I Wish To Tell You...
A lot of new moms say that they're sad and disappointed in the way that their family and friends respond to the way they feel about their C-section. They don't feel supported... and oftentimes, they feel ignored and criticized by those who are closest to them.
Although I wrote it specifically to moms and dads, parts of it could be appropriate for friends, colleagues, and other people who are close to you.
This was written when I was in the depths of my despair and ache and hurt after my C-section... and I can say that, although the intensity fades somewhat, it resurfaces frequently... and without warning... even now, 20 months later. So, please continue to ask moms about their C-sections, even months after their child is born. This is especially important around the child's birthday... because to the mom, this is also the anniversary of her surgery, and it can be a tough day.
I wish to tell you…
Dear Mom and Dad…
I wish to tell you… that your baby girl was hurt today. Someone sliced open my belly… the very same belly one you used to rub and pat to help me fall asleep. I now have a big, raw, red wound on my belly and it really hurts. It hurts a lot. Remember the time I got punched in the stomach and all the wind got knocked out of me? Well, it hurts about a gazillion times more than that.
I wish to tell you… physically, it feels like someone has taken an electric can opener and run it back and forth across my pubic bone… and then turned my stomach into a punching bag that they’ve whacked, whacked, repeatedly until I can’t breathe anymore. It would take about 50 more sentences to describe the pain I feel in my body, but you don’t need all those details. You just need to know that your baby girl hurts a lot. I've got a big boo-boo… one that all the Mickey Mouse bandaids in the world can’t heal.
I wish to tell you… how important it is that you acknowledge my pain. When I was little, and I got a boo-boo, you were the first person I ran to. I needed to show you where I got hurt, because you would make it better. Today, I'm not saying you have to kiss the scar that’s on my belly and put a band-aid on it, but it would be nice if you asked me if you could see it (just like you used to look at all of my scrapes). I know you probably won’t want to see it, just like you didn’t like seeing my knees scraped up when I was a little girl… but if you ignore me and pretend that my scar isn’t there, then that makes me feel sad.
I wish to tell you… that when you came to the hospital after my baby was born, it hurt my feelings because you ignored me. You said hello, but then you raced over to my baby and gave him all the attention you used to give me. I know you’re excited to see the baby… I am, too. But when you ignore me, and the pain I’m in, it makes me very angry. When I had my tonsils out in college, you were there for me. You brought books and treats and food and you sat with me (even though my bad breath made the room smell totally disgusting). You took care of me for days. But now, after this surgery, you ignored me. Oh yes, you asked me how I was feeling, but you didn’t stop to listen to my answer. I knew from the way you asked that you didn’t really want to know, anyway, you just wanted to ask so that you could then cuddle the baby. When you wanted to watch the videotape of my son being ripped from my belly, and I started sobbing as I listened to the sounds of the operating room coming from that little video camera… you left the room, but you did so in silence. And when you came back, you never acknowledged the fact that I was so sad. You never asked me about the surgery.
I wish to tell you… that every time you say, “Why aren’t you happy? It’s a shame that you’re wasting this precious time with your baby by being sad… because it goes by so quickly!” you make me feel like the most selfish, awful mother on earth. You remind me of the fact that I can’t move on, that I’m still consumed by the fact that the day that was supposed to be the best day of my life turned into the worst day of my life. Do you think that I, who carried this child for 10 months in my womb… I, who turned my entire life upside down to bring this child into the world… I, who let my body be CUT INTO… allowed myself to feel raped… allowed myself to put all of my feelings and goals and hopes and health philosophies aside for the “safety of my baby”… that I would WANT to waste this time with my child? I sacrificed everything that was important to me to get him here in my arms… so when you tell me that I should be over it by now, and that I’m wasting precious time with him… you make me feel like the lowest human on the planet.
I wish to tell you… I am already beating myself up a million times a day for being sad, for being angry, for not loving him because of what his “birth” did to me, for being cut, for not knowing enough to avoid it, for not being strong enough to avoid it, for not being able to carry his carseat, for not being able to walk more than a block before my belly hurts, for having to be an invalid in the hospital instead of being a mamma bear at home, for not feeling well enough to even want to celebrate his first birthday, for not being able to create a birth that would be healing and welcoming for him. I don’t need you to beat me up as well. I’m doing that well enough on my own, thank you. Remember when that boy teased me in first grade, and I came home upset and crying and said I never wanted to go back to school? You didn’t tell me that I was “wasting my first grade year” by being sad about this boy. You acknowledged that he was a pain in the butt, and that he probably just had a crush on me. How about acknowledging that my birth was horrific, and that it’s OK for me to be sad?
I wish to tell you… when you say, “I wish you hadn’t become so sensitive over the past few years, because then this C-section wouldn’t have bothered you so much” that you are really saying, “I wish I didn’t have to deal with the fact that you are in pain.”
What lies underneath your words, if you look at them closely, are the following implications: “I wish you didn’t hold your body in high regard. I wish you would just numb yourself to the act of giving birth, and forget that it’s the most important moment of your life. I wish you didn’t plan, hope, and dream for this child’s birth in the loving way that you did. I wish you hadn’t grown to love your body, and not want to see it sliced into. I wish you would just make this easier on all of us, because we don't know how to deal with your pain.”
