Reframing an “Unnatural” Birth Story

bMother and Baby | GoGraph

We are getting close to R’s 5th birthday. Five!! I’ve always thought of five as being the age when everything starts for real. It might be because my own earliest memories are from when I was five or because five is traditionally when you start Kindergarten. The way I see it, before five, you are a newborn, then an infant, then a toddler. I once looked up what age you stop being a toddler and I mostly came across the idea that you’re a toddler until you’re four. But four feels much littler than five for some reason. More of a transition year before officially becoming a, I don’t know, “kid”?

I see it with other families, too. Celebrating a child’s 5th birthday is usually a big deal. We all seem to recognize it as a milestone of sorts.

A friend going through hormone therapy for postpartum issues learned from her doctor that it takes five years for postpartum to make its way through our system. For things to truly settle and to be able to reclaim balance.

Around R’s 3rd birthday is when I finally felt the suffocating grip of postpartum depression start to loosen. I remember walking around New York City one afternoon with R and feeling funny — feeling different. I realized that what I was feeling was ease and even joy. In that moment, there was an absence of the heaviness that had always been part of my experience as Mother. I was able to see R as a human being that I suddenly found myself genuinely interested in. I’ve loved him since he was born, but it was only then, I realized, that I was starting to like him.

With the help of therapy, the support of loved ones, and making my best effort to always be gentle with myself, I have climbed out of the darkness of PPD and found more and more lightness in Life and in Motherhood. I have come to accept that my path in becoming a mother was meant to be messy, imperfect, and even traumatic.

It has paralleled and thereby healed what I went through as my mentally ill mother’s child.

Not one thing went to plan when R was born. My water broke and contractions simply never started. There went my birth plan to give birth in a pool at the birthing center. There was no delivery room available when it became urgent that I be induced. I did not fully dilate. I could not carry on without an epidural but even once I admitted this, no anesthesiologist was available for two torturous hours. Forceps didn’t work. I needed an emergency C-section. R was taken to the NICU and we couldn’t leave the hospital for over a week. My placenta was not clean so I couldn’t have it encapsulated (although I still had to pay my placenta encapsulation specialist!). I had very low milk production (to give you an idea: I would pump for an hour and produce less than 1 oz).

Over time, I have accepted all of these disappointing — and some frightening — circumstances that marked R’s birth.

Except the C-section.

Any time I have to talk about it — like when I tell my Pilates teacher that a certain movement is just too intense for me — I make a point to emphasize that it wasn’t just a C-section, it was an EMERGENCY C-section. If I’m having a deeper discussion with a mom-friend, I make sure to inform her that actually, my birth plan had been to have a water birth. To this day, nearly five years later, I have only once looked at my scar and not felt shamedisgust, and self-hatred.

That was just the other day, after reading in Dr. Amy Tuteur’s book, Push Back, a section entitled An Ode to C-Section Mothers.

Dr. Tuteur, an OB-GYN, writes, “In the world of natural childbirth, there is no greater put-down than the accusation that a woman did not have an unmedicated vaginal delivery… C-section represents a transfer of risk. Vaginal delivery poses a much greater risk to the baby than to the mother (approximately 100x higher). C-section, on the other hand, poses a marginally greater risk to the mother and dramatically reduces risk to the baby. What could be more natural than a loving mother opting to carry any increased risk rather than putting it on the baby? That’s why there is never any need to feel guilty about having a C-section… Personally, I think C-section mothers should be extra proud of themselves. When offered the choice between risk to their unborn baby and risk to themselves, they chose taking on the risk in an effort to protect the baby. If that isn’t the essence of motherhood, I don’t know what is.”

I had never considered this perspective before. I’ve talked to many people about C-sections and the fact that I had one, and the general consensus has always been something along the lines of, “Oh man, I’m sorry. That sucks.” I can’t remember ever hearing anything like, “Wow, Mama. What a powerful decision you made to keep your baby safe.”

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like this. How many proud stories of home/”natural”/drug-free births have we all come across on our social media feeds? Are you also hearing moms humbly bragging about their failed birth plans and emergency surgeries?

Every now and again I would be told something quite cruel with regards to C-sections, and almost always from people in my yoga / wellness world.

Someone once told me that she believed that since she had been born via C-section whereas her sister had been born “naturally,” her sister was much closer to her mother than she was.

Perhaps the worst thing I heard was something an acupuncturist said to me: “Oh it’s such a shame you had to go through that. Doctors are so quick to jump to C-sections these days instead of just giving moms more time to do what their bodies just naturally know how to do.”

Deep down, I knew she had no idea what she was talking about, but her words haunted me. I have felt like such a failure for having needed a C-section. First and foremost: as a woman / mother. I had failed my first task as a mother by not exposing my child to whatever he was supposed to have picked up en route through the birth canal. Additionally: as a yogi / yoga teacher. I had been obsessed with clean eating and minimizing exposure to toxins; I hardly even ever took Advil. Now I had been injected with all kinds of medicine and subjected to major abdominal surgery. Neither my body nor mind had been strong or flexible enough to “naturally” birth my own child.

The one fact that I kept hanging onto was that if you give birth via the NHS in the UK, which I did, they do everything they can to avoid any sort of intervention. Birth is midwife-led in the UK. I never even saw one doctor through my entire pregnancy (since I was low-risk and had zero complications) until I was in labor. One of the reasons for this is that the NHS is government funded — “natural” births facilitated by midwives cost a lot less than births requiring intervention by a doctor.

But beyond that, I had been there — at the birth (obviously). I had been there when they realized the baby was “sunny side up” rather than facing my back. I had been there when they told me I was no longer dilating. I had been there as they monitored the baby’s dropping heart rate. I had been there when they realized he was trying to come down and out but only his head had turned and he was twisted at his neck and stuck.

I had been there when they weighed him — 8.5 pounds. Not the biggest baby there ever was, but relatively large for me. (I blame my 6’2” husband, haha.)

When I would talk about how the birth had gone, I heard myself saying reasonable things like, “Thank goodness for medicine. In the olden days, the baby, I, or we both could have died.”

But there was a part of me that didn’t really believe that. For years I have beat myself up wondering what I could have / should have done differently. I hated that the C-section had happened. I hated my scar — which is long, crooked, and still a little puffy.

Until now.

After reading Dr. Tuteur’s ode to C-section moms like me, I feel funny — different. I feel proud of myself. When the doctors became urgently concerned about R’s safety, I had no second thoughts about myself or my body. I did not hesitate. I did not need to think about not being able to tell everyone I’d had a “natural” birth. I did not worry about what might happen to my advanced yoga poses if I was to be cut right through my core. Nothing mattered other than birthing my baby safely.

It has taken me nearly five years to recognize just how motherly I was in that moment.

Thank you, Dr. Tuteur, for opening my eyes. Thank you for your healing words and wisdom. Thank you for supporting all mothers, irrespective of the unique details that make up our individual stories of motherhood.

I am not less than a mother who was able to birth vaginally. I am not less than a mother who was able to exclusively breastfeed. I am not less than a mother who did not suffer from PPD. I am not less than; I am not better than.

We are all mothers, with our own circumstances and truths, all of which are valid and worthy. We all deserve to be honored, not least by ourselves.

I am a mama, writer, yoga teacher, and mental health advocate.
More posts by Leah Kim.

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.


Welcome To

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.

Twitter icon Twitter Facebook icon Facebook Pinterest icon Pinterest Reddit icon Reddit
Thanks for Subscribing