Monday, March 26, 2012

A Frank Discussion About How to Better Carry The Cross of Multiple C-Sections, Part One: Know Thy Enemy

(Note: In this series of posts, I'm creating a safe haven for women who carry the cross of multiple c-sections for Jesus Christ. If you leave a comment that's anti-c-section, or pro-V-BAC, I'm going to delete it. Holy and intelligent women already avoid entering into the trap of"unnecessary" second c-sections. In this small corner of the internet, I'm demanding respect for Christian women who carrying this specific cross.)

Know Thy Enemy

Child birth always involves a spiritual battle. In Genesis, the Lord ties the "pain in childbirth" directly to the salvation of a woman's soul. Sometimes when I  hurt after surgery, I sarcastically think "Thanks a bunch, Mama Eve!" However, the pain of a c-section is extremely honorable. My pain directly benefits another human being.  I have the chance to mirror, in my own humble way, the wonderful words of our Lord, "This is my body given up for you."

Because the Devil likes to screw up anything holy, there is a lot of hidden pride involved in childbirth. "I pushed for 20 hours without an epidural!" Yet a c-section is often a shameful and embarrassing thing. No one boasts "Hey, my body failed to eject my daughter before her heart-rate plummeted towards death." Or "Man, you should have seen me survive those itchy allergy waves from my withdraw of a morphine like substance."

All of this shame, invites the Devil to mess with our thoughts. Anxiety can rob us of joy. Anxiety robs us of Trust in Our Lord. At the most extreme end, anxiety can rob us of our future children. How many poor women without access to Mommy Mary end up on birth control (or even NFP) out of fear of having "too many" c-sections?

Here are some "enemies" that I've encountered in my childbirth travels.

The Earth Mother

I graduated from an all women's college. At age 18, before I'd even gone to second base with a guy, I KNEW the only proper way to have children. A girl on my college debate team had a Mother who was a midwife in Alaska. We actually spent long hours in the car on I-95 talking about how it was possible to give birth at home using only a bottle of purified oil to avoid vaginal tears. Real women pushed out babies in pools of water, or in their actual beds, or even in hospital parking lots assisted my EMTs.

Then I had Hannah.

After ten hours of labor with the crunchiest Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine that I could find, my little girl needed to exit quickly with an emergency c-section. In that moment, I realized that all of my theories about the ideal childbirth experience were just theories. When the moment of crisis came, I had peace with taking the "unhip" c-section surgery. I wanted my daughter out. I wanted my daughter safe.

For a long time, I felt like a failure because I didn't get a healthy, happy childbirth experience. Now I see in retrospect that I was true, spiritual Mother from the start. I chose to put aside my selfish "Earth Mother birth fantasy" when my daughter needed extra medical help to survive.

Fearful Experts

I live is a secular world that is completely anti-life. Even though I have individual doctors that I trust, the vast majority are pro-contraception and anti-large families. I've had physicians tell me to stop having babies with less concern than they would be to tell me to stop smoking. The Devil seems to know just when a "off the cuff" remark will keep me up at night.

My personal rule of survival is: "If you are lecturing me to stop having c-sections without looking at my personal medical chart, I don't have to listen to you."

Thankfully, every doctor who has actually reviewed my chart has always given me the green light to have more c-sections. I've promised myself that if I get to the point where a doctor I trust tells me to stop, that I at least owe it to myself to get a second opinion from a Catholic OB specialist.

I'm not trying to have c-sections against Medical Advice. I just want the medical advice to be based on the individual facts in my case and not a blanket belief that more than one c-section is bad.

Spiritual Envy

Because I didn't have the childbirth experiences of my dream, I had great attacks of spiritual envy. I'd read about someone having a beautiful home birth with their seventeenth kid and think "Why not me, God?" It was amazing, but the people who helped me most overcome this sin was all the wonderful Adoptive Mom blogs I read during my pregnancy. I stopped worrying that the hospital OR didn't have mood lighting! After all, what Ukrainian Orphanage offers "mood lighting." Orphanages and ORs are holy places because they are the first chance we have to meet our beloved sons and daughters face to face!

Dismissive Catholics

There are some Catholic women who seem genuinely shocked that a V-BAC is not a good option for each and every girl. I think it goes along with a larger phenomina of being "scandalized by the cross." It's really important to protect your mental health from this type of fruitless discussion. I have driven myself crazy second guessing my first and second c-sections YEARS afterward as a recrossed this territory with younger children.

