C is for Caring
In Ontario, nearly 28 percent of labours result in a cesarean section. For most, it may be the final decision after many hours of labouring with the intention of a vaginal delivery; for others, it’s a choice made for subsequent labours when there’s a history of labour complications. Voluntarily opting for a c-section is rare, but possible.
Typically, a birth-person will encounter extensive paperwork, signatures, and a laundry list of overwhelming possible risks. Unfortunately, often neglected is preparation from a psychological, emotional and cognitive level in recovery.
We need to stop faulting and instead honor every person’s body.
Whichever angle the birth-person came from that led them down the path of a c-section, their birth and labour story deserves to be honoured too. The “othering” in the birth community needs to stop.
Birth is tough enough, so why do we engage in judgment (active or passive) of birth-persons that have encountered a cesarean?
Why do we tend to respond with an “I’m sorry” versus a “Congratulations”? We need to stop the faulting and blame, and instead honour every person’s body, whichever way their little one decided to join this world.
We also need to be grateful for the evolution and access to surgical and medical interventions, in addition to, women’s choices in Canada that, in turn, work to keep our birth persons as safe as possible.
So, how do we truly support birth persons who have encountered a cesarean section?
The incision will require a minimum of six to eight weeks (or more) for recovery. Seven layers of skin and muscle are surgically navigated to safely remove the infant. For many weeks, the birth-person will require support with functional tasks, such as putting on socks, reaching, and on occasion lifting the baby.
Consider shifting into the birth-person’s mindset and offer support with day-to-day tasks, offerings of physical comfort, and transportation. Honour where the birth person is at and check-in often.
Postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) impacts approximately 9 percent of new birth-persons. After a c-section, common complications that can trigger PTSD include: the parent(s) feeling powerless; enduring labour complications; encountering an unplanned c-section; hospital transfer; or infant NICU support.
Being supported and given the opportunity to share their birth story in a vulnerable capacity will assist in processing and piecing together the memories of their labour. Offer to take notes, practice attentive listening, validate, and create space to nurture.
Respect that the birth-person may not be ready to process their birth story either but show up when they’re ready.
In all types of labour, intrusive memories are possible. In the case of a cesarean, consider the sensory overload (sight, smell, touch). Visualize “being on the other side of the curtain” and listening to the unknown.
The weight of these thoughts, memories and pictures can trigger negative rumination. Look out for self-blame, shame and guilt. Provide validation, boost self-esteem with positive affirmations and praise, and connect to a community support group or counsellor.
Whether you’re struggling to come to terms with the way you gave birth or are relieved that you had a repeat cesarean; whether you compare your experience to mothers who had vaginal births or do not wish to explain to others why you had a cesarean; whether no one in your family or friends group had a cesarean and your struggling to relate — I see you, and moving forward, it’s our due diligence as a community to honour and respect you.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of The Holistic Parent.