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Does My Cesarean Really Count as ‘Giving Birth?

Childbirth T-shirt

The awesome T-shirt I was supposed to wear while giving birth

When I first realized I was pregnant with Hazel, I half-joked, “I’m too posh to push—sign me up for a C section!” But after watching The Business of Being Born and reading various pregnancy books, I ditched my OB/GYN, switched to a midwife and planned to use the birthing center at Roosevelt Hospital, sans epidural. My fiancé, Mike, even read The Birth Partner and made this funny T-shirt for me to wear (above). It’s an allusion to a childbirth video we watched, in which one woman’s ultra-annoying husband said as she strained from the pain: “You’re the best pusher in the room!”

I was all ready for the life-altering experience of a vaginal birth. Then, when I was 38 weeks along, my midwife realized that Hazel was breech. And after a lot of attempts at getting the baby to turn (which I’ll detail some other time), I was finally informed that I would have to get a cesarean later that week. It was quite the shock: “But I already have the T-shirt!” Nonetheless, it all turned out well, and I recovered quickly.

Ever since then, however, I’ve had this problem where I feel like a fraud when it comes to saying I “gave birth.” I’ll say something like, “I was hungry all the time before I gave birth to Hazel” or, “My ankles were so swollen before I gave birth,” and for some reason, I’ll think, “But you didn’t really give birth!” A few times I’ve even corrected myself, saying, “I mean, when Hazel was pulled out of my womb!” Which always earns me some weird looks. Finally one of my friends said to me impatiently, “You did give birth to Hazel. She was born, no matter how it happened.” I guess so.

I can’t even blame “society” for making me feel this way. With the high C-section rate in this country, I know nearly as many women who have undergone that procedure as have had vaginal births, so I am aware that it’s normal and not really stigmatized. No one ever made me feel like I didn’t actually birth my baby. But … did I really? If I put it that way—”birth my baby”—it sounds even more like I’m referring to a traditional, push-till-it-pops-out birth, no? And the dictionary isn’t much help. “Childbirth” at Merriam-Webster.com is defined as “parturition,” which I’ve never heard of before. And looking up “parturition” just brings you back full-circle: “the action or process of giving birth to offspring.” I used to be a copy editor; I like words to be accurate and logical. I personally think a cesarean isn’t part of the “action of giving birth,” but is it part of the “process”?

Maybe my issue has more to do with my own feelings of disappointment (and guilt from feeling a tiny bit of relief) about not going into labor, not feeling the pangs of contractions, not screaming “I can’t take it anymore!”—and not having the euphoric rush of oxytocin that floods a woman’s body right after a vaginal birth. Instead, I had a 45-minute, relatively pain-free surgical procedure and was out of the hospital in two days. Did I really earn the right to say that I “gave birth”?

What do you think: Does a baby need to slide through the vaginal canal (a.k.a. the “birth canal,” ahem) in order for a woman to “give birth”? Do we need another word for removing a baby from the womb via C section? Or would that just make women who have to go through this sometimes-traumatic procedure feel potentially worse? And most important: Am I a nut job for even wondering these things?

More posts from Esther:

‘Still Alive. Still Cute.’ (SIDS Paranoia)

Do You Just Let Your Baby Cry at Night?

Should I Feed Baby the Foods that Make Her Cringe?

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