I got my PTSD card for, what I considered to be, a stupid reason—childbirth. My first experience giving birth was barely a serious situation and while I came close, I didn’t even need a blood transfusion. If you had tracked down my doctor a month after I gave birth, she would have already forgotten me. After all, she only met me that one time. If you think it’s ridiculous that I could be diagnosed with PTSD for something so common and benign, I’m right there with you. I was utterly annoyed with myself.
Many animals have mastered regeneration with varying degrees of success. Perhaps the most widely cited is the regenerating tail of the lizard. Granted, most lizards can regrow their tail to some extent within nine months, but in the Regenerating Animal Club, the lizard is an amateur. Tails are very simple appendages, and it can take up to nine months to regrow—as long as it takes humans to create another human. Unimpressive.
Lizard Regeneration Score: 2 / 10
Estimated postpartum PTSD rates range from .8 percent to 26 percent, but a 2021 study found approximately 13 percent of women could be diagnosed with PTSD resulting from the experience of childbirth. Researchers have found that one of the most reliable predictors of postpartum PTSD is whether during the childbirth process, the birthing person at any point believed that they, or their child, were at risk of death. The actual risk (as stated by doctors) does not matter.
The second time around, I was determined to do the thing I couldn’t do the first time, give birth the right way. Vaginally. It was the tender, trembling desire floating around my body that I fiercely protected. I knew that my success would validate the reason that everything went wrong the first time. My husband would look at me with love in his eyes and be in awe of my strength and the nurse would hand me my baby and my “Congratulations on Becoming a Woman” card—the one you get when you have successfully pushed a child out of your vaginal canal with no painkillers and which I could only assume was edged in gold leaf. Then I would toss out my PTSD card, wouldn’t flinch when a doctor looked at me, be able to touch my c-section scar without having a hysterical panic attack, and become a mother the right way.
Spiders, salamanders, and starfish can regenerate entire working limbs—which is much more impressive than a tail. These limbs have joints, toes, or even tiny suckers that can “smell” water.
Limb Regeneration Score: 5 / 10
The risk of maternal death is almost five times higher after a c-section compared to a vaginal delivery. The risk of postpartum PTSD is also significantly higher in women who had c-sections as opposed to vaginal births.
I never got to become a mother the right way.
The adorable axolotl can regenerate almost any part of its body—limbs, spine, heart, even its brain.
Axolotl Regeneration Score: 8 / 10
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2020, 800 women died from preventable pregnancy and childbirth related causes worldwide every day.
When my daughter was born, both my husband and I cried. He kept saying, “She’s so beautiful,” over and over again. I cried because I had failed and had a second c-section.
Flatworms reproduce by tearing themselves in half. Each half completely regenerates, and two new worms are created—the ultimate c-section. I am ambivalent about this ability but ultimately impressed.
Flatworm Regeneration Score: 9 / 10
Which means, on average, every two minutes a woman dies from preventable maternal causes.
Because I reacted poorly to the morphine during my first c-section—dry-heaving during the surgery and shaking uncontrollably to the point that my arms were tied down until the anesthesiologist gave me so much morphine that I almost passed out—I requested that no opioids be used during my surgery. I don’t think anyone told the doctor because after my husband left with the baby and she was sewing me up, I got to listen with a completely sober mind as she told the nurse how much she hated Tuesdays and couldn’t wait for the day to be over so she could get out of the hospital and go back to the office. Or maybe she knew and just didn’t care.
Globally, the risk of death from pregnancy and childbirth is one in 210.
They will tell you that deer regenerate their horns. They are wrong even if they are right. Technically, horns are organs. And yes, technically, they are the only mammals who can completely regenerate an organ. But I am not impressed by regrowing what amounts to glorified claws.
Deer Regeneration Score: 1 / 10
Between 2015 and 2020, in almost every area of the world, the maternal mortality rate increased or stayed the same.
