More than 30 percent of women in the United States deliver their babies via C-section, a surgery that can be essential and life-saving. And yet amid all the talk in public health circles about the need to lower the C-section rate, and our reverence for "natural" birth, many moms absorb the message that surgical delivery is somehow less than. We hear about women being told C-sections aren't real birth, or that they took the easy way out.
But C-section mothers, like all mothers, are fierce and their stories ― good and bad, disappointing and beloved ― are important to share. So too are their unique experiences learning how to live in their bodies again after those bodies have been transformed not only by pregnancy and motherhood, but by major surgery.
So HuffPost Parents asked New York City-area C-section mamas to share their birth stories and show off their scars to continue to normalize an experience that is extremely common, yet often treated as somehow secondary.
These are their stories, and this is what C-section moms look like. Which is to say, beautiful and strong as hell.
1 "I love my scar...I think it looks like it's smiling at me."
I love my scar. When I look in the mirror, sometimes I think it looks like it's smiling at me, like, we did this. It's a frightening thing to be told all of a sudden, 'We're going to cut you open and take this baby out,' but it was the best option for me -- and I don't feel like I missed out on anything." -- Ligia, 37
2 "I knew I had to stay in a calm place or it was all over."
At 37 weeks they induced me and things were going totally fine until they couldn't find her heartbeat. My OB, who I've known for 15 years, turned to me very calmly and said, "Remember how we talked about what might happen in an emergency C-section? Well, I'm going to call a code because if I move my hand the baby will die. I'm going to yell and a lot of people are going to spring into action, but I promise you everything will be fine.' The cord was coming out before my baby.
I'm actually not a calm person in any way. I'm a crazy, Type-A person, but I knew in that moment I had to stay in a calm place, or it was all over. They rushed me into the OR and then there she was. It's so different from my first birth, which was vaginal and easy. But I love both of my births just the same." -- Mara, 41
3 "I was so excited for the C-section. It was joyful."
I was so excited for my surgery. It was joyful. My husband and I had been trying for a few years to have our babies and I wanted to hold them in my arms. And you know what? I actually love my scar. It shows me my babies are here. " -- Jody, 42
4 "I wish that my feelings had been validated."
I was so grateful my daughter was here and healthy, but I felt such a loss. Everyone around me, all they could say was, 'But you have a healthy baby! Why should you have any reason to be sad?' I felt like my feelings were disregarded and minimized. I was angry for months.
I've since had a VBAC with my second daughter, and that was so important to me. It was such a cathartic experience, giving birth on my terms. Now I don't feel anger about my C-section, but I still wish that my feelings had been validated in the moment -- that someone would have been there to say to me, 'It's OK to feel this way.' I'm in school, studying to be a labor and delivery nurse, and that's something I want the women I work with to know." -- Susan, 32
5 "It's humbling to see my body in these photos."
It's humbling to see my body in these photos. It's not how I think I look. I have to remind myself that I love my body, period. I do a good job taking care of it, but it also carried a human being for nine months and even though I had an easy pregnancy and an easy recovery, it still did a number on me physically. If that helps one person who can relate to me, that's really special." -- Molly, 37
6 "I used to think I might get a tattoo...but that seems so unnecessary now."
I have a pacemaker, so this is my second major surgery and both times I've gone through it, it floors me -- what an intense physical experience it is. I think sometimes we forget that because C-sections are common. I used to think I might get a tattoo to commemorate my son's birth, but that feels so unnecessary now, because I have this other thing that's a reminder. There's something about having the physical imprint of that experience that helps me accept it." -- Liz, 27
7 "I still feel like I have all this trauma."
Another week went by and I went onto bedrest. I was still having the contractions, but they'd never be closer than 15 minutes apart, then they'd disappear for hours, then they'd come back again. It went on like that for two weeks. At 38 weeks CUT?[I said 'I'm miserable, I can't sleep. I can't eat.' ]They hooked me up to the fetal monitor to check everything, and realized that maybe my placenta was detaching.
[CUTThe hospital was really overcrowded, and I spent a lot of time waiting for rooms at various points.] They induced me and it sent me into back labor, which I ended up getting a slipped disc from. I went through all four doctors in my practice because I'd been in the hospital for so long. Eventually they decided it was time to do the C-section, and they gave me time to get ready, but then 10 minutes later they came rushing back in saying the baby was in distress and we had to go then.
They immediately started working on me. I don't remember this, but my husband said my eyes were rolling back in my head and they were shouting my name to try and keep me awake because of whatever they'd given me. When I woke up, my daughter was there and I was like, 'What the hell just happened?'
My pregnancy was so hard, and my birth was so hard that I joke my C-section scar -- which my OB did a great job with -- is the only thing that went well. At the end of the day, I've tried to let it all go because I have a healthy kid, but I still feel like I have all this trauma." -- Marissa, 34
8 "I wanted to give birth vaginally."
C-sections are very important and I'm so glad I was able to get my son to me. We were both healthy. But I wanted to give birth vaginally. When I got pregnant again, I tried everything I could to try and set myself up for a VBAC, knowing ultimately so much of it is out of your control. I did yoga, I stretched, I walked, I met with a chiropractor, I researched to make sure I went with a practice where every provider was supportive of VBACs, and I was ultimately able to have one. Though I think I would have been happy no matter what, I do think it made me feel better about both births." -- Savannah, 35
9 "I didn't expect to have a C-section, but I was totally OK with it."
I got attacked by a pit bull in 2010 and I have a big scar on my leg, so compared to that I don't mind the C-section scar at all. I don't usually go around showing it off -- like, my Facebook profile picture isn't my C-section scar -- but I usually just forget about it." -- Mariel, 32
10 "It's hard for me to imagine that my child fit out of it."
The scar doesn't bother me, it's just a reminder of where my child came from. I don't think it's ugly. It's small. It's hard for me to imagine that my child fit out of it. I had two VBACs with my next children, which I was very thrilled to be able to do, but I don't think I would have been upset if I had to have more C-sections. I never thought twice about it." -- Latina, 41
11 "I gave up the guilt."
I had a planned C-section with my second, too. I knew what to expect, but you still wonder, 'Is the scar going to be bigger? Is it going to hurt more?' The recovery was a lot harder the second time. But it healed beautifully.
For a long time I felt guilty for not even trying, and to read online that you took the 'easy way'... it's insane. But I gave up the guilt. I have two kids who are running around, and I know that I am the one who brought them here." -- Nicole, 30
12 "I was a little worried the scar was going to be ugly...but it doesn't look bad."
I'm now a postpartum doula and an international board certified lactation consultant. I have a passion for that postpartum period. I do see that for a lot of women, the recovery is harder when you have the C-section. I'm grateful that for me, that recovery part was pretty easy." -- LaShanda, 40
13 "I felt very loved an very well cared for."
It was perfect. It was just like any other OR. My arms were strapped down. It was a very clinical experience from that perspective, but when I reflect back on that day I see the room as being filled with light. It was just warm and wonderful and my OB-GYNs were incredibly caring.
If you could tell me right now, 'Caroline, you can have a completely safe and successful birth' I would say you can keep it. I felt very loved, and very well cared for -- and the scar is part of that story. It reminds me of the wonderful events surrounding both of my children's births." -- Caroline, 36
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.