Please don’t call my cesarean a “cesarean birth”
In an attempt to validate parents, some perinatal professionals tell parents who have had a cesarean, “It’s still a birth.”
And I get where they are coming from. Their desire to affirm to the parent that they still birthed a baby and that this is a happy moment.
Here’s the rub and where unintended consequences come into play: As a cesarean parent, I did not feel like my cesarean was a birth and having someone tell me, “No really, it is,” would have felt really dismissive and invalidating despite the good intentions at play.
I believe it is so important to meet parents where they are.
I believe that everyone should be given the space to process their experience in their own way.
That’s why I think rather than applying the term “cesarean birth” to all parents, I urge professionals to sit back and listen to the language that parents use and mimic that.
Some parents identify with the phrase “cesarean birth.”
And other parents, like me, don’t.
I was having a real hard time putting my finger on why I felt this way until I read Karla Wiegrefe’s post in a Facebook group for doulas on this very subject.
It’s like this doula and mother of 9 crawled into my brain and wrestled all my scattered thoughts into a coherent response.
She hits the nail on the head as she explains why so many parents don’t resonate with the phrase “cesarean birth.” I’m sharing her words below with her permission.
“My Cesareans” by Karla Wiegrefe
“There are many reasons people feel the way they do about what they call their cesarean. Some identify with the term cesarean birth. Others prefer cesarean or csection or surgical birth or whatever else may feel right to them.
I can speak as someone who does not identify with the term cesarean birth. I will list my own reasons, and those I have heard from others, to clarify why I believe it is important to respect each person’s truth. These statements in no way are meant to imply someone should feel these things. I fully support each individual’s chosen terminology.
Birth is an active verb
For me, birth is an active verb. My cesareans were a passive experience. I laid there doing nothing, quite literally, in my two general anesthesia cesareans. For those two I wasn’t even mentally present for the experience. I went to sleep. I woke up. There was a baby.
Even with my spinal cesarean, I was immobile. I couldn’t see what was happening and someone else removed my baby. Things happened to me.
I have birthed other babies. It’s different.
“Just get over it”
Calling it a cesarean birth can feel very dismissive of the potentially much larger physical toll surgery can take. For me, my cesareans were a bigger sacrifice … they took more from me … the recovery was months and months long.
I cried myself to sleep from pain for 8 weeks after one of my cesareans, didn’t have sensation to tell when my bladder was full for 7 years after another, had lots of adhesion pain each time, etc. It feels very diminishing to liken it to my vaginal births.
Additionally the culture seems to think those who had cesareans should just get over their cesarean both physically and emotionally immediately. If we call it a birth then it fixes everything and no one has to feel sad or have any complicated feelings.
The truth is that many cesarean parents have more complex recoveries.
“But it’s just a birth like any other”
I know I felt like I needed to shout at people “I just had major abdominal surgery! Could you give me some time to recover physically and emotionally?”
To hear someone say “but it’s a birth just like any other” denies the prolonged physical pain, side effects, and any emotional effects resulting from a change of plans or treatment by staff or just the physical recovery itself.
Cesarean isn’t just like any other birth. It’s unique and complex. And frankly I feel like I deserve a freaking crown for having had each one (I kind of want a crown for vaginally birthing an 11 lb baby too but I digress … and again, that birth was out of the norm).
Some feel that the move toward calling it cesarean birth is a move encouraged by the medical community to smooth over the large percentage of medically unnecessary cesareans. If we call them all births it sounds more friendly and less statistically risky and helps justify high cesarean rates.
“My cesareans were sacred and beautiful”
I would end with saying that I also feel my cesareans were sacred and beautiful in their own way. If anything in some ways they were more … it was a deeper experience in different ways. Just as important and life changing to me as my vaginal births. Unique. I do not reject the term “birth” because I am angry about my cesareans or have unresolved shame or whatever.
Calling it a cesarean birth wouldn’t make me feel all better.
I completely honor if the term “cesarean birth” speaks to another person and I am happy to use reflective language to discuss their experience. I have spent decades working with post cesarean families and appreciate each story as unique.
Please on our behalf, support us and allow each of us to feel how we feel without pushing any terminology. It’s not your job to save us from how we feel but instead honor our feelings and allow us to heal in the ways that feel right to each of us. “
April 24, 2019 Update: The response to this article has been amazing. One reader asked about language in group situations which I think is relevant to many of my readers.
Here’s her full comment: “I definitely adopted ‘cesarean birth’ in my classes and support groups because that’s what the members wanted, and told me they felt better about than me saying ‘section’ or omitting the word ‘birth’ from their experience.
I have been told many times that they felt the opposite- that although their babies have been taken out of them surgically- it was still their ‘birth’.
I definitely work hard to listen and meet them where they are- in my VBAC class (and other classes) my slide content was mostly changed to cesarean birth as a result of honoring my students/support group members.
What about you Jen? i was told once how triggering the term ‘VBAC’ was because of the vaginal ‘birth’ after cesarean meant that the ‘cesarean’ implies there was no ‘birth’.
I agree so much on a one on one interaction/relationship that we should ask the individual what words they prefer. my biggest challenge is what to print in slides/handouts/workbooks.”
My reply: “This article is about talking to clients one-on-one, listening to the language they use, and then mirroring it. This is exactly what you are doing in a group setting!
I have not received huge feedback one way or the other from parents who have either taken my online courses or attended live events. I use ‘cesarean,’ ‘cesarean section,’ and I’m sure there are a few ‘surgical births’ thrown in there.
Maybe a combination of terms is a way to reach everyone in a group setting much like I use the word ‘woman’ and ‘birthing person’ so everyone in the audience feels seen and heard.”
What do you think?
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What do you think? Leave a comment.
As an internationally recognized consumer advocate and Founder of VBAC Facts®, Jen helps perinatal professionals, and cesarean parents, achieve clarity on vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) through her educational courses for parents, online membership for professionals, continuing education trainings, and consulting services. She speaks at conferences across the US, presents Grand Rounds at hospitals, advises on midwifery laws and rules that limit VBAC access, educates legislators and policy makers, and serves as an expert witness and consultant in legal proceedings. She envisions a time when every pregnant person seeking VBAC has access to unbiased information, respectful providers, and community support, so they can plan the birth of their choosing in the setting they desire.