Too Posh To Push

Kristen Mae
Written by Kristen Mae

When it comes to childbirth, the current trend is for women to deliver their babies as naturally as possible. Ideally, a “natural” birth means little to no pain medication, freedom from the tangle of IV lines and, possibly, also freedom from hospitals and doctors altogether. Some women are willing to go so far as to squat in a mountain stream to grunt their little kicker into the world. 

But even for those of us who don’t wish to give birth in a shallow pool of algae, our biggest fear when it comes to the supposedly natural event of childbirth is the dreaded C-section. When we draw up our birth plans, we are often unwilling to consider even the possibility of a C-section, in spite of the procedure being performed in approximately a third of all births in the US and Canada.

In those “birth share” conversations I’ve had with other moms, the stories of C-sections are always met with a “man, what a bummer” face and the storyteller feels compelled to offer an explanation as to how her body failed, i.e. why the procedure was unavoidable. I myself am quick to point out that my second child was born via C-section because she was breach and yes of course we tried All of the Things to try to get her to turn and I had every intention of having as natural a birth as possible, but my body failed me, what can I say?

My first baby was born the regular way, down the ol’ baby chute, so I’ve experienced birth both ways. And you wanna know a secret?

I LIKED THE C-SECTION BETTER. WAYYYYYY BETTER. In fact, if I had it all to do over again, I’d choose a C-section for both deliveries.

There. I said it. God, that feels good.

I hated vaginal delivery. I cannot think of one thing I liked about it other than that I could say I did it. Hurrah. Everything else sucked. I was in labor for over thirty hours. The pain, duh. I did get an epidural, but only after twenty hours of labor, and it wore off before it was time to push. My husband was every pathetic movie cliché you’ve ever seen. The room was filled with med students gaping in bug-eyed wonder at the miracle that was my spreading labia. And then my vagina exploded. I wish as much as you do that I were speaking figuratively, but sadly, no. I really mean my vagina exploded.

Afterwards, the med students hung around to watch a new resident attempt to sew me back up. (Fascinating! So much blood!) He bumbled so terribly that I screamed at the doctor to make him stop. (Under normal circumstances I am excessively polite.) My doctor finished the stitching and was very cheerful about the whole thing: “When I’m done you’ll be better than new!” Wink-wink at the husband. (What??)

That crazy doctor sewed me up way too tight. This translated to not being able to have sex with my husband for far longer than the prescribed six weeks, and when we finally did have sex, I cried through the whole thing. I think my husband and I were both traumatized.

Now that everyone’s ready to throw up, here’s how the C-section went:

I showed up to the hospital freshly showered, made-up and blow-dried. I know; who cares what you look like when we’re talking about the miracle of childbirth? But I felt pretty, okay? I feel it’s worth mentioning.

I was shaking like a jackhammer from nerves (mainly because I was feeling so mortified about not giving birth the “right” way), but I can’t compare a little anxiety with the ring of fire, or even a contraction that is a number “7” on that stupid pain chart with the emoticons. I’ll take the anxiety any day.

One of my primary fears with the C-section (in addition to feeling like a failure as a woman) was that I wouldn’t bond with this baby the way I had with my first. Bullshit. I fell in love the instant they yanked her out of my guts and showed me her sweet pink face. I did have to wait a little longer to have her all to myself, as they were cleaning her up and giving me time to recover, but when they brought her to me, I did the same thing I did with the first kid: I began the task of teaching her to rip my nipples off for the foreseeable future. She latched on just as well as my firstborn, and I loved her just as much.

Recovery had its difficult moments, but for me, it was easier than recovery from vaginal birth. I was up and walking in a few days, and my husband and I were able to have sex much quicker than the first time around, and without me whimpering like a maimed puppy. (Score! Literally!)

So, for those who hope to give birth in the future and are already feeling that ridiculous twinge of guilt/fear that they might become a member of that dreaded 33% of women whose bodies “fail” them; for those who are terrified of natural birth and secretly would rather a C-section (these ladies are judged the most harshly); and for the women who’ve already had a C-section and are harboring feelings of guilt and inadequacy because of their perceived failure; to those women, I say:

Screw natural childbirth!

Having a C-section does not make you a failure. Wanting a C-section does not make you a failure. I think most of us C-section ladies are hesitant to admit it—because of the stigma surrounding birth via C-section—but I bet there are tons of us who feel this way. Regardless of which path that baby takes out of your body, let’s all agree on one thing: Shame should have no part in it.

