Birth/Rebirth: The Emotional Anatomy of a C-Section

DSC02265My sister-in-law has a wonderful story about the birth of her first child. “I feel complete,” she told me. “My body has now done everything it’s supposed to do.” Every time I’ve heard her tell it, she’s been giddy. She speaks of the wonder of a woman’s body, the physical instincts that take over during labor, the miracle of actually pushing a child into the world.

Three children later, I am still jealous.

I am a statistic, one of the don’t-read-this-unless-you-need-to end sections in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Two months before my first baby was due, I got sick. My feet, hands, and face swelled up like Cheerios in milk. I’d been tired throughout the pregnancy, but suddenly it was worse–a heavy layer of exhaustion that weighed me down. My stomach hurt constantly, and I couldn’t keep most food down. I’d call my OB/GYN two or three times a week, and the nurses would always say, “It’s a virus. You’ll get over it.” But it didn’t feel like a virus. It felt wrong.

By the time the hypertension and proteinurea showed up a month later, I couldn’t find my ankle bones and had only three foods that I could eat: chicken nuggets, orange Gatorade, and cheap chocolate milkshakes (anything higher quality than McDonald’s came right back up). The diagnosis was pre-eclampsia, also known as toxemia and pregnancy-induced hypertension. To my doctor’s credit, he did take some steps to try to induce labor, but my body resisted them and Beth was born via c-section less than 24 hours after I arrived at the hospital.

I’d been attending a natural childbirth class, but missed the third session while I was in triage in the ER. I’d wanted to do things differently. Instead, I’ve never so much as gone into labor. I am profoundly grateful for hospital-based births and a community of careful, well-trained, inspired medical personnel. Mostly, I am thankful to be alive. Yet I can’t help but feel that I’ve cheated somehow–that I’ve missed something important and empowering about my physical body.

So I find myself thinking about expectations–how high we set them, especially when it comes to motherhood, and even more especially when it comes to Mormon motherhood–and how difficult and guilt-laden they can make our lives. And I want my addition to this series on birth and rebirth to be this: Whatever it is that you are feeling guilty about, whatever it is that you are afraid you aren’t doing right, lay it down and give yourself some rest. You are enough.


On prolonged sabbatical from her career in arts administration, Libby is a seamstress, editor, entrepreneur, and community volunteer. She has a husband and three children.

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12 Responses

  1. Stargazer says:

    Oh, Libby. You are enough. Thank you for the step of sharing this story. It is definitely one of those things I ponder deeply at night, why birth works in a straightforward way for some women, and not others. I have appealed to God with this question and I have only received the answer that each of us has our own road to walk, and birth is as much about life as it is about creating life. Healing and light to you and to other women who had hopes of another way. It can take a long time to come to a feeling of peace and acceptance of a time of strong imprinting and memory that gets interrupted with pathology. Love and all… no longer an aspiring medical student, just an aspiring midwife. B

  2. Sylvia says:

    Thank you so much dear Libby. I felt so much rage when I had the c-section and then was the last person in the delivery room to see my baby. Now I realize that birth is only one part of being a mother, but I still feel strongly about my experience.

  3. Annie says:

    I love that Exponent is doing a series on birth/rebirth. This is my professional life as a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM). But also, I’m expecting my fourth child in March and my mind is very much turned to birth. I’ve planned homebirths attended by CPMs with each of my pregnancies. However, I’ve had to transport to the hospital twice. It was a huge disappointment. And with my third child, the experience was traumatic. I’ve been trying to process that birth and the PTSD and PPD that occurred afterward in the 2 1/2 years since my son was born. I keep hitting a wall of regret and feeling broken and like my body betrayed me. I’m still working on preparing myself mentally to go through labor again. Thank you, Libby, for your words. I really needed to hear that I could “lay it down”. Your words give me the relief that I needed tonight.

  4. spunky says:

    This is so important, thank you. You are enough. Even more, you are complete. I sicken at my own thoughts when other makes blanket statements about being complete, as though they were previously incomplete, or lacking. There are so many women who will never give birth, won’t ever have a child or otherwise. But that does not make us incomplete. It makes us different. And different is good. Very good.

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post, I appreciate it more than words can express.

  5. Melody says:

    Well, little sister, this one brought me to tears. That old grief, or rather, a sort of empathy for my younger self (and for you) came up as I read your words. I grieved long and hard after my first C-section. I grieved again after the second. By the third I was at peace, but earlier, the depth of emotion and sense of loss almost undid me.

    Thank you for sharing your experience. And especially thank you for reminding us that we are enough. I needed that today.

  6. Emily U says:

    I haven’t had a c-section but I relate to the disappointment in that I couldn’t breastfeed my first baby. I didn’t realize it at the time but I really grieved over that. Expectations set high? Yeah.

    I think there is a big difference between “a body is supposed to” do something and “in general the body is capable of” doing something. I wish I’d figured that out a long time ago, and eliminated “supposed to” from my life.

  7. Caroline says:

    Oh, Libby. Wonderful post. You are enough, indeed.

  8. Rachel says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Libby, as well as your important (and apt) thoughts on expectations (Mormon motherhood and otherwise).

  9. EmilyCC says:

    I love this so much…I feel like I need to tattoo your last two sentences on my hand. Thank you for this, my friend.

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