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Before I got pregnant I had thought a lot about giving birth. It’s difficult not to; if you want kids like I always knew I did they have to make their way from your belly and into the outside world somehow. And as scared as I am of pain (I weep at threading appointments, actually weep) a Caesarian section never entered my thoughts. It’s major abdominal surgery and involves slicing through skin, muscle, and uterus, and I have never understood how women would voluntarily select to go for this option over a more natural vaginal birth.
I had a long time to consider my birthing choices. All my pre-natal care was carried out at UCLH at Euston and after plenty of thought and discussion I opted to go for a hypno waterbirth in their midwife-led centre. I read books, researched natural pain management techniques and learnt exercises to help birth my baby in the most natural way possible. I felt prepared and secure enough in my research and choices I had made that I was confident to follow the path of a natural, non-medicalised birth. For god’s sake, I even read Ina May.
Of course life has other ideas and I was gutted to be booked in for a non-emergency C section when it was discovered at 37 weeks that Elfie was a footling breech, apparently the most difficult sort of breech baby there is. Her foot was hanging down somewhere near my cervix and the doctors refused to attempt to turn her as the cord was in the way. Acupuncture didn’t have any effect, neither did hours bouncing up and down on a yoga ball. I was very sad to not be getting the sort of birth I’d spent months researching and planning for but I focussed on the most important thing: getting her delivered safely.
Elfie was born at City Hospital Nottingham via planned C section at 39 weeks and the experience was pleasant. I recovered well and had no nasty side effects apart from an abdomen that is still fairly numb from where it was cut into though I’m sure bonding didn’t happen as quickly as it could have.
A bit of a history lesson: for a long time birth was long a process dealt with by a woman and an attending midwife until people started to revere science above physical processes. In the 1940s it became the norm to give birth in a hospital, with the addition of forceps, arm and leg restraints and enemas. Often women were tied-up and then knocked out with chlorofom while they gave birth, only woken up once the process was over. Between 1970 and 1990, surgical birth soared from 5% of all births to 25-30% of all births and it’s only recently that women have reclaimed power over their choice to birth naturally.
Women have literally been giving birth for as long as there’s been life; our bodies are built to carry and birth babies and it upsets me that mothers are so terrified of this process that they opt to choose major surgery over their chance to experience their bodies at their most primitive and natural. It was for this reason I was shocked and saddened to read in the news yesterday that NICE guidelines are to be changed, offering women the opportunity to choose a Caesarian section even if there is no health reason for it.
In my opinion a lot of fear behind childbirth stems from a lack of education and knowledge. In the course of my pregnancy I was offered the choice of an NCT pregnancy and birth course (for around £300) or a couple of hours at my local hospital, neither which focussed on natural pain management techniques. As far as I am aware these courses are more matter-of-fact, teaching women about hospital processes and what pain medication would be offered. I opted out of these courses as I was confident in my own research and choices, but I do wonder how further education on the history of birth and the possibility and processes behind non-medicalised births would effect Caesarian section figures. Knowledge is power and I feel that so many women enter into the pregnancy and birth process without being fully appraised of their choices or with a lack of understanding of what their bodies are capable of.
I would love for all women to be aware, for example, of the increased chance of an intervention with the introduction of pitocin, or the effect that water can have on relaxation and pain. I truly believe that the effect stress and fear has on the body impedes its natural course in childbirth and current maternity and hospital procedures do nothing to alleviate this. Conversely, I believe that women should be aware that sometimes the body doesn’t do what it is supposed to and in these times it is acceptable and completely unshameful to opt for pain relief. In these times of emergency a Caesarian should not be considered a failure, but it shouldn’t be an option before natural avenues have been considered.
But the option for this sort of open education just isn’t there right now. If I was ruling the NHS I’d take the extra budget that will be spent on Caesarians (which apparently come in at around £1,000 more expensive than your regular vaginal delivery) and concentate on educating Britain’s women on the process and history of birth. This knowledge just isn’t there right now and this breeds a culture of fear.
I’m not saying all this to be provocative or start fights but it is something I feel very passionate about. I am of course not a medical professional nor have I even been through a vaginal birth, but I do believe that my Caesarian section was a disappointing second choice of birth and that bonding did not go as smoothly had I achieved the birth experience I’d so wanted. I will do everything in my power to achieve a VBAC for baby number two and will again educate myself on the birthing process and make efforts to understand exactly what my body is capable of.
Over to you: what were your birthing experiences like? Did you feel well-informed and comfortable with your choices? Would you ever choose a Caesarian?