CW: This essay discusses sexual assault. If you or someone you know has been assaulted, find help and the resources you need by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673, or visit www.RAINN.org.
By Shannon Frost Greenstein
I wanted a C-section.
You might be looking at me incredulously right now. I mean, major surgery while you’re conscious? Months of recovery? Not being able to clutch your child to you immediately? No matter how much you adore your partner, it still stings to see them get to hold the baby first, am I right, C-section Mamas??
But from the moment I peed on the stick and saw a faint pink line, a pervasive thought was, “Oh, Jesus, I don’t want to push my offspring out through my vagina.”
I know that’s the evolutionary procedure. I know so many women have survived it, and endured it, and that it is very nearly a rite of passage and an empowering experience for the female sex. But it just seems like a bad design to me. I’m guessing, and you can back me up here, Natural-birth Mamas, that it hurts a hell of a lot.
But there’s more to it than that.
I’m a survivor of sexual assault. It was only as I began the process that ultimately resulted in the conception of my son that I began to understand the degree of PTSD from which I still suffered because of that assault.
I heard once, during a treatment program, that trauma is not about what’s wrong with you; it’s about what’s happened to you. That helps to reflect upon, a lot, but at the end of the day, it’s very hard to ignore that little voice that suggests you’re damaged goods.
My husband and I needed a bit of assistance from Medical Science to conceive our son, involving what seemed like an excessive amount of internal ultrasounds, IUIs, and exams. Now, I’ve never had a great relationship with the gynecologist, though I imagine that’s pretty common, am I right, female half of the population?
It was during that process that I realized I was still mourning my virginity, mourning my ability to be touched without startling, mourning the pre-sexual assault version of myself. And that’s a heavy thing to realize when there’s a stranger’s hand up your lady bits.
So, as previously stated, I was not wild about the idea of a vaginal delivery. That’s why, when I heard my baby was breech, I started crossing my fingers that he or she would actually stay that way. (Yes, we waited to find out his sex. But I knew anyway. Because I’m his mother. And, also, the ultrasound tech slipped, and I heard a pronoun.)
Compounding the issue, I was due the exact weekend that the Pope was visiting Philadelphia, where I have resided since college. My hospital was in Center City, naturally, and the entire city was shutting down, all travel in or out essentially forbidden. If I were to go into labor, it would basically involve driving as close as possible, then calling an ambulance.
My OB recommended a scheduled C-section, and I responded with a hearty, “Ok, then!”
And then, my son decided he was in distress.
I had experienced some decreased fetal movement, and began a few weeks of non-stress tests, all of which reassured everyone that the baby was perfectly healthy; he scored a 10 on every biophysical profile, meaning he was actually already making inhaling and exhaling efforts. I was super proud of him.
Until the first of September, when the non-stress test showed us he wasn’t ok, and his biophysical profile was a four, and the nurse practitioner announced that my October baby was actually going to be born that evening.
I got my way. I had a C-section. I lay there numb and anxious, hearing the word “meconium” and knowing what that could mean. I heard them announce his sex, was vaguely aware of my husband taking photos, and was then too occupied with vomiting to reflect much on parenthood.
But then he was fine after a night in the NICU, and they brought him to me, and he was perfect, and I barely felt the incision at all. I was not traumatized by his birth; I was not brought back into a dark place by the natural delivery to which I was not looking forward.
I have no evidence that a vaginal birth would set off my PTSD, would make me so acutely uncomfortable that I couldn’t enjoy my baby; but I know, deep down, after a decade and a half of flashing back to a terrible moment, that which was unfortunately the defining memory of my collegiate career, that it would have done so.
So, my thoughts on the matter? Maybe it’s not so strange to choose a C-section. Maybe there are women out there, survivors of sexual assault or physical violence, who might feel the exact same way about delivering a child. And maybe that choice can be respected as a glorious decision, a brilliant moment of mothering, still a female rite of passage. Because if there’s one thing survivors of sexual assault understand, it’s taking back ownership of your body. It’s embracing your own self, after it was ripped away from you for awhile, and it feels like coming home.
