April was officially Caesarean Awareness Month, as promoted by The International Cesarean Awareness Network, Inc. (ICAN). You may have noticed we are now in May. This post has sat in my drafts for a month because I couldn’t finish writing it – I struggled with getting across want I wanted to say without sounding obnoxious and preachy and judgemental.
ICAN is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve maternal-child health by preventing unnecessary caesareans through education, providing support for cesarean recovery, and promoting Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC). April is their official month to promote what they are trying to achieve as an organisation. They are an American organisation, so their statistics are based on the US, but their message is simple: trying to reduce the amount of unnecessary caesareans and promote a vaginal birth after having a caesarean. This is something that I believe should be encouraged everywhere, in the right circumstances.
According to the the NCT website, in 2013/2014, 26.2% of all births in England were by caesarean. Roughly half were elective and half were emergency. The statistics don’t tell us if the elective caesareans were for medical or other reasons.
If you have read my birth story, you will know that I had an emergency caesarean, after being induced and being in labour for 3 days. The reason given for having the surgery was failure to progress, causing the baby’s heartrate to drop. Even though it was an emergency, there was a certain amount of “choice” in my decision. The doctor said he could leave me for another two hours and then reassess the situation. At this point, I’d been having strong contractions for 36 hours (and having mild contractions before then) and was exhausted. I couldn’t think straight and having someone say you can try for another 2 hours, it sent me over the edge. I just wanted it to be over and I wanted to see my baby. It was the early hours of Friday morning, and I’d been in hospital since Tuesday morning! I think I’d waited long enough, and tried hard enough, so I agreed to have the caesarean straight away rather than wait another two hours.
Now, in hindsight – I wish I’d waited. I wish I’d tried harder. But I didn’t know what was going to happen in those two hours – the baby could have gotten more distressed, I could have gotten more tired and needed intervention from the doctors, like a ventouse or forceps. At the time, it was the right decision.
Since having a caesarean, I have quite strong opinions about them. If I hear someone mention the phrase “too posh to push”, I literally want to punch them. It’s a bloody awful phrase and I hate it. I’ve read many an article about how having a caesarean is the “easy option”. I can tell you from experience, it isn’t. I think people forget that it is major abdominal surgery. It takes at least 6 weeks to recover, and can take even longer. The after effects can last a lifetime. I’m almost 10 months post c-section and seem to have new symptoms related to my surgery every day – a funny pull here, a twinge there, my back hurts, my stomach aches – my body is messed up!! I will have a scar for life – it’s there as a constant reminder of what I had to do in order to bring life into the world.
I’m proud of the way I gave birth though. It took me a while to come to terms with it, but I did what I had to do. I shouldn’t feel judged for doing that. Any way in which a women brings life into this world is amazing. Just because you gave birth “naturally” doesn’t make you better than me, or your birth harder than mine, or you more of a woman than me. I grew and carried a baby (a 10lb baby I’d like to add!!) for 10 months. My body contracted for 50 hours. I had no sleep for 2 days. I had internal examinations from 20,000 people (ok, slight exaggeration, but I lost count how many new people I had examine me over those three days). I earned my mother stripes!
I do feel judged though sometimes. When people ask how much Alfie weighed at birth, and I tell them he was 10lb 3oz, 9 times out of 10 the first thing they ask is if I had him naturally. This sometimes offends me, and makes me feel like I have to jump to my own defence. In reality, it’s just a question. They are probably just thinking about my poor body potentially having to push out a baby whale! But I feel like they’re saying that I would only be an amazing woman if I actually pushed my baby out, rather than had him extracted from me. Maybe that’s just something I have to get over myself.
I started writing this post whilst watching a programme about the Portland hospital. There was a lady on there who had opted to have a caesarean because she was too scared to give birth naturally because it was going to be too painful. When I was watching this, it honestly made me so angry! It made me feel like she was saying having a caesarean was easy. It wasn’t going to hurt. She was going to go into theatre, get cut open, have a baby pulled out of her, be stitched back up, be unable to move for hours afterwards, be in pain for weeks, not be able to pick that baby up easily for weeks, not be able to drive for up to six weeks, not be able to exercise for at least 12 weeks (even though she needs to get back to being slim for her husband to not look at other women). But that’s the easy option, right?!
Ok, so I may come across a little harsh there – and I was being. I was angry at her attitude, and I can’t see why people would choose to have a major operation if they were able to have a natural birth.
However, I then realised that I am being a massive hypocrite. Recently I have been thinking about what I will do when we have another baby. Will I have a VBAC or will I opt for an elective caesarean? I change my mind every day, but tend to swing for an elective c-section. And it’s because I’m scared of what could happen during a vaginal delivery. I’m scared of being in labour for 3 days again. I’m petrified that I will have a baby even bigger than Alfie, and that the baby will get stuck and have to be pulled out. I’m worried I will end up having other interventions like forceps. I’m a nervous wreck about tearing and bleeding and generally having my down there area completely messed up by childbirth. So to me, an elective caesarean is preferable. And that makes me a massive hypocrite!
But, it did make me do a bit of reading into why people do elect to have a caesarean. A lot of people seem to do it for second births, after having a traumatic first birth. And after reading some stories, I can now totally relate to it. I didn’t ever get to the pushing stage, so I really don’t know what it feels like. Therefore, I can’t judge how traumatic someone feels when a vaginal birth goes wrong. My own sister opted for an elective c-section for her second child because she had such a traumatic first labour. Often, it’s for medical reasons – I had suspected pre-eclamsia and I know if my blood pressure had suddenly shot up, they probably would have given me a c-section immediately rather than waiting to see how I would labour. If your baby is breech, you will be recommended a c-section. There are lots of medical reasons why a c-section is preferable, for mum, baby and the medical team. At least with a c-section, you know what you’re getting (kind of – nothing really prepares you until you have been through it). Which is why I am leaning more towards another c-section – I know what to expect. I was very lucky to have an excellent initial recovery from my c-section. I don’t know how I’ll recover from a vaginal delivery. That being said, I don’t know how I’ll recover from a second c-section. You can only guess, there are no guarantees (much like parenthood – you just have to wing it!)
I guess what I’m trying to say is that childbirth isn’t easy. However you do it. Every mum out there is a bloody superhero for going through childbirth – men will never understand what it’s like to be in labour, to have a baby come out of your body. So however you choose to give birth should be celebrated – and choose be the operative word. Don’t judge a mum who chose a c-section over a vaginal birth – it was likely a tough decision, it’s not the easy option, and it doesn’t make her any less of a mother because her baby came out of the sunroof!
How about we just celebrate that a baby came out at all? Every time a baby is conceived is a miracle and every time a baby is born is a miracle. Let’s not forget that.