When I was pregnant with Jasper, I asked my doctor for a c-section.
Can I have a c-section?, I asked.
No, she said.
I had been going through early labor for weeks. It was three weeks or so before my due date, but bio-physical ultrasounds were logging me at well over a week overdue based on Jasper’s size. Jasper, according to ultrasound measurements, probably weighed close to nine pounds. And I still had three weeks to go.
I was a little freaked out.
I’m serious, I told my doctor.
— We’re keeping a close eye on you. If he gets to an unmanageable size, we’ll talk about it. But you can do this. Emilia was big. You’ve done this.
— We’ll talk about it again next week.
The following week, I informed her – my tongue only lightly in cheek – that I would perform a c-section on myself, if I had to.
I’m sure that’s not necessary, she said.
A few days later, I asked again. The most recent ultrasound had put Jasper’s weight at about 9 and a half pounds. I was having painful contractions every night. My body, I told my doctor, wants this child OUT.
— And it will get him out. But if he doesn’t come this weekend, we’ll talk c-section next week.
Jasper arrived that weekend. Oh, boy, did he arrive. All nine and half plus pounds of him, and in a hurry, and through an exit that he made himself, with his head. It was the most terrifying experience of my life, and mine, I’ll have you know, is a life that has seen life-threatening house fires, horrific car accidents and being held hostage on a Greek island. None of that holds a terror-candle to precipitous labor with blast-exit effects.
My doctor asked me, later, whether I was glad that I’d let Jasper come out on his own.
No, I said. No way.
I was glad – thrilled, grateful, ecstatic – that Jasper was out and that he was healthy. But if I could have had the delivery go differently, I would have, no question. With Emilia, I’d been in active labor for nearly thirty hours, with an epidural that only worked on half my body and pain so bad that I hallucinated my twelve-year old self hovering in the room and laughing at me. I’d have swapped Jasper’s mode of delivery for that one in a flash, hallucinations and all. I’d also have swapped it for a c-section. I didn’t ever say that out loud, though. I knew from experience that this is a sensitive subject. And end of the day, I was just glad that Jasper and I – after a delivery that, in an earlier time, would have, no question, killed us both – were fine. So I wasn’t interested in – and didn’t see the need for – debating the subject.
Still, whenever some well-meaning person has made a comment or a joke about wishing that they’d had a ninety-minute natural labor – instead of their own ten hour/twenty hour/thirty hour labor, or induced or vacuum-assisted or medicated labor, or c-section, or whatever – I’ve bristled a little. Not unless you like being terrified out of your mind thinking that you and your baby are going to die and having that baby crown while you’re speeding down the highway and then blast his own way out tearing you so badly that the doctors can’t see through the gore to give you a local before they stitch you up and even then it’s so messy that one of them stitches his finger to your hoo-ha and they’ve only given you a Tylenol 3 and THERE’S SO MUCH BLOOD and OH MY GOD THE PAIN and you can’t walk for nearly six weeks and then you’re left with post-traumatic stress disorder and a frankenvulva, I think. Not unless you’re mother-effing crazy.
But I never say that. I’ve always just said no, you probably don’t, made a little joke about frankenvulvas, and left it at that.
Because, end of the day, it doesn’t matter. It’s a cliche, but it’s one that is firmly rooted in truth: what matters in any birth is the baby. Not you, not me, not the midwife or the attending physician or one’s partner or anyone else. The baby. If the baby comes out okay, then it’s good. Which is not to say that you or I or anyone else might not be disappointed or upset or sore or post-traumatically stressed – I was sore and stressed in the extreme – or that we shouldn’t strive to advocate for our own and others’ best births, whatever that looks like, only that how the baby arrives in this world and in our arms (hello, adoptive moms!) is far less important than that he or she does.
This, too: although it seems that birthin’ babies is an experience with which all mothers can identify in some common measure (stick two or mothers in a room together and odds are good that at some point they will compare birth stories), it simply isn’t, not least because not all mothers give birth. Not all mothers give birth – some adopt, some are in partnerships or marriages with the birth-mothers of their children, some foster, some surrogate – and not all mothers view or experience birth in the same way. Some regard giving birth at home and/or giving birth naturally, without medical intervention, as the best possible kind of birth; others want a full team of doctors at their side with an epidural drip that kicks in at the earliest possible moment. Some want soft lighting and soft music, others just want it OVER WITH LIKE NOW. Some would very much prefer if stork deliveries could be arranged. End of the day, the birth experience – indeed, the experience of getting your child into your arms by whatever means, birth or paperwork or Stork Express – is a profoudly and necessarily personal one, one that only we, each of us, as individuals (and, I suppose, couples, although that might be another topic entirely) can judge as good or bad or acceptable or whatever.
What I wish is that we could talk about these differences – in all of their awkward glory – without falling at each other’s throats. Yes, I have – like some others – thought that getting a c-section would have been a lucky break. I’ve joked about it. I’ve certainly joked and heard the jokes and cringed in response to the jokes about squeezing jumbo watermelons out of one’s nethers. But I’ve also listened with sympathy to stories about pelvises breaking during labor and complications after c-sections and heartbreak over needing to be induced or rushed away from home birthing nests to hospitals because intervention was needed, and I’ve commiserated countless times with other women who had their nethers shredded and are still – weeks, months, years later – a little bit traumatized by it. I’ve listened to heartbreaking stories about failed adoptions and lost children and to heartwarming stories about children delivered safely to their mothers’ arms. These are personal experiences of the life-changing event that is welcoming a child into one’s life and one’s heart and none of us, none of us, can say whether another’s is anything other that what she professes it to be. And none of us should decry how another professes that experience or articulates her feelings around that experience.
And why should we? Some us need to cry, some of us need to rage, some of us need to laugh and laugh and laugh some more. These are rich experiences; these are the terrible and amazing and awesome and sometimes very darkly funny stories – stories that make us cringe and squeal and cry and rage and, yes, laugh – that make up the rich narrative fabric of motherhood.
Let’s not stop it unfurling. Let’s embrace – or, at least, be tolerant of – each others’ ways and means of sharing these stories, and recognize them for the intensely personal stories that they are. And then let’s all remember to be grateful, so grateful, that so many of these stories, whatever their dramas, have happy endings – BABIES – and that we live in an age and a culture where the happy ending is the norm, and where we have the luxury of discussing how to give birth and not whether or not we or our babies are or are not likely to survive birth.
Many aren’t so lucky.