What my scar taught me.
I have a seven-inch scar that runs the width of my pelvis. Seven inches is approximately the size of the larger smartphones on the market today. This scar sits at the center of my body and reminds me every morning I wake up, and every night I go to sleep of how my daughter was brought into this world. The nurse on shift that evening kept telling me ‘you’re not pushing correctly, I don’t know what you’re doing wrong, but you’re just not pushing right’. After 12 hours of back labor I spiked a fever and my baby’s heart rate started to increase. A few hours later, with no progress and a persistent fever, my obstetrician informed me that an emergency cesarean section (c-section) was imminent.
To me this scar is not just physical, but is an artifact of the fear I had as I was wheeled away from my husband into the operating room, the aching pain that radiated from so deep in my abdomen as I lay in bed for a week after the surgery. It is a depiction of the tears, the grief, and the disappointment in myself that I felt for over a year after my beautiful and healthy daughter was born.
Before I became pregnant I thought I was in control of my life and could manifest a smooth labor with no need for epidural and a vaginal birth. After all I was very healthy, had a good job, had a wonderful husband, and had no difficulty getting pregnant. During pregnancy I had gestational diabetes but managed it well. For these reasons I did not think I would end up with a c-section.
The surgery was successful and my beautiful baby was born healthy. But after the surgery I felt this huge disappointment in myself. I felt ashamed that I ended up with a c-section. I felt weak and betrayed by my body. I asked myself, why did the surgery disempower me so much? Is this still my body? Who am I now as I take on a new identity as a mother?” I wanted so badly to stop blaming myself for having had the procedure. I truly wanted to heal so that I could be the best mother possible to my daughter.
After my experience, I learned that c-sections are, in fact, hugely common in the United States as well as in many other cultures, and for many mothers it is often perceived as a trivial procedure. But for me it was a deeply cut wound that haunted me, leaving me with deep and powerful questions about myself. Western medicine is not new to me. In fact, I’ve practiced western medicine as a nurse practitioner in Nephrology and Gastroenterology for the last seven years. But the emergency c-section made me question how the medical culture intersects with my own personal experience as a woman going through childbirth.
In an effort to address these questions, I started reading about the history of c-sections. I learned that c-section, which was once done only in extremis, has now become a very common procedure worldwide. In fact, the CDC states that in the United States specifically, c-section rates increased by 60% between 1996 and 2009, from 20.7% to 32.7.
Medical anthropologists have also written widely about the problems associated with this rise in c-sections. According to LoCicero (1993) the difficulties in doctor-patient communication, differences in communication style and judgment, and the differences in how mothers and obstetricians actually define care, actually contribute to the rise in unnecessary c-sections. LoCicero (1993) approaches the problem from a psychosocial developmental perspective with an emphasis on gender, stating that the masculine model of care is incompatible with the needs of the women it is intending to serve. Lazarus (1994) comments on the medicalization of childbirth. When clinicians look at pregnancy as a disease that in some way needs to be treated, they constrain the biological and social frameworks by which women define the birth of a child. The increased use of birth technology, which stems in part resulting from the medical establishment’s fear of malpractice suits, has also led to women’s acceptance of and desire for the “technological fix providing the perfect birth” (Lazarus, 1994, p.27). Cesarean sections are only one example of the technology boom that’s impacting childbirth.
My intellectual understanding of c-sections did not, however, help me with the emotional, mental and spiritual pain I was going through. I knew I needed to go deeper within myself to understand what was going on with me. So I asked the universe for help and found a spiritual teacher who provided the framework for my healing. I started meditating, journaling and praying again. And eventually, as I became more aware of my thoughts and more in touch with my emotions, I started to process and understand them.
I started to see that because I was labeled a “high-risk” pregnancy due to my age and gestational diabetes, I became anxious and wanted the perfect birth. Perfect birth to me meant a natural birth. So when I ended up with a c-section, I felt disappointed because I did not achieve the perfect birth I wanted. I questioned whether I really needed it and considered myself a victim of the medical system. I also considered myself a victim of my own body, as if my body failed to help me through my labor.
As I healed, I learned that playing “victim” was not at all helpful. I saw that I was responsible for my own feelings and thoughts and that I could change them in any given moment. If there was something in the present that needed to change, I needed to take the steps to make this change. I saw that my true power came from this ability to make a choice and not from whether or not I had a c-section.
As I changed my perspective I slowly started to clear the shame I felt from having a c-section. I started to feel grateful that I came out alive after the surgery and thankful that my daughter was born healthy and alive. I became reacquainted with a sense of grace and humility and the appreciation for what I have in the present, instead of dwelling on what happened or what should have happened.
My scar has ultimately become a representation of my passage into motherhood, a passage that has empowered me to heal physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually from an experience that my doctors, nurses, family, and so many of the other new moms I met saw as just a procedure.
In many ways I am grateful for my scar, as I know it will always be on my body as a symbol of my power and capacity to heal and to grow. My scar tells me the story of my journey to grace and humility and the newfound love for myself, for my daughter, and for my husband; my renewed appreciation for life and my desire to share the lessons I have learned to help others.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015)). National Vital Statistics. Retrieved October 29, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr66/nvsr66_01.pdf.
Lazarus, Ellen S. (1994). What do women want?: Issues of choice, control, and class in pregnancy and childbirth. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 8 (1), 25–46. doi:10.1525/maq.1994.8.1.02a00030.
LoCicero, Alice Katherine. (1993). Explaining excessive rates of cesareans and other childbirth interventions: Contributions from contemporary theories of gender and psychosocial development. Social Science & Medicine, Special Issue Caesarean Section Births in the U.S., 37 (10), 1261–69. doi:10.1016/0277–9536(93)90337–4.