Friday, May 17, 2013

Blogger's Quilt Festival: Cesarean Quilt

This is my first time participating in the Blogger's Quilt Festival, yay!  I made this quilt two years ago, but still love to share it with as many people as possible because of the response I get from women that have also gone through a traumatic birth.  I'll list the stats first and then dive into the process since I'm sure a lot of people are not going to read through all of this!

Size: 38" x 65"
Ticker tape/raw edge applique
Quilted by me, Renee Hoffman
Category: Art quilt

The back
You can see the other quilt I entered in the Festival here.

Now here's the story of this quilt:

The birth of my first was a typical cascade of interventions, that I was led to believe were the only good options.  I have since done a lot of research and realize that I was lied to, scared into agreeing to things (induction, c/s, etc), and the staff was vastly under educated/experienced in natural birthing.  And that hospital has a 50% c/s rate (compared to the national 30% rate and the 10-15% recommended by the World Health Organization).

Drawing the outline (you can see some blue marks on the left).

I was able to have an amazing home birth with my second with no interventions, despite the labor also being slow and my daughter being in an unfavorable position.  But my midwife was amazingly knowledgeable and experienced, and there was never any fear or worry.

First I tried pins to hold them in place (terrible), then I read to use a glue stick--genius.

I created this quilt as a way to work through my emotions from the cesarean section (c/s).  I was mentally and emotionally devastated by the c/s, and every time I tried to discuss it with my then-midwife she would brush it off and tell me I should focus on the fact that I was healthy and my son was healthy.  That happens to a lot of woman after a traumatic birth experience, as though being told that will magically make their mental and emotional pain go away.  Telling a woman that just makes them feel worse, and completely invalidates their very real emotions.  The goal of a good birth should be the physical AND mental health of both baby and mother (and father, my husband was fairly traumatized by the c/s as well).

At first I used my walking foot to sew them on, rotating the quilt around every corner.  Then I got out my free motion foot and things went way, way faster.

When I started preparing myself for a vaginal birth after the cesarean (VBAC), I found a new home birth midwife (the same one that delivered me, my twin brother, and younger sister!).  She suggested I work through my emotions from the c/s by writing them down on papers and then burning them, or saying how I felt out loud and dropping flower petals in the river.

The workspace.

One night after talking with her I fell asleep designing this quilt as a woman releasing her pain to the wind.  Letting them go.  I had been wanting to make a ticker tape quilt for a while, and the method was perfect what I wanted.  A fractured mosaic of a woman, with a million pieces of herself and her raw emotions.

I worked in small, maybe square-foot sections: cutting fabric to fit, glueing and then sewing it down.

As I worked on the quilt, I put together a list of words that I associated with my c/s.  Then I asked my husband to do the same.  Then we talked about all of them together.  It was a really good way for us to both open up about what we went through and our lingering feelings.  We had some overlap, but also some that were unique.  I found it very interesting to see that I had chosen some negative words that were exact opposites of some of his positive words (such as ungrateful vs grateful).

I should point out that is not supposed to be blood!  Red is a powerful color, and it carries a lot of meaning for me.

I chose to quilt the words onto the red pieces using my free motion foot...which required relearning some long forgotten cursive!  There are more than a few "typos"!  I put the darkest, most raw words in the dark red pieces, closest to the woman, with the more hopeful, happy, light words on the light red pieces.  I wanted the words to change, to evolve from pain to hope.

Quilting on the white space.

As I quilted in the words, I thought of more and more.  I think in the end there are over 70.  For the first time I am sharing a photo of all of them, since I know so many other woman can relate:

The words read: raw, pain, drugged, disconnected, scared, induced, overwhelmed, disappointed, numb, dread

exhaustion, induced (again? oops), sadness, anger, weak, frustrating, regret, fear, powerless

powerless, taken, worry, damage, guilt, failure, shellshocked

scar, wonder, sight (uh, what?), love, drained, separated, invalidated

ungrateful, unnecessary, relieved, nauseated, blame 

sterile, boy, apprehensive, happy, vulnerable

grow, amazement, grateful, healthy, VBAC

forgiveness, courage (it's hiding!), feminine, safe, warmth

strength, warmth, feminine, active, trust, Renee Hoffman 2011

knowledge, support, closeness, opening

birth, fulfillment, natural, experience, fertile, whole

excitement, nervous, communication, joy, healing, alive

I'm glad I am finally revisiting this quilt and able to share it with more people.  When I first made it, I felt protective of it, it was so raw and personal.  But now I just want to share it, to let other woman know that it's okay to feel unsatisfied with your birth experience.  It's okay to be sad, angry, hurt or disappointed.  It doesn't make you a bad person or a bad mother.  You are entitled to your emotions, and you should find an outlet for them--honor them!  


  1. I've told you this before - it's just stunning. Thank you for sharing the whole process with us. The word idea was a fabulous one.

  2. I really liked this quilt before but seeing the detail close up and hearing your story gives it so much more depth and beauty. I had my five children in a military hospital and I feel so fortunate to have had such good care. My last two children were twins and when I arrived at the hospital they were full term and in random positions but they turned naturally during the labour and were born without intervention. I know that elsewhere I would most likely have ended up with an emergency caesarean. I will always be grateful to that team.

  3. I am so glad to read the story of this quilt. I have seen you post a photo of it before, but didn't know your story. Please keep telling it--too many women these days need to hear it. Your quilt is truly a work of art.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this quilt and your story again. This quilt is how I found your blog! And your work is beautiful!

