There is a line across my stomach, the pouty frown of a scar carved into my skin in the shape of a crooked, stretched-out “C” – my very own scarlet letter for the C-section I had three years ago.
Generally it hides quietly below the surface under a pair of jeans or a dress or, gasp, even a bikini. But when mom talk involves sharing birth stories, I notice that having a line on my stomach quickly draws a line in the sand: I’m one of those.
I’m the kind of mom who is too posh to push. The kind of mom that isn’t educated enough on the issues to know her doctor just wanted to make his 9 a.m. flight to the Bahamas. The kind of mom that just wants to lie there. I’ve heard all sorts of kitschy antidotes regarding my C-section. A family member told me I had a “designer” baby because I designed my delivery. A friend of a friend said that C-sections are like playing the baby lottery – you just win your baby, you don’t earn it.
And just like that my scarlet letter, what I see as a steadfast reminder of the day I brought the light of my life into this world, begins to burn with shame, like the act of getting chopped in half to deliver a baby is some sort of cheap trick.
I know that the number of C-sections happening every year is skyrocketing at an alarming rate. I know that some doctors prefer convenience over care. I also know, however, that my doctor was trying to protect me – from cervical cancer.
The road that led me to having a C-section was a rocky one. It began unknowingly when I was 11 weeks pregnant. The usual tests conducted early on in the pregnancy revealed some unusual results. The words abnormal cells and cervical cancer rocked me to my core. It felt impossible to prepare for life and death in the same womb. I cried for days.
To be clear, I was not diagnosed with cervical cancer. Tests revealed the presence of abnormal cells on my cervix – cells that couldn’t be fully diagnosed or treated without risks to the pregnancy.
Sitting in my doctor’s private office in a cold, brown leather chair surrounded by pictures of pink, squishy babies he had successfully delivered, I was informed of my options. I could terminate the pregnancy for medical reasons. I could go through the pregnancy status quo and deliver as usual. Or I could be induced whenever the baby was fully developed so I could be properly tested as soon as possible.
At 38 weeks, with the okay from my doctor, I was induced. But nearly 24 hours into labor, I wasn’t progressing. My son’s heart rate was low. A nurse named Dorothy shuffled in with all sorts of worrying information. Baby was not getting enough oxygen. His heart rate wasn’t getting better. He wasn’t even a minute into this world and he was already stressed. Emergency C-section it was.
As I was wheeled in for surgery my teeth chattered; the bright lights were invasive, and the team of medical staff surrounding me intimidating. It all felt brisk, cold, and unnatural. But just like that, my little six-pound, ten-ounce blueberry squealer was born, and it felt warm, fuzzy, and happy.
While the popular jingle regarding C-sections is that you just lie there, for some moms who surgically brought their child into this world it goes deeper, literally. Sure, I lay there. I smelled the singe of my skin burn, praying my son would be born healthy, wondering if all the internal pieces they were shifting around in me would ever be put back together again. I lay in agony for almost eight hours, attempting to recover from a major surgery while my son was kept two floors away in the NICU (he had low blow sugar). I relied on my husband to scale stairs to report back to me that my son’s cheeks were round and red like apples. I just lay there at home while my friends pushed their newborns around in strollers and I was having staples pulled from my stomach.
So, yes, I have a scar on my stomach. Maybe you don’t. But the truth is, people come into parenting in so many different ways – whether that’s through vaginal childbirth, cesarean, adoption of even fostering kids. Are any of those methods really unworthy or less deserving than the others? Do they count less? I can’t imagine a child who would think so. And at least the scarlet C I have today stands for cesarean section and not cervical cancer.
My son was potty trained in two days. Maybe yours wasn’t. I don’t believe that coloring on the walls is such a bad thing. Maybe you do. Being a parent looks different in every household. But it doesn’t matter. We are all moms. And that should be enough.