Five Thing You Should Never Say
1) “I had a massive rip/episiotomy! I would have given anything to have a cesarean! You are lucky!”
Yes, your vaginal rip totally makes my gaping abdominal incision seem like a walk in the park! You had to be stitched up, I had to be put back together again. Like seriously my organs were exposed. Thanks for noticing. I understand rips can be very painful, severe ones can also leave lasting damage. I am certainly not going to try and diminish your struggles by comparing them to mine, so please do the same for me.
2) “ALL that matters is that you and baby are healthy and happy!”
We are healthy (hopefully) but I don’t know about happy. I realize that people have nothing but good intentions when they say this, but as a cesarean mom who wasn’t the least bit happy to have one you saying this to me is worse then annoying, it is hurtful. When you say this is makes me feel like my feelings about my birth are trivial and don’t matter to you or anyone else. It makes me feel guilty that maybe I am being ungrateful for an otherwise successful delivery. What a lot of people don’t realize is that you can be happy and grateful while also being very sad about the loss of the birth experience you wanted and planned for.
3) “You need to get over it already!”
Many women who experience birth trauma including cesareans become hyper vigilant as part of their grieving process. They may advocate in the area of birth. They may air their grievances about their birth. There is no set time that a women should have to make peace with what had happened or didn’t happen during her delivery. Would you tell someone who lost a limb that they need to get over losing a limb just because they lived through the ordeal? For many women and in many cultures, birth is like a right of passage. It is deeply part of who they are as a person, as a mother. When a women is very attached to her birth, losing it is like losing a piece of herself. That women is hurting inside and you telling her to get over herself is just going to push her deeper into sadness and loneliness. Women need to be met with understanding and compassion, not isolation.
4) “I hope I can get a cesarean!”
Rather by choice or in an emergency, women who get cesareans really sacrifice a lot to allow themselves to be sliced wide open for their child. Cesareans are a huge deal! It’s major surgery with a seriously tedious recovery; not to mention cesareans carry an increase in health risks for both mother and child. Quit cheapening c-sections! They are not glamorous, they are not easy, and they are not fun.
5) “Don’t worry about having a Cesarean (repeat or first time) . I had a Cesarean and I LOVED it! I even love my scar! Such a nice reminder of my birth.”
This is also very tough, because I realize this usually comes from a very genuine and sincere place. There is a difference in being positive and excited about your own birth and assuming others will have a good experience because you did. Do the first, don’t do the latter. A lot of women love their cesareans for a variety reasons and that is completely ok, but be courteous to the fact that everyone’s birth experience is and will be different from your own; this includes any birth really. For many women their birth is very difficult and traumatic. Many women have complications with their birth or their recovery that make it a generally difficult and miserable experience. For me, I could not touch my scar with out crying big ugly tears. It was a hard emotional recovery for many months. For new mothers, there is a balance between being positive and being realistic. I don’t often share my experience in detail because it is so negative. I don’t want to be discouraging. At the same time, if a mother is facing the very real possibility or is worried about a cesarean, I think it is important to be honest about what that means for her physically and emotionally.
Three Things You Should Say
1) “How are you feeling?”
This goes for any birth really. There is something about our culture that dotes loads of affection and empathy on pregnant women and then figuratively kicks them to the curb after they give birth, redirecting all affection then to the baby. Birth is hard work, even if it goes without a single hiccup, it is still a physically and emotionally exhausting experience. Throw in any complications like a cesarean and we are talking about some of the most demanding acts a women will ever do in her life. Pay her some attention; let her know you acknowledge what an amazing thing she has done by bringing this little person into the world. Ask her how she is feeling both emotionally and physically.
2) “How can I help?”
Again, I think this really should go for all new moms. Don’t expect mom to entertain your needs after she delivers; her biggest responsibility is to tend to her baby and her self. Offer to help. This may be cooking a meal or doing her laundry. It may just mean holding her new baby so she can shower. It may even be not showing up at all and to just giving her space. She may not feel up to company, she may not be comfortable nursing in public yet. Some times the best help comes in no help at all. Just be there for her.
3) “Your feelings are valid. I care how you feel.”
Birth brings about such complex emotions as it is, cesareans add whole new layers to the emotional and physical recovery. It is not uncommon for women to feel sadness around their cesarean, yet very few know about it or acknowledge it. Sometimes women are also hesitant to share and get it off their chest because they feel guilty for feeling the way they do. Sometimes they really need to talk through it. They need to revisit the experience to process it emotionally. Even if they feel like a cesarean was the right choice it still can be very hard, very sad. Validate mom’s feelings. Encourage her to open up and let the emotions flow and that whatever she is feeling is ok. Sometimes the best thing to do is just listen.
Don’t say this….
“You can never birth vaginally, you know that right?”
Even doctors are guilty of this! We now have overwhelming research that suggests that VBACs (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) carry less risks then repeat cesareans. ACOG has revised their statement to reflect this and now recommend that almost all women be offered trial of labor after a previous cesarean. Some women may still need repeat cesareans, but that isn’t for you to decide.
Say this instead…
“I hear that VBAC is a viable option for a lot of women, I encourage you to do some research.”
Woman naturally gravitate to one another, especially fellow mothers, for advice in their decision making. If you don’t know a lot about cesareans and VBACs encourage mom to research it rather then giving advice. Even if you do know a lot about them, it is always good to have supporting information on hand from reliable sources. If you know of some good resources and/or supportive care providers share them.
*You can read this author’s birth story HERE.