At least you have a healthy baby…

healthy baby apple

Many women, on telling stories of how they felt abused or traumatized during birth — or some other negative feeling, like having failed as a woman after having a C-section, or something — have their feelings dismissed with, “at least you have a healthy baby.” While there is certainly a place for looking for the “silver lining” in the midst of any cloud, no matter how dark, there is also a place for just putting your arm around somebody’s shoulders and “weep with those that weep, and mourn with those that mourn.” Dismissing a woman’s feelings does not help her — if anything, it only makes her feel worse, because then she has the added guilt of not being able to “just be happy” that her baby is healthy. Certainly she is happy that her baby is healthy… but can she not also be sad that it came at the cost of severe bodily trauma? — Especially if she is fairly certain that the C-section or whatever else that she endured during birth, was in fact not necessary for her baby to have been born healthy and well.

The above image came from this story on the Birth Love website, and was the woman’s way of expressing how she felt after her C-section. Even though I’ve not had a C-section, it certainly speaks to me; I can only imagine how women who have endured birth trauma would react to that — probably, “YES! This is how I feel!” Also, read Gretchen Humphries’ post on the topic.

Certainly, not every woman who had a C-section is going to feel this way — and I’m glad of that, otherwise there would be at least 31.7% of women last year who were as traumatized in body and spirit as this apple was brutalized, which would be unconscionable. It’s horrific enough that even one woman feels this way, much less every woman. This can be a point of contention among post-C-section women — some women can’t understand why others feel victimized by the same surgery that they had no problems with, or were even grateful for. Perhaps this image will help everyone who does not have negative feelings about C-sections (or other birth trauma) understand those who do.

So, the next time you hear someone process her negative birth experience, and you’re tempted to say, “At least you have a healthy baby,” remember the picture of the mutilated apple, bite your tongue, and if you can’t think of anything else, just say, “I’m so sorry.”

h/t to The Unnecessarean for the original post

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16 Responses

  1. I like your advice in the last paragraph. I think that applies to more than just birth. If someone is in pain, LISTEN. If they ask for an opinion, that’s different.

  2. It took me a minute to get the picture (I was staring at it before reading what you wrote). And then it hit me and I definitely got it. I haven’t personally met anyone who has expressed their heartache after experiencing a brutal birth, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget this image in case I do.

    It’s okay for a woman to be grateful for a healthy baby! And it should be okay for her to be mournful of what has happened to her to get that healthy baby.

  3. This is such an important message, especially for people who work with moms. I always say the day Devon was born was the scariest and happiest day of my life. Such different and powerful emotions and both very valid.

  4. I thought of something else. Everything might have gone exactly the way it was supposed to go from a medical and midwifery perspective, especially with women who had a truly high-risk pregnancy or experienced a rare obstetric emergencies. I’ve seen a tendency to stuff the powerful emotions associated with the trauma. Sometimes it’s self-imposed and other times, which concern me greatly, it’s because a woman tries to work out a complicated birth with her doctor or midwife and that person puts their ego first. Remember the quote at the top of this post? The flip side is that if care providers aren’t able to work out the feelings expressed in the quote, they seem to take it out on their patients and clients. BTW, I’m not saying that’s what the quoted did with her patients… she might have had lovely relationships with them.

    Of course, the other problem these days is that there’s so much doubt about whether cesareans were actually necessary because of so many doctors crying wolf. Add to that a climate in which hospital care providers are flat-out told not to say “I’m so sorry” when consoling a patient because it might be interpreted as admitting to doing something wrong instead of “I’m sorry you’re in pain” and you get a pretty unhealthy system. In many cases, even the hospital staff who would love to comfort a patient are told they can’t.

    And then there are those who are just smug that they save lives and no one should feel an ounce of pain about it. They feel it’s a personal insult to them and their status and there’s not much you can do to get through to them, I don’t think. Some docs LOVE the excitement of emergency medicine and love being hailed for performing surgical “miracles.”

    I could write volumes about this, and perhaps someday I will. To me, giving women a safe space to discuss and explore their feelings about their own birth is important. If the goal of everything is healthy people and healthy families (esp. the mother-child dyad), I can’t see how telling someone to stuff their feelings could ever be helpful.

  5. Jill is right about health care providers saying “I’m sorry” when a mistake happens. This has been researched and patients are hesitant to sue when the health care professional is honest. With C-Sections my guess is many OB’s feel the section was necessary, so there is no need to apologize. I had a C-Section after many hours of labor and pushing, and I am very happy to have a healthy baby. That’s all I needed.

