Why I do what I do

empathy word

An email from a reader, reprinted with permission:

I had my first child, a daughter, via C-section in early March. A few weeks later, I came across your website while Googling “does a C-section make me a bad mom” during a tear-filled late-night feeding session.

From adolescence, I had been taught that to have a C-section is to have “failed” as a woman. I had been taught that women should give birth at home, even if their previous birth was a C-section. I had been taught that midwives were the only acceptable providers of care because doctors would only want to schedule women for C-sections so that they could get to their golf game or not stay up late. I had been taught that not breastfeeding your child was tantamount to abuse, and that like having a C-section, formula feeding was done only by lazy moms who couldn’t be bothered. I had been taught that C-sections were almost never medically indicated, and that I should expect to spend my entire pregnancy and labor fighting off a scalpel-happy doctor who wanted to tie me to my bed during labor and delivery. I had been taught that if a C-section was actually medically necessary, it was a terrible tragedy that a mother could only recover from after many years of unhappiness and a HBAC. I had been taught that every mother could breastfeed if she just tried hard enough.

When my OB, who, incidentally, is quite supportive of natural childbirth, told me at my 39 week appointment that my daughter had flipped and was transverse footling breech and that we needed to schedule a C-section, I understood. She wasn’t eligible for an external version, and I knew intellectually that a C-section was the correct decision. We went in for the C-section, my husband was at my side throughout, and my daughter was placed on my chest to nurse within minutes of her birth. It was a beautiful, beautiful birth. The staff and doctor couldn’t have been kinder, my daughter was beautiful, and my husband and I were both thrilled.

Two days later, my daughter had lost over 10% of her body weight. She screamed inconsolably between multiple-hour-long nursing sessions which never left her satisfied; she’d fall into an exhausted sleep for perhaps twenty minutes, then wake up to scream and nurse for hours again. The nurses told me this was normal, the lactation consultants told me over and over again that I just needed to keep offering her the breast (I hadn’t showered in over 72 hours because she was on the breast all the time, but somehow she wasn’t being offered the breast enough?) and that I should pump when she wasn’t nursing to build up my supply. By the third day, our very pro-breastfeeding pediatrician told me to supplement so that she could gain enough weight back to go home. Now, my husband and I live an hour from the hospital. I was told that my choices were to a) supplement with formula and then bring her home when I was discharged or b) get discharged and leave her at the hospital to be fed until she gained enough weight back. Of course I chose to supplement! Insanely, the LC I saw later that day, after my daughter had fallen into her first contented, deep sleep following (shockingly enough) her first real feed, was visibly disappointed that I’d “given up” by feeding my daughter formula after she’d nursed and screamed for hours that afternoon. In my opinion, what nursing relationship we might ever have would be rather better if we were in the same house instead of being separated by an hour’s drive, but that didn’t seem to be the opinion of the LC.

Fast forward a few weeks. I was still supplementing via a tube system (a wretched device if I ever met one), was pumping anytime my daughter hadn’t nursed for an hour, was inhaling fenugreek, blessed thistle, oatmeal, and Mother’s Milk Tea like it was chocolate…and was producing very, very little milk. I was exhausted from never getting more than an hour or two’s sleep and was miserable from the yeast infection I’d gotten in my breasts, around my incision, and in my vagina from the combination of the tube system (impossible to sterilize, and harboring yeast) and showering maybe once every two or three days due to nursing incessantly. My OB very gently told me that I, and no one else, could make the decision on how to feed my baby, and that it was ok to stop nursing when I wanted to stop nursing.

It was at about this time that I started Googling “does a C-section make me a bad mom” over…and over…and over again during those late-night feeding sessions. I was so tired. According to everything I’d ever been told, I was a failure as a mother. I loved my daughter, but I wanted to cry every time she cried because I knew she’d want to eat and it would hurt so badly to feed her. I wanted to cry because I had “failed” to have the right kind of birth, because I couldn’t even feed her properly, because I was so ashamed to have been so stupid as to have a baby when I couldn’t take care of her properly. I loved her so much, and was sure I was failing her so badly. Never mind that we both would have died without the C-section. Never mind that since I wasn’t producing enough milk, I was making formula at 2 AM so that my daughter wouldn’t be hungry. Never mind that I got up with her a half-dozen times a night when she cried, that I walked the floor and sang to her for hours to try to console her and get her to sleep, that I danced with her to my favorite songs during her fussy evenings, or that I took her for strolls around our neighborhood to show her how beautiful the world is in spring. No: I had a C-section and I wasn’t exclusively nursing. Therefore, I must be a failure as a mother.

I found your site, and spent the next week or two’s worth of late-night feeds reading it. Yes, you’re blunt, even harsh in tone sometimes. Having read a lot of your posts and articles, though, I can understand why: you’re passionate about a subject that is worth being passionate about! Also, your “Ode to C-section Mothers,” which was the article I first saw on your website, really helped me readjust my thinking. Having a C-section doesn’t make me a bad mother. Not being able to nurse exclusively doesn’t make me a bad mother. These were very new ideas to me, which is really sad if you think about it.

After countless plugged ducts, a breast abscess and mastitis, I stopped nursing a few weeks ago and feel better about life than I had since my daughter was born. My daughter is thriving, is way ahead of her milestones, is growing like a weed, and has a happy, healthy mother who knows that it doesn’t matter how her baby got here or how her baby’s fed: what matters is that she is here, she is fed developmentally-appropriate food, and she has two parents who love her. She isn’t, despite the claims of the more insane birth activists and lactivists, going to grow up obese, stupid, allergic to every substance known to man, and sociopathic to boot because she came via C-section or was only partly nursed for a few months.

There’s a lot of emotion on both “sides” of parenting, and you address both that and the science behind birth and feeding with a rational tone and scientific facts rather than the usual mishmash that surrounds anything having to do with the medical aspects of parenting. (I actually had someone send me a link to a “study” that “proved” that autism is caused by Pitocin. Riiiight.) With future kids, I’ll discuss with my OB whether I’ll have a RCS or try for a VBAC. I’m not sure at this point which I’ll do. Either way, if I have a healthy baby at the end of it, I’ll be a happy camper. Period. As he very wisely told me towards the end of this pregnancy, “I understand your desire for a natural childbirth, and support it. However, remember to keep it in perspective. It’s much, much better to wish you had a certain type of birth experience than it is to wish that something hadn’t happened to you or the baby.” Smart man. Would you believe that no one had even suggested that to me before? Talk about priorities.

Thank you so much for your hard work and dedication. I’ll keep reading your blog, and I’ve pointed a number of other moms in your direction, too. I’m sorry for this ridiculously long novel of an email, but hope it’ll encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing. You really do make a difference.