Wednesday, 25 July 2018

My Cut Present

In the early years of my career, I worked in Labour and Delivery and performed many vaginal deliveries and assisted in many Caesarean sections. At that point in time, I had no desire to have any children of my own, but interestingly, despite having first hand experience of the complications of childbirth (third and fourth degree tears, shoulder dystocias, hemorrhages) I had no fear about the birth process. I was terrified about what happens once someone handed the baby back to me. Interestingly, now I have fear about birth complications and newborn care seems pretty easy.

Even when I didn’t want to procreate, helping women go though the miracle of giving birth made me wonder how I would handle the situation. Oh course I had to have a vaginal delivery, without an epidural to show how tough I was and maybe even have a home birth, so I could shock my house guests by informing them I gave birth on the couch where they are sitting.  It would take a few more years in clinical practice and some personal experiences with infertility and pregnancy complications to appreciate that we have to stop putting the pussy on a pedestal (yes I’m quoting The 40 Year Old Virgin). As a medical profession, we have to stop demonizing C/sections and treating them as a failed vaginal birth. As a society, we have to stop being impressed when a woman brags about her all natural vaginal delivery of a 10 pound baby. Remember, there is a teenaged girl in Afghanistan who had an unassisted unmediated vaginal birth not to feel empowered, but because she has no other options.

I remember when I was a student on my pediatrics rotation. The doctor would ask his mothers of newborns “Did you have a normal delivery or a C/section?” One woman quietly admitted she had the big ‘C’ and I could tell she was bothered by his use of the word ‘normal’ As the doctor walked out of the room, I hung back and touched the new mom on the arm. “He wasn’t implying that a C/section is abnormal, I just think he’s uncomfortable saying the word ‘vaginal” I explained. The new mom smiled and we shared a gentle laugh. I patted myself on the back for being receptive to the patient, little did I know I’d be giving myself the same pep talk 15 years later.

Thanks to three and a half years of infertility, multiple failed treatments and the threat of death from a massive hemorrhage, I really came to terms with my Caesarean delivery, but I didn’t expect there would be moments where I would still be caught off guard. It was at our company’s holiday party. Previously, there wasn’t enough free alcohol and a meal nice enough to make me spend an evening with our affiliate administrators, until I accepted this leadership position and I felt obligated to attend. I’m also really not into designer purses, but I noticed that my ENT colleague had a really cute red bag. I complimented her bag. “Oh, it was my push present to myself!” She explained.

I felt a wave of inferiority wash over me. Oh yeah, you don’t get a push present because you didn’t push your baby out into this world. BTW, my baby was LIFTED into the world, which is a little nicer than being shoved out like a cannon… (back to my self-pity) Not only were you deprived of the awesome experience of childbirth, you’re not worthy of a present… 

As I advocate that we have to stop treating C/section patients as second class mothers, I realized that I needed to start with myself. As Elenor Roosevelt famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” My colleague (who is also an IVF Mamma) simply explaining that this was a present she gave to herself after giving birth. She wasn’t inferring that I wasn’t deserving, I was doing that myself. I know there are some vaginal birth purists who argue that C/section mammas shouldn’t use the phrase “gave birth” since they didn’t give birth, someone else did it for them. Initially, I wanted to say ‘fuck you’, but now my attitude is more ‘whatever’. Okay, so I didn’t “give birth” to my daughter. I do get credit for nourishing her through the entire full term gestational period and making sure she’d been thriving for her first three years of life. While it was most definitely an important day, her birth day is but only one day in both of our lives.

So, I did decide to treat myself to a ‘cut present’. I’m not going to say what it is, but it’s something I wanted for a while, a bit indulgent and something that makes me feel good about myself. Yet as I started to write up this post, I realized by creating a new category of a ‘cut present’ I was inviting the same discrimination toward adoptive and surrogate mothers that I had felt. It’s why I used the title My Cut Present as it reflects my story, and I encourage all mothers to find their own way to treat themselves in a way that celebrates their motherhood story. To adapt a quote from Aerosmith, Motherhood is about the journey, not the arrival.