Amid the relentlessly grim pandemic headlines, there was a bit of cheer in celebrity news this week: “Bachelor in Paradise” alums Raven Gates and Adam Gottschalk just had a baby. But unlike in the Hollywood version of childbirth, their son was born by emergency C-section.
I asked our younger son recently whether he felt bad that he arrived via C-section. His deadpan answer: "I feel less bonded with you. And unloved.” Then he asked for new sneakers.
I don’t usually have advice for reality TV stars, or any TV stars, or even new parents. Most of my child-rearing wisdom involves avoiding our errors — some version of “Here’s a wild mistake we made. Don’t do that.” (While expecting our first, I read voraciously about pregnancy and labor but learned not a snippet about newborn care. That was a wild mistake. Don’t do that.)
But there’s one piece of unsolicited advice I always share with expectant and new parents that I’d like to share with Gates and Gottschalk and anyone else in their situation: Don’t feel bad or worry too much if you have a cesarean section. My unique qualifications on this subject stem from my own birthing experiences, because our first son wasn’t born by a C-section, while our second son was. I’m the only person I know who’s had one of each. Plus, our sons are teenagers, and raising teens gives any parent perspective on what matters.
C-sections get an outsize bad rap. Pregnant women learning about childbirth hear mainly about how to have a “normal” birth, partly by avoiding the ominous “cascade of interventions” that leads to the dreaded C-section, with its equally ominous potential harm to your little one once outside the womb.
Of course, I wouldn’t voluntarily have any surgery that’s not needed. But if a C-section is called for, the more important medical imperative is a safe delivery. It’s wrong to make new parents feel like they failed because of their method of childbirth, and in the end, it’s not that big a deal to deliver with help from a surgeon.
For starters, the beginning of a human life involves removing a watermelon-size creature from someone’s body. There’s no way for this to be pleasant. While there’s a bit more recovery after a C-section, neither form of birth is a picnic, although I will spare the gory details here to keep things family-friendly.
And based on my experience, having a C-section won’t have any adverse impact on your child’s ultimate goodness, happiness, success or long-term bond with you. My closeness with our sons has grown over years of eating mundane meals together, wiping tears, celebrating holidays, walking in the park, preparing for musical tryouts and first jobs. Families bond over decades, not at birth.
Our older son graduated from high school last spring. At the ceremony, my mind swirled with memories: his first words and steps, the stories he wrote in middle school, the eulogy he gave for my father, his growing confidence while becoming a young man. Amid it all, here’s one thing I didn’t think: “I’m glad he wasn’t born by C-section.”
You know who’s even less interested in the method of childbirth? Kids. Our boys spend precisely no time thinking about how they were born. In fact, there may be nothing our teenage sons would like contemplating less than the specific gateway from which they exited my body. I asked our younger son recently whether he felt bad that he arrived via C-section. His deadpan answer: “I feel less bonded with you. And unloved.” Then he asked for new sneakers.
In fact, focusing excessively on childbirth can lead to fetishizing the wrong thing, just like some people obsess about having the perfect wedding when what matters is the marriage. I imagine meeting through “Bachelor in Paradise,” with all those palm trees and coladas, could make it easy to fall into a similar fixation on having the perfect childbirth experience. If you want to give birth with no meds at all, surrounded by candles or Gregorian chants or bossa nova music, you do you! But don’t punish yourself if it doesn’t work out — or praise yourself too much if it does. What matter far more than the well-curated birthing tableau are the baby’s health and the following years of care.
True, it’s a liminal moment when a new human being enters the world. There’s a feeling of awe difficult to put into words. But even with a C-section, an epidural or other medical intervention, you still experience the mystery of holding a child for the first time. And the wonder doesn’t immediately dissipate, either; newborns stay magical for a while. (For lots of babies, even their poop doesn’t smell for several months.)
Plus, if a C-section means parental failure, what does that imply about fathers? Or adoptive parents? Maybe the birthing process isn’t the be-all and end-all, after all.
Most important, parenting is about your child’s well-being more than your own. And ultimately, it’s not about the parents at all. Parents may have ideas about the future. Maybe they’re envisioning a chess champion or a hockey player; maybe they plan to be the easygoing, cool mom or the next Captain von Trapp. I was going to have fiery multilingual daughters who marched for social justice. And they would never eat Cheez Doodles.
Here are some things I wasn’t interested in: Thomas trains. Submarines. Fire trucks. Outer space. Overly complex board games. I liked theater, but not enough to voluntarily see “Cats.” And you know what? It was amazing. All of it. And the Cheez Doodles weren’t fatal, either. We parents aren’t the stars or even the directors of the project. Our kids’ movies are about them.
Raising children is a profoundly humbling experience. You can exert only so much control over another human being and over the world. Whatever your expectations, the journey will be different. In this way, having a C-section may be a great introduction to one of the hardest lessons of parenting: Things don’t go as planned, and when they don’t, you just have to take a deep breath and focus on your child.
My advice for Raven Gates? Don’t think about the C-section. Just think about that beautiful kid.