The antidote to this type of second-guessing crazy is to strengthen my trust in Christ. I remind myself that I made these "decisions" while in grace and while actively trying to determine God's will in my life.

During pregnancy, it's common to feel persecuted by each of these three groups of people in my life. I need to remember to stay calm and focused. I also need to actively pray for these people. I need to remember that I'm fighting "Powers and Principalities" during this c-section journey and not get resentful of individual people.


  1. I love it. I've encountered all these types as well. And yet, I am that person who kinda *loves* having the c-section. The surgery, the hospital vacay, all that. People must think I'm crazy. I'll be having my fifth in August. I'll be thinking of the blue drape as Mary's Mantle--never thought of it that way before!

  2. I am not Catholic, but I have had 2C-sections, and am devoted to and love Our Lord. I wish, when I had our oldest in 2003, and again when I had my 2nd in 2005, that I had come across such supportive and encouraging words. None of my friends had had sections, and I didn't become friends with anyone who had sections till well after our 2nd's birth.
    I felt like a failure with our eldest's birth because I had her after 30 odd hours of labour, and her being stuck at -1. When it came time to have our 2nd, I couldn't have a V-BAC delivery and had to have a scheduled section. At the time, there was a lot in those "Today's Parent" type magazines that was HUGELY pro-VBAC and the point of practically calling OBs who did scheduled sections or whatnot, knuckle-dragging neanderthals. :)
    I had large babies (my eldest was over 10 lbs, and 1/4 inch shy of being exactly 2 feet long). I wasn't "made" to push out big babies, much as I would have loved to, and much as "they" would want me to.
    Thank you for treating this with dignity and respect and bringing those of us who carry this burden. I can so identify.

  3. Thank you so much for these posts, Abigail! I'm preparing for my second C-section on April 19 and I'm encountering everything you've posted here. My first C-section was terrible, coming as it did as a complete surprise after a long and difficult labor and having had a bad experience in the OR. Through God's grace and the help of my doctor, husband, family, and friends, I've finally come to some peace with the fact that this repeat C-section is the most prudent course for me and my baby. These posts are very encouraging and helpful as I prepare - thank you so much and God bless!

  4. My SIL led me to this post and I am so glad she did. My first section was a result of twins. Twin B, my son Michael, was transverse. The second section came 13 months later when I was attempting a VBAC and my #3 wouldn't engage. I thought I was an absolute failure but reading this has made me feel so much better. Thank you!

  5. I haven't had a c-section but I have had much anxiety about "being hooked up" to machines, iv's, etc.for the birth of all three of my children which I think is due to the "natural" child birth mentality. My first two had to be induced because they were two weeks late and though they ended up coming without too much "hooking up" I think I went through a lot of unnecessary worry due to some earth mother ideal. For my third my water broke on his due date and I ended up doing the full pitocin/epidural thing and it really wasn't that bad.

    I actually overcome a lot of this from reading Dr. Amy Tuteur's blog called Homebirth Debate. While I don't agree with much of her modernist thinking, I think she gives a lot of straight facts that are usually obscurred by usually romantic notions of homebirth, natural birth, etc.

    I can relate to a lot of what you are saying here.

  6. Since I am not a mother, I watch these mommy wars from the sideline. I think you described just one battle. It's a shame mommy wars exist. People have different realities and what works for one doesn't work for another.

    I had a teacher who described a c-section as major surgery. And recovering from major surgery can be tough, From my point of view, there's no reason to feel guilty or like a failure for having a c-section. That's how I came out.

    I've had other kind of surgeries though with drugs, and I do not feel one bit of guilt or like a failure. I felt scared, achey and sore and grateful for full recoveries. Too bad that this particular method of giving birth is fraught with emotional angst and the judgement of others. That can't possibly be good as one tries to heal from an incision.

    Sure, there are debates on when it's medically necessary, but that's not the point here. The point is not to compare yourself to other mothers.

  7. LOVE this! I beat myself up through four pregnancies (I attempted to vbac even on the fourth one until I had a placental abruption). I wish I had been as wise as you are. This fifth baby was the first time I accepted the cross gladly.

  8. Thank you for this post! I developed a severe allergy to the "earth mother" types during and after my pregnancy. I had to have synthetic oxytocin, and they were just getting out the instruments when my baby decided to finally come out. Also, I was born through an emergency c-section.

