At dawn on day two, I’d reached 10 centimeters. I pushed for an hour but it was fruitless, dry and bloodless. The doctor offered a C-section, and I acquiesced. What I’d been through seemed to have no end. Surgery, though I didn’t want it, held out the promise of an end. An hour later, I had my son.
Though his unending needs didn’t at first leave me the brain space to indulge in shoulda-coulda-wouldas, I eventually came to regard my incision, as it hardened into a scar, as a badge of dishonor. The first moments of my son’s life remain at a frustrating remove. I remember the bright lights; the odd, painless tugging at my abdomen; the conversation between doctors and nurses. But I wasn’t really there.
Everyone is quick to tell me that I did the right thing, my second time, opting for the C. Why take chances with my child’s health — or my own? But I’ve been unable to romanticize my surgery. Instead, I’ve felt cheated out of what I imagine is the deeply powerful moment of birth. I didn’t give birth, it was taken from me. Other women’s blasé attitudes about scheduling a C pissed me off. Stories of women who managed labor with a bit of epidural and some guitar music, or whose babies slid from them into a tub in a New-Agey birthing center, made me feel bitter and blue.
I spent hours replaying the hectic hospital scene, imagining myself doing something heroic and womanly like flipping over on all fours, asking for a birthing ball, a shower, a midwife skilled in coaxing stubborn heads from behind unyielding bones. I didn’t do any of it. Truth is, I was scared to death.
While it doesn’t matter to me as a mother how my sons were born, it does matter to me as a woman. I’m blessed with my boys but cursed with my scar. Were my C-sections necessary for life and health or merely expedient and neat? Did I lack the will to be my own best advocate, ignoring my instinct in the face of my fear? Or did my fear actually serve a deeper instinct, to relinquish my goals for the sake of my child? Maybe the bitterness lingers because I’ll never know. I’ll always have the question, and though I can work to forgive myself, the doubts, and the scar, will never heal.