A caesarean section is an operation in which a baby is born through an incision made in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. In addition to the difficult recovery and other consequences of a caesarean section , women often face prejudice. For example, they are told that if they did not suffer, then they did not give birth, or that the baby will not have a connection with the mother. Because of this, you can feel a strong sense of guilt. We figured out where the myth came from that caesarean is not a real birth, and why in fact it is not.

What prejudices do women face?

“You chose the easy way”, “you didn’t give birth, you just got a baby”, “natural childbirth is more useful for children” – such phrases are heard by women who gave birth by caesarean section. And sometimes, because of such prejudices, women in labor even face discrimination.

So, in 2017, an American photographer who shoots childbirth refused to cooperate with a woman who gave birth by cesarean. The woman in labor posted a screenshot of their correspondence on social networks.

“An operation is not childbirth, my dear. You are not giving birth. You will have an operation to remove the baby from the abdominal cavity. This is not birth, however much you want it to be. I don’t want to photograph it. If you decide to try motherhood from the start, let me know and we can schedule your session.”

the photographer wrote to a potential client.

The case caused a flurry of negativity in the network. Another woman who also gave birth by caesarean wrote the sarcastic column “I’m sorry, but you didn’t have a baby if you had a caesarean section.” In it, the girl lists phrases that she has heard. For example, that an operative birth is unnatural, or that she did not suffer during the procedure, which means that she allegedly did not give birth.

Such phrases are often offended. In 2020, on the Today Parent’s portal, a woman shared that for a long time she could not even say that she had given birth to her children. And all because she went through a caesarean section.

“The phrase ‘natural birth’ implies that a caesarean section is ‘unnatural’. Women whose babies are born vaginally give birth. Women whose children are born surgically are given a caesarean section. Vaginal delivery is what you’re after; caesarean section is what they do to you,

the author of the text Kristen Thompson talks about her feelings.

In Russian society, women also face the opinion that cesarean is not a real birth. For example, some believe that during vaginal delivery, the girl is not lazy and works, unlike caesarean.

Caesarean section consequences
Post about caesarean section on Woman.ru. CS — caesarean section, ER — natural childbirth.

Women in labor are also worried that they did not give birth “naturally”. For example, on the Woman.ru forum, a woman shared that she felt “inferiority” and “rotten” herself with this fact.

Where did the myth come from that caesarean is not a real birth

Photograph of a person

Vera Yakupova

Psychologist, founder of the psychological center for parents Good Point, researcher at the Faculty of Psychology of Moscow State University

natural trend

The Soviet system of obstetrics sought to ensure that childbirth was completely under the control of doctors. This had its advantages – for example, due to affordable medical care, female and infant mortality decreased. But this system did not take into account the individual characteristics and needs of each woman in labor, and the birth was entirely controlled by doctors. Physicians could stimulate uterine contractions before the onset of spontaneous labor or use drugs without explaining what they are for.

This problem existed and exists to this day not only in Russia. All over the world, women in childbirth face the absolute control of doctors. The system without individual approach traumatized many, so people began to look for an alternative. There was a request for an individual approach and a more natural process of childbirth. For example, the French obstetrician Michel Auden explored an alternative approach to childbirth: he believed that if the woman’s body itself regulates them, then there is no need to interfere in the process unnecessarily.

However, this initially good idea began to radicalize and often come down to the absolute refusal of medical care. So, some women in labor, obstetricians and even doctors began to deny any options for childbirth in general, except for the “correct”, that is, in their understanding, without medical intervention. A caesarean section is perceived as a “wrong” birth from this point of view, and women who survive the operation may face stigmatization and pressure.

The ideal of a strong woman

Another possible root of the problem is the society’s ideal of a strong woman who gives birth in the field and copes with everything herself. According to this logic, childbirth is a process that does not require outside intervention. If you need help, then you are weak or wrong.

