Beyond the Scar: C-Section Stories
While one-third of all births in the United States occur via cesarean section, the stigma around undergoing surgery instead of "natural childbirth" can be difficult for new mothers to navigate.
Recovery from a C-section can be more traumatic and painful than vaginal birth, and the healing timeline is extended. On top of all that, women have the additional trauma of addressing the "shame" of surgical delivery.
In support of pregnant women and postpartum mothers, we asked women from all over the country to share their C-section experiences with the hope that no mother will ever feel less than because she underwent surgery to safely deliver her child.
These are their stories.
Jenna M, 33
"I was induced with my first baby at 39 weeks due to anxiety. I never dilated past 9 cm, and after 32 hours of laboring, I was begging for a C-section because of the pain and my anxiety was at an all-time high. I am a NICU nurse and see a lot of birth trauma, so in my eyes a C-section was safer. Eighteen months later, I scheduled a repeat C-section for my son because I had no desire to go the VBAC [vaginal birth after cesarean] route. He ended up being transverse, so a VBAC would've been ruled out anyway. And, honestly, vaginal birth terrified me."
Donna V, 56
"My first son measured off the charts in growth for most of my pregnancy. By 41 weeks, I was terrified of how big he would be when I finally went into labor, and if I would be able to get him out. After 16 hours of laboring, two epidurals, and never dilating past 5 cm, I was breaking down physically and was [emotionally] spent. When my doctor recommended a C-section, I knew it was my best chance to meet my son. When he was born, the doctor pulled him out sunny side up and told me it would have been dangerous for both of us if I had continued trying to deliver vaginally. He was 10 pounds and 23 inches long."
Janine S, 49
"I planned to have a vaginal delivery, but three weeks before my first son was born, I developed gestational hypertension and preeclampsia. I was induced 10 days before my due date, but the baby would not descend into the birth canal after 30 hours of labor. The doctor made the decision to do a C-section. I felt more scared of surgery and [the] recovery to come.
When my doctor recommended a C-section, I knew it was my best chance to meet my son.
"My second pregnancy was a planned VBAC because there was nothing that was warranting me to have another C-section. I was able to avoid preeclampsia, so a VBAC seemed doable. Unfortunately, I never dilated past a 4 and my son was in distress, so the on-call physician felt a C-section was best to proceed. Because I didn't labor long, my recovery was easy and I was up and walking the same day. With my first son, I was in a fog in bed for four days, unable to feed him or change diapers because of side effects from the preeclampsia medication. My deliveries were a night and day experience, just like my boys."
Tiffany C, 33
"At 37 weeks, I found out my daughter was breech and a C-section was scheduled. I cried. That wasn't the plan, but it ended up being a very positive experience. My first [C-section] was pretty easy.... From the start of surgery to seeing my baby for the first time, it was two minutes.
"For my second pregnancy, I was very interested in a VBAC, but ended up making the decision to do a repeat CS. Come to find out, my son was also breech [9 percent of subsequent pregnancies result in a repeat breech presentation] and I wouldn't have had the option for VBAC.
"Many times when I felt discouraged about 'having to have a CS,' I would remind myself that I was lucky to live during a time when it was an option to get my baby(ies) out safely. Recovery was about the same for both.... It was challenging to move around for about 7 to 10 days, but there were tools like medications and abdominal binders to help with that incision site discomfort when needed."
Shannon T, 41
"My first delivery ended in a C-section because I had labored and wasn't making any progress. It was an easy decision for me to make. For my second, I did discuss the VBAC option with my OB—but he said that I had too much scar tissue, which can lead to more complications, so I scheduled a C-section instead.
"I knew what to expect, plus was able to heal better. I tried to do too much after my first and popped several stitches. With my second one, I took it a lot easier and did a better job with pain management."
Stacey G, 34
"At my 36-week OB appointment, my son's head was measuring around 40 weeks. He had minor hydrocephaly, which contributed to the head size. It was at that point that I needed to feel some sort of control over the pregnancy and delivery. I was concerned about delivering a big baby, so I decided to have a C-section. He was still sitting high all the way up until 40 weeks.
"When he was born, I remember my doctor saying something about his shoulders making it tough to pull him out. Later that day, she told me I'd made the right decision based on his size and shoulders.
"I had mixed reactions with family and friends when I told people I was choosing a C-section. Some were supportive, others assumed I was afraid to try vaginally, and a few asked if I had questioned my doctor's decision. That's when I told them it was my decision, and what I wanted for my birth plan."
Mary S, 63
"I labored for 12 hours after my water broke at home but never dilated much more than a few centimeters. Because my water broke on its own, we couldn't waste much time waiting for my baby to come on her own. My doctor had discussed the possibility of a C-section at my prenatal appointments, so I felt prepared.
'My goal was always just to have a healthy baby.... The way she arrived was never an issue for me.'
"I would say my recovery was uneventful. There was some pain associated with the incision, but I was able to get up and move around easily after a few days. For my second birth, my physician was very supportive of VBAC, and I successfully delivered my daughter vaginally.
"My goal was always just to have a healthy baby.... The way she arrived was never an issue for me."
Every delivery story is important
People can go into pregnancy with preconceived notions stemming from their own research and education, the way the media showcases birth and personal experiences shared by family and friends.
Regardless of a woman's age, location or birth preference, one thing remains—each mother has a unique and meaningful experience in the delivery room, whether it's what she envisioned or a necessary change of plan.