About the author

Kristen Mae

Kristen Mae

Kristen Mae is a novelist, freelancer, classical musician, and artist. Follow her on Abandoning Pretense, and check out her books, Beyond the Break and Red Water, available now at most online booksellers.

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41 Comments

  • Thanks for this, and fascinating perspective on both experiences. I had a c-section and occasionally a vague feeling of shame comes over me, like I was supposed to fight harder to make the doctors wait on my very slow dilation. Or what if I’d waited a few more days to see if I went into labor naturally instead of following the doctor’s advice to induce at 42 weeks. In the end, each person’s birth story is their birth story and it’s crazy to attach any judgment to it.

  • I love this! You are so right- nowadays women are really more scared of a C section than actually losing a baby because it’s so uncommon these days (as compared to the old days). I am interviewing women about their experience in the Netherlands and actually had more positive stories of C sections- “It’s the best, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”. And I had a hell of a first birth experience and the second time around I was so scared that the baby’d be too big. And I live in a country that is super obsessed with natural birth so I was seeing a midwife. When I asked for a C section, she said she doesn’t see any indications! I was close to panic, luckily my girl wasn’t too big and my son was born 9 days before his due date and wasn’t too big either. I was lucky.. but the second time around… if someone would have said: “With this birth, it’s going to be like the first time”, I’d say: “drug me up, knoch me out, get that baby out right now. I am not doing this.” The real problem with the “too posh to push” agenda is not the pressure on the women to have natural births (which is already bad enough), but that these groups are actually advocating for less epidurals and elective C sections, making getting one extremeely hard. This is not how real choice should look like.

  • As a fellow C-section mommy, I have to say, I cannot imagine loving my child anymore on sight no matter what tunnel she emerged from. I think this essay is brave because the pendulum has swung so far in favor of women being told that non-hospital birth (I refrain from calling it “natural birth” because everyone seems to define it differently, and our ancestors weren’t birthing in cozy warm tubs in their imaginary living rooms) is the feminist way, the only way, the right we must steal back from a society that has stolen it from us, etc… I am all in favor of birthing however you like, but I do think that c-sections, when necessary (my baby was bloody transverse, less than one percent chance of that!) are a miracle of SCIENCE and medicine and deserve some respect for saving lives. My child could not have been birthed alive any other way but c-section. Women will hurt in some way or other after childbirth, whether vaginally or surgically, and I don’t know that there aren’t some advantages to the latter. I’ve only done it one way, but in hindsight, I cried a lot when I was told it had to be that way because I had been told so vociferously how evil all c-sections were. When it saved my child’s life and mine, I no longer found them evil.
    Thank you for this very funny but also serious essay. It’s an important topic. Um, they let you wear makeup in the surgical theatre? Man, that was not an option where I gave birth!

  • I was scheduled for a C-sec with my last pregnancy (they were twins) and I LOOKED FORWARD TO IT.

    But, my body had other ideas. My water broke at 34 weeks at 3.00am, and I delivered the little ones naturally before 5.00am. I didn’t have any pain meds only because there wasn’t time, not because I’m all let’s go natural, because yes, I wasn’t looking forward to the pain. I even took a stitch down there without any pain meds, and shit THAT HURT.

    No judging on how babies come into the world – what’s important is that both mom and baby (or babies) are well!

  • My kid was speedy Gonzales. I thought I might be in labour at 5am and he was out by 7. I’m frankly a really big chicken and surgery and even needles scare me. I enjoyed the laughing gas. The point of any birth plan is to find something comfortable for you and it sounds like you did. Gold stars! That was the most entertaining narrative about childbirth I’ve read in a long time. All the power to you for finding what works 🙂
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  • I had two C-sections. The first was out of necessity: his head was too big for my body. His head. Was too big. Can you imagine saying that? He was also a week late, and I did not care how they got him out-as long as they did. The second was a planned C-section: because the first C-section “seam” was botched so badly, I had so much scar tissue, there was no chance my body was going to go through a “natural” birth willingly. So, when my kiddo decided to come almost 6 weeks early, we already knew what was going to happen.

    I don’t feel like my body betrayed me. But, I do sometimes feel lucky that I was able to have the choice of a C-section for both my kiddos. I don’t love them less b/c they came out of an alternative hole, and I have never experienced any mom-shaming, which I guess I should be happy about and proud of.
    As long as everyone is comfortable, happy, and healthy, it should be no one else’s business which hole they came out of.