In Russia, this idea probably comes from the Soviet times, where vulnerability was perceived as something unacceptable, something that should not be. It was believed that it was better not to need help and cope with everything on your own.

The “privilege” of a caesarean section

Until now, there is an opinion that ordinary people give birth themselves and suffer. It is painful, hard, long, but there is a way to avoid the torment, and it is available to privileged women. I have heard doctors and women in labor sometimes even refer to caesarean as “the royal way of childbirth”.

To some extent, this statement is true. All medical innovations that help to survive childbirth – pain relief, caesarean section – used to be applied primarily to royalty. Their lives and the lives of their heirs were especially important and dear. For example, the first successful caesarean section, when both mother and child survived, was performed in the 14th century at the royal court. And Britain’s Queen Victoria was the first woman to be tested with chloroform anesthesia in 1841.

Now caesarean section is also not available to everyone, but for a different reason. It is not done at will; there must be medical indications for the operation. Therefore, some perceive the procedure as a privilege. It turns out that not everyone seems to be suffering, because someone just had an operation and “given away” the child.

What other prejudices do women in labor face and why these misconceptions are untrue

The woman just wanted to avoid the pain

Photograph of a person

Angelina Borkhovetskaya

Obstetrician-gynecologist

During the operation, the woman really does not feel pain. But caesarean section is a serious abdominal operation associated with many possible complications : in the process, the volume of blood loss increases, and in the postpartum period, the risk of thrombosis and purulent-septic complications increases.

Having a caesarean section in the past increases the likelihood of a repeat operation in the future. With each subsequent intervention, the risks of presentation, placenta accreta and removal of the uterus during childbirth increase .

Women after operative childbirth are discharged later. They can no longer play sports and have sex, and at first it is not recommended to lift anything heavier than a baby.

Girls who have gone through a caesarean section have a more difficult recovery period. In the early days, a woman may experience headache, nausea, and back pain after spinal anesthesia. Pain and numbness in the scar area can persist for more than two weeks and require special care. In addition, many women are embarrassed by their postoperative scar. It will be small and inconspicuous or rough – it is difficult to say in advance, it depends on the characteristics of the skin.

So to say that a caesarean section is associated with less pain is completely wrong.

A mother who had a caesarean section will not have a strong bond with the child

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Vera Yakupova

Psychologist, founder of the psychological center for parents Good Point, researcher at the Faculty of Psychology of Moscow State University

The opinion about the special bond between mother and baby is based on the theory of imprinting by Konrad Lorenz. Only a born animal fixes its attention on the first object with which it has visual, auditory or tactile contact. Imprinting has been thoroughly studied only in birds and is characteristic of the animal world.

There is no evidence that imprinting exists in humans. In nature, he met in the event that the animal identifies its cubs only in a certain way, for example, by smell. In addition, many cubs, as soon as they are born, need to follow their parents. To do this, they need instant recognition of the mother. A person simply does not need such a mechanism.

Sometimes people also talk about hormones. Allegedly, during a caesarean section, a woman does not produce the right amount and because of this, a connection with the child is not formed. But hormones are produced in us not only at the time of childbirth, but also when feeding a child, when interacting with him. This is a daily process.

Therefore, the first contact of the child with the mother does not determine everything in the world. Man is a much more complex being. Attachment between a child and a parent is formed within 1–1.5 years. This is a very complex construct. There are no automatic buttons to push and make a connection. Therefore, the way of birth in this sense is not fatal and does not determine the further relationship between parents and child.

Because of the caesarean section, the baby is likely to be born sick

Photograph of a person

Angelina Borkhovetskaya

Obstetrician-gynecologist

The health of children born by caesarean section and through vaginal delivery is not much different. But there are a few nuances that are characteristic of a very early age.

Thus, a child born by caesarean section is not subjected to stress, which helps to adapt breathing and blood circulation outside the womb. The baby does not come into contact with the bacterial flora of the woman’s birth canal, which is important for the formation of the intestinal microbiota of the child. This increases the risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease. However, these risks are rapidly reduced, and after six weeks, the intestinal microbiota becomes approximately the same.

