Jennifer Kinder PT, DSc.
(Photo credit to @born.wild.photography)
When you see a c-section scar, the scar runs deep.
I love this picture. You can see the staples, the core completely cut through- you can almost feel what that incision was like; almost.
That scar tells a story that isn’t just the remembrance of cut skin - it’s fascia, uterus, organs that have been cut, tugged, and pulled at. The scars run so much deeper than this.
I’ve read a few posts lately that have left me moved and inspired to finally share my story; my labor and delivery journey. While I’ve shared it with many women in person, it’s in light of these other courageous feminine experiences that I find the inspiration to share my story via this medium. My goal is to help others come to peace, to heal, to be empowered with their own c-section experience.
My identity from 5 years old til having my first child has been that of an athlete - yes, my whole life I’ve been considered an athlete. Soccer since 5 years old. Cross country and track in high school and college; I could achieve so much by training my body to push itself - to win races, score more goals - but labor and delivery? This is when I realized athletic preparation can’t train you for labor; labor is no sport. A tremendous physical feat, yes; but it’s not a sport. Going into labor and delivery I wanted what was “best” for my baby and me. My goal was to have a natural vaginal birth, I was open to epidural if I felt I needed it. I was told that “your body knows what to do.”
I think for many US women we are brought up with messages and the mindset to achieve, succeed, win- and when our body doesn’t “achieve” “succeed “ or “win” at labor and delivery the “natural” way; we feel like our body failed; that I - as a woman- failed. I never thought I could feel this way- but I did, and not once; but twice.
With both of my children I went into labor naturally. With my first I was in labor for 26 hrs, 9.5 cm dilated, which then the nurses stretched my cervix open to help with the last .5, pushed for 2 hrs - and then an emergency c-section was called. With my second, I was VBAC hopeful - ok not hopeful - I was VBAC crazy. And yet again, Emergency C-section. Within 2 min of my ob saying to me "I'm going to get you your VBAC" they called code blue. 2 min and everything changed. I had been hoping for a VBAC and now it wasn't going to happen - despite my best intentions. I went numb with emotion. When I looked at people I looked right through them. I just couldn’t believe it was happening again. And both times my husband wasn’t allowed to be with me, it was just me, the bright white lights, loud hurried voices, surgical scrubs, and me praying, hoping my baby was healthy. My body went into uncontrollable tremors, so much so they had to hold my arms and legs down. Yes, my L&D experience was not one to tell at play-dates with the cheerful, naive expecting moms.
I felt like I hadn’t gone through the “motherhood right of passage.” And not only did my body “fail” at its first attempt at L&D, it then “failed” at its second too. I felt judged by society, judged by pretty much anyone. I shutdown. I never told my L&D story at play-dates - who the heck wanted to hear my terrifying stories?! I had a toddler and an infant to take care of and - my body and mind.
Recovery was difficult both times. I wasn’t able to pick up my babies, my husband had to “shuttle” them back and forth to me. And with my first child - he was not the best nurser. So I was having to go to weekly lactation and pediatric appts all the while trying to recover. The one thing L&D DID give me after my first (but not my second) was a..... pillow. They said to hold the pillow over my incision while coughing, sneezing, and with any exertion pressure to the abdomen. That is the care I was given after my emergency c -section: not rehabilitation for my core or mental health sessions for the trauma I had gone through, no - they gave me a pillow and sent me on my way to take care of myself and my new baby, my new family.
Is this how we treat our mothers who are cut through the core: give em a pillow and send them on their way?! Atrocious. Left to myself, I did what I, thankfully, knew how to do - I rehabbed. With my second I was grateful he was a cuddly boy, a great nurser, and I felt the only thing I could do was focus on him and my recovery, and also being there for my older son, not to mention my husband too.
But the scar ran so deep. We are told, “Well what's important is that you and your baby are healthy and alive.” I never said I wasn't grateful to have a healthy baby and to be physically alive. But mentally and emotionally? I was not alive. When c-section moms - especially emergency c-sections moms - have healthy babies and are physically alive, does this mean we aren't allowed to fully heal from the trauma emergency c-sections place on a mother? With my first I felt distant from my child; I was physically and mentally distant from him. Based on what I had gone through, lack of support and care I received, I felt completely alone to recover with messages all over saying “this is normal for motherhood.” Is THIS “normal” for motherhood? In other countries, this is NOT normal for motherhood. We are in one of the most advanced societies, with access to top notch care - but our society doesn’t think to actually USE it for our postpartum mothers.
It might not be one single health care provider’s job to ensure the mother is mentally and physically healed, but it IS a health care institutional responsibility. A health care provider is expected to have the resources necessary to allow a postpartum mother a full recovery. Dear US health care system, we can do a much better job of taking care of our mothers. A much much better job. Let me introduce you to pelvic health physical therapy and how it helps all mothers recover.