Pamela Lurie is one of our former Great Expectations writers, featured when she was pregnant with her third baby. She lives with her husband and three boys outside of Denver, Colorado, where she practices yoga and helps families heal from traumatic birth experiences and abdominal and pelvic floor injuries.
April is Cesarean Awareness Month and around this time of year I always reflect upon the birth of my oldest son. He will turn eight in May; almost eight years since the birth that changed my life and my life's mission forever.
Obviously, the birth of your first child is a moment that you've planned and thought about since finding out you were pregnant (or before that for some women). The parts about Julian's birth that went how we hoped were that our doula supported us to the ends of the earth, our doctors supported every decision we made, and our son was born. Other than that, I didn't get to meet my son the way that I envisioned after my many birth classes and books I read. Rather than being able to have that blissful skin-to-skin moment I dreamt of, I got to meet my son when he was wrapped in a blanket and I was strapped to a table with IVs in my arms and my abdomen was being sewed up. Instead of being able to nurse him while I rested in bed, I got to see him through an incubator as he recovered from his traumatic birth and I pumped as much as I humanly could after having been awake for 33+ hours and going through major abdominal surgery.
After his birth, I struggled at the loss of not having the birth we hoped. Yes, I’m very grateful that he came home healthy and we went on to have an amazing breastfeeding experience despite how we began. Yes, I’m grateful for the support we had during his birth and that we had choices every step of the way, but his entrance wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Aren’t babies supposed to be born naturally and without medication? I had this impression that birth had to be as natural as possible and any variation on that ultimately took away from the vital experience of becoming a mother. It has taken me years to be able to realize that while our birth did not follow the model we hoped, Julian’s birth is still a legitimate entrance into motherhood and his birth did not take away from my own mothering philosophies.
I didn’t want to have a repeat cesarean when my second was born. It took me interviewing multiple doctors, attending International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) meetings, and surrounding myself with women who understood the difficulties of vaginal-birth-after-cesarean (VBAC) mothers to realize that while it didn’t feel like I had options about my second’s birth, that indeed I did. I had to let go of the comments from other people about how “risky” I was being in wanting a VBAC and find out for myself about the facts about VBACs. When my second son was born, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists had not released their landmark study that said VBACs are a “safe and appropriate choice for women with previous cesareans.” I was told that due to my previous “big baby” (he weighed 8 lbs 13 oz) that I was not a good candidate for VBAC because my second baby would obviously be bigger (my second was 6 lbs 11 oz). I was told that because my first child was malpositioned that my second would be as well. I was told that due to my size (I am 5’2”) that I clearly cannot get bigger babies out of my body. I was told that my son would die if I tried to have a VBAC.
Despite all the setbacks and misinformation from doctors who were too afraid to take on my case, I forged on finding a team of people who would not only support me but also give me evidence-based information to make informed decisions about my care. In the end, I chose a certified professional midwife to support me through the process and in February 2010 I birthed my second son at home. His birth was a healing experience for me and nothing could have prepared me for the exhilaration of having a totally natural and uncomplicated birth experience.
When I became pregnant with my third son, I remained with my midwife for care and in December 2012 I caught my son in a birthing pool in my living room.
Up to today, I still can’t say the words, “I gave birth to my son.” Instead, I say, “the day my son was born.” I realize that the words generally mean the same thing but fundamentally, I didn’t give birth to my son. He was born. He knows the scar on my body where he came out and he’s seen me work for years to repair my body from the trauma of having children. He’s seen me prepare and birth both of his brothers at home and he believes that his birth was special not only because he was my first child but also because he’s the only one of his brothers who was born abdominally.
Being able to talk with him as he’s gotten older about his birth has been healing as well. I realize more and more how lucky I was to have had different birth experiences to give me perspective in my mothering experience and that without my abdominal birth I never would have found one of my missions in life, which is to help other women heal from traumatic births both emotionally and physically. I’m fortunate to have had the means (both financially and legally, as CPMs are not permitted to work in every state) to go for the births I wanted and knew in my heart that I was capable of.
If there’s anything I wish for mothers this April as we educate ourselves about cesareans, it’s to find the support they need for whatever birth they hope to have. We always have choices and while I realize my choices may not have been yours, I hope that you find the courage to go after what you want. I know you can do it and I believe in what your body can do.