(Note -- this is the story of a labor cesarean, not a non-labor cesarean)
Was I always interested in this topic? Was it the interest and the thought that brought it about? I really haven't yet contemplated sufficiently that particular aspect of the story. I know my present interest and commitment goes back at least twenty years. January 1977 my father died. It was a cold Winter, too cold to lay your father in the womb of the earth. Thirty years previous to that my mother was pregnant with me and, gave birth to me during the very cold weather of late Spring/beginning of Summer. You'd expect May Day to be a sunny day, a celebratory day. After all it is one of our Celtic Feasts. Trade unions name it Labour Day!
Yes, it is a great day for a birthday and, there is more. Did my mother give birth to me, or, who did? What is mother's role in a cesasrean birth! And so I weave my story backwards and forwards and, cold seems to be one of the threads. Yes, father's death in cold '77 was a CATALYST. Summer '77 was a rocky and a wonderful Summer, the Summer-of-my-life that I found an ENTRANCE-EXIT into God stories. Yes, I have been searching all those thirty years. Does one have to know what one is searching for. Is it sufficient to be in the search and, in so doing move into a deeper-life-meaning .. into the EXITS and ENTRANCES of life.
Sometimes during my personal work and reflections I get very vivid insights of my birth and, sometimes little fleeting ones. Sometimes I think I know and have grasped, and its never that simple. During my psychotherapy training I was introduced to that wonderful book Different Doorway, Adventures of a Cesarean Born. It has been a wonderful companion to me, a bible, a womb of good news. I use it as a means of testing and validating my own story, my map and no map of life. It companions me on my journey towards wholeness, companioning is also a part of a cesarean birth script.
When I mention my being born cesarean to people I sense their train of thought moving into the realm of having to "fix me", of seeing and noticing me as other than normal, as a project that needs the helping hands of the "normal vaginal born person". I get the sense that to be a full healthy member of this society I need the experience of canal birth. I don't want to be either seen by myself or, by others as an other than a normal person, as a pathology. Could you see me as having had a different experience, that has imprinted me deeply? It has both light and shadow. I presume that all births have. I also invite you as you read your map to acknowledge that there are other maps to be read, noticed, seen and understood. Life is multi-mapped and we the inhabitants are wonderful mappers.
So, this paper is a reflection paper, more than scientific, and, maybe it's both. It's also a foundation for moving into testing the ground with others. Its born out of my life center, through my efforts at labouring, at being born, seen and connected. It has glimpses of my Holy/Wholesome and shadow story. I allow this paper to write itself I try and stay open to its depth and breadth. It's a womb for my views and reflections. Sometimes they are tentative. Please notice that, laugh with them, cry with them. Let them reach your map. I am your companion on the journey. One of my names is cesarean birth. There are differences and sameness between my ground and yours. Lets enrich life with both.
As far as hard data goes I don't have much of my mother's own story. Anytime I ask relatives they take off talking about my brother's near death cesarean birth. Yes, my mother already knew that trauma of difficult pregnancies. Cesarean birth had already saved her own life, and that of her only son. Doctors were concerned. And she also had experienced a miscarriage. I believe, through the depth of my own knowing, that my conception was a bit of a shock for her, but, being the wonderful Irish Catholic mother, she knew that God's help was close at hand ("Is gaire cabhair De na an doras" - a Gaelic prayer) And so it was in the guise of a safe birth through cutting open. Why did she need this experience and why did I?
As far as I know I was a sturdy strong baby ready to go somewhere. Did I know at that stage where I wanted to go, where I wanted to be? That is still part of my cesarean birth script and life fractal. Nothing happened at the end of the 2nd Matrix (BPMII - see Gail Waxman's paper for more on this). Baby could find no exit. She could find nowhere to go, no opening, no EXIT. I think/know I had spent a lot of time at this stage hitting my head off a stone wall, indeed another familiar script and fractal, walls as bare, barren and cold as my home stone walls of Connemara. And why push? Had I tried too hard? Did I take on something that did not totally belong to me, and there's another fractal. Could I have learnt to put more trust in "mother", and, would she then have given me an exit, perhaps an abundance of it? And why did I choose not to, I wonder?
I know I experienced terror, awfulness and the desperation of noEXIT, and it leaves me with a question of how this experience compares with the terror of the canal journey and its demons. I know I had begun to feel my own failure at that stage. The seeds of being not good enough were being sown. Forget it, you can't make it, give up. This is dangerous stuff. If you are not careful you may kill mother. Pushing kills. Give up. Abandon. Is it abandonment to hopelessness or, to limitations. How does a baby get a grasp of limitations in this desperation in a cesarean birth story.
