Why Jill Duggar’s Unplanned Cesarean Birth May Be Validating For Millions of Women

Childbirth is a very intense topic. The passage of birth itself is intense physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is tangled with a web of cultural norms, societal expectations, and individual expectations, as well as the dynamics between a woman and her partner, and the woman’s first experiences at becoming a mother to the child she is bearing. While everyone murmurs things such as “as long as the baby is healthy” — the truth is, there’s a whole lot more to the psyche of the woman bearing the child. Of course she is happy that he child is unharmed and healthy and the vast majority are willing to do anything in their power to make that happen — including having a cesarean section.

Jill Duggar Dillard was not someone who wanted to have a cesarean section birth. She studied home midwifery, and no doubt believes in a baby’s very gentle, natural emergence into the world, accompanied by familiar surroundings and a holistic doula. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that — studies have shown that for low-risk women (like Jill Duggar Dillard) a homebirth is at least as safe as a hospital birth. However, sometimes that is just not meant to be.

Jill was into her 41st week of pregnancy (still within normal limits of gestation) when she went into labor. She labored for a reported 70 hours at home, no doubt one of the hardest things she has ever done. She wanted the birth she had envisioned, like every woman before her, and each woman will after her. But it was not to be — when her amniotic fluid, or her “water broke,” it showed that there was meconium staining, meaning that the baby had experienced its first bowel movement inside of her. That can mean that the baby is in some type of distress, be it a cord wrapped around a neck or something else. So, weary from 70 hours of labor, a disappointed and exhausted young mother made the first of what will be a series of difficult decisions in her child’s life: she went to the hospital to prepare for an emergency C-section. And Israel David, the beloved and healthy son of Jill and Derick Dillard, is proof that she made the right choice.

The right choice, however, does not mean that there is no grief. Childbirth is a monumental passage of womanhood, something that women can often, rightly or wrongly, identify and label themselves and others by how they give birth — was it homebirth, natural, planned cesarean, or elective cesarean? And while each mother is no less a mother no matter how she gives birth, our society and her own feelings may not make her feel that way.

Women actually can mourn the loss of giving natural vaginal childbirth, or feel like they are “not winning any mommy badges.” And while that’s absolutely not correct, as a society, we must embrace these women and allow their feelings of grief and mourning for a birth they did not have. Cesarean birth is not a failure, but it is a variation from the course of romanticized ideas a woman may have about her body’s ability to give birth to a particular child, and that can cause long-lasting problems.

Women who have had emergency cesarean sections are about three times as likely to have postpartum depression, more likely to have postpartum complications like infections and deep vein thrombosis, and may be more at risk for lactation and breastfeeding problems. Due to some hospitals’ rules, they may be separated from their babies for longer than a vaginally delivered mom and baby, which can lead to delayed bonding. All of this can cause a woman’s self-esteem to plummet, to feel that already, she has failed miserably at her first mothering task. And while nothing could be further from the truth, we as a society need to find ways to help these women cope with the loss of their idealized birth and still feel confident in their maternal abilities.

Jill Duggar is already planning to have a VBAC next time — or vaginal birth after cesarean section. Some doctors and hospitals will not allow this practice due to a very small increase in the risk of uterine rupture. However, other studies show that the risks of a VBAC are no worse than the risks of a second cesarean section. Regardless, it is time that we as a society allow a woman to voice her feelings, no matter what they are, over the amazing and life-altering experience she just had when she gave life to another human being. Those who harbor anger, sadness, resentment, or don’t understand what happened that caused the C-section are much more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

So, no, there is nothing remotely “easy” about C-sections. They are hard to recover from physically, and for many women, they take an emotional toll. A helpful friend would say to a new mother “Tell me about your birth experience” or “How can I help you right now?” instead of “Oh, you’re so lucky to avoid labor and pushing!” There is nothing “lucky” about having an abdominal incision, muscle fascia sliced through, internal organs moved, and then being stapled up. Let the new mother lead the discussion and talk about her feelings.

Remember in the end, we all will be clapping as they take their first step, shedding a few tears as that big yellow bus pulls up, wondering should we make them eat broccoli, worrying that they got home safe from the game Friday night. We are all mothers. How we talk to and support each other can go a long way to help all mothers get started on the right track. That’s why I am so very glad to see the positive way that Jill and Derick have talked about Israel’s birth. It wasn’t what they planned, but life rarely is. Having resilient parents is so much more empowering to a child than any method of birth. Kudos to the young couple as they begin this thrilling, fascinating journey that is fraught with the depths of love and fear, this journey known as parenting. May their experience empower young parents everywhere, and may we all remember to be conscientious and kind to those who are facing things we know nothing of.

[photo via naturalbirthandbabycare]