It would be a lie – or at least an incomplete truth – to deny that part of me longed for a natural birth as the threshold to salvation. I had never completely treated my body as an ally. I starved myself to reduce it and spent years drinking myself to the blackout and various other dangers. Pregnancy was already feeling like a more redeeming chapter in this tense mind-body relationship: I was taking care of another little body on my own! Everything my body ate fed hers. All the blood that was pumping through my heart flowed through hers. Bearing her into the world would not only be the culmination of her nine month incubation, but also a refutation of all the ways I have abused or punished my body over the years, all the ways I have used it as a burden because treated as a collaborator. My mind resisted that logic, but I could feel – on a visceral, cellular, hormonal level – its pull.
“Silent Knife: Cesarean Prevention & Vaginal Birth After Cesarean,” an influential anti-caesarean manifesto published in 1983 by writers Nancy Wainer Cohen and Lois Estner, insists that what it calls “pure birth,” “no scream.” or desire for perfection “is”, although the definition sounds a little … demanding in the end: “Birth that is completely free of medical interventions. She is self-determined, confident, and self-sufficient. ”The unspoken tension throughout the book is also the unspoken tension embedded in the broader backlash against caesarean sections: between recognizing the trauma of a caesarean section and reinforcing or creating that trauma by having the caesarean section as a compromised or lesser birth is called. A section titled “Voices of the Victims” quotes women who have been traumatized by their caesarean section: “It felt like I was being raped,” says one woman. “There was nothing I could do but wait for it to be over.” Says one father: “A c-sec is one of the worst mutilations that can be done on a woman, as well as the denial of a woman’s basic right to experience childbirth.”
Inspired by Ina May Gaskin’s famous statement that “one can fix the body by working on the mind,” Cohen and Estner argue that our uterus is cluttered with “unaddressed stresses or fears” that hinder the birth process but are swept aside can through self-awareness to “clear a passage for normal birth”. The implication is that conversely, emotional baggage could be “to blame” for a caesarean section. When I read the book 38 years after it was written, I immediately dismissed that notion. But another part of me – the part that has been conditioned all my life to feel responsible for the impossible ideals of motherhood – was not immune to this magical thinking. I had secretly given in to my own favorite theories about the possible psychological causes of my caesarean section: my eating disorder, my abortion, my maternal ambivalence. Had I abused my body so much that it refused to give birth naturally in retaliation? Was I more attached to the idea of motherhood than prepared for the reality of motherhood? Was my failure to go into labor – when my baby’s heart rate dropped – a sign of this subconscious reluctance?
If “Silent Knife” was written to give women the ability to act by defending themselves against the tyrannical tutelage of Caesarean sections, then there is another tyranny embedded in its alleged restoration of agency, a tyranny that continues to this day has: a script of self-control that can become another straitjacket, another repetition of the claustrophobic mother ideal. Expressing compassion for a woman who feels like an inadequate mother for not giving birth “naturally” can easily make her feel that way. Many of the ideas that “Silent Knife” formulated years ago are still deep forces that shape childbirth today, even if people may not admit them: The idea that birth by caesarean section is less “real” than that they imply a lack of willpower or failure of mind.
Motherhood is instinctive, but it is also hereditary: a set of circulating ideals that we encounter and that we absorb. The fact that we are constantly being shaped by external role models of an inner impulse makes women very susceptible to narratives of “real” or “real” motherhood and all the more susceptible to feeling scolded or marginalized by them. A woman’s right to express her preferences during the birthing process is increasingly prioritized, and rightly so, but it is easy to fetishize these preferences as the ultimate evidence of female empowerment, when of course societal forces also influence them. It is a kind of partial vision to uphold a woman’s desire for natural birth as a sign of unpolluted feminine agency, when this desire has been shaped by all the voices who tout natural birth as the perfection of a woman’s feminine identity.
As my daughter Growing from newborn to infant to toddler, I dreamed of getting my belly scar tattooed. There are whole Pinterest boards full of cesarean section scar tattoos and Instagram hashtags dedicated to them (#csectionscarsarebeautiful): angel wings, diamonds, draped beads, flaming weapons. Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. A blue rose that unfolds in italics: “Imperfection is beautiful.” Bold Gothic font: “MAN’S RUIN”. A “Star Wars” scene in which two snubbed fighters approach the Death Star. A zipper that’s partially opened to reveal an eye lurking inside. Scissors ready to cut along a dotted line colored next to the scar itself. A trompe-l’oeil of a paper clip that pierces the skin as if it were holding the abdomen together across the break line. My favorites are the ones where the scar is intentionally worked into the design itself. A low cross-section becomes the thorn of a feather or a branch full of cherry blossoms. These tattoos don’t try to hide the scar from the eyes, but instead use it as part of a larger vision. I’ve started to imagine a line of songbirds on a wire on my skin.
The fantasy of this tattoo was part of a deeper reckoning with the question of whether I would like to tell the birth – for myself, for others – as miraculous, traumatic or simply banal, as an everyday necessity. Around the time I started thinking about a tattoo, I read a memoir by an Oregon writer named Roanna Rosewood entitled “Cut, Stapled, and Repaired: When a Woman Reclaimed Her Body and Was Born on Her Own Terms after a Caesarean “. My inner Sunday (“Illness is not a metaphor!”) Resisted the confirmation of a mother on the front flap: “I blamed my midwife for my failure, but secretly knew that it was me; my lack of self-confidence led to my failure. ”Although I resented what I interpreted as the only“ real ”worship of the book of vaginal birth, I could see – if I was honest with myself – that my resistance was also coming from the fear arose that I had missed an extraordinarily powerful experience. As I read Rosewood’s statement that “a clean and passive birth is as similar to an empowered one as an annual test is to making love,” I felt profoundly foolish – as if I saw the birth of my daughter as the most powerful experience of my life (which I did ) was kind of like mistaking a pap smear for an orgasm.