As far as I’m concerned, Beyoncé is superhuman. The pop star’s Grammys performance while pregnant with twins in 2017 was stunning, and the fact that her work as an artist has only gotten more complex and successful since she become a mother is inspiring—even with all the support staff her wealth affords.
It was similarly inspiring to hear her talk about the birth of her twins, and her post-birth body, in such a vulnerable way in the pages of Vogue. One line in particular stood out to me:
My health and my babies’ health were in danger, so I had an emergency C-section. We spent many weeks in the NICU… Today I have a connection to any parent who has been through such an experience.
That one little phrase, couching her description of the birth procedure—”My health and my babies’ health were in danger”—will probably sound familiar to any woman who has had a C-section lately. And what it conveys to us is clear: Even Queen Bey feels the need to justify and explain why she had the procedure. I know this because I feel the same way.
When people ask about the birth of my second child, I talk about how her single dimple was the first thing I noticed when the nurse carried her to me. When the conversation goes further and I reveal that I had a C-section, I always frame it by explaining that it was only after more than 20 hours of labor, that her umbilical cord was being squeezed with each set of powerful contractions, causing her heart rate to drop, and that when we got into operating room, the midwife assisting the obstetrician audibly gasped when she saw how thin my uterus was stretched, and how likely a uterine rupture could have been.
The notion of C-sections as elective surgery, scheduled in advance for the convenience of physicians and mothers, has been a divisive trope on the internet, eliciting both sincere concern and a fair amount of unpleasant trolling of women’s birth choices. It’s not so surprising: Birth is a fraught affair in the US, and for such a personal experience, it’s something that people feel free to be very vocally opinionated about. Big and small decisions about pregnancy, birth, and childrearing—midwife vs. doctor, bed-sharing vs. sleep training, breastfeeding vs. formula—tend to set mothers in opposition to each other, and sort us into teams.
When you’re on team C-section, you’re treated to pitying looks and well-intentioned prying into how your hospital or doctor somehow strong-armed you into having an unnecessary procedure. A mutual friend grilled my sister on whether I had truly “tried” for natural childbirth with my first child, asking her how long I had been in labor before succumbing to the siren song of an epidural, and whether or not I argued with the midwife when she told me it was time to head to the operating room. For the record, I did not. At that point I just wanted to meet the tiny human who was struggling to be born.
There’s no denying that when one in three American births are C-sections, some aspects of US health care policy are broken. But pitting parents against one another does nothing to alleviate the failures of the medical system. It also causes a lot of unnecessary distress.
After two C-sections, I’m aware that I’ll never know what I think of as the full experience of childbirth—and in conversation I still find myself glossing over my weirdly deep feeling of loss about that. My logical mind tells me that my two very healthy children are what matters, that I was lucky I didn’t suffer complications from either surgery, and that breastfeeding has come easily to me.
A very pragmatic nurse sat me down after my daughter was born and gave me a pep talk about this, noting that we also have to remember a very basic truth—C-sections save lives. That was a comfort, as is the knowledge that I’m not alone in feeling a mixture of defensiveness about and gratitude for the medical procedure that allowed me to have my children. I’m on team Beyoncé.