Why I Don’t Want to Call My C-Section a “Belly Birth”

The latest chapter in the birthing wars.

c-section births feature

Just when I think the “birthing wars” have gone too far, I recently learned  the term “C-section” is becoming passé. We now need a whole new way of describing a surgery that’s been happening since the time of Caesar himself. Behold, the new term, “belly birth” – the alternative way of talking about what many view as an otherwise cold, and/or invasive medical procedure.

The “belly birth” is an attempt at giving women a more empowering way to reframe undesired birth experiences – i.e. those who feel they have been robbed of the joy of delivering an entire human through their vaginal canal. According to online trends, more women are renaming their C-sections as belly births, in an effort to take back their agency in birth experiences that felt largely out of their control, as well as to normalize C-sections. The idea being: A belly birth is something that you participate in, whereas a C-section is simply done to you.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a cesarean section (C-section) is defined as: “the surgical procedure used to deliver a baby through incisions to the abdomen and uterus.” There are many reasons why physicians opt to go this route, including; the baby being in distress, the baby being in an abnormal position, or labor not progressing, to name a few.

Despite these very legitimate reasons for surgery, the stigma around C-sections still persists. People sometimes point to the moms who have undergone them as having gotten away with an “easier way out” (remember the phrase “too posh to push”?); and some women who have had them feel ashamed of their own birth experiences.  

But wouldn’t naming C-sections something else – particularly something like “belly birth”, which almost sounds like a mystical event – be further reinforcing that stigma? Barriers are seldom broken when we dance around the thing people are afraid of, or when we make them more palatable to the people who don’t understand them.

Renaming a C-section birth a “belly birth” disassociates the surgery from the birth experience. The term itself evokes an  image of a woman magically bringing forth her baby from the depths of her uterus, and out of her stomach, by sheer will. Is everyone supposed to pretend that a surgery never happened in order to get that baby out of the woman’s belly?

Admittedly, for the people behind this movement, removing the surgery aspect of the C-section is probably the point of calling it something like “belly birth” in the first place. In their view, they would like the emphasis to be on the birth of the baby, rather than the surgery itself. But why erase any reference to the surgery that made that baby’s birth possible? There’s something about that act that reeks of shame, too. It doesn’t feel inclusive, but more like a rewriting of history.

I have had two C-sections. One was an emergency C-section: after I had labored for over 24 hours, my body wouldn’t fully dilate, and my son’s heart rate plummeted. The other was a planned section, for the same reasons I had to have my first C-section, under the advice of the doctor I trust with my life (and those of my babies). I love telling people about my C-sections, and, if they’re willing to hear them, I enjoy regaling them with the gory details of each one. I didn’t choose my first C-section, but there’s a lot about motherhood that I don’t get control over. My C-sections are my birth stories, and I am proud of them.

When you think about it, what isn’t empowering about lying AWAKE on a table, as a doctor slices into your abdomen? How can you not feel like a badass after you have lived through having your stomach opened, then rummaged around in, and then having a baby pulled out of it? And then, while your guts are still open to the heavens, you most likely have a moment with your brand new baby to pose and take a photo, because that is just how #momboss you are. You’re so amazingly tough, in fact, you get to witness your doctor sewing you back up, possibly feeling just a few tugs around on your insides, and maybe the ol’ burn of a cauterizer. That’s some superhuman sh*t. And then someone has the nerve to tell you that it wasn’t a real birth worth being proud of? That you had a “belly” birth? Ha! That’s cute.

Mamas of C-sections, I think the issue isn’t what we call the damn procedure. I think it’s the fact that we feel we need to rename it in the first place. The idea of the C-section being “less than” the vaginal birth feeds into that same comparing and competing that’s so rampant in the mom world. You know; things like how a vaginal birth with epidural is “less than” one without. Or how a birth in the hospital might as well be a back alley birth when compared to a beautiful home birth in a birthing tub surrounded by dancing doulas. You get the idea.

That’s not to say that I’d wish a C-section upon someone who didn’t want one. It is not an easy surgery to recover from. It requires support from friends or family members (or hired help) to help with the baby in order to allow your body to heal properly. It can take up to a year (or more) for your body to fully recover internally from the trauma. But a C-section is not a death. It is, in most cases, (nefarious doctors aside) a medically necessary means to a birth.

So what if we cheered each other for having undergone successful C-section births instead of grieving over them, or worse, not speaking their name? Calling a C-section by any other name puts us at further distance from overcoming our fear, hate, or distrust of this surgery; and our ability to accept – and even embrace it.  

Photography by @tash.things. 

Would you call your c-section a “belly birth”? Tune in Wednesday, June 27th at 2 pm EST on Facebook Live to discuss cesarean births and how to truly normalize them. 

