Trying to write about the c-section I had 10 years ago with my second child is difficult. The absolute horror of it all keeps me wanting to remain in quiet hums of normalcy and disinterest, instead of having to relive the pain, the sadness of it—all over again.
It still hurts to know that I was cut like that, seen like that. I think back to how I must have looked to all those people in the OR—strapped on my back with a mask over my face, and wires, tubes, cuffs, needles all over me, all within me… my eyes half-lidded as the slice is made, the slice I can still touch with my hand as a bumpy, ugly white scar. My belly was cut open… the blood that seeped from this wound being my perpetual tears at a birth lost irrevocably to doctors. Birth is not supposed to be a rape like this, a cut in the belly, a bleeding from the veins and heart forever.
I can see in my mind the layers of fat muscle and tissue that were held open by clamps while my precious baby was pulled out of me by his bum. My little Henry was a frank breech presentation. They told me he was a transverse lie, which was why I consented to the section in the first place.
Consented. What a foul joke that is. Would I have consented if I knew how terribly dangerous c-sections really are? For both of us? For my future babies too? Would I have consented if they had been truthful about his position? It was only years later when I ordered my hospital records at the urging of a midwife that I learned the truth.
Lying there, raped and drugged out of my mind, I could feel his body being pulled from mine. “I could feel it!” I exclaimed. Everyone was frightened; they thought the anesthetic had worn off. But the anesthesiologist only smiled. He said, “I like to leave a bit of sensation for the mothers at birth.” What a bloody gentleman. Don’t mind me swearing. My belly was cut open…. I should have sworn about it back then, and not invited them into my core being like the nice little sycophant I was at the time. I even tried to thank the obstetrician, but he was too impatient to hear my drugged slurs on his way out of the operating room.
But I had victories. There were two. One—I breastfed Henry in the recovery room. Yes! I insisted on feeding him with my body and not tubes. Everyone was amazed, not ever having seen such a thing. My poor baby was so grateful for this; I remember him—he knew just what to do, though I couldn’t roll to him without being rolled over by someone, and I was afraid my belly would fall open and my guts would fall out. The light was blinding white and the room’s smell was of antiseptic, and my nipples were hiding from the nurses’ cold eyes—but still my baby got the breast. Still my baby got the breast… it was a victory.
Victory number two—I refused another drop, another tablet, another lung full of drugs after the c-section. I remember shaking like a leaf from the morphine—uncontrollable, unstoppable—a quaking nausea of quivering. A nurse came in to give me a drug to make me stop shaking. I said, “No more drugs.” I made the shaking stop on my own. The nurse stared at me with wide-eyed incredulity. I said again—“No more drugs.”
Then came the aftereffects of the cesarean. For days I was a bedridden and catheterized invalid; I had terrible pain in my belly and uterus, and gas pains ripped sickly through my savaged abdomen, forbidding sleep and the passage of stools. I could barely move to care for my new baby, and the staff people were too busy to even change his diaper. I couldn’t stand up straight for weeks afterwards, and was too exhausted to care properly for my baby or his older sister. For months I would see pregnant women and feel the awful pain again—I would see them, so wide-eyed and innocent, and feel bleak fear drip to my boots in dread of their births to come. My god… my belly was stapled shut. Does anyone have any idea what it feels like to know that someone actually took a staple gun to my body?
For years after the section when I would hear the song “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel I would cry. I never knew why. Whenever I would hear it, I would look at Henry—and something about the sadness, the longing of the song would just make me weep. Henry came to know it as my crying song.
One day, a few months after the gloriously healing homebirth of my sixth, I listened to the song… and I looked at Henry… and I finally understood why it made me cry. And god I was so, so sorry that our birth was so terrible for us. I said to him, “I didn’t know better.” And he said, “It’s OK mom.” But how could it be… they lied to me, cut me, hurt him, scarred our sacred, precious time. I wrote a poem on the day I understood why the song made me cry—I called it “Cut.”
No apology, no remorse from me will bring his birth back. It’s gone. I even thought in the months before the homebirth of my seventh that I could somehow give birth to Henry again. I thought that if he was standing by my side at the new baby’s birth, we could both feel his birth as new… but no. There is no going back. He didn’t even wake up for the birth.
