My Cut Belly (Emily)

Nearly six years ago, I had a cesarean section. It wasn’t planned: I went through the pregnancy and into labor expecting my daughter would be born the so-called normal way. Still, over 24 hours went by, and although my cervix had dilated fully, it was clear my vagina wasn’t big enough to fit her through. So I was wheeled into an operating room, where my belly was exposed (actually, I was more or less naked for a considerable portion of the surgery), scrubbed with antiseptic, cut open with a surgeon’s knife, and -once the baby was removed – sewn up, stapled, and bandaged.

The result was a red line running horizontally along my abdomen about three inches under my navel. On my second day home from the hospital, four days after my daughter’s birth, my incision opened up slightly, prompting me to put ice on it (which did alleviate the soreness). Over the coming months, the soreness and itchiness eventually went away – even though even now several years later, I can sometimes ‘feel’ on my belly where I was sectioned and my daughter taken from my womb. My scar similarly faded, to the point where it now seems barely visible.

During those months I thought about the scar and, more importantly, the cesarean section itself. In my early twenties, I was very much into the natural childbirth ideal. A cesarean was at best a necessary evil for me. As one woman who had planned a home birth but had to have a scheduled cesarean section because her baby was breech said, in her mind home birth was good, hospital birth bad, and surgical birth unthinkable – until she was forced to undergo one.

By the time I hit my thirties, though, I was more comfortable with the idea of possibly needing a surgical birth myself. A couple of people ‘in the know’ had commented on my narrow pelvis, and I knew that the older I got, the higher my risks of being sectioned were if I got pregnant. So in the end, I wasn’t particularly surprised when the doctors told me that the only way my baby could come out of me was directly through my belly.

I also thought about the scar itself. I remember reading that after having a cesarean with her first child, actress Rita Hayworth had her wardrobe altered in such a way that the scar on her stomach wouldn’t show when she appeared in the movie Gilda. Feminist leader Gloria Steinem later spoke of a woman who never wore two-piece bathing suits because she didn’t want anyone to see her cesarean scar (Steinem, by the way, did not think the other woman should have been ashamed of her incision).

Eventually, I came to feel that I did not need to hide my scar on occasions where others might see it, like on the beach. Plus, I liked the fact that I could show my daughter exactly how and from where she was born. And I could advertise to everyone the fact that I had given life – through my belly, albeit with the help of the doctors and nurses at the hospital.

I then took a somewhat radical step: having my scar photographed. So after deliberating for some time, I called a local photographer and made an appointment to have my belly immortalized on camera. Ironically, when I went to the photographer’s studio, I noticed that a number of women had had ‘belly pictures’ taken of themselves when they were -often very heavily – pregnant. I too was getting a ‘belly picture,’ after the fact, so to speak.

Having my abdomen photographed was an experience in itself. As on the operating table, I was naked in the studio, my belly bare so everyone could see exactly from where my daughter had emerged. The photographer and his assistant zeroed in on me to find the best way of ‘capturing’ my scar. Finally, after switching the lighting and making me change positions a couple of times, they were able to get a good view of my cesarean ‘slice,’ my cut belly.

The photographer ended up taking a number of pictures of me, and my scar and abdomen, but I chose to pay for and bring home what I considered the best one (though they were all good). Speaking with me afterwards, he said that he had taken many photographs of women’s sectioned bellies but that I was the only one who was openly ‘proud’ of my scar.

And I am, of my scar and of my belly. Sometimes I wonder what people might think of me when if they see my scar at a beach or pool, for instance, or if the photographer decides to feature it in one of his work displays. Will they see me as one of those ‘too posh to push’ women (example: Victoria Adams)?

I will let you decide. Here is a picture of my cut belly.

Photo shared with permission of Keith Penner.

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