Undergoing a C-Section: You Don't Need to Justify It

Moms 'fess up on their feelings of not being able to deliver vaginally.

C-Section scar Shutterstock
When Robin Fredericks of Northport, NY, delivered her first baby, she underwent a scheduled C-section because of a prior fibroid operation and at her doctor's advisement. At 37 weeks, her son was born with underdeveloped lungs that were not detected in advance, and he was transferred to the NICU. After two weeks, Fredericks' son was finally out of the woods and she was able to hold her newborn for the first time.

By the time Fredericks was ready to deliver her next child two years later, she was understandably nervous. "I knew what to expect from my own recovery and physically, I didn't think it was terrible, but I couldn't tolerate the thought of delivering a baby who wasn't ready," she recalls. Her second son was born without complications, also via C-section.

For some women, having a C-section can be fraught with anxiety and concern, causing them to doubt their physical and emotional strength. While many eventually come to accept the circumstances surrounding their experience or it never bothered them in the first place, others still have difficulties making peace with themselves and their situation. "Having a C-section rather than a vaginal delivery can cause feelings of inadequacy or even a sense of failure for some mothers," says Dr. Pamela Ginsberg, a psychologist specializing in women's health. "There is an incorrect belief that giving birth vaginally means that a woman is 'stronger' or somehow more devoted as a mom. This is simply not the case."

Joyce Wong-Naiman understands the frustration of childbirth. The pediatrician and mother of two from Baltimore, MD, delivered both of her sons via C-section, but the first was the result of a long labor that did not go as planned. After two hours of pushing, Wong-Neiman's physician determined that her baby's head had been wedged against her pelvis and a vaginal birth was no longer possible.

"My initial reaction was not to cry—not because of the section, but because I was exhausted," she explains. "I was always fine with having a section...my reaction to this day was anger that a section was not done sooner." Wong-Naiman describes the first two days following the procedure as very painful.

While Wong-Naiman's first son turned out healthy, she was certain that she would not go through another emergency C-section. When she went into a labor a week ahead of her scheduled C-section, she was given the option of a vaginal delivery. "I absolutely refused," she affirmed.

Two happy, healthy sons later, Wong-Naiman has gained perspective on her birthing experiences. "I have no regrets...it's the end result that matters," she says. "I'm grateful that I was provided a safe alternative." Her thinking is right in line with Ginsberg's belief: "A woman who has had a C-section must understand that having a safe delivery is a success."

Acceptance with Experience

For Northport, NY, mom Coral Freas, giving birth to two children 17 months apart meant having two C-sections one after another. Her older daughter, whose large size prompted an emergency C-section, was followed by a planned C-section. "I was pregnant so soon again after the first C-section that the doctor felt it was safest to deliver that way again," she remembers.

During labor with her older daughter, Freas' recalls a dramatic scenario as her contractions began to intensify and her baby's heart rate dropped. "It all happened so fast," she says. "I was scared and confused." Those feelings turned to relief once her baby was delivered without further incident.

And when Freas became pregnant again the following year, she placed her confidence in the hands of her physician. "I trusted my doctor's assessment of the risk of delivering vaginally so close to the prior C-section," she says. "In both cases, the health of my babies was paramount."

Lara McKenna, from Northport, NY, also appreciates doing what was necessary to have a safe birthing experience. After delivering her first child vaginally, the mother of three underwent a C-section for her twin daughters, a procedure that was originally planned and turned into an emergency after her water broke. "Less than two years prior, I had all-natural childbirth with my son, so my initial reaction [to a C-section] was disappointment," she explains. "But with twins, I understood it was a high-risk pregnancy, which in turn was a relief."

With no postpartum complications, McKenna became even more accepting of her C-section during her recovery. She believes that her experience has enabled her to advise others that having a C-section is just as praiseworthy as a natural birth. "Considering that I did both, I can see both sides of childbirth," she muses. "I can say that whichever way you bring a baby into the world is a blessing."

For those women struggling with their own acceptance of having a C-section, Ginsberg stresses the importance of fulfilling the responsibilities of new motherhood, regardless of how childbirth happened. "The job of a mother is to take care of her child to the best of her ability, and when that means a C-section is the best way...then she has done her job," she concludes. "If a woman can understand and internalize this, she will feel empowered."