  • I have never had a vaginal birth (3rd c-section on Tue), and I can honestly say I am in no way jealous of the vagina explosion. No, thank you. I did, however, have to suffer through labor for all 3 (and am currently cooped up in the hospital going through labor that is not dilating my cervix and that is giving my baby bouts of tachycardia, but because I’m not 37 weeks until Tue, I have to sit here and “tough it out” until then). I do not find c-sections easy at all, but I have a lot of friends who have had relatively smooth ones. I think I just get the short end of the stick on labor and delivery, because not only do I have to do the surgery, which I recover horribly from, but I also have to suffer through the labor part. Not fair! I totally agree with you (even though I’ve never experienced things the “natural” way) that it doesn’t matter how the baby gets here: You love them just the same. And there is no shame in the c-section game. And I’ve never once asked a mother, “Hey, I’m trying to determine who loves her kids more. Did you have a vaginal birth or c-section? Because if it was c-section, clearly you lose.”
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  • While I appreciate what you are trying to say in this article and agree that no woman should feel shame about her mode of delivery, there are definitely some important reasons why a woman would not want to choose to have a cesarean section without a very good medical indication to do so. These include the increased risk of uterine rupture in future pregnancies (something that can be catastrophic for both the mother and the baby) and placenta accreta (which has an increased risk of heavy bleeding at the time of attempted placental delivery and the need for transfusion of blood products and hysterectomy is commonly required to control life-threatening hemorrhage). Please ladies, I implore you to do more research before thinking that this is the golden ticket. Everything in life is a trade off. And not all vaginal deliveries are even close to the traumatizing experience described above. Most are beautiful and much easier to recover from. I am sorry that you had such a horrible care provider.

    • Unless you are planning to have more than 2 or 3 children, acreta is unlikely. Uterine rupture is also unlikely in the absence of labor. Your chances of hemorrhage are slightly elevated, but rarely require hysterectomy.

      Vaginal birth recoveries may be easier, but there is no guarantee. Severe tearing ( including cervical laceration), hemorrhage, and pelvic floor problems (urinary and fecal incontinence, prolapse, sexual dysfunction) can and do occur as a result of vaginal birth. It is dishonest to discuss the risks of c-section while neglecting to note those of vaginal birth.

      • Actually, I was shocked to learn this, but Urinary incontinence can occur even among women who have C-sections. This happened to my MIL. Meanwhile, I delivered vaginally and while I used to run to the bathroom every five minutes pre-pregnancy (and unfortunately didnt always make it in time) somehow now post delivery my bladder can hold gallons of pee just fine. I dont even know how this is possible. I did kegel like mad, so perhaps thats why. Anonymous, this is not to detract what you have written, I just think women should be aware that whether you section or not, urinary incontinence is a possibility.

  • I had a c-section after 52 hours of labor with my first and a VBAC after 4 days in labor with my second. For me, my VBAC was 10,000 times better than my c-section. I think though that’s because my c-section wasn’t my choice. I felt such a huge sense of loss after my c-section. I was separated from my daughter after the birth, I didn’t get to see my parents or sister see her for the first time, I had difficulty breastfeeding and our bonding took longer than with my second.

    I think that being separated from my daughter after the birth was the worst part. When they were vacuuming me out they upped my drugs and I woke up in the recovery room, my husband and daughter no where to be seen.

    Being able to hold my baby, stare into his little face and have him with me were the biggest “perks” of having a VBAC for me.

    If I had been given time to mentally prepare for a c-section and hadn’t had to be separated from my daughter it may not have been so bad.
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  • I’ll take it a step further and say I hope to just order my kids on amazon and them come via Prime to my door with free 2-day shipping. Too much to ask for? Seriously every single woman on the planet that has nurtured life inside their body is the biggest freaking hero in my book. You go girls!
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  • I disagree with this article 100%!! I have had 2 natural births and 1 c-sec. Lying strapped to a metal board, while your arms are pinned down (Think Jesus on a cross!!), having no control over your body, the ability to remove the o2 mask when you are puking, holding the baby as so as it was born etc. I had c-sec because she was frank breech and they said I could deliver her but they couldn’t guarantee her head would come out. I did it for the health of my baby and possibly my life, but I would never make the ‘choice’ to have a c-sec. Pooping on the table, hemorrhaging my eyes, and tearing my yahoo are all more preferrable!
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    • Jenn! You said it!! I disagree 100% as well! I don’t feel it’s “popular” to go natural, I think meds & c-sections are way more common… Hey things happen and we all make the best choice for ourselves & our family but nowadays I find it almost impossible to find any support for a regular birth. I basically have to labor for hours at home until I practically am crowning, then rush in & hope I can get the baby out before they try and break my water/stick me with an iv/ force me onto my back/try to medicate me/belt me in with monitors (you get the idea). I have 3 kiddos, 16yrs, 7yrs & 2 months…. All natural no meds… And not one doctor & hardly any other moms or friends were supportive. F the system, do it your way, whatever it is 🙂

