“At least you had a healthy baby….”

I need to write a blog about cesareans and disappointing birth experiences…but where to start? My mind goes crazy, racing to several different places and wondering where to start.

I suppose I should start with myself since my personal experience came first in the line of stories I feel I need to share to illustrate my point.

My point! See, I told you my mind is racing. My point of this blog will be summarized thusly – “at least you have a healthy baby’ is a crappy thing to say to someone when they have had a cesarean and is disappointed in their birth experience. I pray by the end of this blog post that you have a deeper understanding of WHY that is crappy and how it makes a mother who is disappointed feel.

Okay…so back to my own experience. Many reading this blog may not realize that while I have 5 children, I have only carried 4 of them myself – we were told by doctors after years of infertility that I would never be able to conceive or carry a baby (if there is interest I am willing to share more on that story at another time in a different blog post). As I was raising my first child, I became very active in the birthing community. I was a certified doula and childbirth educator teaching classes in various locations around the Denver and Boulder, Colorado area. I had seen my son’s birthmother push my son into the world (his birth parents lived with us for the last 4 months of her pregnancy) and assisted in many other births in the following years.

Then I was pregnant – with a lot of assistance, I was pregnant. I planned a homebirth, I transferred into the hospital while in labor, and I ended up with a cesarean.

Not how I wanted to meet my baby! Still in recovery, my mother shows me a photograph of my daughter who I have not yet met while my nurse smiles and my doula holds my hand.

When I made the decision to transfer into the hospital (yes, I made that decision), I cried before getting into the car. When the decision was made for surgery, I cried again. And I cried many times over the next few years.

I remember telling my sister (who had experienced 5 births – all vaginal) that everytime I think of my daughter’s birth story, I cry. I remember her response so clearly even though it was 12 years ago…”Awwww….a little postpartum depression?”

No….sad at the way that my birth experience went.

Then she said it…”At least you have a healthy baby.” And I went off on her – YES, I had a healthy baby and obviously I put that factor above ANYTHING else and I’d already proven that by going under the knife in order to achieve it! But to say those words to me tells me that you believe I no longer hold that in high priority, that I am being unappreciative for her health and well being. Nothing could be further from the truth.

So let me make this point absolutely crystal clear: someone who has undergone a cesarean has already shown through actions that she would do anything to ensure the health and well being of her baby! She has already shown that THAT was the highest issue on the priority list. At least she has a healthy baby… not only invalidates anything else she might be feeling, but it also points out that she got the very least of what one would consider a good outcome. That was the last and final thing hoped for because all other dreams and expectations had to be sacrificed.

My first child – adopted. At least I got a baby! Absolutely true, but I was still sad that I couldn’t be the one to feel him kicking inside of me, envious of her ability to nourish him and grow her belly big and full with him, to birth him. I got a baby but was sad that it had to occur in the manner in which it did. I had to sacrifice many dreams in order to achieve the biggest one – but the “at least” statements insinuate (nay, they state pretty implicitly to the listener) that if you are sad at the dreams that you’ve lost then you might not deserve the one you achieved.

A picture I took of dad looking down at mom who can't even see his face - she is prepped for surgery and waiting for them to begin.

“At least….” I hate those words to begin with. Nothing good comes after those words because they are an attempt to minimize whatever had gone wrong. Your house burned down? Lost all of your possessions, your 3 children, your spouse and your goldfish? AT LEAST YOU DIDN’T BURN UP TOO!

See how ridiculous those words can be? Things can always be worse than they are – but that doesn’t negate that sometimes things right now suck.

I recently had a client who ended up transferring to the hospital for medical reasons, and she ended up in a cesarean. She is intensely disappointed and even bringing up the thought of her birth results in immediate tears (and breaks my heart). Is she ungrateful for her healthy baby? Absolutely not!! She sacrificed her body for her baby’s health, she put herself at risk with anesthesia and major surgery….all for her baby’s health. And as sad as she is, if you ask her if she’d do it again if it was for the health of her baby she would answer without hesitation – an emphatic YES! She began her motherhood with sacrifice and PROVED she would do anything for the health of her baby. To imply that she might have lost sight of the blessings of having a healthy baby by saying, “At least you had a healthy baby” is to refuse to acknowledge that she’d already proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that she places her baby’s health above her own.