I wish to tell you… even if I hadn’t become so sensitive, this C-section could very well have still rocked my world, and not in a good way. You brought three children in to the world, and you know how much birth changes everything. How can you say to me that all of my anger and sadness and frustration and grief and regret stems from sensitivity? Again, when you say that, I have yet another thing (that being sensitivity) to add to my list of “what makes me broken as a mom and a woman.”
I wish to tell you… when I was a teenager, and I didn’t get a part in the school musical, and I came home and cried about it, you didn’t tell me to stop being sensitive. You told me that I was good enough, and I tried hard, and that it wasn’t my fault, that the director was stupid, and that you were sad for me. So, why is it OK to be sensitive as a not-so-good aspiring actress in high school… but not OK to be sensitive as a woman who has just experienced the most traumatic event of her life?
I wish to tell you… when I was in college, and I called home one night and sounded sad and a bit hurt about the way a boy treated me, you quickly asked, “Did he hurt you?” And I could honestly say no. I remember that you were so quick to want to know if that boy had hurt me… you were so quick to want to know if you needed to protect me.
So, it’s hard for me to understand why you are having such a hard time acknowledging that a doctor hurt me. That a doctor made me feel as though I was raped. That a doctor made me feel small. That a doctor made me feel “pushy” for daring to question the medical procedures that have been established for the comfort of doctors and hospital policies, not for the comfort of my body and my baby’s health.
That a doctor made me question all of my wisdom, intuition, education, reading, and carefully-thought-out decisions that I’d made for the birth of my child… all because they didn’t line up with the protocols that she’s forced to follow. Why didn’t you want to protect me from all of the abuse that I suffered – both physical and emotional – in the hospital?
That abuse was MUCH more real – and damaging – than any college boyfriend turbulence. Yet, you remained silent. You never asked, “Did she (your doctor) hurt you?” You probably didn’t want to hear me say “yes.” But that didn’t stop you from asking when I was in college. What’s different now?
I wish to tell you… when you say, “But isn’t a C-section the safest way to have a baby?” you show me that the media has done too good a job of making a major abdominal surgery seem “normal.” And it helps me understand why you didn’t know that I was hurting so badly.
I wish to tell you… when you encouraged me to get the C-section, rather than trusting and honoring that my own body could birth my baby in the normal, age-old way that women have been birthing babies for centuries and centuries… you were unknowingly setting me up for many potential problems down the line. You see…
I wish to tell you…
So, please don’t ask me when your next grandchild is coming. I’m simply not there yet.
I wish to tell you… the number one best thing that you can/could say to me is:
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry this happened to you. I know this is the last thing you wanted, and I’m so sorry. Would you like to tell me about it?”
You can never say “I’m sorry” or ask “Would you like to talk about it?” too many times. There will always be something to say. You don't have to have a solution, or know the answer, or have something comforting to say.
Just keep asking me questions, and let me talk. Let me cry. Let me get mad (I might get mad at you... that's OK... it's just part of the process, and I need to let it happen).
I wish to tell you… I know that you did your very best at the time to support me.
I wish to tell you… I know it’s hard to understand what I’ve been through… because you’re not me, and you didn’t go through what I went through.
I wish to tell you… I know that you didn’t want to see your little girl in pain, and it may have been easier to ignore it (even unintentionally) than to face it head-on.
I wish to tell you… I know that you probably had no idea how much I was hurting – physically – or on the inside. Because I probably did a good job of hiding it. Because new moms aren't supposed to be upset or angry or sad... it's supposed to be the best day of their lives, right?
I wish to tell you… I’m still hurting. I still feel the pain of what happened to me. I think about it a lot... some days, I think about it all the time. Having an adorable baby doesn’t diminish the pain. Having another baby won’t make that pain disappear either (even if the birth turns out exactly as I’d hoped the last one would). The pain will be here forever (just like that scar that I got on my forehead when you accidentally tripped me with the stroller).
I wish to tell you all of these things because I still need your support now.
I wish to tell you all of these things because you know other moms and dads whose daughters will go through or have gone through this same thing, and I would really, really, really like it if you could share this letter with them. Because it may just help them understand what their daughters are going through. And it may help them know what to say and what not to say.
The last thing I wish to tell you… is that my birth was considered a “routine” and “normal” C-section by the medical community. I didn’t get infected. I left the hospital a day early. My scar has pretty much healed. I didn’t have a hysterectomy. My son didn’t get cut during the surgery. I got to keep my son in the operating room with me while I was sewn up. I was awake throughout the entire surgery, I didn’t get put under completely with general anesthesia. I got to take the catheter out the next morning. I got to listen to my ipod during surgery (yeah, like that helped distract me). I got to keep my placenta. I got to start jogging again 2 months after surgery.
For all intents and purposes (from the medical point of view, at least) my C-section was a “SUCCESS.” A TEXTBOOK recovery.
* So with all of the pain and suffering that my C-section caused me… with the emotional aftermath and the physical repercussions that I and my husband have witnessed (because these repercussions aren’t apparent to other people)… you can only imagine what a C-section is like for a mom who has complications in the hospital, or whose body or baby suffers permanently from surgery damage or a doctors’ mistakes. With these moms, even more care, love, support, and listening is needed.
Because this is not the way birth is supposed to be. It makes sense that moms and dads don’t know what to do, what to say, how to act, how to react… to support their daughters who end up being cut. Because it’s not normal, it’s not natural, it’s not joyful, and it’s not empowering. Not at all.