A striking image of a new woman, her C-section scar and the baby born from it stirs up memories for one mom and the many other 'C-Section Sisters' like her.
Depending on who you ask, photographer Helen Aller's photo of a newborn nestled just beneath his mother's C-section scar is provocative, beautiful, unappealing or an example of social media over-share. The image, uploaded to Facebook on August 11, has gone viral, so far garnering more than 229,000 likes and nearly 66,000 shares.
The pic was born from a photo shoot with a mom who, Aller writes, was "terrified she was of having a C-section." As is often the case with labor, things don't always go as planned, and the woman ended up requiring an emergency C-section due to complications. "She asked me to come over this morning and shoot this particular image, as her worst nightmare proved to be what saved her and her child's lives."
On her blog, Aller says 7.5 million people worldwide have seen the image so far. Comments range from supportive ("The journey of pregnancy is a beautiful road that can also be a bumpy one, for us who carry the scar know and understand more than anyone else the meaning behind this beautiful pain. Because of emergency C-section both me and my little girl are alive and I can tell the tale of my journey that night.") to practical ("All women should be proud of the way they birth. Babies can sometimes come into the world under some very stressful circumstances and we are lucky to live in an age that when it is needed, a C-section saves lives!") to nasty ("Sorry, I can't find this beautiful ... Will you and your ilk post pictures of baby spit-up and call it beautiful because it contains breast milk?")
But the overwhelming response, much like the response to that hauntingly beautiful image of the mom with the mastectomy scar nursing her newborn, has been positive. And as a mom whose first daughter blasted into the world through a six-inch incision—and whose second was born via VBAC—I want to send this new mama a cozy blanket, a batch of cookies, and tell her to ignore the haters. "No one whose opinion matters believes you are being self-righteous—as some criticize—or somehow claiming superiority over women who deliver vaginally," I would tell her. "You are just celebrating a victory, a triumph, a miracle."
Our first baby turned breech at 37 weeks, and we chose a planned C-section over an attempt to turn her while in utero. The entire experience was bizarrely calm. I got a mani/pedi the night before; my husband and I leisurely showered the morning of, then picked up muffins for the labor & delivery staff on the way to the hospital. My entire family was able to be there. I never had a single contraction—not even Braxton Hicks. It was the antithesis of an emergency. The surgery went smoothly, my recovery was swift and uneventful. I was Swiffering the kitchen floor within a week and exercising within four. We were lucky, to say the least.
In the months following my C-section, I massaged my scar at night to keep it smooth and soft. It's faded from angry red to pink to cream, and is barely visible now. When I see women in the locker room sporting my same scar, I feel a kinship with them—a sense of shared experience. They know what it's like to lay on an operating table, chilled from anesthesia and nerves, arms out to the side. Like me, they were probably shocked at the amount of vaginal bleeding that occurs with a C-section. They were likely freaked out by the Frankenstein staples in their belly; they loathed the moment when the OB on call came in everyday at the hospital to press on their uterus (ugh, the pain.) I think of them as my 'Cisters'—my C-section sisters.
Growing up, I recall seeing my mom's vertical C-section scar. I never believed her when she claimed, "That's where you came out of my belly!" It sounded alien, impossible. Now, Mom and I are Cisters, too.
Even if there was some sort of laser treatment that could totally erase my scar, I don't think I would do it. It brings me back to that wintry day, when E was born, just before 3 p.m. I remember how, just before the surgery began, my OB announced, with excitement, "Let's have a birthday!" I remember E's inaugural, sweet little cry. The way her itty bitty wrinkled feet looked when I turned my head and saw them beneath the warmer. How I told my husband, who kept ping-ponging his head between me and E, "Go to her."
Baby Number Two was a different story. She was a planned C-section, for no other reason than our first had been born that way and, because of some pelvic issues I faced during both pregnancies, a C-section seemed safer. A week prior to my scheduled date, I lost my mucous plug. "Hmmm," I thought. "Maybe my body wants to try doing this delivery thing on its own."
Three days pre-C-section date, I started feeling crampy at around 4 p.m. By 7 p.m. I was Googling "What do contractions feel like?" By 9 p.m. I was moaning in bed; by midnight, I was being wheeled down the hospital hallway, screaming like someone in a movie. At 2 a.m., a heaven-sent epidural silenced my screams, and at 6 a.m., we started pushing. Less than 20 minutes later, L came out. It was awesome. And although a small part of me is sad that meconium prevented me from being able to help pull her out, a la Kourtney Kardashian, I am so grateful that I got to experience both modes of delivery.
But I don't feel better than other moms who "only" delivered vaginally or "only" delivered via C-section. I just feel lucky. As must the mom in Aller's photo.
And often, when we feel lucky, we want to celebrate. This woman celebrated with a photo session. I'm glad Facebook has refused to take the image down. It's not gross, it's not smug; it's new life. As photographer Aller told HuffPost UK, "I feel proud that an image I created has allowed so many people to open up about their experiences and change the way they feel about something they should only feel pride for. Giving life shouldn't be a competition of how you did it."