    • I say sorry to people in hospital…I don’t care how it messes up the liability stuff, I have never had it come back to bite me!

  6. It took me a long time to come to terms with my daughter’s birth and get back to normal.

    The cesarean saved her life, but everything leading up to it is what put her in a life or death situation to begin with. And if none of that had happened, she would never have been in a NICU on breathing machines because she was more premature than they thought.

    Your provider is supposed to help you have a healthy baby AND a healthy mommy. No one thinks this way anymore. The baby is all that matters. Who cares if you have a court ordered cesarean, at least you have a healthy baby.

    It’s such crap that women are put down every day because of this stigma. And then doctors wonder why so many women choose to have their babies at home. They aren’t forced into anything, and they are completely informed on all their care.

    This is a fantastic piece, and the picture is perfect. That is how I feel at 2 years after the birth of my daughter. Torn open and I only got the healthy daughter a couple weeks after the delivery, not right away.

  7. [...] Posted on September 15, 2009 by Kathy Dr. Amy, the SOB, strikes again. Linking to my “At least you have a healthy baby…” post, in a sneering fashion, of course — she never links to me except to denigrate me [...]

  8. [...] thing that stood out to me (probably because of the recent posts “At least you have a healthy baby” and “You should be grateful“) was the discussion of trauma in the setting of [...]

  9. [...] To Woman Childbirth Education – At Least You Have a Healthy Baby: The picture says it [...]

  10. I could totally relate to this article as I still feel the pain in my heart when I think about the birth (c-section) of my son 14 a a half years ago! I still feel like a failure as a woman and a mother because I didn’t give birth naturally!! I feel thats why it took me years to really bond with my son and suffered severely with post natal depression. I’ve never really ever talked about the emotional trauma I felt & still feel today about his birth as I felt like there was something wrong with me!

  11. I dont think I can actaully agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. For one , botanically speaking, an apple is NOT a mother it is actaul much more similiar to our ovary or placenta that provides protection and once the fruit has fallen from the tree ripens to provide food for “the healhy babies”.
    A tree will also produce hundreds of apple seedlings in one year.
    A human pregnancy takes 10 months to develop and then birth can be a difficult journey for both mother and baby.
    I do agree that woman should be supported if they feel a sense of loss about what occured during their birth journeys, but I think part of the problem is this hyperfocus on natural birth as the only right possible way.
    I of course wanted to have a natural birth, but part of me was also scared of not having it because of all the horror stories in terms of bonding etc I had heard if there were any interventions.
    The only reason I agreed to an epidural after 3 days of labour and 2 oclock in the morning was because I was a little delerious. Yes it sucked, yes the sensations of pushing were decreased. I was lucky too once the epidural was placed I relaxed and the baby finally decended into the canal. It turned out there had been complications, which made me very glad that I had a healthy baby boy who immediately nursed. Of course I turn over and over in my mind, of if only I had relaxed the epidural wouldnt have been needed, but boy is that hindsight.
    I really think there needs to be dialogue for all perspectives, but I think there needs to stop being this attititude perpetuated that there is something wrong with women if some intervention occurs at their birth.

    • Wait, what?? Clearly no one is saying that an apple = human being. It’s art being used to illustrate a concept…the concept being, doctors shouldn’t rip apart women’s bodies then tell women to be grateful for a painful invasive medical procedure that is often times either unnecessary in the first place or became necessary after unnecessary procedures were done by the medical team.

  12. I completely understand where this post is coming from. My husband and I started a bit late and planned for one child (which we got). She was however footling breech and so my one chance at my ideal birth was pretty much over before it started. Being privileged enough to have my choice of delivery venues I had chosen a hospital birth with an OB. Without the c/s I have no doubt that my daughter would have had a complicated delivery and could easily have died in birth or been severely disabled for the rest of her life.

    Instead, I suffered an incision that (healed) is about 5 inches long and barely visible less than 2 years later. I also suffered the loss of my birth plan and experience. No kidding or joking: becoming a parent involves sacrifice, and I would have let myself be cut up like that apple if it meant having my daughter be as healthy and wonderful as she is now. Being older and somewhat experienced, I knew the risks before I got pregnant. I made a plan, but I also realized that I was well out of my 20s and trusted the OB to make the best decision for me and my baby, which he did.

    Perhaps my experience was seasoned a bit by having had 2 miscarriages before going to term. After the second I was depressed for months, gained weight, and was sure I would never have a child. For me my daughter’s life and well-being was more than worth a change in my plans and a palm-length incision. I consider myself fortunate to have had access to such good medical care.

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