Currently, 32.2% of pregnant people give birth by cesarean in the US. Cesareans save lives in emergency situations. However, when parents were not planning to give birth by cesarean, there can be sadness, anger, and disappointment. There are many ways to bring our children into the world and no matter how you welcome yours, chances are you will need to process and unpack the experience.
The chances are also great that many people you know have been brave enough to lay down their bodies for the birth of their children. You might wonder how you can best support them. Let’s start with what not to say.
“At least you didn’t have to go through labor.”
First of all, if you find yourself wanting to say “At least-” statements to anyone after a serious life event, you’re doing it wrong. If they had wanted to experience spontaneous labor and they had to schedule their cesarean, this isn’t going to comfort them. And if they did experience labor and it was decided that cesarean was the safest route during the process, you definitely shouldn’t say,
“The bright side is you didn’t have to wreck your lady garden!”
Yes, many people tear during vaginal birth. But the person you are speaking to is recovering from major abdominal surgery. It is also not your given task to immediately set out to find a silver lining for your friend. They are smart. Start by listening without assumptions.
“Did you try chiropractic? Acupuncture? Inverting? Hands and knees?”
If they didn’t try any of these things, are you prepared to imply that was surely the cause for their cesarean? Are you qualified to make that kind of diagnosis? Also notice you would be suggesting they didn’t do enough, or did something wrong. Imagine how horrible that could make someone feel.
Let’s address a group of similar statements:
“I would never consent to a cesarean. I’m an advocate of natural birth.”
“So many c-sections are unnecessary. Are you sure you needed it?”
“Your doctor was most likely lying if they said that.”
What purpose would it serve to bring up your own personal preferences around birth at this time? And what would it communicate to second-guess someone else’s personal and high stakes choices? That you don’t think they know best for themselves. Bringing up distrust of their doctor or suggesting they are a victim also doesn’t fall under “listening without assumptions.” What if they were pleased with their experience and felt they were taken care of and respected?
NEVER perpetuate the notion that cesarean is not birth. It is, and it is not the easy way out. Don’t ask, “Do you feel like you missed out on experiencing birth?” or say, “There’s always next time.” What if there isn’t a next time? While subsequent births can help heal past trauma (if there is trauma), they are not the only answer.
If you want to be supportive, listen. Affirm their feelings. Avoid trying to fix anything for them. I’ve found when I’ve fallen into trying to fix things for someone else, or dissecting their story in search of an error, or making a fool proof plan for them to prevent events from happening again, I’m reacting to my own feelings of discomfort. That’s ultimately selfish.
Lastly, I would reiterate that if someone you know has had a cesarean and it ever comes up, you should not assume anything about how they might feel about it. With more and more parents being interested in un-medicated birth, it is easy to jump to “I’m sorry.” That could be the most insulting thing to say if they are satisfied with their experience. Listen without assumptions. Be prepared to acknowledge whatever is there. And don’t allow the method of birth to define the parent.