My son celebrated his 18th month earth-side. Like most third kids, we celebrated by totally forgetting. Sorry kid. But for many, that 18th month mark offers the mom an opportunity to look back at a day that has been difficult to talk about. Today I want to tell you about the 18th month cry. Here is a woman that I’ve seen a dozen times.
She is new to the ICAN meeting. She comes alone. Her purse, which could double as a diaper bag, is a tell-tale signs that she has an active toddler at home. When the introduction circle comes to her, we smile politely and wait to see what brought her here.
“I haven’t really discussed this much, after all, it’s been a year and a half, but I just wanted to see what this meeting is about,” she begins. Tears well up. And she shares her story. My heart drops. Her pain is palpable. I feel like every few meetings we have a woman come in for her 18th month cry. Sometimes it coincides with a second pregnancy. But more often than not, it is just the space that a woman needs to process.
When she speaks, she doesn’t talk about the surgery itself. She talks about the mis-information she was given beforehand. The doctor who left on vacation two days after her birth. The unnecessary choice between a cesarean or induction at 39 weeks. The insulting scare tactics directed at her partner designed to pressure her into a cesarean. The inaccurate assertion that post-dates begin at 40 weeks (they begin at 42). The description of a vaginal delivery akin to a cesarean without anesthetic. The weekly ultrasounds that, for months, predicted an HUGE baby that would NEVER fit… only to surgically birth a 7 pounder. The hospital that would not “let” her move around while in labor. The doctor that painfully stripped her membranes or broke her bag of waters without her concent. Condescending comments about what a doctor would tell his sister to do (wouldn’t the sister get to make up her own mind?)–instead of offering concrete information to base a real decision on.
The humiliation of reading on her birth chart that the cesarean was deemed “Elective” and preformed at “Maternal Request”.
As a member of the community she sought out for support, I feel like a failure. There is no amount of pro-active training or advice I can give. There is no band-aid for her wounds. It’s like hearing a rape story. She second guesses her choice of doctors, her choice of hospital, the advice she accepted from friends and family. She mourns the loss of her expected post-partum gentle introduction into parenthood where she gets to fall in love with her child after a birth. She describes her struggles of adjusting to new parenthood while recuperating from a surgical evisceration.
She is proud of what she was able to do with what she was dealt, but she has a sneaky suspicion that it didn’t have to be that way. With information about the doctor’s vacation, she could have met and interviewed his back-up team. If she had heeded the advice of an old high school friend, maybe she would have chosen a different hospital. Maybe she should have hired a doula, hired a different doula, or not hired a doula. If she had seen the Business of Being Born earlier, maybe she would have felt empowered to interview midwives. If she had read that one book… If she had stood up for herself… If she had asked for more statistics… If only… Should’a…. Could’a…
But in the end, it’s not her fault. At every step along the way, she believed that her medical team was acting in good faith. She believed that best birth practices, not CYA legalese, would dictate her care.
I have yet to see a woman who felt that her cesarean was an empowered choice that she made during an unexpected birth come to our regular meeting. Cesarean moms who were treated honestly and respectfully during their birth process only come to the meetings to prepare for a VBAC or as guests when the topic is “Mom-powered cesareans.” Empowered women don’t show up for the 18th month cry.
What makes the 18 month cry so powerful is that it is mourning the ultimate betrayal. She has acknowledged that she was lied to. And that dishonesty has dramatically affected her life. Perhaps that is another step in healing process.
Originally published on LAFamily.com