So there is a lot of shadow around the aspect of NO EXIT for some cesarean births. There is a disillusionment, a no solution, a sense of loss, sense of being let down, of being undermined, underestimated. It has a hurtful teasing side. You are invited, allowed in, drawn in, and, then feel abandoned. I get the image of somebody with hand out stretched to me to coax me along, and I can never reach .. the coaxing hand is always gone on ahead .. with no way through to reach that hand. You are on your own. And there is the mix of blame, guilt and confusion, the contradictions and the paradox, unclarity about boundaries and responsibilities. This is terror world. There is the loss and the shame and the not good enough. I am not good enough in the womb, can I ever be good enough. My other name is the not good enough child. She needs to be reached, to be reassured, to be brought to that light (another fractal) the knower of good enough, that knows how to give back responsibility to where it belongs, that knows and recognizes the heavy agenda of womb therapy, that learns to heal oneself instead of always having to reach out and heal and be responsible for others, the moving from being victim to becoming proactive ... Proactive for self, so that one can be proactive alongside other proactive people.
To heal the shadow of the not good enough child is to hold it to the light of the step by step journey, the breaking of that no exit/not good enough, to have the courage to be comfortable in the what is good enough .. to be comfortable in the mistakes and, to get up again and move on, to be comfortable in the days that the child shines brightly and, to notice the shadow it casts. It is the giving birth in the minute by minute of the emotional person, not just the anatomical person. It is the crawling before walking, I never experience the crawling and the rough and tumble, the sensuous canal journey that Dr. Stan Grof talks about. That is not in my psyche. At times the good old schitzoid of isolation rescues me from the rough and tumble. It knows another story.
Cesarean birth knows bits of the same jig-saw. As I practice this crawling and the little steps through the isolation I wonder does life get easier, does the new become more familiar. Does the shadow of fear, terror, not knowing the foreigner, lose some of its power. The breaking of the cycle of NO EXIT is to plan and name the step by step EXIT today from here to there in the ordinary. For me I know that writing is part of that breaking the cycle. Writing can give me wonderful exits.. can move me on, can clarify and validify. The challenge for a cesarean birth person could be creativity and finding different ways towards mobilization. And then the anaesthesia mingling with such thoughts and the prick of a knife. What's happening? What's this violation? Nobody warned me. Of course they knew it would save both my mother and I, and I am grateful for that. Both of us lived to tell a story.
But, the baby-in-the-womb cannot perceive with such logic. How does a baby perceive such a violent act. Yes, you are right, today I am just noticing the baby's perspective. Again the paradox - violent act being also the most loving act possible at that time, but, such complexities for the baby. Cesarean birth people specialise in paradoxes perhaps! How did this healthy baby manage to get herself into being held back in the NO EXIT chamber. Why did she need to learn to hold back, and hide' or, underestimate her own strength. Why did she have to learn that she must find a different route. How can she now learn what her place and space and strength really is. What's in all of that, and what of all of that that I carry in my shadow.
I presume that one of my missions in life is to accept both my strength and my vulnerability. I am both. Even St. Paul knew about this! Another implication is to value my strength as normal and ordinary. I don't have to hide. My strength need not be a threat. How can both mother and child live mutually. How can both win.
I think one of the gifts of this shadow is the application of a win/win situation. There seems to be some in-built knowing for the canal sojourner that win/win is inevitable. It's available through the rhythm of the wave-like experience of contractions and the slow process of waiting, expectancy, false alarms, resting and the moving on. There is a definite holding and supporting around all of that in space, time and boundaries. My personal sense as a cesarean birth person is that rhythms cannot be trusted. They get you no where .. except into the pain of NO EXIT, isolation. That seems to be one of my natal/native stories. I have to do it all myself, and I can't do it myself, and I want to do it myself, and I do not want to do it myself. And that brings much confusion and ambivalence And they are just words.
Lets look at what they are in search of? What's their question? What is the fundamental longing of this souled person? How do I stay with myself or with another in this confusion/ambivalence? What is the gift and the shadow of this story. It's really important to meet the demon of fear in this story. What is the demon's story. What does she want to tell me? What's her experience? So, its by validating the demon, of believing her, of listening to her, of trusting her, of encouraging her, that the demon can be transformed and brought to the light. I sense that the answer is very much in the feet and not in the head. The demon was born out of the flush of fear, anxiety and isolation and, it lodged in the upper body, mainly the head, the birth of a schitziod.
The non-vaginally born adult person needs to get this energy down to the lower part of the torso, beginning with the hips and pelvis area and down through the legs into the ground. The abrupt interruption and upward movement to the light, being pulled out of the darkness very quickly and suddenly towards strong light, is an invasion of the energy field which needs to be realigned. So for a win/win resolution for a person not born vaginally one needs solid feet and footing, a trusting of one's feet. The feet journey back with me into finding the depth of resolution, of labour within. Feet are the bridge into the earth, into the groundedness of my reality. In finding a trusting place within, a win/win within myself. I can also place myself alongside other win/win situations in life.