That’s what my C-section did for me. And, if a little sister does come along, it’s what I’ll opt for again. Because now I can identify as more than a rape victim. I’m my baby’s mom.
Shannon Frost Greenstein resides in Philadelphia with her soulmate and heir. She aims to raise a child who protects the bullied and uses gender-neutral pronouns. Shannon has an unhealthy obsession with Friedrich Nietzsche, Game of Thrones, Mount Everest, the Summer Olympics, and the Hill Cumorah Pageant. Her work can be found in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, the Philadelphia Stories Arts Magazine, the Philadelphia City Paper, the Corvus Review, Vagabond City Lit, WHYY’s Newsworks, and various other internet publications.
I think you are amazing. Thanks for sharing your truth!
Hi, I’m in a very similar situation at the moment and I’m absolutely terrified. When I was 12 I was raped and I’ve never really dealt with it in a professional sense, but for years now I have worked on being able to interact with people I have major social and general anxiety issues…
I’m now pregnant with my first child, it’s what I’ve always wanted and I’m so excited for it. Except the fact that I want an elective Caesarean but I have no medical issues pointing to the fact that I need one.
Besides my fiancé and my abuser no one else has ever been in that area of me.
I’m currently 35 weeks pregnant and a week ago I had my first ever experience with a doctor down there… he wanted to do a vaginal swap. I freaked out, my fiancé wasn’t there (we were waiting too long and he had to go back to work, we had no idea this procedure was happening today) I sat terrified crying, shaking and unable to form sentences to the mid wife or doctor. I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t explain why I was like the way I was (they should of previously known about my abuse from another midwife but now I’m not sure anyone knows and I don’t want to have to explain it to every single person I meet during this pregnancy so I have only told a few)
They managed to finally help me get in a position for this procedure and they did it. But it’s been a week, and I can still feel what happened, I’m having night terrors and sweats again, reoccurring dreams of my abuse and of this simple procedure… i havnt let my fiancé touch me all week,… which is odd for us. Because he’s the only person I’ve ever solely trusted with it all and now I feel like everything I’ve worked on has been put in reverse. And this was just a simple procedure… how the hell am I expected to do a vaginal delivery… my ideal birth is under general but I know I won’t get that electively, but it also seems impossible just to get an elective caesarean..
I’m a bigger woman and because of this I can’t deliver at my local hospital, so I was told I would give birth 2.5 hours away at a bigger one, but when I went there… they have now said I’m too big for them (my BMI is 47) and so I’m giving birth at an even larger hospital 5.5hours away.
I’ve tried all through this to ask for an elective C and I’ve explained to about 3-4 different people as to why, and I keep being told that I have to ask someone else… one person at the second hospital told me, if ultimately I want it than I can have it… but then the person that rang me from the hospital delivering me have said completely different and said that it would be unlikely for me to get a C if there’s no medical issues… I don’t know who to believe I don’t want to give birth vaginally. It terrifies me on so many levels but no one seems to care about it because it’s my mental health and it’s not physical. The last thing I want is to be a broken mess of PTSD when my child is born into this world. I just feel like they are going to force me to give birth naturally and I don’t know what to do.
This past week I’ve been so scared since the procedure. Birth seems impossible. I’m hoping for things to go wrong so I get a C? I shouldn’t be hoping for that..
I’m really struggling with trauma triggers with swabs and other vaginal based examinations. It’s so embarrassing to feel so emotional during the procedure and the time it takes for me to gather myself with after wellness care. I’ve been curious whether other survivors of sexual assault have opted for c-sections and so I just wanted to say that I appreciate your blog post. It’s something I’ve been mulling over as well.
I also am requesting an elective c-section due to PTSD… they do want more of an explanation since I have no medical issues that would require a c-section. I’m 36 weeks pregnant and I have to explain it to the physician tomorrow to justify the c-section since they said it’s unusual to request one. Hopefully they understand but if I have to do natural birth I know it will flare up my PTSD and I don’t want to be a hot mess while trying to care for a newborn. I wish this was recognized as more of a legitimate issue since so many women have PTSD and may want to avoid triggering an exacerbation of their PTSD by being forced to do natural birth when they don’t want to