Did you write out a birth plan for your labor and delivery? I sure did. Especially with my first. It went a little something like this: I’d like to labor as long as possible without medication … I’d like to play this soothing music CD I brought … [it was 2008, when we still used CDs]. And obviously I’m planning on having a vaginal birth.
Like I needed to write that down? Like anyone waddles into their first labor experience saying, “Man, I hope to get cut open today in an emergency and unplanned surgery!” But the truth is, according to the CDC, 32% of births in the U.S. end up being via Cesarean. So we can write out our plans and our wishes and our hopes and dreams about how it’s all going to go, but we really don’t know. Of course, the most important thing is that mom and baby are healthy. But that doesn’t mean a mother can’t be disappointed that she didn’t have the birth she had planned. And that definitely doesn’t mean that her birth — a C-section birth — wasn’t a true birth experience.
In honor of April being Cesarean Awareness Month, the incredibly talented Catie Atkinson, a New Mexico-based artist, has created a series of gorgeous paintings to honor mothers who’ve had C-sections.
Atkinson is a mom of two, but hasn’t actually had a C-section herself.
“My two children were born at home and most of my early work was centered around home birth and water birth,” she shares with Babble. “But after a few dozen paintings, I realized that I was leaving out a huge community of mamas who also deserved to see their birth experiences represented in art as sacred, holy, and beautiful.”
She says her first painting of a mother who’d had a C-section, entitled “Magic Happened Here”, was by far her most popular to date, so she went on to create more, including another that has the words “worthy” on the mother’s chest and “worth it” across her scar.
“Mamas who experience unplanned or emergency C-sections are often left with a intense feelings of disappointment and grief and too many women are left feeling as though they ‘failed,'” the artist tells Babble. “My goal in creating art around belly birth is to shine a light on mamas who may be mourning their dream birth and to help remind them that they are incredibly strong and brave. I believe that all birth is sacred and beautiful, whether it takes place on the kitchen floor or on the operating table, and I strive to portray that in my paintings.”
And they. are. gorgeous.
In her caption under one painting, she writes: “Cesarean mamas — this one’s for you. I hope you know that you are worthy. That you are a warrior. That you are brave and powerful and strong.”
The artist speaks specifically to moms who had unexpected C-sections and may still be reeling from not having the birth they hoped for, telling them that their feelings are normal and should not be trivialized.
“It does NOT mean you can’t wish things had gone differently,” says Atkinson. “But I hope that underneath it all, you can find beauty in what was. What is. Your baby. Your birth. Your strength. Your healing. Your story. Your journey wasn’t easy. Perhaps it unfolded much differently than you had hoped — perhaps it shook you to your core and left you feeling the immense weight of a ‘what if’ and ‘why.'”
Although these feelings are normal after a birth goes so far off the rails, Atkinson hopes that her artwork might bring some healing and peace to mothers who are still in recovery.
Laura, mom of three (all born via Cesarean) tells Babble that the anxiety was one of the worst parts about her first C-section.
“When my doctor told me with my first that I’d have to have a C-section if I couldn’t get him out in the next 10 minutes of pushing, I panicked and felt a sense of dread because I never imagined a C-section was in my future,” she says.
Laura also had a traumatic second delivery, due to emergency health issues with herself and her son, as well as extensive scar tissue that doctors struggled to cut through for her third and final C-section — making that procedure last for hours.
So yeah, she’s probably the one of the toughest and bravest moms I know, despite having never pushed a baby out of her vagina.
Jaime is a mom of two who also had both of her children via C-section. And, like Laura, her first was an unplanned procedure that resulted when she couldn’t push the baby out.
“I know it’s not the ‘natural’ way to have a baby,” she tells Babble. “I get that. But the alternative is death. So I’m grateful for C-sections.”
Jaime also says her procedures were very smooth and drama-free, as was her recovery.
“It’s important to tell pregnant women success stories of C-sections so they are less scared,” she adds, saying that it’s not helpful when we tell our own horror stories to women who are about to have babies themselves.
So if there was ever a good month to remove the stigma attached to C-sections — that they aren’t “real births” — it’s now, in Cesarean Awareness Month.
Some moms have their birth plans ripped away from them as they are wheeled off in a terrifying rush to emergency surgery. Some moms have planned C-sections, as they and their doctors have determined this method to be the best and safest route. The one thing they all have in common is that they are mothers. Because birth is birth.