    • Jenn! You said it!! I disagree 100% as well! I don’t feel it’s “popular” to go natural, I think meds & c-sections are way more common… Hey things happen and we all make the best choice for ourselves & our family but nowadays I find it almost impossible to find any support for a regular birth. I basically have to labor for hours at home until I practically am crowning, then rush in & hope I can get the baby out before they try and break my water/stick me with an iv/ force me onto my back/try to medicate me/belt me in with monitors (you get the idea). I have 3 kiddos, 16yrs, 7yrs & 2 months…. All natural no meds… And not one doctor & hardly any other moms or friends were supportive. F the system, do it your way, whatever it is 🙂

  • Yes, exactly this. My first birth was a cesarean after a failed inducement. All signs should have been a go, but I never progressed. I felt somehow I was less of a woman. This was coupled by severe ppd which went undiagnosed for a good 6 months. Yippee! Once I got pregnant with my second, I started to understand exactly what happened in terms of how I felt, and I scheduled a cesarean. I realized that in the end we both were healthy, and I knew what to expect. I never had a problem with him latching, and he was relatively happy and healthy so why not? Little came early, because of course he did. Not only did my vagina explode, but so did my ass. I’m pretty sure my hemorrhoid weighed more than my son. That being said, it was fairly traumatic due to his lowered heart rate, the forceps, and the fact that if the forceps failed I was to be whisked off to the OR stat.

    If you want to compare recoveries, I can give you the rundown. I’m also a cancer survivor, so I was a champ at a post op recovery. My biggest issue was my husband not being helpful due to his elective hernia repair 10 days later (that’s a whole other story). Once the swelling went down (from the pitocin) I felt like a million bucks. I had very little pain, and no loss of mobility, etc. My biggest complaint was sleep deprivation.

    With my broken lady bits after boy #2, I couldn’t sit without my donut for 6-7 weeks. Incontinence became normal for me, and the thoughts of sex made me cry. Oh, also, my bungee lost it’s bounce and I now need a super tampon.

    Thanks for writing this. It was awesome!

  • I’ve had both types of delivery. The vaginal was actually easier on me. That little sucker weighed 5lbs and slipped right out after a mere 17 hours of labor. The aftermath was rather gross but I felt pretty good! The c-section occurred after 11 hours of labor, almost 2 hours of pushing (I know!) and and a stuck head. It left me with an infection and the recipient of home health care for six weeks. Also a gross aftermath. I bonded MORE with my c-section baby because I was stuck with him and in bed all day. No dishes, laundry, other chores to distract me, just baby, baby, baby all the time. I immediately went for an IUD to insure THAT never happened again. Of course, now I wouldn’t mind if it did. The thing is, you can plan your birth, and for many women it works just like that little piece of paper you populated says it will, but you can’t plan everything. Sometimes things change. Our ability to adapt to the needed change is MUCH more important than the process that yields the resulting child. No more Mommy Shame!

  • i agree that mothers should not feel shamed about how their baby is born. But the fact is we live in a culture where unnecessary interventions that have greater risks to mothers and to babies are happening at shocking rates. Our maternal death rate is abysmal because of how we treat birth in the US. I think women really need to make sure they know that while to some a c section might be preferable, they should definitely know the risks, and especially if they are planning on one or many more children. Many women end up with this surgery not by choice and not by necessity and suffer major trauma as a result. We need to educate ourselves first and foremost because having a supported birth, whatever that looks like, is so important.

  • It’s all about personal choice, and not shaming women because they prefer one over the other. My first son was “natural” birth and my last two were C-section. I *loved* the C-sections, even though the first time I had to be put under. The recovery, for me, was SO much easier then the recovery from my first birth (in which I tore very badly and was permanently damaged as a result). I could have pushed for a “natural” birth with my last child but it wasn’t what I wanted. And I don’t think I should feel embarrassed to admit that.