  5. This is an amazing piece of art! You should be very, very proud of your work! Congrats!

  6. I think this is an extraordinary and amazing quilt - the craftsmanship in it is beautiful and accomplished and I think that something as challenging, disconcerting and evocative really is a work of art.

  7. Thank you for sharing both your quilt and your story. Both very beautiful and touching.

  8. This is amazing! I am going to share it with a ton of my friends asap! Thanks for sharing such a personal, beautiful work of art!

  9. What an interesting and intriguing quilt! It is so unique. Thanks for sharing your feelings. Really like the idea of writing emotions on it. Have a great day

  10. Bravo! This quilt has such depth of meaning, which drives the color and design. I really like your mosaic technique as well.
    best, nadia

  11. What a powerful and moving piece this is! Wow. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!

  12. What a powerful quilt- so full of emotion. I'm so glad to hear you are working through this experience in a meaningful way and sharing with others. I would love to hug you so am sending a virtual hug from the other side of the world.

  13. I truly loved these quilt before because it is so powerful and raw with emotion. Now that I have heard the story I truly appreciate you as a person for sharing this with others! Thank you for sharing your story and for creating something beautiful and meaningful. The quilt and your son! Hugs to you, sweet friend!

  14. I don't even have words to express how I relate to this piece. And I am in awe that you were able to take that experience and those emotions and channel them into this amazing vision. Awe. It is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  15. superbe composition après avoir lu la traduction des explications j'en découvre tout la symbolique ,whaou.....

  16. What a powerful way to heal from your experience! Thank you for sharing!

  17. this is a really powerful subject to use as inspiration for a quilt. you did an amazing job here.

  18. What an awesome quilt! A good friend of mine ran a marathon a year after her c/s to prove to herself that her body was strong and capable. After my daughter's beautiful natural water birth ended with me in surgery (freakish tearing) I had to do a lot of soul searching too to let go of the fear. I'm so glad you shared your story!

  19. A powerful and personal statement that I think everyone who has given birth or had to terminate a pregnancy can relate to.

  20. Wow!! I'm so glad I didn't miss seeing this very amazing, very special quilt. Thank you so much for sharing it and your story with us.

  21. As a birth junkie myself, this is really powerful art and speaks to me. Thanks for sharing!

  22. This is an extraordinary quilt, meaningful and beautiful and infinitely painful. It's absolutely incredible!

  23. Thank you for your bravery and your post. I just had a c-section (because my baby was born at 25 weeks and I had problems). It has been hard not only because she was so early but because it was birth #8 and I had never had a c/s before. All your words are hitting home for me. It was painful and I felt so disconnected from my baby. I thought it was just me and was feeling so guilty about how I felt. Time is healing those feelings. Seeing your quilt helps. Thank you.

  24. I've only just discovered this quilt. I too had a traumatic experience with my last baby (number 5). Actually, number 4 wasn't a walk in the park either. Both times, I felt out of control and frustrated with what was happening to me. You words are so true and familiar. She's two now, bright and healthy, and still I feel frustrated by what happened. My scar is a sign that she's here and she's alright, but it also tells me that there are people who just don't know what they are doing, and so they lie because they know you trust them. And I've found that both in the sanctioned medical community and also with midwives (#4). Bless you for sharing this. I think it's awesome.

  25. Wow! Thank for sharing this amazing work of art and what it means to you. I feel inspired! Love your blog!

  26. This is amazing. Just amazing. What a great way to process. My oldest was delivered at 27 weeks; everything about the experience was traumatic for her and for me (though the c/s was necessary in my case and saved both our lives). It took me four years to sit down and type out her birth story and to finally release it all - I wish I had done that sooner! Your quilt is such a wonderful way to tell your story and I hope it was as cathartic as it seems seeing it here. And yay! for your vbac experience. I, too, had a successful vbac with my second, and that was also a really healing event : ) Thanks for sharing!

  27. This is beautiful. My sister has two children - the first a CS baby, and the second VBAC. My nephew was in danger and so was my sister, the cs was necessary for them. And she was devistated. She had planned a natural birth and was so disappointed that couldn't happen for her. To be honest I never quite understood. She felt like she failed. But when she became pregnant again, she was told that she "had" to have another CS. But after much research and lots of heal digging, she found a doctor that would do what she wanted and would not keep her from her goal. She Had a very successful VBAC and it was like weight lifted off of her. I love this quilt that you created out of your pain. It is beautiful and honest. Thanks so much for sharing this with everyone. I can't wait to show it to my sister.

  28. This quilt is incredible. I, too, experienced a traumatic birth with my first child, also a boy. Thankfully I found a new midwife who was supportive of my choices, and while I was induced again (after my water broke and contractions did not start, like the first time), I was able to birth my second son without any drugs. Although the experience wasn't everything I hoped it would be, I still felt empowered and so grateful to our new birth team and hospital. I love the way you chose to process your emotions through quilting and I admire your skill and talent! And congratulations on the untraumatic birth of your second child :) I'm so glad I found your quilt on sew, mama, sew today. Thank you for sharing!

  29. It's been 20 years since I had a c/s, and I can relate to those feelings of disappointment and fear. Great that you had a wise midwife the second time. This is a fabulous quilt. Thanks for sharing it.

  30. I just saw your quilt on SMS today and wow, this is amazing!!!! Thank you so much for sharing it and more importantly, helping to spread the truth about what birth can be (and what it doesn't have to be).