  9. Thank you for this post! I developed a severe allergy to the "earth mother" types during and after my pregnancy. I had to have synthetic oxytocin, and they were just getting out the instruments when my baby decided to finally come out. Also, I was born through an emergency c-section.

  10. Such a beautiful post Abby! You said it beautifully as always.

  11. BRILLIANT!!!!

    Frankly, I really believe in sweet girl couldn't even handle the "Stress Tests" they use to force me to do.

    And, even though, I did find "laboring" to be kinda interesting and 41...with gestational diabetes, and mulitiple miscarriages behind me, I had no need to prove myself an Earth Mother and give birth naturally.

    Frankly, I don't even know how I came into the world...if I was born via c-section or not!


    What I think is: this kind of delivery just needs to be better celebrated. It needs to be out in the open, and talked about in a glorius and positive way without guilt, or false shame or whatever...

    Life is what matters.

    And, its just awesome that the medical community can perform c-sections so skillfully.


    Earth Mommas don't awe me.
    Not one drop. We don't have control over our bodies as much as we all hope or think we do.

    I see it as a form of pride and a form of a false religion the Earth Momma stuff. As if, they are in control and that they do not need God's Grace.

    I see a little book in your future.

    This would be so helpful for Catholic moms to have on hand.

  12. Thank you so much for this!! I had a just-barely-made-it natural delivery with my first, that I think would have been a csection were it not for an odd amount of stamina on my part - but the moment the doctor had said "csection needed" we would have said yes of course.

    Our second was an emergency csection after abruption at 33 weeks and we were both almost lost in the process. Now that we are expecting #3, we know that a vbac is possible given certain circumstances, but we and the doc agree that we do the safest option for mom and baby - if its csection, great, if its vbac, great.

    These procedures exist for a reason. After needing "interventions" with number one in order to progress far enough to push, plus a teeny vac extraction tug, I respect that those are what let me have a "natural" birth. Hospitals don't have to be scary, and whatever is required for your healthy delivery is good - just be informed, prepared, and your own health advocate.

    We moved across town before this baby was conceived and when I quizzes our local Catholic homeschool group for doc recommendations, they all recommended midwives, despite how clear I made it that, regardless of the vbac possibility, I almost died after my abruption and csection and I need a doctor to be ok with whatever happens, and it has to happen in a hospital. Even after I clarified, and made no mention of even considering a vbac, they persisted in recommending midwives so I could be sure to have a vbac.

    I would love love love to be a homebirth mama, but it isn't to be. I need good hospital care, to deliver healthy babies and be healthy myself. I'm glad many women can go all natural or even have vbacs, and I am hoping for one if its the best path. I wish everyone well, but you are so right - the means of delivery do not negate the miracle, and ORs are just as holy - because of what happens there.

  13. Abigail I've just been reading through all these posts and have to say first of all CONGRATULATIONS and she's SO beautiful!

    This is such a wonderful series of posts that really hit home with me. As someone who wholeheartedly loves natural birth, it's so powerful to read about your experiences (both good and bad) with the medical community and other mothers.

    To me, it all comes down to relationship. When I encounter someone with different views, I don't look at them as an opportunity for education. I look at them as a person, I ask questions about their experiences, I get to know them and their opinions. I hope I have never offended anyone with this approach; sometimes it's difficult to discuss topics that are so charged with emotion.

    You are truly an inspiration, Hon.

  14. Thank you for this. I am so happy that there are others out there who "get" that some people need to have c-sections and that's ok too.

    1st child was 26 hrs of labor with only 1 cm dilation. As you say, I wanted my daughter out and healthy. I truly had nothing to prove - to myself or anyone else.

    2nd (ds) was breech and stuck under my ribcage. Vbac would have killed us both.

    Next Friday I will undergo my 5th c-section. I don't relish it but I know it is my cross to bear for the miracles that God has blessed our family with.

    Will there be more? It's up to Him to decide. I do know that the reality of the Cross is never more evident to me than when I am lying there, my arms strapped down, scared to death. What, but Faith in God alone, can deliver me from that?

    I am 43 and started this journey at 36 so I don't feel all that threatened or agitated by the earth mother types. I have surrounded myself with others who, like you, know there isn't one way for everyone.

    When someone like that starts with an accusing tone, I usually say, "uh, really, I'm not happy to be first in line for major surgery. That's just the way it works for me."

  15. Thank you for this post. I had a c-section with my twins last year and although I was disappointed, I was also just happy to have two healthy babies. Thank goodness medical science has this option available to us.