I had done all the right things. I knelt on my head. Twice. Daily. For months. I did the Miles Circuit and didn’t eat pasta for the entire pregnancy and stuck myself with insulin every day (thank you, gestational diabetes.) I hired a doula. I went through thirty-one hours of labor. With Pitocin. In a mask. I did everything right.
I know it wasn’t her choice not to descend—not even 1 centimeter in 31 hours. I know that. But also—my first word to her was “why?”
I am going to tell you something that will not make you think favorably of me.
I blamed my daughter.
Some lists deem sharks worthy of the claim of regeneration because they regrow their teeth throughout their entire life. I disagree. Humans regrow their teeth—granted only once, but still. Let’s be reasonable here.
Shark Regeneration Score: 0 / 10
From 1999 to 2019, the maternal mortality rate in the United States more than doubled.
At my six-week appointment, I asked the doctor what went wrong. She shrugged and said, “You probably just have a pelvis evolved for c-sections.”
I will put aside the fact that just because humans have invented a way to survive a trait that once caused death, it does not mean that natural selection would select for that trait. Assuming that, for some reason, a smaller pelvis size did provide evolutionary benefit, given that c-sections have only been reliably safe for the birthing person since 1920, and evolution on that scale would require thousands, if not millions of years, I doubt I have an evolved pelvis.
The United States has a maternal mortality rate almost three times higher than the next industrialized nation.
Conch, of conch shell fame, are actually gastropods—the family of snails and slugs. They are able to regenerate an eye in the course of a few weeks.
Conch Regeneration Score: 6 / 10
I am going to tell you something else you will not like. For more than a year, I felt like I was babysitting my daughter. I did not feel like her mother. It was not depression. It was not PTSD this time. I didn’t want to hurt her, I played with her, I showed her affection. I just didn’t like her all that much.
What is a year when you really think about it?
It was her entire life up to that point.
In the latest WHO report, the United States was one of eight countries flagged as having a significant increase in maternal mortality.
Sea cucumbers have been found to be able to regenerate their digestive system, nervous system, and even their reproductive organs. No vasectomies for sea cucumbers. They also have been known to eject parts of their gut to confuse or scare predators. I’m not going to lie, if someone vomited their stomach at me, I would freak out.
Sea Cucumber Regeneration Score: 8 / 10
I’m going to tell you one more thing before I try to rehabilitate my image. After my first c-section, I looked pretty good. The surgeon did a good job, and I didn’t have the dreaded c-section shelf. Dr. I-hate-Tuesdays-and-don’t-know-how-evolution-works did a bad job and I looked awful. I know that I’m not supposed to care about that fact and that I am supposed to be in awe of all my amazing body accomplished and embrace body positivity, but I looked like shit, and I was pissed.
Countries that have better maternal mortality rates than the United States include but are not limited to: Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Russia, Romania, Belarus, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.
The Mexican tetra fish is an anomaly. While some river-dwelling tetras are able to regenerate their heart tissue, cave-dwelling tetras only grow scar tissue over the damage. My heart goes out to the cave-dwelling fish. Some of us can only do our best to survive the damage.
Mexican Tetra Fish Regeneration Score: 5 / 10
Can you regenerate something that was never there? I can’t help but notice that the majority of regenerating animals live in the water. I drank as much homemade seltzer with lime as I could without feeling sick. It seemed, at least, to help with nursing.
In the United States, one in 2,900 pregnancies will end in maternal death.
Starfish already made the list as one of many animals that can regenerate a limb. However, what I didn’t tell you was that if the lost limb has even a small bit of the central disc still attached, it can regenerate an entirely new body.
Spiny Starfish Regeneration Score: 10 / 10
Should I tell you that it took work to like my daughter? Can you forgive me and just remember that, in the end, I got there? Mostly. Should I tell you that it took longer than nine months—longer than it took to create her? That it took specific intention and that generating this power was difficult, time consuming, and took everything I had?
I will tell you this: I was not a lizard regrowing my tail. I was a starfish.