Same couple as above - mom sees her baby for the first time, already bundled up and being held by dad. This is typical with a cesarean.

Yet as she was prepped for surgery and they were beginning the cesarean, she cried…and a nurse said to her, “Why are you sad? Your baby is about to be here…and will be healthy…”

Sigh

She was sad because she was being cut open rather than feeling her baby crown. She was sad because she was in a hospital where she didn’t want to be in the first place. She was sad because she wasn’t going to be helping her husband lift their baby from her vagina into her waiting arms. She was sad because she wouldn’t be able to hold her baby right away – or even touch her baby for a while. She was sad because she was going to watch her husband (dressed in scrubs and masked so that she would lose who he was in a sea of masks) carry a burrito bundle out of the room while she remained splayed out getting stitched up. She was sad because she now doubted her body like she never had before.

Why does it matter why she was sad? Why should she have to explain to someone else what it was making her sad? SHE WAS SAD! (she still is) Acknowledge, embrace, assist….don’t gloss over and demean her feelings by telling her she’s silly for feeling them.

At least you have a healthy baby. What if you don’t have a healthy baby…..

I got called by someone who would become a good personal friend of mine. She was pregnant and knew that she would birth out of the country and wanted only prenatal care from me – she was a VBAC, so I couldn’t officially establish care with her, but I helped her some as a friend since she was moving at about 30 weeks of pregnancy. Each appointment I would feel her baby growing, kicking under my fingertips, thriving. She embraced the pregnancy with such blissful joy and anticipation of the birth that she would float into my office bringing sunshine with her at every visit. It was a sad day for me when we had our last appointment. I handed her a copy of her records to take with her – and she (a professional singer) sang to me “Amazing Grace”. Tears flowed for so many reasons and as I hugged her goodbye it lasted a bit longer than normal, neither one wanting to let go.

She kept in touch regularly from Peru, baby growing, all is well, past my due date but everything is perfect, just had an ultrasound at 41 weeks and everything is absolutely perfect and well.

She went into labor…and labored blissfully, smiling, rocking on her birthing ball at the birth center. Baby’s heart rate beautiful, you’re dilating perfectly…

An hour later they tried to listen to the baby and he was gone (a freak cord accident – absolutely nothing to do with when or where or how she was birthing). An ultrasound confirmed it, and she said as they finished the ultrasound, “I have to call Stephanie, I need to hear her voice.” I will spare you the level of anguish and deep intense pain I felt in my heart receiving that phone call and hearing her say, “He’s gone…”

We only had a few minutes to talk before she said, “I have to go…I am 6cm dilated and still in labor. I need to birth my baby.”

And birth him she did! She achieved her VBAC and birthed her 10 pound son through her own power!!

Okay, stop here and let’s talk about this. Why did she not have a cesarean knowing that her son was dead? Here is the point that I think so many people don’t understand….there is the outcome, and there is the journey, and they aren’t one and the same for a lot of women. She would change her journey if it would change the outcome, of that I know for 100% certainty. But the outcome was done, the only thing she could do is continue her journey. A cesarean wasn’t going to bring her son back…but she could still feel powerful that she did everything she could for him. And powerful she was! Sad for her loss, and yet proud of herself. Heartbroken for the baby she is no longer holding in her arms, but happy for her experience.

In contract to my other client who is thrilled for her baby she holds in her arms, but sad for her experience.

That’s because they are two different things. Women will do anything to ensure the health of their baby, but it doesn’t mean they are happy they have to do it! I went through IVF (twice) to conceive my daughter – doesn’t mean I enjoyed it or was happy to do it! Means my daughter was worth it to me.

My cesarean incision

 

Please do not act like someone who had a cesarean has lost sight of the importance of a healthy baby – they are acutely aware of that importance and have proven it with their actions. Please do offer a loving ear, a hug, acknowledgement of their loss (as they hold their baby) and joy for their accomplishments. Allow her the freedom to express her loss and feelings of helplessness or frustration without trying to make her feel better for having gone through the experience.

And to the clients referenced in this post…I love you both and hurt for you in your sadness. There is no “at least” to follow that statement – things could always be worse as long as we are still alive and breathing….but what you’ve experienced sucks and I’m sorry.

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