Also, according to some studies , children born by caesarean section have an increased risk of developing asthma. But if the planned operation was performed no earlier than the 39th week, then the risks are again reduced.

After a very short time after childbirth, even a doctor during an examination will not be able to determine how the baby was born. Unless the first day the baby after natural childbirth has swelling of the soft tissues in the head area, but it quickly disappears. Soon the children become the same, and neither visually nor by analysis it is possible to understand exactly how they were born. Therefore, a caesarean section does not have long-term consequences for the health of the child.

What Women Say When They Experience Guilt After a C-Section

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Childbirth was the most powerful experience in my life. They put me in the maternity hospital in advance, as the doctor considered that I would give birth any day. Three days later, when I went to bed, I started having contractions. But, despite this, there was no labor activity.

The contractions lasted almost a day, and I was afraid that the child might suffer due to hypoxia (oxygen deficiency. – Approx. ed.). The doctors said that it would be better for me and the child to have an operation, and I listened to them.

To immobilize me during the operation, they tied my legs and arms. Because of the anesthesia, it was so cold that the whole body was shaking, teeth were chattering. Despite the fact that I did not feel pain, I felt like they were digging inside me and then sewing them up. The child was immediately taken to the intensive care unit after the operation. By the way, I was not warned that this would happen.

No one also reported that I, too, would be half-conscious in intensive care for a day. When they transferred me from there, they didn’t say that I could visit the child, but this, it turns out, could be done almost immediately. Three days later, they finally let me in with raids “where do you go?”. The first days the child had health problems, and this increased the feeling of guilt.

After the experience, I shared my worries with loved ones. They supported me as much as they could and took care of me. What can not be said about others. When I talked about childbirth, they told me “Caesarean? Ah, then it’s understandable.” From such a reaction, I felt sad and insulted, because the operation was not chosen by me.

I also noticed derogatory thoughts in myself. I still think that I could have done it myself if the specialists in the maternity hospital had given me more time. It seems like I haven’t done enough to make the baby better. Natural childbirth is considered better for children, and I think I could have avoided intensive care. But at the same time, I in no way depreciate the experience of other mothers “caesarean”. It is just as scary, painful and difficult as natural childbirth.

I was helped by the experience of other mothers, who also said that they gave birth by cesarean. And there were a lot of them, so I didn’t feel alone in my situation.

Maybe my births are not the most complete from some point of view, but they are definitely real – what a result has already grown. I still struggle with guilt that I didn’t realize and “hurried” my son. There was also anger and resentment towards the doctors who did not want to properly understand and provide moral support. It took me two years to get through this situation. Now I consider my birth a real feat. Yes, and my child is no different from his peers, and his health is all right.

Photograph of a person

I was pregnant with twins. Even before the birth, it was known that the guys did not lie head down. Morally, I was preparing that, perhaps, I would give birth with the help of a cesarean. But I still hoped to the last that the boys would have time to roll over, so it was difficult to accept that everything did not go according to my plan.

One of my boys had a water break at 30 weeks. He was in a breech presentation, and when labor could not be stopped, the doctors decided to perform an emergency cesarean.

The operation lasted about 40 minutes and without complications for me. The children were not shown to me, I only heard one of them scream. After that, for six hours, I could not find out how everything went, whether they were alive. It turned out that the sons were in intensive care due to the fact that they were born prematurely. They had all the problems of premature babies: cerebral hemorrhages, problems with hemoglobin and two blood transfusions each, there was no sucking reflex, one of the guys forgot to breathe, and he had apnea – delays in breathing movements.

I was sad that everything happened exactly as I had planned. My husband supported me. Together we came to the conclusion that doctors saved children, so I didn’t have the option to give birth myself.

Other relatives were not particularly interested in my condition, they were more worried about whether the milk came, which I had little. Because I couldn’t breastfeed my children, the guilt increased even more.

