By Georgia Ragonetti-Zebell, MD
She holds back tears as she looks up at me. She’s been pushing for hours with little progress.
“I’m so tired.”
“I know you are, momma.” Her face is red and sweaty from her effort.
“We can keep pushing for as long as you’d like. But I need to tell you baby hasn’t moved much. It may be his size or position, but he’s not moving down. And you are working so hard.”
“I didn’t want a C section.”
“I didn’t want one for you either. But I think it is the best option.”
“I feel like a failure.”
Her words hit me hard.
“You are NOT a failure.”
I counseled her about the risks, and we moved to the operating room. Her sweet boy came out with tufts of yellow hair, weighing almost ten pounds.
There was no failure in those chubby cheeks and wrinkled brow. He was perfect.
If the goal is to have a baby, does it matter if he is born vaginally or by C section?
Where does the idea of failure in childbirth come from?
Does it come from society? Women are bombarded by messages on a daily basis that make one thing clear: your body is not good enough. Not thin enough, not toned enough, not the right proportions. In childbirth, the script flips. Not big enough, not enough room. The message is loud and clear. Not good enough.
Does it come from social media? Birth stories and photos, beautiful imagery. Do women want a vaginal delivery the same way we want that new pair of shoes? Everyone else has them…I want them too.
Does it come from the medical profession? Failure to progress, failed induction. It certainly sounds like doctors are labeling women’s bodies as failures.
Does it come from the Business of Being Born? At the end of the film, Ricki Lake asks her producer, who had just had a cesarean for a growth restricted breech baby, “Do you feel cheated? Do you feel like you missed out?” As if a cesarean birth is not really birth.
Does it come from Ina May, who told women, “Your body is not a lemon”? If my body needs surgery to birth my baby, it must be a lemon.
Or does it come from deeper than that? Does the desire to have a vaginal birth come from the same place as the desire to have children? I never thought much about having children…until one day it was all I could think about. My friend in med school got pregnant before I did, and I had to leave class because I couldn’t hold back the tears. It took a year and a half to conceive, and failure was in the front of my mind. Each month, when my period came and there was no baby–failure. That feeling, while perhaps enhanced by social media baby picture frenzies, was innate. It was something biologically within me. I wanted to have a baby and I wanted it now, and I had barely given it a thought before. Does the desire to have a vaginal delivery come from there? Is it innate?
I don’t know where it started, but I’m sure all those things contributed to this momma’s feelings of failure.
But let me say it again, momma. You are NOT a failure. Your body IS good enough. Your body is not a lemon. Your body grew a healthy, perfect, big boy, and you worked hard pushing to get him out. He made his way here with a little extra help, but his birth was just as good as any other. Your birth was good enough.
Georgia Ragonetti-Zebell, MD is an OB/GYN practicing in Upstate South Carolina, and is mommy to four (yes, FOUR) boys. She is a graduate of the Women’s Health Pathway at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology with the Greenville Health System in Greenville, South Carolina. She has a special interest in natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and alternative methods in labor and delivery. She enjoys yoga, crochet, and reading, but spends most of her free time cleaning up poop while trying not to step on Legos.