A Frank Discussion About How to Better Carry The Cross of Multiple C-Sections, Part One: Know Thy Enemy
Know Thy Enemy
Child birth always involves a spiritual battle. In Genesis, the Lord ties the "pain in childbirth" directly to the salvation of a woman's soul. Sometimes when I hurt after surgery, I sarcastically think "Thanks a bunch, Mama Eve!" However, the pain of a c-section is extremely honorable. My pain directly benefits another human being. I have the chance to mirror, in my own humble way, the wonderful words of our Lord, "This is my body given up for you."
Because the Devil likes to screw up anything holy, there is a lot of hidden pride involved in childbirth. "I pushed for 20 hours without an epidural!" Yet a c-section is often a shameful and embarrassing thing. No one boasts "Hey, my body failed to eject my daughter before her heart-rate plummeted towards death." Or "Man, you should have seen me survive those itchy allergy waves from my withdraw of a morphine like substance."
All of this shame, invites the Devil to mess with our thoughts. Anxiety can rob us of joy. Anxiety robs us of Trust in Our Lord. At the most extreme end, anxiety can rob us of our future children. How many poor women without access to Mommy Mary end up on birth control (or even NFP) out of fear of having "too many" c-sections?
Here are some "enemies" that I've encountered in my childbirth travels.
The Earth Mother
I graduated from an all women's college. At age 18, before I'd even gone to second base with a guy, I KNEW the only proper way to have children. A girl on my college debate team had a Mother who was a midwife in Alaska. We actually spent long hours in the car on I-95 talking about how it was possible to give birth at home using only a bottle of purified oil to avoid vaginal tears. Real women pushed out babies in pools of water, or in their actual beds, or even in hospital parking lots assisted my EMTs.
Then I had Hannah.
After ten hours of labor with the crunchiest Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine that I could find, my little girl needed to exit quickly with an emergency c-section. In that moment, I realized that all of my theories about the ideal childbirth experience were just theories. When the moment of crisis came, I had peace with taking the "unhip" c-section surgery. I wanted my daughter out. I wanted my daughter safe.
For a long time, I felt like a failure because I didn't get a healthy, happy childbirth experience. Now I see in retrospect that I was true, spiritual Mother from the start. I chose to put aside my selfish "Earth Mother birth fantasy" when my daughter needed extra medical help to survive.
I live is a secular world that is completely anti-life. Even though I have individual doctors that I trust, the vast majority are pro-contraception and anti-large families. I've had physicians tell me to stop having babies with less concern than they would be to tell me to stop smoking. The Devil seems to know just when a "off the cuff" remark will keep me up at night.
My personal rule of survival is: "If you are lecturing me to stop having c-sections without looking at my personal medical chart, I don't have to listen to you."
Thankfully, every doctor who has actually reviewed my chart has always given me the green light to have more c-sections. I've promised myself that if I get to the point where a doctor I trust tells me to stop, that I at least owe it to myself to get a second opinion from a Catholic OB specialist.
I'm not trying to have c-sections against Medical Advice. I just want the medical advice to be based on the individual facts in my case and not a blanket belief that more than one c-section is bad.
Because I didn't have the childbirth experiences of my dream, I had great attacks of spiritual envy. I'd read about someone having a beautiful home birth with their seventeenth kid and think "Why not me, God?" It was amazing, but the people who helped me most overcome this sin was all the wonderful Adoptive Mom blogs I read during my pregnancy. I stopped worrying that the hospital OR didn't have mood lighting! After all, what Ukrainian Orphanage offers "mood lighting." Orphanages and ORs are holy places because they are the first chance we have to meet our beloved sons and daughters face to face!
There are some Catholic women who seem genuinely shocked that a V-BAC is not a good option for each and every girl. I think it goes along with a larger phenomina of being "scandalized by the cross." It's really important to protect your mental health from this type of fruitless discussion. I have driven myself crazy second guessing my first and second c-sections YEARS afterward as a recrossed this territory with younger children.
The antidote to this type of second-guessing crazy is to strengthen my trust in Christ. I remind myself that I made these "decisions" while in grace and while actively trying to determine God's will in my life.
During pregnancy, it's common to feel persecuted by each of these three groups of people in my life. I need to remember to stay calm and focused. I also need to actively pray for these people. I need to remember that I'm fighting "Powers and Principalities" during this c-section journey and not get resentful of individual people.