  • “Natural” birth was the biggest rip-off ever! My first was the coveted unmedicated vaginal delivery with a nurse-midwife. And it was fucking awful. Pushing was excruciating, and I suffered a cervical laceration and postpartum hemorrhage that led to a trip to the OR. I thought I was dying at one point, and we almost did not have a second child because if it. Our second was born with the aid if an epidural so strong that I had absolutely no pain. BUT…I am 36 and having pelvic floor problems directly attributable to vaginal deliveries. If I had known then that this would be the result, I would have scheduled an elective c-section in a heartbeat.

    It does not matter how a woman gives birth. I fail to understand this element of machismo regarding our births. Feminists fought for the right to pain relief during childbirth, and I am perplexed by the current obsession with emulating birth practices from the past that routinely resulted in dead and damaged women and babies (and still do in the developing world). If anything, women who deliver via c-section are the true warriors, since the increased risk of death is conferred upon her rather than her child.

  • I have been writing and campaigning about this issue for more than 10 years now, and it’s great to see increasing numbers of blogs and articles like yours being written. So I’d like firstly to say thank you.

    My emphasis is on choice, and I agree with you that there should be no shame in an individual’s birth plan and/or outcome. I’m also concerned with making sure that women are given a more balanced presentation of different birth risks when they are pregnant – not so that more women choose a planned caesarean, but so that the risks of a planned vaginal delivery are not concealed while the risks of surgery are heavily emphasised.

    I co-wrote the book ‘Choosing a Cesarean, A Natural Birth Plan’ (Prometheus Books New York 2012), in the hope that women can find more balanced information about planned caesareans – especially where this information is not being provided during their antenatal care. Please do take a look if you get the chance. Thank you.
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  • I love that you wrote this! The photo and title are priceless and the message is rad.

    What a great job highlighting the tenets of informed choice and delivery without shame and judgment. As an Ob/Gyn and a mom, I get to hear so many delivery stories and it’s so true that everyone has a different experience (regardless of delivery details). Sometimes the cultural trends and mores infuse our take on how things went with unnecessary guilt, stress and uneasiness. Such a bummer. It’s posts like this that shine a light on how important and freeing it is to keep an open mind and focus on the shit in our precious lives that really, truly matters and not the fluff and expectations others have (or that we think they have). Thank you!

    PS– The Amazon Prime idea is great, we can call it Amazon-Prego.
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  • I think why the vaginal birth was so terrible wasn’t the birth itself, it was the circumstances around it. Had you been at home until absolutely necessary, you may have had a shorter labor, as other people poking, prodding, watching inhibits the natural process. Second, having been a teaching hospital, far too many people were allowed in. And third, the stitch job they did was horrifying, as well as no help for you to prevent the tearing (hot compress, perineum massage, a doula, perhaps). My point is, natural childbirth isn’t really natural unless it’s allowed to happen naturally, without intervention and with the right support and knowledge to make it the best experience possible. I had two cesareans, one was awful and traumatizing and the second one I made better. Both necessary. The first was due to severe preeclampsia at 32 weeks and an emergency cesarean. 18 mos recovery. Second was breech presentation, but not a bad experience or recovery. I am still planning a VBAC2 on my next, bit if that can’t happen and I need to make the decision for another cesarean, I’ll gladly do that in the best interest of me and baby. However, I would like to experience vaginal delivery, if I can. It’s easy for people who have experienced something to say “no biggie” because they don’t have the experience of not even having the option. Not having the option is the difficult thing. Having the option, and choosing not to, that’s a whole different story.

  • I like you have done it both ways, with my son they had to cut down there and stitch it back up… Vaginal birth is gross to say the least but hey we done it! With my daughter I asked for a c section, in at 8am and daughter was out by 8:30am SO much easier, less painful, more simple and I was up and walking within 2 hours. 2 days in the hospital I was ready to go home and I would do a c section over vaginal birth ANY day!
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  • What I am hearing is that you did not feel valued or respected during your labor and vaginal birth. Please know that you have every RIGHT to say no to having medical students in the labour room, and that the comments that your doctor made about your vagina are very inappropriate and should be escalated. My whole focus as a doula is to help my clients have a supported and satisfying birth experience. I am saddened to read about your experience. You are correct, no woman should ever feel shamed about her birth choices.

    • I love what you’ve said! No one should be shamed, silenced, disrespected or misguided in their birth decision. Thank you for being a doula and supporting us moms 🙂 I am made fun of all the time for having a drug free birth in a hospital (3x) it has been difficult to stick to my own beliefs with little support & staff/doctors treated me like an annoying problem because I didnt roll over for all the things they wanted to do to me. I look forward to maternity care changing for my daughters.