Birthing Choices: The Stigma of having a C-Section

When I was pregnant with Alfie, I wasn’t scared in the slightest about giving birth. In fact, I was actually looking forward to it. Everyone says labour second time round is so much better because you know what to expect, however I think when you’ve experienced a traumatic first labour, you can’t help but have a little bit of fear towards your next labour experience.  It doesn’t make it any easier when you need to make a choice as to the way you’ll give birth.  I was pretty certain that I knew which way I was going to choose, but I found it incredibly difficult to admit it to myself, and to others.  All because of the stigma of having a C-section.

Labour

Having a c-section is pretty rough.  Whether it’s elective due to medical reasons, or emergency due to a difficult labour, the decision to have one can be overwhelming, frightening and tough.  Sometimes you can have months to make a decision, sometimes just a few minutes, but I don’t think there’s any easy way to say “yes, please cut open my insides and extract my baby”.  From the epidural or spinal block in your back, to the catheter, to the slicing open of your stomach muscles and uterus, to the 6 weeks plus recovery time, a c-section is never going to be an easy option.

I wrote about my experience of a c-section with Alfie, and as c-sections go, I think it went pretty well.  One thing with it being an emergency was that I didn’t have much time to think about the decision. I was exhausted from a long labour and delirious from the gas and air – I’d have agreed to anything!  Having not done any research on c-sections prior to my labour as it never crossed my mind that I would need one, I had no idea about what it entailed – other than a long recovery period.

Pregnancy

When I became pregnant with my second baby, I had a decision to make.  Would I opt for an elective c-section or a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC).  After my first birth, I said straight away that I’d definitely have a c-section with any subsequent babies.  My labour was long and hard and I didn’t want to go through that ever again.  It didn’t put me off having more children, but it definitely put me off induction and labouring for hours and hours!

However, when the time came and I was pregnant again, a lot of people assumed I would ‘just’ have a c-section, as if it were the easiest decision in the world.  In a way, this made me stubborn.  I (stupidly) felt like I had something to prove and couldn’t possibly “choose” to have a C-section.  Who in their right mind would “choose” major surgery when they had a boisterous 2 year old at home?

The Baby Show

So at my first midwife appointment, I decided I would try for a VBAC. I was adamant that I was going to give birth naturally because no two births were the same and just because I had a bad experience with my first, it didn’t mean I would have a bad experience with my second.  However, as time went on, I was feeling less and less confident about it all.  I really wanted to have a c-section, but was too scared to admit it.  Why?  Because of the stigma that I believe still surrounds having a c-section, and specifically having an elective c-section.

Don’t get me wrong, I know my closest family and friends will support me in whatever decision I make, however deep down I worry about being judged.  I worry about not having a ‘good enough’ reason for having a c-section.  I worry that people will think I’m taking the “easy” option.

Having been through one before, I know that it isn’t easy in any way.  But, when I’m thinking about my choice, I often think “it will be easier” in the sense that I’ll know the date so can arrange childcare, I will be able to organise more help in the days and weeks afterwards whilst I recover and I will be able to prepare myself more than I could when I had an emergency.  I think this stems from a feeling that if I tried a VBAC, I’d end up having a c-section anyway, except it would be something I would be totally unprepared for.

I am not someone who worries a lot usually, and have never had anxiety before, until this pregnancy.  All of a sudden I find I’m anxious about everything, and have a huge fear something is going to go wrong.  It’s completely different to how I felt when pregnant with Alfie – and I expect that has a lot to do with the traumatic birth experience.  But I fear that this will not help me have a trouble free, natural labour at all.  I fear I will constantly be on edge, under a time pressure and not able to have the birth I want.  In the back of my mind I’m always thinking about how big Alfie was.  It doesn’t matter how many times people tell me that it doesn’t mean this baby will be big (the growth scans are showing otherwise) or that your body won’t make a baby you can’t birth (something I find hard to believe when I didn’t “birth” my first baby due to his size…)

All of this leads me to think that an elective caesarean is the best option, however the thought of being judged by other people still holds me back from admitting it.  I know I need to make the best decision for my family, which might be an elective caesarean, but it might be a vaginal birth.  I wish I had a crystal ball that could show me exactly how my labour is going to go if I picked either option.  A part of me is incredibly sad that I’ll probably never experience a natural birth, and it’s a feeling that I can’t shake.  I’m pretty sure I’m making the right decision to have an elective caesarean, but part of me will always feel like I’ve missed out on something.  But I know that the best decision is whatever is safest for my baby and I.  And that’s the decision I will make.

Family of three

A version of this blog post first appeared on Emma’s Diary

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8 Comments

  1. Oh I’m sorry to hear that you had such a traumatic first birth – it certainly makes for a difficult decision the second time around. I am the other way around from you – I wanted an elective c-section for my first birth and I had a strong medical case for it, but I was not allowed. I had a horrible consultant who just buldozed over me and, being a young first time mum with medical problems, I was too scared and weak to fight him. Looking back (and with a lot more experience behind me now), I still can’t believe the way he treated me.

    So my advice is definitely stick with your gut instinct. Don’t let yourself be swayed by other people’s issues or opinions. You know your body. You know your concerns and worries. You make the decisions that is right for you. #dreamteam

    • I have been so fortunate that the doctors and midwives have been very supportive all the way along and stressed that it is completely my decision…which in a way has been harder as it’s been a huge weight on me trying to decide what is the right thing! But I’m very happy with my decision now and just looking forward to baby coming. I’m sorry you had such an awful time with your first birth, it’s crazy how different hospitals and doctors deal with things differently!

    • I really wish I didn’t care how the baby comes out, as I know deep down that all that matters is a healthy baby. It’s been a hard thing to get over, but I’m finally happy with my decision and ready for the baby to come!

  2. You have to do what’s right for you. It is a huge decision to make (I was in the same position after an emergency section with my first). A section is never the easy choice! #dreamteam

  3. Hey Abi. Don’t feel worried about being judged lovely. I don’t think anyone can really understand what it’s like having a traumatic 1st birth experience until they have gone through it themselves. It’s a tough one, but I do think that our gut instincts tend to be spot on and you must go with what feels right for you. I’m sure everything will be fine and fingers crossed the c section will be a bit easier now you know what to expect. #DreamTeam xxx

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