An Attached C-section

By Catherine McTamaney, EdD, society and education lecturer at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee USA

Catherine MctamaneyIt never occurred to me that anything might go wrong.

My partner and I had asked all the big questions as we got ready for the birth of our son. We’d prepared ourselves both physically and spiritually for what we expected to be a smooth, beautiful childbirth assisted by our midwife. It just never occurred to me that we would need anything besides each other to welcome our child into this world.

Okay, okay. I can hear the knowing chuckling of mothers everywhere. Yes, we should have known better. But we didn’t. We were first-timers.

The day before our son was born, a check-up indicated far less movement in utero than our midwife felt was healthy. Because we knew the baby would be large, Deborah recommended a c-section, and we resigned ourselves to surgery.

I didn’t want to sacrifice rooming-in with the baby, however, and the hospital had never tried a rooming-in with a C-section family before. Deborah phoned ahead to let them know of our request. The first nurse we spoke with said she felt it was unwise and that my recovery would be hindered. We asked Deborah to keep calling. She reached the head nurse for the ward, promised that either my partner or another family member would always be with me, and was given the go-ahead for us to room in.

From the moment we were admitted to the hospital, we were the knowing subjects of an unusual experiment. One of our nurses believed strongly in Attachment Parenting and was an enthusiastic supporter. Another believed just as strongly that my body would not heal properly if I were under the additional responsibility of caring for my child. Each of us, naysayers and supporters, waited to prove ourselves right.

On April 22, my son was born, weighing 10 lbs. 15 oz. and healthy as could be, in a delivery room crowded with my midwife, the perionatalogist performing the surgery, a team from intensive care, the delivery nurses, the recovery nurses, the neonatal nurse, and, somewhere in the crowd, my partner and me. Not certain of how to combine a c-section and nonseparation, the hospital had simply sent everyone from their own departments into surgery with us. And so our quiet, natural birth turned into a fabulous, well-attended party, complete with a local Nashville radio station playing in the background. My partner was able to be with our son while my surgery was completed, then brought him to my arms, where he lay comfortably sleeping as my stitches were tied.

From that moment, our son never left us. All the necessary tests were performed in our room. He was bathed, measured, and clothed within my reach. He nursed easily and on demand; I had no engorgement and my milk came in less than 30 hours after surgery. I walked unassisted the morning after his birth. I had little pain or discomfort around my incision, which healed beautifully. I listened to my own body, ate when I was hungry, walked when I needed movement, and never noticed myself healing because I was too busy attending to my child.

Mothering is an obviously generative process, but it is just as importantly regenerative. I had an exceptionally easy recovery from my surgery, and I believe the reason is that it is very difficult to focus on and perpetuate our own pain when we’re admiring our children. I did not have time to think about whether I hurt, because I had a new child to care for. I did not have time to fear mothering, because I had to mother. And the overwhelming joy, the pure and incomparable wonder, the love that makes you smile so hard tears are forced from your eyes, shadowed any discomfort I might have felt. I don’t claim not to have had pain — but I know I didn’t notice it.

On the day we were discharged from the hospital, a day earlier than expected, I was required to attend an orientation meeting. Sitting in a classroom across from the nursery, I watched a young mother pushing a plastic hospital bassinet in which a tiny pink bundle slept. At her side was an older woman, probably her own mother. They stopped at the door to the nursery and pushed it open with the far end of the bassinet. The young mother motioned with one hand to the nurses inside, then she and her mother turned and walked back down the hall.

She never said goodbye to her child, never kissed her or patted her head. She didn’t tuck the blanket in before she left or stop to catch one more glimpse of those tiny fingers. She was already disconnected from the life she’d had within her only a day before. I wondered how different that family might be if, instead of offering drop-in childcare, the hospital had offered instead a supportive environment for attachment. An opportunity was lost, as that family detached, to protect and nurture the bond of mother and child that nature requires of us while we are pregnant, and hospitals so easily regulate out of us once our babies are born.

In retrospect, I believe the reason my partner and I were so blasé about birth classes was because, although we never articulated it, there exists a trust between us that our love for our child would guide us. It is a promise that we have, in turn, given to our son — not that we would make no mistakes, but that we would be guided by love. We didn’t choose Attachment Parenting because we had done long research about its benefits; we chose it because, when we knew our son was coming, we couldn’t bear the thought of not being with him all the time. We didn’t choose to sleep as a family because of scientific research on cosleeping; we chose it because we loved the way our son felt beside us.