Alexis Barad-Cutler

Alexis Barad-Cutler

ALEXIS BARAD-CUTLER is an Associate Editor and a frequent contributor to Well Rounded. Alexis Barad-Cutler is an Associate Editor for Well Rounded, and the founder of Not Safe For Mom Group (NSFMG), a space for women to express raw feelings without judgement. She also creates content for sites like Mindr, Fatherly, Hey Mama, and Beyond Mom -- among other places that cater to the parenting set. Find out more at alexisbaradcutler.com and follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Comments {16}

  1. So true! During my pregnancy I planned and prepared for a natural unmedicated birth, but God had other plans for me and my baby was born via csection. I remember asking the Dr are you done yet, can you hurry up I wanna hold my baby and get some food ! I helped pick myself up off the operating table and move to the bed so we could speed along the process! I now know what it’s like to have a baby and have done it by csection and I will say I do feel like superwoman! It shouldn’t matter how but instead the result! We as woman are hardcore as it is for growing babies and going through pregnancy and delivery! No matter how we deliver our babies we should take pride in ourselves and the story that comes along with it. Be thankful for your struggles, battle wounds, and story! I know I will always be thankful for my 8lb 7oz miracle that was pulled from my belly! Csection mamma and proud!

    Haylee
  2. Thank you so much for this! I couldn’t agree with you more! I have had a C-section and a vaginal birth and all that mattered to me in each was the safety and health of the baby. I’m heading into my first induction tonight for baby #3, and I’ll be at peace whatever the outcome. I can’t tell you how frustrated I feel with the constant stream of comments that absolutely privilege the experience of a vaginal birth over a section. I even had a close friend recommend I speak to a healer to deal with the supposedly inevitable emotional trauma and improperly directed “energy” lingering from my section. I don’t consider myself damaged! Anyway, thanks again for your perspective, and I’m right there with you. I don’t care so much about the phrase “belly birth” one way or the other, but I’m going just go right ahead and keep calling what happened to me (and might again) a C-section.

    Amelia
  3. Love this! I am not ashamed of my need for a C Section. I say my labor was harder than a lot of my friends because I pushed labored, pushed for 2.5 hours and THEN had a C Section. My daughter had too big of a head and got stuck. But, whatever the story is for needing one we still carried our babies and grew them and still birthed them!

    Kristen
  4. So sad that there is any kind of stigma associated with C-sections that we need to purposely rebrand the procedure. Fact is that pregnancy/childbirth has always been a painful and risky experience for the mother, even resulting in death in the past when safe C-sections didn’t exist. It’s time we stop judging how we are able to bring our babies into the world as long as both mother and baby are healthy and safe and stop pinning our worth as women and mothers on whether or not we avow ourselves of modern life-saving medical procedures. And in that vein we should also stop worrying about whether using anesthesia during birth makes it any less natural. Because it would be ridiculous to undergo other kinds of surgery without anesthesia today (like they did in the old days) yet we expect mothers to “prove” they can do it for some reason. Mother Nature doesn’t always get it right and we humans have developed safe procedures to ensure our survival. It’s time we allowed mothers to feel worthy of that.

    Suzana
  5. This is a bit frustrating. As a mom who did cross the home birth finish line after a 24 hour labor and a wickedly large vaginal hematoma, I really just don’t feel like the “tugging” of giving birth via c-section should or does compare to the intensity of giving birth vaginally and unmedicated. Nor can you compare the birth experience of having an epidural versus not. If someone needs to tell you to push because you cannot feel it, that is wildly different than an unmedicated birth where you feel everything. There are, of course, medical reasons for c-section and I absolutely support the 15% of cases that are truly necessary (WHO figure, not mine), but don’t cheapen the experience for the women who, for one reason or another, crossed that finish line by saying it is all the same. It just isn’t.

    P.S. There was no dancing doula, I had an overly qualified CNM 🙂

    therainbowmoose
  6. Love this! A c section was not in my plans, but when the time came, I wasn’t progressing at all and my baby was in distress – all that mattered to me was a healthy baby. I feel great about how all of it went down, and I feel like just as much of a mom as anyone who delivered their baby a different way!

    Jill
  7. YES!!! Love this!! Like you I’ve had two csections. One an emergency (prolapsed cord) and the second was planned. And if we have a third I plan on having another csection. I have never been ashamed of my csections. Not had any trauma from them. Yes, I went into my first birth thinking it would be vaginal, but it didn’t happen. This whole “belly birth” term is just ridiculous! Thank God I haven’t had anyone shake me for my csection or made me feel lesser. But if anyone ever does, ha, they will be getting a little education. Thank for writing this!!!

    Jamie
  8. I am also a two csection mom. My first was after induction -> 20hrs labor-> 3hrs pushing (sunnyside up) and she got stuck. I mourned the birth experience I didn’t get for a long time. But I never felt ashamed. My second (a fast 17 months later) was no meds until I started pushing and his heart rate wouldn’t recover and then got worse. It was a very fast trip to the OR. I don’t feel the need to give it some trendy name. It wasn’t what I wanted but it is what it is and I have two healthy and incredibly smart toddlers.

    Alie
  9. I had no choice…twice. I developed early onset pre-eclampsia. The notion of “belly birth” is absurd. I had two emergency c-sections (without any newborn photos because my two girls TOGETHER weighed a whole 4 lbs, 5 oz.) They were not “born,” they were “delivered,” savinf my life and both of my daughters. Inventing euphemisms demeans this important medical intervention. After a collective 167 days in the NICU (more priceless medical practice), we are blessed they are happy, healthy kiddos.

