The latest chapter in the birthing wars.
Just when I think the “birthing wars” have gone too far, I recently learned the term “C-section” is becoming passé. We now need a whole new way of describing a surgery that’s been happening since the time of Caesar himself. Behold, the new term, “belly birth” – the alternative way of talking about what many view as an otherwise cold, and/or invasive medical procedure.
The “belly birth” is an attempt at giving women a more empowering way to reframe undesired birth experiences – i.e. those who feel they have been robbed of the joy of delivering an entire human through their vaginal canal. According to online trends, more women are renaming their C-sections as belly births, in an effort to take back their agency in birth experiences that felt largely out of their control, as well as to normalize C-sections. The idea being: A belly birth is something that you participate in, whereas a C-section is simply done to you.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a cesarean section (C-section) is defined as: “the surgical procedure used to deliver a baby through incisions to the abdomen and uterus.” There are many reasons why physicians opt to go this route, including; the baby being in distress, the baby being in an abnormal position, or labor not progressing, to name a few.
Despite these very legitimate reasons for surgery, the stigma around C-sections still persists. People sometimes point to the moms who have undergone them as having gotten away with an “easier way out” (remember the phrase “too posh to push”?); and some women who have had them feel ashamed of their own birth experiences.
But wouldn’t naming C-sections something else – particularly something like “belly birth”, which almost sounds like a mystical event – be further reinforcing that stigma? Barriers are seldom broken when we dance around the thing people are afraid of, or when we make them more palatable to the people who don’t understand them.
Renaming a C-section birth a “belly birth” disassociates the surgery from the birth experience. The term itself evokes an image of a woman magically bringing forth her baby from the depths of her uterus, and out of her stomach, by sheer will. Is everyone supposed to pretend that a surgery never happened in order to get that baby out of the woman’s belly?
Admittedly, for the people behind this movement, removing the surgery aspect of the C-section is probably the point of calling it something like “belly birth” in the first place. In their view, they would like the emphasis to be on the birth of the baby, rather than the surgery itself. But why erase any reference to the surgery that made that baby’s birth possible? There’s something about that act that reeks of shame, too. It doesn’t feel inclusive, but more like a rewriting of history.
I have had two C-sections. One was an emergency C-section: after I had labored for over 24 hours, my body wouldn’t fully dilate, and my son’s heart rate plummeted. The other was a planned section, for the same reasons I had to have my first C-section, under the advice of the doctor I trust with my life (and those of my babies). I love telling people about my C-sections, and, if they’re willing to hear them, I enjoy regaling them with the gory details of each one. I didn’t choose my first C-section, but there’s a lot about motherhood that I don’t get control over. My C-sections are my birth stories, and I am proud of them.
When you think about it, what isn’t empowering about lying AWAKE on a table, as a doctor slices into your abdomen? How can you not feel like a badass after you have lived through having your stomach opened, then rummaged around in, and then having a baby pulled out of it? And then, while your guts are still open to the heavens, you most likely have a moment with your brand new baby to pose and take a photo, because that is just how #momboss you are. You’re so amazingly tough, in fact, you get to witness your doctor sewing you back up, possibly feeling just a few tugs around on your insides, and maybe the ol’ burn of a cauterizer. That’s some superhuman sh*t. And then someone has the nerve to tell you that it wasn’t a real birth worth being proud of? That you had a “belly” birth? Ha! That’s cute.
Mamas of C-sections, I think the issue isn’t what we call the damn procedure. I think it’s the fact that we feel we need to rename it in the first place. The idea of the C-section being “less than” the vaginal birth feeds into that same comparing and competing that’s so rampant in the mom world. You know; things like how a vaginal birth with epidural is “less than” one without. Or how a birth in the hospital might as well be a back alley birth when compared to a beautiful home birth in a birthing tub surrounded by dancing doulas. You get the idea.
That’s not to say that I’d wish a C-section upon someone who didn’t want one. It is not an easy surgery to recover from. It requires support from friends or family members (or hired help) to help with the baby in order to allow your body to heal properly. It can take up to a year (or more) for your body to fully recover internally from the trauma. But a C-section is not a death. It is, in most cases, (nefarious doctors aside) a medically necessary means to a birth.
So what if we cheered each other for having undergone successful C-section births instead of grieving over them, or worse, not speaking their name? Calling a C-section by any other name puts us at further distance from overcoming our fear, hate, or distrust of this surgery; and our ability to accept – and even embrace it.
Photography by @tash.things.
Would you call your c-section a "belly birth"? Tune in Wednesday, June 27th at 2 pm EST on Facebook Live to discuss cesarean births and how to truly normalize them.