April is Cesarean Awareness Month, a time when parents and birth professionals worldwide acknowledge those who have given birth by cesarean and create space to validate their experiences, while also challenging the system that has created a bloated cesarean birth rate.
As a birth professional and as a parent who has given birth by cesarean, I’d like to share five tips (plus a bonus tip!) on how birth workers can help create more inclusive and compassionate birth preparation for expecting parents.
1. Explore your own thoughts and beliefs about cesarean birth.
Even if you feel like you are an inclusive birth professional, take some time to really sit with your thoughts and beliefs about cesarean birth. What comes up for you when you hear that someone gave birth by cesarean who didn’t plan to? What do you notice in your body when someone tells you they are going to have an elective cesarean?
Judging yourself for having bias around cesarean birth can lead to denial and suppression, which ultimately doesn’t help you unpack your bias or show up for your clients better. It is both compassionate and courageous to acknowledge the feelings you have about cesarean birth and bring a sense of curiosity to where they came from, how they manifest for you, and how they could shift to help you hold space for a bigger range of birth outcomes.
2. Talk about it with your clients!
When birth professionals don’t talk about cesarean birth prenatally, parents can get the message that cesarean birth is either not going to happen to them, or not something that should be spoken about. This leaves 1/3 of birthing people in the US without any context for understanding their experience. Don’t wait for your clients to bring up cesarean birth. Bring it up yourself! Taking a compassionate and matter-of-fact approach to discussions about cesarean birth normalizes this kind of birth and helps parents start to think of cesarean birth in a more nuanced way than just a procedure to avoid. Regardless of where or how your client plans to give birth, it’s helpful for them to learn about what cesarean birth looks like, and how they could cope with the challenges of giving birth by cesarean.
3. Be mindful of your language.
In Birthing From Within, we use the term “cesarean birth” to acknowledge that a cesarean birth is a birth, and deserves to be treated with the same amount of tenderness, ceremony, care, and celebration from their support team as a vaginal birth. I have also heard of people referring to cesarean birth as “abdominal birth.” The term “c-section” can feel like it reduces this rite of passage to only a surgery. It’s so much more than that. It’s a major threshold in the initiation into parenthood.
As a parent who has given birth by cesarean, I don’t personally like cutesy names like “belly birth.” While I understand the positive intention of reframing the experience, I don’t feel that it gives the ordeal the respect it deserves. My cesarean birth was both a birth and a major abdominal surgery. These simultaneous events held incredible amounts of emotion for me that are not acknowledged by cute nicknames.
Please avoid words like “cutting the baby out.” Such words are both harsh and violent, and they may wind up ringing in a client’s ears long after they’ve been spoken. When speaking to someone who has given birth by cesarean, ask how they refer to their birth process and use the terms that feel best to them.
4. Focus on what parents can do…
…to get through a cesarean birth and recover. While there is value in helping parents understand steps they can take to avoid a cesarean birth, that’s not a complete conversation, because even if they take those steps, they may still experience cesarean birth. It’s important to tell parents what they could do to cope in the case of a cesarean birth. Instead of showing them a model of the layers of tissue that are cut through to help a baby be born by cesarean, talk to them about how they could stay connected to their partner, listen to music, or do skin-to-skin in the operating room. People are less likely to feel traumatized when they feel like they have a way of taking action in a difficult situation.
5. Empower birth partners to show up fully…
…for their birthing loved one in the operating room. Explain to them the importance of connecting with the birthing parent and meeting their needs during a cesarean birth. The operating room can be an intimidating space for birth partners. If they know what to expect, and how to meet the emotional needs of their birthing loved one, they will be better able to guide the birth parent through this process with confidence and tenderness.
Bonus: Think twice about sharing statistics…
…about birth outcomes related to having professional labor support. While it’s true that hiring a doula lowers someone’s chances of birthing by cesarean, these statements can wind up feeling like promises that neither you nor anyone else in the birth space has the power to keep. Consider instead focusing on the emotional and relational outcomes of having a professional birth companion in any kind of birth, regardless of outcome. That way your client will go into their birth experience feeling confident that you will show up for them fully, no matter how their baby comes out.