    Shannon
  10. I didn’t even get the option to be awake for my c-section. After 53 hours of labor through two failed epidurals, I was sent in for a c-section, and the spinal didn’t take and so I was forced to deliver under general anethesia. No pics of me and my baby, didn’t get skin on skin, didn’t get delayed cord cutting, none of that. Doesn’t matter what you call it, it was awful.

    nlms
  11. I feel like a “Super Badass Mama”! After delivery all FOUR of my Healthy, Over 7 lbs and 8 lbs Babies via C-Section and proud to still be as healthy and slim as I was with my first pregnancy! One of the lovely things about having my babies via C-Section is that my vagina is still intact “My Vagina” and I don’t have to worry about my babies being pulled or being dangerous forced out by any means! So if it took the extra pain of being cut, sealed and longer healing (still in a painful manner as biblical written) to bring forth my beauty babies, why should it matter whether a vaginal birth is what makes birthing a baby a higher form of delivery?… REALLY! I think sometimes it’s a form of jealous from those who did have a vaginal birth because just as our “belly’s” Have scars that heal but we are still reminded of the beauty from them so are “vaginas”!! Just because they cannot see the scars, physically they feel the results of them from that day forth just as we Badass C-Section Mother’s Do! Except we Just Wear Ours BetterWho wouldn’t be jealous of that!!!

    Nina
  12. Here here! I knew for a long while that I was going to need a C-Section, so when asked how I intended to give birth I made no secret of it, telling anyone who wanted to know. Whenever I was met with judgment, I decided I was having none of it. I knew I was doing what was best for my baby and for me. Hard stop. I would simply ask, “are you a doctor?” Or “Do you not think for one moment that I am not going to do everything within my power to do right by my child?” Blank stares every time.

    As for my experience, it was fine. My anesthesiologist asked what kind of music I wanted playing during the surgery, my choice of anything. It instantly put me at ease and “warmed” the room to listen to one of my favorite lady rock ballads sort of cheering me through. They were all gentle, they answered any questions I had, they made me as comfortable as possible. They wanted the same thing I did… a healthy baby and a healthy me.

    Admittedly it is far more advantageous to know what you are going in for. What you have planned for… I think that’s what women find more traumatizing, not the surgery itself, but the concept of their plan going awry. We ladies get miffed when our dinner plans don’t go the way we expected! Of course we are going to be upset about plans changing unexpectedly in regard to the birth of our child. I suspect that if women were a bit more grounded with their expectations of the experience, they are less likely to feel disappointed and therefore less traumatized by the c-section stigma.

    Bethany Seagrave
  13. Thank you for this. I had an emergency c-section due to fetal distress and days after, I felt this overwhelming sense of failure as a mother. Calling it a “belly birth” does not provide me with a greater sense of achievement, however it seems to trivialise what I went through. When asked about my birth, I now quite confidently say I had a c-section, but have had people (predominately men) tell me I had the “easy birth”. So I feel like printing out your paragraph on how empowering it is and handing that to them next time they claim I had it easy. Thank you again.

    Ali
  14. I don’t know if I can say thank you enough for putting into words how I feel about my own c-section. It was definitely not planned, it was an emergency surgery due to my daughter’s heart rate sky rocketing, and honestly I was lucky that they didn’t put me under and I was able to be awake so I, and my husband, could see our beautiful baby girl come into this world. I haven’t yet run across any one who would try and shame me for how my daughter was brought into this world, but I do get angry thinking that anyone could sit there and tell me that I am not a real mother for not having a vaginal birth. So, would it be better for one or both of us to have died instead? That’s insane! My birth plan was to have a healthy baby, and that’s what happened. I’m proud of my battle scar, my baby was 1000% worth every moment spent under the knife and recovering after.

    Kristie McClelland
  15. I agree with everything – and I’m so glad you say it so unapologetically! I’m in the same boat, I have a C- section scheduled for my October baby because my 2yr old son was C- section after 48 hours of my body not dilating. Whenever someone’s had the ignorant nerve to say I took the easy way out, I dive into what really goes down in the surgery and how I’m more of a badass for doing it. The competitive nature about birthing is wild – why moms put other moms down is just too ridiculous for words. Thanks for posting this!

    Brigid
  16. Eh. I had an emergency c-section too but wasn’t eligible for a spinal block and had to have the surgery under general anesthesia. I woke up seven hours later on heavy painkillers but still in pain, groggy, too weak and out of it and uncoordinated to hold my newborn let alone take any poses photos. Being so out of it was as traumatic as the surgery itself. Some people do want and need to separate the birth from the surgery because the surgery really was that bad. People have different medical needs and different ways of coping. Personally I don’t reference my “birth story” enough to care what I call it, because I have all the happy times that came after, but knowing how difficult it was and how long it took to get over the emotional trauma of my daughter’s birth, I won’t judge anyone who connects to the term bellybirth.

    Soph

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