You Should Be Grateful
-by Gretchen Humphries
-by Gretchen Humphries
"You should be grateful, after all, you’ve got a healthy baby". How many times have we heard those words? How many times have we said them? It seems so obvious, you wanted a child and now you have a healthy child. You are alive to enjoy that child. You should be grateful. Right?
That phrase (or the similar "all that matters is a healthy baby") did more damage to me than anything else said to me after my cesarean section. Because on the face of it, it seems so true. My husband and I had struggled with infertility for several years. My pregnancy came after at least 2 miscarriages and drugs to make me ovulate and then to maintain the pregnancy. I had beautiful twin boys. Why was I so upset? Wasn’t I grateful? They were apparently healthy and so was I, if you discount the physical devastation of major abdomenal surgery on top of the exhaustion taking care of newborn twins brings with it. My recovery was, after all, uncomplicated by medical standards. Physically, I was healing well. Wasn’t I grateful?
So many people said it to me, I started to wonder. People I trusted, people I respected, people I loved. Women that had cesarean sections for their children and trumpeted the advantages of it. Maybe I wasn’t grateful for my babies? Maybe I didn’t love my babies as much as I should or as much as other mothers did? Maybe I was being selfish and petty to be so upset about the birth and not blissfully happy with my babies- after all, other women seemed to "get over it" so quickly, so quickly in fact that I had to wonder if I was really crazy to think there was anything to "get over". What was the big deal?
Part of the problem was that I actually didn’t feel overwhelmingly grateful, nor did I feel overwhelmed with love for my boys. I knew that if anyone threatened them in any way that I’d do anything to protect them, I’d already proven that in negotiating a less traumatic cesarean than they would have normally experienced. I could protect my children but I didn’t feel a lot about them. I was depressed. So for several months I wasn’t feeling much of anything. It wasn’t hard to believe that I wasn’t grateful enough, that I didn’t love them like I should. But I still had to wonder, even as the depression lifted, why hadn’t I "gotten over it"? What was wrong with me?
Then I began to realize how evil it is to tell a woman who’s experienced a physically or emotionally traumatic birth that she should be grateful because when you say that, she hears that she isn’t grateful enough for the precious baby she’s been given. And that cuts to the quick. She may already be wondering what was wrong with her that she couldn’t have a normal birth and now you’ve told her that she doesn’t love her child enough. It is evil to say "all that matters is a healthy baby" because you are saying that her pain, her damage doesn’t matter. You are telling her that not only is her body broken, but so is her mind. That if she is physically healthy, that’s all that matters, and to be concerned with anything else is somehow wrong. That the means to the end doesn’t matter, she is expendable.
The truth is, a woman can be absolutely grateful and full of passionate mother love for her child and be enraged by how that child came into the world. Hating the birth, hating what happened in that cold, impersonal operating room or delivery room has nothing to do with the child. It is possible to be both full of rage and full of love. When that rage is turned inward, a woman is depressed, and likely to believe you when she hears you tell her she’s ungrateful and unloving toward her child. And if that rage turns back outward, it will spill over to you, because you told her a lie and she believed it because she trusted you. If that rage stays hidden, it will fester, and eventually there will be a place in that woman’s heart where she no longer goes, because it just hurts too much and makes no sense. Good mothers just don’t have those feelings, and she’s already afraid she isn’t a good enough mother. And so she loses something precious, and so do we all.
I discovered that there are a lot of women out there who hated the births of their children; women who had bad surgeries, women who had good surgeries, rarely women who had necessary surgeries, women who didn’t have surgery at all, but did have horrible things done to them in the name of birth. I’m not the only one. There is a vast hidden ocean of pain in women who’ve had horrible births but do love their babies and continue to wonder, what is wrong with me? If I just loved my baby enough, I wouldn’t feel this way.
I was freed by the knowledge that there is nothing wrong with me! I underwent the surgical removal of my children from my body- a procedure that has nothing to do with birth, that completely circumvents what my woman’s body is made to do. If it felt like an assault, then it was an assault, a very sexual assault. And if I’m not upset about being assaulted, then there really is something wrong with me. And that nothing that was done to me has the power to keep me from loving my children with passionate mother love.
I am grateful, grateful beyond words for the blessing of my children. They are miracles. The day they were taken out of me was one of the worst days of my life. Yet I am grateful for them, though not for what was done to me. My physical body might have recovered well enough to be called "healthy" but my spirit was deeply wounded and then neglected. I was not healthy. I know my children suffered because of that. I have a lot to be grateful for but not for their birth, never for their birth. Understanding and accepting that makes me truly healthy. Admitting the horror of their birth frames the love I have for them in a way that astonishes me- amazed at what I went through because of my love for them, I now know I really would die for them if needed.
Now, when you tell me that I should be grateful, I realize that you are showing me how frightened you are. That you are afraid to look at my pain. That you are afraid to admit that maybe I have good reason to be angry, that maybe woman are truly assaulted in the name of birth. You are telling me that it's ok for women to have birth ripped from them, that it isn’t acceptable to look for a better way or to mourn what was lost. I know you now. You may not know yourself, but I do. And I pity you.
Also read Gretchen Humphries' home VBAC waterbirth story.