Sometimes I came across women with strollers who gathered in a circle and discussed who gave birth and how and what they fed. I heard phrases like “didn’t give birth – not a mother” and “I gave birth to him in agony, and you just made an incision, you lay, rested.” They said that I could not understand them, because I did not really go through torment. I don’t like to clarify and try to somehow impose my own, but I also experienced contractions, and lay in obscurity for 17 hours. Well, a caesarean – not to go to the store, this is a serious abdominal operation. In social networks, I also often came across such comments, but it’s somehow easier to go through it than when they say it in person. As a result, I collected a combo of imposed guilt: I didn’t inform, I didn’t give birth myself, I didn’t feed.

Now, six years later, I can say that I am sure that my children are no different from others. And perhaps if I was allowed into natural childbirth, then there could be more health problems.

I thought a lot about this whole situation. Communicated with other mothers who gave birth before, many of them had a caesarean, and often it was not their whim. Together we came to the conclusion that the end result is important – our children are alive, their mothers are alive. Babies grow up, it is not written on them exactly how they came into this world, and they are no different from others. But how great it would be if they came up to me in the hospital and explained all this at once. And they only forbade me to worry there and said: “Why are you crying, mommy, it’s too late to cry.”

How to deal with feelings of inferiority and guilt that are instilled after childbirth

Photograph of a person

Vera Yakupova

Psychologist, founder of the psychological center for parents Good Point, researcher at the Faculty of Psychology of Moscow State University

Unfortunately, there is no one technique that can take and cancel the feeling of one’s own inferiority. Dealing with this feeling can be a long process, possibly including psychotherapy.

There are a few tips that can help you cope with your feelings about a past caesarean section.

Find out what is bothering you

Perhaps a woman is not worried about childbirth itself, but about the traumatic experience that she experienced during it. Some mothers after a caesarean section, especially an emergency one, may develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Because an urgent operation is associated with a threat to the life of oneself or a child, which increases the risk of psychological trauma.

In addition, a woman could face obstetric aggression, be without support, she could be separated from her baby for a long time. Therefore, there may be not so much a feeling that the birth was somehow wrong, but the feelings and fears experienced during them.

You need to unfold your feelings, comprehend the experience and allow yourself to experience it. If suddenly a woman realizes that there really was a traumatic experience in her birth, it is recommended to contact a psychologist. Sometimes psychiatrists can help. For example, if a woman has symptoms of depression, a doctor may prescribe medications to improve the condition.

You can contact support groups, for example, the project “No one is right” . There you can talk with other women, understand that you are not alone, that you are no worse than the rest. This may be the first step in helping yourself.

Thank your body

When we talk about the method of childbirth, the body goes by the wayside. Although this is very important – it independently raised a whole person and will do so much more for this child. If you thank your body for your work, then a woman can feel better.

If it is difficult to thank your body, you can try a practice that helps you feel more positive about it. Every day you need to choose one part of the body that you like. It can be quite small – an eyebrow, toes, a mole – and focus on this part of the body. The next day, choose something else that you like. If you do this practice for a week, then you will notice that most of the body causes positive emotions. Practices on how to love your body can also be found in the literature. For example, in the book As a Woman Wants by Emily Nagoski.

In addition, taking care of the body helps. Postnatal swaddling, massages, spas, maybe even dancing if they evoke positive emotions. You can wear cozy comfortable clothes, choose bedding that is pleasant to lie on, take a bath. These little things are rarely noticed, but they are important too. Focusing on pleasant physical sensations is good practice.

To learn more

The information we have is of great importance. If a woman feels inferior or guilty about having a caesarean section, you can read the scientific research and opinions of practitioners. For example, study the work of Israeli , Spanish and Italian scientists. So mothers can find solace, because scientifically they are all right. A caesarean section is a birthing option that has no long-term consequences for either the mother or the baby.

Cover: Asya Sokolova

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