Another strong picture I get of my birth is a factory-like conveyor belt system, passing me from one pair of hands to another. This conveyer belt seems very long and went on forever, starkly impersonal. Whose "property" was I? Who took responsibility for my well being? Who really was my primary or principal or "mother" figure in the absence of my mother due to anesthesia. Of course I value the tremendous work of the medical profession, but, my native story did not always understand their logic. The baby born through cutting deserves a wholesome well-come that carries her/him through life. How can the isolated surgical event learn to wear even a more human face that will give birth not just physically but also emotionally. How can a person not born vaginally heal this birth split for oneself? What is the shadow and what is the gift? What is the demon? What is the script?
Consequences of this "conveyor belt syndrome" are the insecurity and ambivalence about intimacy, merging, bonding, sense of belonging. It carries deep echoes about closeness and distance, of what is the sense of one being there for me, of me being demanding and being just in touch with ordinary natural neediness of the human person; of dependency and interdependency of closeness and isolation. The demon's experience is of a community/many people's availability at birth and, in another sense a no-one-body there at birth. Nobody can be there for me. I should not expect one. A cesarean born person has a sense of both cosmic availability at birth and no-one-person for me at birth. There is food for ambiguity here, the sense of the glory of the cosmos and the void of the no-some-body. It brings about or feeds guilt and uncertainty about primal needs. Mother primary relationship is absent and, so where do I stand as regards needs in this primitive/native situation. I believe that life needs to be patient, gentle, caring and challenging of the cesarean born person's sometimes seeming possessive and their illusive approach to relationships.
You may not have experienced the cosmic availability of grace and graciousness. It is native to the cesarean born person. I haven't had the vaginal birth native experience. Can we shift the high moral ground approach and see it in it's true colours . . . human beings in search of native stories. You are OK. I am OK. We have come through a different native journey. Lets honor both, and in so doing we enrich our world by encouraging and empowering the telling of our stories.
I believe that the energy field of a cesarean birth child gets interrupted "ruffled" and "damaged". This abrupt arrow-like emergency has ambiguous implications, that which saves also alienates. The unprotected "just out being" is "blasted" by alien realities/experiences. How can mother, obstetrician, midwife, father and any other interested party find a model where greater protection is given to the "just-out-being" that came in such arrow-like fashion. How can the baby as well as mother be kept center stage? How can we give both their birth right, a win/win start, a win/win that meets the knowing of birth as being a home-coming and de-light-full experience, and also in time, supports the other pole of the same story, that of cold, isolation, competition, harsh realities and, that of death itself. (See articles by Robert Oliver and Joanne Steele for more on this.)
This abrupt emergence to the light also brings the gift of light and expansion to the "just-out-being". It brings you on a seconds' journey that lasts into eternity, gifting new life with an overview of life in the blink of an eye. It gives a knowing of cosmos that the actual living of life can, on some level, never give. In some sense this may be seen as an illusion, and what is illusion, and, on whose map does it belong? Yes, I believe that cesarean birth's experience of cosmos participation is a single chance in a life time. It is an ultimate honour-filled event known to those of us who have chosen (on whatever level) to make that journey. It is both a privilege and a responsibility. As my own personal and cosmic journey unfolds I know that it is only in the continuous healing of my story that this reality can become fully available to me. There is much food here for reflection for both canal adventurers and cosmic adventurers. There can be much misunderstanding between our native stories.
When I read and listen to the primal gurus, particularly men-guru, as they speak with such eloquence and inevitability of the "war" and "conflict" of the canal journey and the high scores given for such heroic achievements, it leaves me with many questions. I wonder are there enough of us women involved in the telling of native birth stories. What value system and language do women put on the miracle of life in the womb and in the canal? Can we women be even more creative, brave, scientific and intuitive so that all gurus will be called to gender and cultural accountability in language, symbols and value system in the description of one of the greatest miracles and mysteries of life, the birth of a new human. Can more women be empowered to tell their stories, be they home birth, hospital birth, canal or cesarean birth, or whatever other label we wish to put on the way into this life. My hope would be that there would be different questions asked and different attitudes nourished.
Yes, in this paper I have attempted to touch and honour some of the threads of the tapestry of my own cesarean birth, and, hopefully that of others. Birth, death and life are our great mysteries. In our limitations and search, we attempt to name the mystery. Its an attempt, knowing that it is both the tip of the iceberg and the volcano. I do not know the full story. Who does? I highlight some questions and make some observations. I do not want to project too much onto cesarean birth, or, overload this native story. I don't expect my native story to be totally different from my sisters and brothers who survived, enjoyed and were challenged by the canal experience. May my expansive abrupt emergence experience of birth, meet your contractive measured experience and may they both enrich; heal and validate each other and our universe.
Mairead Ni Chonaola is an Irish labor-cesarean-born woman who was for many years a Catholic nun, Mairead is now a psychotherapist.