I recently read that in the USA one in three pregnancies end in a Caesarean section, yet only 5% of sections are genuine emergencies. Whilst fully on board with the right to choose, for me a C-section would never have been a choice.
Yes, I feared the pain, the puking and delivering a poo before a baby but I had this ethereal concept that nothing could stop me pushing out our baby. It was the ultimate challenge and weirdly I was actually looking forward to it. Unfortunately Joseph had different ideas. My labour had started well. Contractions coming thick and fast. I repeatedly called the maternity unit asking when I should come in as the contractions were pretty much every two minutes. The midwife kept fobbing me off, claiming I couldn’t need to come in as I was still speaking normally. After 8 hours of clutching my tens machine like my life depended on it I gave in and rolled myself into the car contracting on every movement I made. Despite a roll of the eyes from the midwife as she examined me she was surprised to find me at 6cm dilated (mental fist bump and two fingers up to that moody midwife).
From there, we went downhill. Contractions were constant and with each one came a spontaneous pushing. I was given Pethidine to try and calm me and stop me pushing. Unfortunately I’m one of these people who pain meds have little or no effect on so then they gave me a spinal block, then an epidural as baby was getting distressed with the pushing. I had half an hour of rest and bliss before my body decided not to let the epidural work anymore and back came the contractions. After 18 hours of this, 10 of them in hospital stuck at 6cm, then meconium in the waters I was hurtling towards theatre and a much-dreaded C-section before my poor other half had even pulled his scrubs on.
Absolutely it was the right thing to do for my little distressed baby. I am so grateful for the quick decision made by a great team and the safe delivery of our baby boy but in that moment and in those blurry hormonal weeks afterwards I wasn’t quite so rational. I felt like I had dreamed my whole life of the moment that slippery little person would emerge into the world and be placed on my skin. The reality was not quite the dream.
It was not the zen waterbirth I had allowed myself to hope for but the emergency C-section likely saved my little boy’s life. The doctor later told me he was posterior with his head and feet trying to dilate my cervix at the same time and would never have been delivered vaginally in the pickle he had got himself into. Posterior and breach, my little yoga baby. That explained the spontaneous pushing and my cervix refusing to dilate further.
I can recall the moment the kind-faced Doctor told me that we had to go to theatre. Warm, stinging tears flooding down my cheeks. Fear for my baby mixed with horror of failure. I had so wanted to push my baby out. That horror should have disappeared when I held my perfect baby, but it didn’t. In fact I cried for months over feeling an utter failure. Unable to do what should have been so natural and cheated of the delivery I had craved. I can look back and understand that a mixture of hormones and a traumatic birth sent my emotions into overdrive. As time went on this feeling has faded and nearly a year on I don’t cry anymore thinking about it. In hindsight I wish I’d just allowed myself to have my moment, cry my eyes out and feel sorry for myself. My guilt for even being upset about the whole experience when I had this perfect healthy little person actually just made me worse. I probably should have talked to someone about it properly. My tears and anxiety went on far longer than they should have and if I’d just allowed myself to grieve for the lost childbirth experience I’m sure the tears would have dried up sooner.
Having spent many a midnight hour on Google I have realised I am not alone and others have these feelings of grief over the loss of their planned birth experience. Add in the recovery (the first week is tough and I’d had 3 spinal blocks plus the epidural to try and get me numb. I couldn’t feel the bottom of my feet for a week and my back was more painful than the incision scar), then there’s the risk of infection (mine took three months to clear), the shock of the kangaroo pouch (slicing stomach muscles open does result in a degree of overhang for some time) and I have come to the conclusion that a C-section, emergency or planned is no walk in the park, physically or emotionally. I stand by my belief that this surgery should not be taken lightly but I now have more respect for the need for emergency Caesareans and actually for the choice of elective sections also. We all have a different journey. How our babies arrive in the world does not define the mothers we become. I now have so much more empathy for every birth story.
If I am ever blessed with another baby I would still aspire for a vaginal delivery. But I’m open minded that it may likely end in another section. Next time I would be more prepared, and the emotions I think would not be so raw. With my hormones now more under control I know that there’s no failure in doing whatever you have to do to get your baby here safely. Although my kind friends try to make me laugh with horror stories of pooing when pushing, that first horrendous wee after giving birth, and wind tunnel vaginas, I do still wonder with a little sadness what it would be like to push my baby out. To feel that little person on my chest as they take their first breaths in the world. That said, I would take a million C-sections and a permanent kangaroo pouch for how grateful I am to have this perfect little person here with us and as I’m learning with each passing month, being a mother is so much more than how you got your baby into the world.
Liz is a first time mum hurtling towards her late thirties. Once surviving a high-power career on a mixture of caffeine, adrenaline and Sambuca-filled Saturday nights she is now one year into her new-found path as a mummy to Joseph and still trying to pretend she’s cool whilst watching Peppa Pig far too much. You can read her blog
Image credit: Liz Ormesher