Since becoming a mom, I've dreaded the eventual talk with my kids about how they were born. I don't mean the "Where Do Babies Come From" talk. While I'm sure that one will have its challenges, I don't get a sick knot in my belly when I think about it.
No, it's anticipating the "You Were A C-Section Baby" talk that was bothering me. Of course I love my children utterly, absolutely, and I'm much more at peace now with the way things turned out at their births. But I still grieve in my heart about the way my babies were born.
What worried me was how to say they were a surgical birth, how to do so in a way that did not traumatize them. How to avoid passing on my own lingering issues with my birth experiences. I never wanted to be the kind of mom who saddles her kids with bad feelings about the way that they entered the world.
I have no intentions of lying about reality, even by omission (in this, as in everything else). But there's honesty, and then there's brutal honesty. And while there might be brutal aspects to their birth stories (particularly BJ's) I don't think they need the burden of that knowledge. Certainly not while they are children.
So I anticipated a difficult conversation, balancing my emotional baggage while relating the facts of the story. What I didn't expect was that I'd start having that conversation today with my three-year-old.
Considering his recent, repeated questions about death, it's perhaps fitting (and reassuring) that he'd also be interested in birth. For some time now, he's enjoyed playing at being pregnant by putting a stuffed animal under his shirt. (Or mine. "Be pregnant, Mommy! Be pregnant with my kitty!") About 15 seconds later, the "baby" would be "born" as he yanked it from beneath his clothes. (Or mine.) He's played at versions of this ever since I was pregnant with BB.
Recently, especially as so many mommies in our playgroup have become pregnant and had their second children, he's wanted more details about pregnancy. Who's pregnant? Who isn't? When are the babies going to come? Which babies have already arrived?
Today, he was looking through the photo albums with S, and for the first time he really noticed the first pictures in BB's album. The ones of her birth. He was very intrigued by how "messy" the baby was, by the vernix on her skin, by the umbilical cord. All day he asked questions about this. So I shouldn't have been so surprised when, at dinner, he came out with, "Mommy, when you were pregnant did they have to cut the baby out?"
To my knowledge, he's not previously had any specific information about how babies are born or about his own birth. I'm actually pretty proud of how calm I remained. My heart hit the floor, but I don't think BJ could tell. (S could, of course. But he had his hands full with BB, who was not at her best today.) As we talked further, I realized that BJ seemed to think that all babies were born by being cut out of their mothers' bellies.
I assured him that indeed this happened with some babies, and that indeed he and his sister had been born that way. Then, just as I started to tell him that most babies were born "normally," I paused because I didn't want him thinking his birth wasn't normal. (Even though I feel profoundly that it wasn't.) But I also didn't want him thinking that surgical interventions in the birthing process were normal, either -- I've read my feminist midwife accounts; I know firsthand that the medical model of childbirth is not the ideal; I shudder to see further increases in the percentages of c-section births and the reduction of VBAC options. So this is where there's honesty, and then there's the brutal honesty of overwrought thinking about a painful subject.....
Plus, there's the fact that the kid is only 3 years old. KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. I took a deep breath, tried to stop overanalyzing things, reminded myself that in no way shape or form did he intend his questions to be hurtful.
I told him some babies were born by c-section, like him, because that needed to happen. I told him that in those cases the doctor took a special knife, called a scalpel, and carefully cut open the mommy's belly so that the baby could come out, and then carefully closed it again so the mommy would heal up. But most babies are born through a mommy's vagina, which is sort of like the door to their womb, and it opens when a baby is ready to be born. (He knows what a womb is, kind of, because he's wanted to distinguish between my stomach, where food goes, and where he and his sister lived inside my belly.) This seemed to satisfy him. He was very interested in the closing up part, and he wanted to know if this is how my belly "went back to being a circle again" after being so big with the babies. Guess my weight loss hasn't gone unnoticed by him, which is kinda nice.
And I managed to keep my cool when he then got all excited about "playing Doctor," getting the scalpel from his pretend doctor kit and using it on his stuffed kitten so she could have a baby. Even when he wanted me to be the doctor and to do the cutting. I could have refused or gotten all wigged out. I didn't. I played with him. I didn't have the most joyous time, but I stayed in the moment. I did what he wanted me to do, and he was quite happy with that. And, as kids often do, he very quickly abandoned that game for another, running off for another encounter with his beloved alphabet, coconut tree, and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
Perhaps this one of the ways to tell that you're learning how to be a good mother. When you need to -- when your children need you to -- you find the strength to push aside the weight of your wounds and reach another place, a place of lightness and calm, a place beyond the scars, a place that perhaps did not exist even a moment ago. A place where your child's present matters more than your own past.
And that's a nice place to be on the night before Mother's Day.