The Cesarean Cross

C-sections are physically demanding and come with all the potential risks of major surgery. But as difficult as the physical stress can be, often the most difficult crosses to bear are emotional and psychological.

In about three weeks’ time, my wife will undergo her fifth cesarean section surgery. Our oldest child is only six years old. This means that on July 7th—God willing—we will have a house filled with five children, ages six, five, four, almost three, and zero. This also means that my wife will have undergone her fifth cesarean section in a period of just over six years.

To say that this has been a cross for her to bear is an understatement. It is physically demanding, and it comes with all the potential risks of major surgery. I should add that she also suffered through a late-term miscarriage in late 2020—adding more difficulty to that tumultuous year. So, there were further bodily stressors put on her from carrying a baby for months at that time as well.

As difficult as the physical stress has been for her, the most difficult crosses to bear have been emotional and psychological. All births come with pain and risks of complications, and women who give birth the other way often have battle scars and back issues for the rest of their lives. However, with the c-section comes a whole other ball of wax, accompanied by feelings that are hard to reconcile.

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I should add a little background on my wife’s journey through motherhood.

In 2015, about nine months after I had returned from Mexico City with a burgeoning and zealous faith that I caught at Guadalupe, my wife was induced into labor. After about a day and a half and a stubborn child who wouldn’t do what he wasn’t ready to do —that still hasn’t changed!—my eldest son, Titus, was brought into the world via c-section.

The doctor—a wonderful, pro-life Christian woman—told my wife, as she languished exhausted for so long, that she had “given it the old girl guide try, and it was best to avoid any further complications.”

At the time, we thought nothing of it. We were just happy that the ordeal had finished and that we got to hold baby Titus. Well, in an effort to prove to everyone how Catholic we were—I joke, sort of—we were expecting another child within two months. Shiloh was conceived, and he was set to be the Irish twin (sibling born within 12 months of another) of our firstborn.

My wife wanted to try to give birth the other way this time around, as we knew we were to be open to life and accept the children God deigns to bless us with, so it was a good idea to give it a try. However, due to the closeness of the pregnancies, we were going to have to travel to a hospital far away and she would give birth in a monitored setting. No problem, we thought.

Just after midnight on October 16th, a year and five days after Titus was born, my wife went into rip-roaring labor. Truth be told, we were watching a rerun of The Office, and I believe she laughed so hard it sent her into labor.

At any rate, we thought the baby was coming straight away, so instead of driving an hour to the hospital she was slated to give birth in, we went to the smaller one in town. Little did we know that they did not do VBACs (vaginal birth after cesarean) with less than 18 months of space. So, we had the option of sending my wife in an ambulance on her own for an hour trip, or another cesarean. Turned out she wasn’t as far along as she thought, so we opted for the cesarean.

The rest, as they say, is history, and each subsequent child has been born via c-section at the advice of my wife’s doctors.

Throughout this time, she has struggled with a sort of “what if” feeling. What if she wasn’t induced? What if she just got in the ambulance? What if she was alive back before cesarians? And so on.

Now, at the risk of offending someone—something I often do—I must say that it has been our experience that there is a certain air of superiority attached to having children the “natural way.” I do not believe this is intentional, but it must be acknowledged.

I believe that in our pro-death age there is an understandable resistance against a big-pharma, big-abortion society wherein the glory of childbirth is exalted to its rightful place.

If you have spent time in Catholic circles with large families, you undoubtedly have heard the stories of home births and unmedicated births, and births in pools, and maybe even a birth in a forest. These are all wonderful things. However, it is my contention that along this journey for pro-life Christians to rediscover the glory of childbirth, we may have forgotten that there is nothing one can do to make up for what amounts to biological realities.

It is a wonderful thing if a woman almost effortlessly brings her child into the world on her own bed with a midwife. However, it is not really something you can make happen.

Now, before the natural-birth crowd gets angry with me, let me explain. Yes, there are ways to be healthier and to move things along, but giving birth is not like running a marathon—you cannot simply will your way through it.

Our family is deeply into natural medicines and health products, and we largely avoid going to the doctor’s office. But there are just certain things that used to kill us and don’t anymore because of advancements. Women used to die in childbirth more often than they do now, and there was no natural way or amount of granola that could be eaten to stop that from happening.

I should also say—and this is just my impression—that the way that a woman gives birth is often presented almost as a sign of her Catholicity. Perhaps I have read into situations something that was not there, but I can’t help but have had the impression while researching birthing options all these years that there is a belief among a lot of the natural-birth crowd that it is the “way God wants you to give birth.”

It should be noted that the natural-birth realm is filled with a significant portion of neo-pagans. Crystals, yoga, and white women with dreadlocks are never far from doulas and vendors of raspberry-leaf teas.

I have also heard evangelists of home births say things like, “You deserve to give birth how you want,” or, “Our ancestors never had cesareans.”

Well, a woman does not deserve to give birth the way that she wants anymore than I deserve to run as fast as I want. I may have been able to will my way to impressive bench-press numbers over the years, but like a corn-fed Iowan, I was never going to be a tailback. 

Biology is a tricky thing, and there has been no fairness in it since the Fall. We are not masters of it, no matter what we think.

Furthermore, our ancestors did not have refrigerators, or plastic tubs wherein they could have their “natural births” in their homes with natural air conditioning and natural indoor plumbing.

It reminds me of a time I spoke with someone who said he liked to lift weights barefoot because it was more natural. Ah yes, natural weightlifting, just like our ancestors used to do: without shoes while using machine-cut steel plates that had been engineered.

The reality is that a c-section is a heavy cross for a woman to bear, and it is often the case that God sends us the crosses that we either need or that we can handle. Who knows what is the Providence behind why a woman has or has not a difficult time giving birth.

All I know is that I am eternally grateful that God has placed us in the world at this time with the medical advancements that we have. I would like the opportunity to grow old with my wife and cherish some grandchildren, no matter how they come into the world.

[Photo Credit: Unsplash]

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