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Please don’t call my cesarean a “cesarean birth”

by | Apr 24, 2019 | Cesarean section, Language | 9 comments

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.

Jen

“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?
Leave a comment.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

9 Comments

  1. I’ve always considered giving birth a spiritual experience. For me, that spiritual experience wasn’t there for my first 2 babies. (born via cesarean) It was a physical and emotional experience. But not spiritual in any positive way. Not for me. And people who try to force that on me make me angry because I feel they’re trying to undermine my feelings and experience. They’re trying to instill a spiritual experience that didn’t occur by changing the words. I’m not suddenly going to have a spiritual experience because you changed the verbiage. It was absent and I’ve made my peace with that. My 2 older children were born but I didn’t give birth to them. And that’s okay. And it’s okay for me to feel that way.

    Reply
  2. I really empathise with this. I couldn’t even say my daughter was ‘born’ for years after having a cesarean. She was delivered as far as I was concerned and I had nothing to do with it. I would have been incredibly upset if someone had used the phrase cesarean birth, but I get why others would use it. It really is personal preference.

    Reply
  3. I agree to use the terminology people want. In this case, it seems to be a difference in hearing the word “birth” as a noun or verb.

    That being said, I had a very different experience. People would say I had a c-section for my birth and it felt very impersonal: it’s as if my baby wasn’t born, she was surgically removed…ugh.

    To me “birth” was the noun meaning one was born. I think it’s empowering that no matter the method, our babies are BORN, not delivered, not removed, they are born. I honestly find it a bit offensive to take away from a person to say they are not born.

    Either way, these are just my 2 cents coming from my experience. I respect that people may have different experiences.

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  4. Not having a problem with all the terms, I gave birth through C-Section for my 2 kids. I did not have any complication. All went well. I am just scared because is a risk to my life.

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  5. I’ve experienced the birth of three children. The first two were vaginal births and the last an emergency caesarean. At the end of the day there were three babies born. The first two were easy recoveries and the third a nightmare. She was born though and a birth occurred, whether I was surgically assisted or coached through the birth a child came into this world and she deserves to have been ‘born’. How does terminology make a difference? You have to deal with the emotions of the event. If the term Caesarean Birth triggers negative emotions then you haven’t deal the with the birth completely yet. It sounds a bit like PTSD to me. This shouldn’t be made more painful by what people call it. It is what it is, a life saving event.

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  6. I’m sad about this. I believe the labor of a cesarean birth is submitting to the surgery and all it entails, as well as the weeks and years of recovery–physical, mental and emotional. Birth describes the moment a baby leaves the uterus and the moment that a mother is born. The terms “cesarean” and “C-section” and “section her” were very dismissive to me and when I came across the term cesarean birth it was transformational for me. Maybe it works for me because I found it, instead of having some condescending provider use it. But when I connected the word BIRTH to my 3 “unnecesareans” I finally began to move forward in processing those births. That led to me birthing my next 2 babies at home, most beautiful days off my life. Just my $0.02

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  7. Me so so me second cesarean I was pushed to it baby is 7 months and I’m still coping still processing and I say my baby was born 7 months ago that’s it ppl tell me it’s fine cesareans are normal and I’m just like why dismiss my feelings let me process it and heal specially when told they are here alive and healthy be grateful well I am but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel the way I feel thank you for this post reminds me I’m not alone

    Reply
  8. YES!! This really resonates with me. I am always happy to follow someone else’s lead when describing their birth, but please don’t label mine or how I feel about my experience.

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  9. I totally agree! My cesarean baby is almost 34! I never felt that it was a “birth”. I also never said I “had a baby” because that also seemed like an action, and the cesarean was passive. I said (and still say) “He was born.” Even that doesn’t feel quite right.

    With my VBAC, none of these were issues. I gave birth, I had a baby, she was born. All completely true.

    Reply

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Jen Kamel

As a nationally recognized maternal health 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 country, presents Grand Rounds at hospitals, advises advocates seeking legislative change in their state, and serves as a expert witness 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.

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