Every baby has only one chance to be born. Women, stay home to give birth. Know that you are safest where no one is waiting to cut you or drug you. Learn all you can about the true nature of childbirth, and how dangerous the typical hospital birth really is. I would now give birth in a cave before I would be in the “finest” hospital in the land.
Midwives—help women give birth in ways that celebrate sanctity and intactness. Trust in women’s bodies; trust in babies’ instincts to get born in the gentlest, safest ways possible. Trust in birth—as spirit, as life force, as biological obviousness. Trust in a process that exists in women today because it has been so perfect for eons; women are here, now, because they came from so many who, since the beginning of time, were able to give birth just fine.
Doctors—know that when you take from women, you take from yourself. Take from babies and you remove even more. Your soul is increasingly bankrupted by your role in the death of precious, sacred birth. The spirit of birth is just as real as an IV tube. Stop offering up surgeries as some twisted idea of “choice.” Making bland and digestible the absolute horror of a cesarean section is the true madness of our times. It takes humility and a certain kind of decency to honor the importance of the birth rite of passage. And no matter how much surgery physicians do to avoid litigation, the litigation continues. Perhaps it’s time to stop and reassess the cesarean strategy.
In my book I call my cesarean section my cruci/section—and that is my experience. A nailing to a cross—held down by straps and tubes—and a cut to the core that can kill. The depth of pain that operative delivery brings is as long as a lifetime; and I will always regret my ignorance, my naive trust in my doctors and my shallow hope for their humane treatment of me, and of my baby.
Resexualizing Childbirth, by Leilah McCracken, 2000. (Virtual Xpressions.com, 1416 Winslow Ave., Ciquitlam, B.C. Canada V3J 2G6. $19.95 US (plus $5 for S&H), or $29.95 Cdn. (plus $7 S&H). 194 pages, spiral bound).
When Leilah McCracken says “My body, my birth,” she means it. This fiery mom who endured several Western-style births at their worst, at last experienced a homebirth that not only empowered her as a woman and a mother, but as a non-stop fiercely passionate advocate for realbirth, unviolated babies, and women as whole, sexual, primal, richly wise beings. This remarkable collection of her essays is nothing short of fecund—that is, bursting with life, rhythm, energy, possibilities, passion. She manages to be both reverent and irreverent in all the right places, using rich language and pelvis-forward, hands-on-hips energy to tell the truth and goad readers to speak their own.
Leilah talks about birth, breastfeeding, sex, rape, love, midwives, fathers, intolerance and spirit. This is Woman Unabashed, Woman Claiming Herself and Birth, Woman Standing Tall and Saying, Listen to Me! This book is empowerment at it best, and it should be in the hands of every woman on Earth whether they can stand the truth or not, whether they are shy or already strong, whether they are coming of age or in their crone years. As Leilah says, “It is in our destiny to flower full and female in birth and in love; it is our calling to be powerful and free.”
—Cher Mikkola, editor of Midwifery Today E-News.
by Leilah McCracken
How do we mourn the loss of our babies? How do we mourn the loss of our births? A part of us dies when our births are gone—a part of us dies when it’s been taken away.
My baby was sliced out of me like a fish with her guts ripped out my belly was opened like a side of cow—my baby was robbed from me pink and new, my belly’s insides were pink and raw—I couldn’t touch my blood or lick my wound… my arms were strapped away from me and I couldn’t see my baby or hold him—
my baby is gone forever—I have the baby they gave me and I love him so much—but he’s not my birth baby—and I’m so sorry, baby, for all that they did to us… I want to give birth to you again but I don’t know how—you’ll think I’m silly for crying so much about something you don’t remember—but my belly was opened, and my veins were opened, and no one thinks it’s a big deal but me—
your Daddy thinks it’s no big deal to anyone but me… he says you were born and that’s good enough—but my belly was cut open and my veins were stabbed open and my arms were strapped away from me and my cries went unnoticed and my baby wasn’t mine to hold—
he was held by the doctors and then by his Daddy and they all condone this type of treatment—my Henry, baby of my dreams, I never knew your loveliest of births—I never knew my Henry coming out of me, falling down into my hands—I never knew my birth blood and fluids—I knew Pain.
My baby was cut out of me—part of me died with the knife—and part of me will always be bleeding, and crying, and dying—because my baby was cut out with a knife.