We Need To Stop Calling Cesarean Births ‘C-Sections’

“Cesarean babies make for lost souls. Those babies are never actually born so they can never be grounded.” Have I got your attention yet? Have you ever heard such crap? This sentiment was actually shared with a beloved client of mine, one who went on to have a cesarean birth. Can you imagine how she feels when she remembers those words? I want to talk about cesarean birth. More specifically, I want to talk about the language used with cesarean birth.

Recently, I’ve found myself a part of several different conversations in which someone claimed that cesarean birth is, in fact, not birth. Each time, I’ve been flabbergasted. Claiming that cesarean birth is not birth creates a whole mess of hurtful problems. Parents who are asked, “When was your baby born,” would have to respond, “Oh, they weren’t actually ever born.” Cesarean-born children wouldn’t actually ever have “birth”days. And the most problematic of all is the sheer mental and emotional burden that is placed on cesarean birthing parents.

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Arguments have been made that we need to change our semantics to shift birth culture back towards physiological birth. While I agree that birth culture continues to need an overhaul, I do not believe that the revolution will come simply by renaming cesarean birth something other than “birth.” The wise woman and fellow birth photographer Monet Nicole shared the question “Is birth only a physical experience? Or is it also an emotional and spiritual one as well?” I believe the latter. For most, birth is about becoming a parent, welcoming a child into their lives, having their hearts transformed forever. This transformation occurs regardless of how a child enters the world. This transformation is birth.

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Where I do think semantics should be shifted is in how we refer to cesarean birth. I cringe every time I hear someone say “c-section” or “section.” Seven years ago I was expecting my first child and was enrolled in a childbirth education class at a local hospital. The instructing nurse was the first person to challenge my mindset around the terminology used to describe a surgical birth. She pleaded earnestly with each of the expecting families to use the words “cesarean birth,” emphasizing the fact that if their babies were born via cesarean, it would still be birth and it could still be a beautiful experience. Her words cemented themselves in my heart and, several years later, as I find myself deeply immersed in birth work, I find them to be truer than ever. To me, the terms “c-section” or “section” feel harsh, strictly medical, and they disconnect many parents from their birthing process.

As a birth doula, I have supported families in cesarean birth and I have seen parents struggle with that disconnection–not all, but many. These parents deserve better. I could go on and on about ways in which cesareans can be improved for parents (ahem, allow their support persons in the operating room with them–a problem for many patients with doulas), but one of the simplest ways in which they can be improved is by what we call them. Let’s call them birth. Because that’s what they are.

I would love to see care providers also shift their language. I’ve heard the kindest, friendliest of doctors, midwives, and nurses prepare their patients for “sections.” However, by simply saying the word “birth” when preparing a patient for a cesarean can help reconnect the parent with the fact that they are about to meet their baby, that they are giving birth. It can make the process feel more humanized and less scary. Heck, maybe a language change will also help other care providers in the room remember that a birth is about to happen and that it is emotional for the patient! (i.e. don’t chitchat during the birth, don’t tell patients that their newborn looks like an angry alien before they even get to see their child–yes, a doctor used those words when speaking to a client–, etc.) What a simple courtesy we can offer cesarean parents.

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So as the nurse pleaded to me years ago, I, too, implore each of you to be intentional in your language when speaking about cesarean birth.

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