and I reiterate that I am only speaking for myself here), that when a mama requires a c-section, there is an unspoken attitude of “you failed.”
No one has ever said to me, “Wow, you had a c-section? Why didn’t you just try harder?” But these are some of the comments I have received: some simply said, “Oh.” (followed by dead air, or crickets chirping). Some actually said, “Oh, No!!”. One friend actually said to me, “Well, at least you didn’t have to push.” Another jokingly said, “Well those of us who actually, really had our babies.” And, in my opinion the worst comment that I received more than once, “That’s awful that you had to labor so long, only to have to have a c-section.”
I actually found myself consoling other people: “No, it’s OK, really.” And, the truth was that it was OK. I was resolved with my feelings about my birth very soon after delivery, but with passing comments like these; I had actually started to doubt myself. Lesson learned: we need to hold space for one another for our birth experiences. We need to bond over simply having given birth.
I labored Bradley Method style for 27 hours with 3 midwives for my first child. I never dilated past 4 cm. My membranes were stripped several times during labor, taking me to 6 cm, only to have my resilient and stubborn cervix shrink back to 4 cm several hours later.
My son had pooped early in the womb, so meconium was a concern, as was my increasing level of exhaustion. I had done everything in the textbook order of the Bradley Method. During a quiet moment with myself alone in the dark room that I was wearily laboring away in, I realized that the glitter-dusted still shots of me pushing, sweating, and joyfully holding my slimy little man to my breast while I dropped my head back in exaltation were just not going to happen.
A few hours later, my midwife braved the word “c-section” aloud. I was ready. I gratefully, and yes, even joyfully accepted. I knew I had done more than what was expected of me. This was about my son, not my glory to tell a kick-ass birth story.
So, this is the part that a lot of people who haven’t had a c-section don’t realize. I allowed myself (forcefully laying all of my control issues aside) to be heavily drugged, my arms strapped to a table, and sliced open through layers of flesh and organ while my child, wedged and stuck in the birth canal, rested just beneath the scalpel. I trusted the doctor. I did not allow negative thoughts. I actually continued practicing the long slow breathing and meditation strategies I had been using for the last 27 hours. The birth of my first-born was about to happen.
This would be my still shot: me with a hair net, lying flat on my back and my husband wearing scrubs. I heard my son scream immediately, and I knew he was fine. I would be fine. While I was laboring, I kept saying to myself when it got tough, “I can do anything for a day, for my kid”. This was a true test of that.
My newborn was wrapped in a blanket and laid on my chest. Only one of my hands was unstrapped, so I could touch him through layers of flannel blanket. He was quickly whisked away with my husband, and I laid alone, literally gutted, wide open in a room full of strangers talking about what they were having for lunch while they simply sewed parts of my body back together. All my friends and family knew how badly I wanted a natural birth. When it didn’t happen, people felt like they needed to console me. I didn’t need consoling, though, because it was all groovy. What I really wanted was for my birth story to be heard and validated.
Two years later, when I was pregnant with my second child, I was inundated with, “Who’s doing your VBAC?” “You’re going to doctor so and so, right?” etc… I had several women try to talk me into driving over an hour to a VBAC specialist and deliver in another county, because that’s what they did or would do. I honestly got tired of having to explain myself to friends, family, and people I hardly even knew. I had a 2 year old and no family in town. I was also working full time. It was more than a little complicated. I even had beautiful and well-meaning women that my son had never met, offer to keep him while I was whisked off to magic VBAC-land over an hour away from home. I was also given information on how I could just have my own home birth. All of this unconditional support became pushy, overwhelming, and stressful. More than once, I sat crying in my midwife’s office. With her guidance, I agreed to a scheduled c-section the second time around because it felt like the right choice for me and my pregnancy. However, during the next full moon, I went into labor early.
This c-section was supposed to be “family centered” complete with a dropped drape, and a slimy baby immediately deposited onto my bare breast. But, as I learned the first time around, plans change, and it takes a brave mama to put aside her wishes and fantasies for her babies. This c-section was rough. My little girl was wedged in the birth canal even more than her older brother. Her arm was twisted, and there were several dangerous conditions, including possible limb breakage. At one point, I was lying strapped to the table, tilted to my right side with a doctor on top of me yelling for more doctors to assist, and a midwife elbow-deep in my vagina trying to loosen my daughter’s head from my birth canal. I heard grunting, strain, and anxiety in the voices of my trusted professionals. I received a vertical incision to accompany my horizontal incision. My midwife told me that my birth canal tapers, like a pair of skinny jeans, and there was no way I would have ever been able to have a baby vaginally.
When my daughter was finally born, she was gray and unresponsive, and NICU ran in to resuscitate her. The longest minute of my life ticked away before I heard her beautiful scream. She was placed, swaddled and blanketed on my chest, and my world stopped. Unicorns and fairies were sprinkling love glitter all over us. She was perfect. And suddenly, that wretched birth was perfect. It was her birth, and it was the process that brought her to me. Later that night, I hemorrhaged, blacked out, and had to have an emergency surgery to stop the bleeding. I was in the hospital longer than most new moms. I had a level of pain healing from this birth that far surpassed the pain of my first c-section. But my family was complete; we were all four here and could finally get down to Wennersten family business. I couldn’t have been happier.
What I really want to say is that I am proud of my labors, and I am proud of my c-sections. I am grateful for modern medicine and technology and doctors and midwives that I trust. I have a sacred scar now that was my children’s special portal into this world. I am thankful to live in a town that celebrates births like Athens does. And, for the record, I kind of want a t-shirt that says, “Hi! I’m Buffy. Yes, it’s my real name, and I have an obstinate tapering vagina.”