How joyous, then, that our instincts, our love for our child, led us to the best practice! We needed the support of our doctors to welcome our child safely into this world, to overcome the practical limits of my own body. But this experience has taught me that, however limited my physical being, my spirit is strong. My spirit heals. My spirit mothers. And when I look down at my happy little scar smiling up at me from across my belly, I know we still had a natural birth. We’ve kept our promise.

7 thoughts on “An Attached C-section”

  1. Beautifully said! thought i was reading my story … and i live thousands of miles away in Athens, Greece! ”Attachment Parenting” was at the heart of our culture …a very familly/children’s needs oriented community and now over the past 30 years we seem to have caught up – and overtaken even – on all sorts of negative super modern scientific birthing/parenting practices … So i found myself fighting and arguing for something that should have been the obvious outcome : rooming in with my baby girl and breatfeeding her on demand ,even though i had a c section, …i’m so glad i did i know exactly what you mean !

  2. This is common practice where I live in Vancouver, Canada and I’m shocked that it’s not elsewhere. My c-section baby (also a high risk birth) never left my side. In fact, with the help of my midwife, she nursed while the OB stitched me up! In my experience it was easy and it made perfect sense!

  3. Your story sounds wonderful; however, I physically could not change a diaper. I was simply unable to do so from so much pain. It took me five full days to be able to sit upright enough to change my baby boy’s diaper. One can still believe in & follow attachment parenting, but not be physically able to do so after a c-section.

  4. I also had a c-section with my son. Although he had to go to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for a few days because he had a fever when he was born, the hospital was incredibly supportive and helpful with getting me to him to breastfeed and letting my husband stay with him when I had to rest in my room. It wasn’t the optimal way to start our bonding but my husband got an amazing opportunity to bond with our son in the first few days and I realized that the first few hours don’t make a real difference when you are attached and devoted to your baby. We are so close now, my baby sleeps with me every night and I carry him around the city during my errands. I miss him every minute I’m away, even if it’s just before I get into bed with him. Thank you for talking about your c-section and I hope your story and mine will make women feel less “bad” about having a c-section and also that true bonding will still occur even if we are healing from such a major surgery ( I did have more pain than you described but thank goodness for pain medication that doesn’t get into breast milk!).

  5. I enjoyed reading your story. I too had an attached c-section. The primary difference that I had was that my daughter had to be taken to a nursery down the hall to have all the preliminary tests etc done, but the hospital staff welcomed my husband and allowed him to stay by her side the entire time. She was in my arms and nursing within an hour and only left the room one more time with my teenage daughter and a nurse to get a bath. I wanted a natural birth and was heartbroken and terrified to have a c-section, but my doctor, and the hospital were respectful of my desire to remain attached to my baby and did everything they could to ensure it went smoothly. I am thankful for their support and to have an extremely close-knit supportive family. 😉

  6. I am an attachment parent–who chose a c-section.
    Yes–not a typo–chose one.
    I wanted a birth that was drama and trauma free and in my mind part of attachment parenting is to get the Mother and Baby off to the best possible early start.
    I am in medicine and I live in an academic medical town–the emergency c-section rate is around 35-40%.
    I decided being petite, 38 yrs old and w/ a mother who needed 3 c-sections for her children, I wasn’t going to roll the dice.
    It seemed crazy and all largely unnecessary to me to have a baby possibly in the NICU or me w/ serious perineal tears, recovery and/or emotional challenges all to walk this earth saying ‘but I had a vaginal birth!’.
    I am ever-thankful for the choice to have done it my way and for what was best for our family.
    We had an unbelievable start–baby at my side just like your story, nursing in the post-op area and just a very healthy Mom and Baby.
    Bonus chip: w/ a c-section you get 5 days in the hospital–what a great way to establish breastfeeding, get good lactation support, time for bonding and just good support in general.
    I always find it interesting when women judge my story as bad and their vaginal birth as good when they were in labor for way too many hours, a distressed baby, NICU infant situation, poor latching b/c of prolonged separation. That’s a good start for bonding and maternal/infant attachment? Not in my mind.
    If I thought my choice was good, I left feeling it was great for me and my family. I had a very calm, content, happy baby and I attribute much of this to our solid start.

  7. as a 21 year old mum to a 4 year old and bump i’d love to know the significance of the other mother in your story’s age? would anyone ever casually refer to “old mums” as such?

    i’m constantly shocked by the way people react to people like me, especially within a community based on respect the way attachment parenting is.

    sorry i cant stand to leave the “poor young mum” trope unmarked

    thanks for the thought provoking article, as i begin to prepare for my second birth i’m glad i found a perspective ive never thought of before, c-sec always scared me because of how much i hated the hospital staff taking my baby from me for the min or two it took to apgar and weigh her, hearing its possible to maintain attachment through what will be our worst case scenario is such a comforting thought.

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