In honor of Mother’s Day and a special birthday, I interviewed Casey Yu. I remember the first time I met Casey but it was so HOT that day as I was waaaaay too pregnant for Summer, I’m not even sure I said more to her than a grunt or a defeated sigh. I met her for real when we hired her as our maternity photographer, and we became fast friends.
So, what special birthday? Two years ago today, Casey’s son William was born. The Will of #freewill and #feedwill hashtag fame. His birth was the first planned cesarean I ever attended as a doula, although it was planned last minute for very emergent reasons, as you’ll read below. I remember being nervous and scared for both he and Casey in the days and weeks leading up to his birth, although on the outside I did my best to remain a calm source of support. I spent every single moment of his birth sending good thoughts out into the Universe for the two of them, hoping it would help get them through the hard times ahead. And today, Will and his family celebrated his second birthday halfway around the world! Casey is now using her experience as a photographer and a mother via cesarean delivery in her dissertation research.
What made you interested in writing your dissertation about motherhood?
I have been writing on and off about mothering online ever since I started my doctoral program at FSU, but it wasn’t until I was pregnant with my youngest that the focus started to change. Will was diagnosed with IUGR in utero, I had high blood pressure, and was on bedrest from 24 weeks until he was born, in all of his 3lb 2oz glory, at 32 weeks in an emergent cesarean section. In all regards, my experience birthing Will was not too bad. I had a really supportive birth team, with a doula, helpful family members, and surprisingly, a midwife from my practice that I’d had my doubts about but she was perfect at the time. The culmination of events from his birth and my recovery led to my interest in writing about and learning about cesarean sections and their impact on women as a whole. His birth, the support I received, the recovery (both physical and mental) path I took – all of this had a profound impact on me as a person, so it was pretty much inevitable that I would end up writing about it for my dissertation!
My dissertation topic explores the use of cameraphone photography in how knowledge is gained and shared by women who have undergone cesarean sections. I argue that the act of capturing images on a cameraphone and sharing them socially can be considered a powerful act, capable of effecting change. I am in the midst of editing the prospectus of my dissertation, which is essentially the first three chapters outlining my argument, the literature review I have conducted, and my proposed method of answering my research questions. Getting there!
How do you hope your research will change the future of motherhood?
One of the most unique experiences women have is the ability to give birth. This process has become progressively more complicated and murky with so many women who have given birth feeling less in control of their bodies than ever. It is my hope that this work will culminate into photographs captured by mothers to describe the experiences they are having, and encouraging all birth professionals (obstetricians, midwives, nurses, doulas) to consider the impact of cesarean birth on women as a whole. The United States performs over 30% of births every year via cesarean sections, when the World Health Organization indicates that the optimal rate for cesarean deliveries is between 5-10%. This huge discrepancy needs to be addressed by everyone – pregnant women and their birth teams.
Perhaps most simply, though: my hope is that my work can empower women in their quest to birth their children – however the baby is born.
Who has inspired you?
Oh gosh, so many have inspired me. I have grown up in a long line of amazingly strong women with my surname – my mother, my grandmother, my two aunts, and my two cousins. They are some of the most badass, strong, passionate women I’ve ever known. Josh’s family boasts some amazing people too – my in-laws have been incredibly supportive of my education and have helped me shape what I want to do. My advisor is amazing as well and has understood the fervor and anger I feel when I write about some of the things I have had to write about to get this prospectus off and running. My husband Josh is, as I term, the best girlfriend I’ve ever had. My three kids are inspirations (and also cause premature greying of my hair!).
But mostly, I am inspired by the stories I have heard from some of the most amazing people I know who have given birth via cesarean section. Having a child in and of itself a transformative experience. Having a child via cesarean section takes amazing courage and bravery that is not recognized nearly enough. They are my inspiration, through and through.
What is something about you that we would be surprised to hear?
I asked Josh to answer this for me, and he says, “I think they would be surprised to know that you are actually capable of emotionally connecting with other humans.” I have a pretty tough exterior and my kids will be the first to tell you that I like to get my way, I am sometimes mean, but secretly way down deep (probably inside my little toes), I am a softy.
And now for the fun questions! Where did you grow up?
All over! I was born in Illinois, lived in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia, California, and Florida. I spent two months in Alaska at one point too!
If it won’t make you homesick, what is your favorite part about Tallahassee?
The parenting community! I love the small town feel of Tallahassee – every time I went out to run an errand, I am bound to run into a friend and have a moment to stop and chat. It made me feel connected to an entity of motherhood far greater than the effort I put forth at home.
What is your favorite food/thing to cook?
My late grandmother’s sticky rice stuffing, with pork ribs, dried shrimp, and shiitake mushrooms. Mmmmm!
Have you ever won a trophy?
Yes! I ran a 5K in Chicago – my first one. I am 99% sure I got a medal.
Are you an early bird or a night owl?
Both! I am the first one awake in the morning, usually due to the sun that rises early here in Dhaka. And I get my second or third or fourth wind around midnight.
What’s your favorite holiday?
Chinese New Year! Josh and I make a ton of Chinese food and invite all our friends over for a grand feast. I look forward to it every year!
What’s your biggest moment?
Hasn’t happened yet. The second I get to have my advisor hood me and call me Dr. Yu – that will be my biggest moment and you can come back and edit this post to reflect that when it happens.