In 2010 I gave birth. I had planned a candlelit home water birth with my husband and midwife by my side. The reality unfolded amidst a snow storm, in a brightly lit hospital theatre with ten people around me, uncontrollable shaking, no feeling from the waist down and a scar I still can’t really feel. My son’s birth was calm, positive, and the most empowering experience of my life.
I read a lot of articles about cesarean birth. As expected, they address the UK’s rising cesarean rate and the importance of increasing our VBAC rate (vaginal birth after cesarean). What I feel is often lacking though, is a focus on the mothers behind cesareans – the ones that give birth to their babies via major abdominal surgery, and how we can and should value their experiences as much as the next woman’s. A cesarean section is not just a statistic, or a failed natural birth, or life-saving surgery. It’s a baby’s birth, and a woman’s birth into motherhood too. My baby didn’t come out of my vagina, but I grew a human and birthed him, and I’m very proud of that. So I feel compelled to share my story with you, and that of other women who have birthed this way. I want to remove some of the stigma around cesarean birth and empower you to feel positive about your birth experience, regardless of how your baby is born.
Birth is one of those emotive subjects that everyone feels they get an opinion on. If you plan a home birth you’re brave (you’re not brave – you’re birthing with people you know in a place you know like women have done for thousands of years, AND choosing a statistically safer option if you’re low-risk, as endorsed by NICE and the NHS); and if you have a cesarean you’re allegedly too posh to use your fanny (but interestingly, not too posh for the footless stockings and the catheter knocking around your knees in the aftermath). The truth is, the best birth exists in so many forms. Something that saddens me only with the benefit of hindsight, is that when I became a hypnobirthing teacher, I was subtly advised to not mention to clients that I’d had a cesarean. I’m writing this as a little nod to all the cesarean mamas out there who at some point have felt ashamed or embarrassed about the way their baby was born – to those of you who feel you’ve had to explain why your baby’s arrival was just as much a birth experience as your mate’s vaginal one.
When I started out in my career I went along with what was suggested – insecure that the couples I encountered would think I was less equipped to talk about birth. I cringe as I write that, because now, as a well-seasoned antenatal educator and having worked with hundreds and hundreds of women (and crap, as someone who’s grown and birthed a human being), I feel that talking about my birth experience reflects the very nature of what I teach – having the tools to navigate birth – in all of its forms – feeling confident and informed. So here’s the thing: I don’t care how your baby’s born. Home, hospital, epidural, water, meditation, primal roars, squatting, forceps, fast, slow, poo, c-section, planned, unplanned – whatever. I don’t care.
I care that you were not scared, that you felt calm and confident, that you educated yourself about birth and were able to make informed choices. I care that you were able to confidently navigate your birth on the day. I care that the benefits, risks and alternatives of all options were always explained to you. I care that you were not rushed or bullied. I care that you were listened to and respected. I care that you felt nurtured and supported through your pregnancy, labour and birth. I care that you were treated like a mother rather than a patient. I care about your experience, not the way your baby entered the world.
With that in mind, I put a shout out on social media for women to tell me what their cesarean felt like. It bothers me that the physical and emotional feelings of a section are so easily overshadowed by the fact that it wasn’t a natural birth. Who’s to say a woman experiences any less during her birth just because it doesn’t come out of her vagina? I wanted the voices of all of you incredible cesarean mothers, and I received them in abundance – thank you, thank you, thank you. So then, here’s what a cesarean feels like:
Strange, emotional, but painless. / Bizarre, unreal, relaxing. / Conflicted, powerless, strangely detached. / A magic moment. / Helpless, overwhelmed, and proud. / Emergency section – scary, emotional and a shock. Second elective section – calmer, easier and quicker to get over op and scar. / Three sections: proud, positive births. / Calm, safe, relieved. / Dazed, trusting, amazement! / First, an emergency section: rushed, frightening, brave. Second, a planned section: interesting, happy, brave. During both I was amazed by the professionalism and kindness of the medical staff and totally bowled over with love for my baby. / I had twins at 34 weeks. The first arrived naturally. The second was emergency section. Terrified, hopeful, relieved. My second section was elective and involved waiting for theatre slot. Despite what hospital brochure said, no CD player or home comforts: nervous, clinical, overjoyed. / A surprisingly intense, joyous, calm experience. / Like someone was having a rummage in an over-full handbag. / Relief. Pure utter relief. / Emotionally like I’d failed at the most natural thing in the world. / The most frightening experience. / I hated my first one, it freaked me out. Second time I knew what to expect and I used your hypnobirthing techniques – it didn’t bother me at all.
Again, thank you so much to all the mamas that shared with me what your cesarean felt like. I love reading your comments and seeing that they are just as fierce, powerful, varied and vulnerable as any other birth experience. And I hope if you’re reading this thinking that cesarean mamas don’t give birth, or that all cesareans are the same, it has done something to move you, because you’re wrong.
I know that hypnobirthing can carry somewhat of a stigma around the way women should birth. If it’s not pocket watches and joss sticks, it’s a conjured up image of a woman at home in a pool – eyes closed, with some heavy breathing against the soundtrack of an Enya album. Maybe this birth is a hypnobirth, but so was mine.
Hypnobirthing for me, is not about shoulds, it’s about empowerment. Whilst my courses are generally geared towards natural births, what I’m teaching are tools, not ideals. And part of natural birth is the unexpected twists and turns it can sometimes take. I am teaching women to trust their instincts, ask questions, make informed decisions and follow the lead of their bodies. To trust their birth partner, to work in harmony with their baby, to create the best birth environment possible and to ensure they receive the high level of personal, woman-centered care they deserve. So if you’re pregnant and reading this, please don’t just wing it – start preparing for the best birth for you. You CAN have a good birth with a bit of commitment and a positive mindset, and that means however your baby enters the world. Give yourself the best possible chance to have an empowering experience by equipping yourself with a big toolbox full of knowledge and techniques that will give you confidence and self belief to use throughout your pregnancy, your birth, and way beyond into the adventure that is motherhood. The birth of your baby stays with you for the rest of your life, and for that to be powerful and positive is genuinely life changing. Believe me.