Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood
I’m in a similar community. (Hi, Ojai!) Many moms here have home births, and those who need a C-section, or even an epidural, are often embarrassed to talk about it. But what I’ve discovered is that almost every time someone is brave enough to talk honestly about their birth experience, they’re met with understanding, regardless of the type of birth they had. Often the source of judgment about our birth that we face comes more from within, than from our community. In essence: you don’t need to lie.
I was at a baby shower once where moms sat in a circle sharing their birth stories. Woman after woman told tales of empowering home births (some orgasmic!), until it came to a woman who would not look away from her hands, clenched in her lap. The host asked if she wanted to pass, but she took a deep breath and said no. Then she told us about her C-section. It wasn’t an emergency situation that led her to the C-section, but a series of events that made her feel that a C-section was the best option. “I feel weird saying this,” she said, “but it was actually a pretty positive birth. I had a great doctor who didn’t pressure me into anything, and a surgeon who talked to me in a really encouraging way through the operation.” As she spoke, I scanned the faces of the other women. No one was looking judgy — everyone was smiling and nodding. The woman sharing looked so relieved when she was done. And then, something really cool happened. One of the women who had already told us about her home birth said that her second birth experience had been a C-section, but she had been nervous to talk about it. Then another woman shared a similar story. That one woman having the courage to talk about her C-section in the land of home births made other women feel safe to do the same. I think more often than not this is what happens. Women are afraid they’ll be judged for their cesarean birth story, but instead they’re met with compassion and even relief that someone else is openly talking about it.
But what about that rare person who does pass judgment? Even if the judgment is as subtle as a slight lift of the eyebrows when you tell them about your C-section? Well, that person can go to h-e-double-hockey- sticks. Just kidding. But really, it’s so lame when people are critical about someone else’s very personal journey. If you get stuck in this type of unfortunate encounter, remind yourself that their reaction has so much more to do with them than with you. They likely have a mental catalog of stories, information, and personal experiences that have formed their biased opinion of C-sections. That’s where their reaction is coming from — it’s not an indication that your choice was wrong or that you’re a “bad mom.” Let them feel how they feel about C-sections, and make a mental note to not discuss your birth with them again.
What to do
Here are some ideas to help you not take judgments about your C-section personally and hopefully avoid those condemnatory conversations entirely:
Come to terms with your birth experience before you talk to your community about it. If you’re still processing your C-section, you’ll understandably be much more sensitive to reactions to your birth story. For example, if you’re still trying to decide if the C-section was something you wanted, and you talk to a person who believes pretty much all C-sections are just a money-making scheme, their feedback will likely color how you see your own experience.
To help ensure that your feelings about your birth are built by your beliefs and experiences instead of those of others, spend time reviewing the events that led up to your C-section. How did you feel before, during, and after the surgery? What elements do you feel good about? What do you not feel good about? Do you have questions about the birth? After considering these questions, discuss your findings with the people who were with you during the birth.
Sit with your birth story until you have a solid understanding of what happened, and how you feel about it. Getting to this place before you give the story up for interpretation can make you less vulnerable to judgment, and more capable of sharing the story only with people you believe will be supportive.
Be selective about who you share your story with. First of all, you’re under no obligation to share your story with anyone. If someone asks how your birth went, you can be super general. For example, “It went great. Baby and I are both healthy.” But it can feel good to share your story with certain people, especially if you’re disappointed by the birth and need to vent or mourn. Set yourself up for positive, cathartic encounters by sharing your story only with people you trust, people who won’t pass judgment.
Have a go-to response for the rare time when someone is judgmental. If you unexpectedly find yourself in a conversation with a Fault Finder, have a script ready to get you out of it. For example, if someone starts going on about the dangers of C-sections, how much risk you put yourself in, how you let yourself be manipulated, how difficult it will be to have a vaginal birth now, or one of the other common objections some people have about C-sections, you can simply say, “You know, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the experience and would love to press pause on this conversation until I have time to do that.” You’re not required to get sucked into their vortex of opinions.
Be sure you’re not the one passing judgment. As it’s often easier to spot someone else’s judgments than our own, stay aware of your own responses to the birthing decisions of others. Because even when we know how hurtful it is to be on the receiving end of judgment, we can still give in to the impulse to throw around criticism, especially toward the person throwing it at us. But we’re better than that. And while passing judgment can provide initial satisfaction, it often leaves a yucky emotional residue. So let’s make our kindergarten teachers proud and practice that Golden Rule: treat others the way we want to be treated.
Remember that you don’t need to justify your choice. You have every right to choose whatever type of birth feels best to you, regardless of the circumstances. No one has to agree with your choice for that to be true. While it’s obviously fine to justify your decision, you don’t have to. If someone seems judgmental of your C-section, it’s not your job to change their mind — it’s their job to examine their biases and figure out how to be accepting of other people’s choices.