May 12, 2023
My Scar Is My Story
Written By: Mary Lawless Lee
I can still remember the first time. The lights in the OR, laying on the table, Madison holding my hand as I tried hard not to shake uncontrollably. In all my planning and preparation for giving birth, I had never once planned for a c-section. No one talks about it in the baby books, you rarely see anyone glowing about it online, and not one ever mentioned it in the classes. And maybe it’s because of this lack of awareness and education after my first c-section, I found myself plunged into grief while mourning my plan of a natural birth. I felt betrayed by my body, ashamed, like I had failed my baby somehow.
Fast forward a short three years and two more c-sections, I’ve now learned that 1 out of 3 women have c-sections in America. And yet there is little to no education or preparation for expecting mothers that a c-section is one of the very real possible outcomes. Combined with the emotional, and sometimes physical, trauma that sometimes occurs, especially during emergency c-sections, it can feel like a deeply isolating experience. I know it was for me.
This time around with Knight, before I got to meet and hold him, I found my mind replaying my experiences giving birth to Navy and Indie. The rush of memories came crashing in as I prepared to meet our youngest.
When Navy was born, it was fast. Everyone in the operating room moved with practiced speed and precision. The doctors and nurses were acting calm – it was anything but. I remember crying in panic when her little heart rate struggled to come up, and Madison holding lavender essential oils up to my nose as they began cauterizing. It was traumatic and emotional. But, then I got to meet her and the world stopped. My love for her was complete and constant. I was reborn — a mother for the first time. Three days later, once home, I bury my head in a pillow and revisit each frame - simultaneously trying to remember and forget the birth of my daughter and of my new self. Sadness rumbles through me and wetter than wet tears offload. Then, shame comes and I feel messy and disgusted with myself. I didn’t show up for my baby, I didn’t give her the right start. I hold back deep sobs trying to dodge the pain in my abdomen and boobs, which are leaking and the size of conventional watermelons. Months go by and we fall into a routine and fall in love with each new stage, swearing “THIS is the best.”
The second go around, with Indie, I remember coming into my surgery with a sense of joy and lightness because I knew the ropes. I was able to focus on the pure excitement of meeting my BOY for the first time and just feeling overwhelmed by wanting to know him, and how he was going to change our family. What will he look like? How much will he weigh? Will I love him as much as I do his sister, and will she love him? All of those questions were answered immediately as they laid him on my chest and I felt my heart expand to envelop all of his tiny being.
This third and final time, Madison and I felt like pros walking in. We prepped for three nights away from our toddlers, packing our bags the night before, and chatting comfortably about work on the drive to the hospital. Honestly, it kind of felt like a mini getaway! Going into this c-section I felt a profound sense of peace. Meeting Knight felt like meeting someone I’ve known all my life. I was able to really relax and settle into the moment — maybe because it was our third rodeo, maybe it was peaceful, constant rain that day. I felt present, excited, and ready to meet our baby. After a mere 25 mins (and more tugging and pulling than I’d experienced with the other two) he was here. Blue (almost grey) and with arms and legs fully sprawled out, he let out his first cry and my heart said “Good job buddy, WE did it.” This is us. Our family is complete and it feels emotional knowing Knight will be my last. I’m in awe of how much love the human heart is capable of feeling.
With my first c-section I didn’t recognize myself. I felt like a failure. I’d lost a sense of home in my own body. I never talked about it. We need to talk about it.
Navy’s birth was traumatic, and sometime between the twentieth and twenty-fourth hours of laboring, I abandoned the body that I felt had abandoned me. When I needed and wanted to come back to myself, I couldn’t find the way. Everything was different. I was different. While the whole world celebrated, I grieved. Nothing went the way I imagined it would. Motherhood felt more like an end than a beginning. Sometimes, that’s the way the beginnings work. In small steps to the bathroom, great big secret tears, and sleeplessness, I learned grace. I forgave myself, not for failing to meet my expectations, but for setting them in the first place. I learned to love the soft silvery stripes on my skin, the clothes covered in breastmilk, and the long pink incision between my hips. When I thought motherhood was breaking me, it was busy healing me, teaching me, and welcoming me.