A C-section was the last thing that Jordan Grissom, a 28-year-old health coach from Long Beach, California wanted.
Grissom, a woman who makes her living helping others get healthy, never foresaw a C-section in her future. But her labor, like so many other mothers’, was completely unpredictable. Induced when she was a week overdue, Grissom progressed to 9.5 centimeters when her midwife checked her and found the baby to be breech. Completely shocked by this turn of events, an immediate plan was put into place for an emergency C-section. It was then that Grissom went into what she calls “a tailspin.”
“I remember being so scared,” she tells Babble.
She was so frightened, in fact, that her body responded in a pretty dramatic way. Although an ultrasound confirmed that the baby was not breech after all, with her next check, Grissom’s midwife found that the mother-to-be had actually regressed back to only 6 centimeters dilated — where she remained for the next several hours. Grissom’s birth team surmised that because she had been so shocked and scared by hearing the words “C-section,” her body literally closed down out of fear.
Without any progression in her labor and a fever beginning to start, the team decided the best course of action was to get the baby out. So, it was off to the surgical suite after all, where Grissom delivered a healthy baby girl via emergency C-section.
Today, Grissom is the mother to 15-month-old daughter Amelia Ray, and she’s joining a growing group of women changing the face of C-sections. Because instead of referring to her surgical delivery as the traditional “C-section,” Grissom prefers to use the term “belly birth.”
Belly birth refers to the very literal definition of a C-section, and it serves to empower women who may feel as though they missed out on the experience of physically giving birth. When you talk about C-sections, it’s often in terms of something that happened to a woman, rather than being something that she did. Having a belly birth, however, gives the power back to the mother.
“To me, the term ‘belly birth’ is exactly what a C-section is,” explains Grissom. “You’re birthing your child through your belly. There are many women who feel as though they’ve failed by having a C-section, and that’s just not the case. Using the term “belly birth” pushes the point that we, too, have given birth. It’s just more inclusive.”
Flor Cruz, 34, a mother of four and birth and postpartum doula and childbirth educator from Long Beach, California tells Babble that she uses the term “belly birth” regularly with her clients. She explains that she had a belly birth and struggled with feeling like she had her power stripped away from her during her C-section. She began looking for information about gentle C-sections and when she stumbled upon the term, it felt life-changing. “Instantly, a light bulb turned on in my head,” she describes.
Since discovering the movement surrounding belly births, Cruz makes a conscious effort to use the term more regularly, both inside and outside of her work as a doula. She has found that not only does using the term help normalize belly births, but it also sparks curiosity in other people who may not be familiar with it. And the term might help families struggling with emotions surrounding their own belly births, as well.
“I find it serves as a bit of healing for families who had a belly birth,” she explains. “It connects them on a deeper level to the birth.”
To professionals like Cruz and mothers like Grissom, the term “belly birth” helps empower mothers and reframe C-section delivery in a more positive way, while broadening the conversation about surgical birth in general. Cruz explains that renaming a C-section as a “belly birth” is an empowering move because purposeful, positive language surrounding a birth option that can be associated with negative fears, beliefs, and emotions can change the way we view them.
“Changing the outlook on belly births starts with how we speak about them,” she notes. “The term ‘cesarean’ or ‘C-section’ is what we say to describe a major abdominal surgery; [it] doesn’t respectfully pay homage to everything a family endured to get their baby here safely. ‘Belly birth’ connects the mother more to the baby instead of the connecting her to the surgery aspect. It reminds the mother and others that a birth happened, not just a surgery. It humanizes the mode of delivery and puts the family right back into the driver’s seat.”
Both Cruz and Grissom also note that the term “belly birth” is a way to counteract some of the negative associations that C-sections can have. “We have a bad view in society that giving birth via belly birth isn’t really giving birth,” Cruz explains. “I’ve heard some people call it ‘cheating.’”
Grissom also believes that renaming C-sections as belly births can help eliminate the shame of stigma of surgical delivery and transform it into the empowering birth experience it really is.
And as Cruz has found, nothing captures the power of the term “belly birth” more than the women she has seen transformed by using it.
“I’ve seen it take a woman from saying ‘cesarean’ or ‘C-section’ in a sad tone to saying, ‘I had a belly birth’ in a tone filled with love, pride and conviction,” she describes. “It’s helped women come to the realization that they did indeed give birth. Belly birth IS birth.”