The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum

C-sections and the pressure to have a “perfect” birth


Last week at my 32 week scan (yes I can’t quite believe we’ve got this far), I found out my little girl is healthy and happy, but that my stubborn low-lying placenta has refused to budge and is completely covering my cervix. This is called major or complete placenta praevia.

It is now very unlikely to move between now and the birth (baby has done a full 180 since the 20 week scan in the meantime) so that means a scheduled C-section for around 38-39 weeks as natural birth is just not possible. Baby would have to push through the placenta and you’d haemorrhage. There’s just no choice about it.

And the main thing – of course – is that baby will get out safely this way. But I was truly gutted not to be able to have the natural pool birth I was hoping for. And because the chances of this happening are something like 1/200, I figured we’d had enough bad luck in this whole department, thank you very much.

In my head, I’ve been envisaging a calm, beautiful water birth with her popping out into my arms, cathartically healing the pain of what came before – the traumatic shoulder dystocia birth with my son and then all the losses.

But is that so realistic?

I have been so taken in by the natural birth movement and its ideals of a birth “experience” that brings out the earth mother in us all. But how common are these ideal births? And why do I feel such a failure not to have experienced this sort of birth?

A straw poll of a group of girlfriends and it seems I’m not alone. If we were in medieval times, we’d have all pretty much died in childbirth. Between us we had a ruptured placenta, shoulder dystocia, infections, sudden haemorrhaging and a myriad of conditions and problems leading to emergency C-sections, drips, inductions, forceps and ventouse.

In fact, amongst the more straightforward births my friends have had, the most common comments I’ve heard have been how great the epidurals were because you couldn’t feel a thing, or just that it was “bloody painful”.

That said, I do know at least two friends who did have amazing sounding births. One roared like a tiger and became some sort of primal powerful animal. The other had some sort of spiritual connection with her partner and gave birth in the pool.

But the only other time I’ve heard about great births have been in natural birth yoga classes, books and workshops. Where birth stories talk of women breathing out the baby, golden breaths through the surges, and how lavender oil totally helped. But is this a realistic image to give women, and does this not add extra stress and judgement to women who have other sorts of births – the frantic and the traumatic and the drug-filled?

I mean, my son wasn’t breathed out so much as forcibly yanked, and I cried all that night feeling I’d failed as a woman and let him down (and that was even after having refused an epidural and managing largely without pain relief – a mistaken belief at the time that I should endure the pain and move through it rather than wash it away). That was why I was hoping to somehow prove myself this time – I’ve been like a woman training for a marathon, all pelvic exercises and yoga classes – just so I had the chance to do it again “properly”.

So my disappointment on hearing I would likely have to have a C-section was very real. But then I got sent this  Hadley Freeman article in the Guardian about not judging women who have C-sections, saying “if you want an experience, go to Disneyland” but otherwise when it comes to birth, go with whatever works.

I do think we put far too much pressure on ourselves to have this magical (and possibly mythical) birth experience. There is a competitive streak to it – to refuse pain relief like I did with my son (why?! In all likelihood he was bouncing on my sciatic nerve – pethidine was a warm and fuzzy relief) and push through the pain to some sort of spiritual plane. Some women may be able to summon the spirit of Mother Earth and breathe out a baby, but in the majority of cases, mine included, it was a hard tough slog with complications and problems and urgent medical care needed.

The world exerts so much pressure on women to be the best wife, best mother, best employee, to keep ourselves young and beautiful and healthy and fit, do we really need to have the perfect birth too?

The fact is, when my son was handed to me, the first thing I thought was “oh fucking hell I’m knackered, what do I do with this then” rather than anything more profound, but soon we had the loveliest happiest bond between us that grew through time, in spite of, and not because of, the birthing experience we had (bloody awful – read about it here if you must).

And so I’m slowly accepting that this will be our little birth story, me and hers. One which isn’t really what I’d planned but which will be ours. I’m hoping she can be pulled out to a song by Deacon Blue maybe, or Stevie Wonder (“Isn’t She Lovely”?), and later, I can show her and my son the scar where she entered the world into our arms.

And anyway, The Chef still gags at the smell of lavender oil following our first attempt at a perfect birth. A small reminder that you can’t always get what you want.




11 thoughts on “C-sections and the pressure to have a “perfect” birth

  1. I am sure I can speak for many of us who follow your blog when I say it is lovely to know that you are coming into the home stretch of your pregnancy and all is well with you and your little girl!
    Please don’t be so hard on yourself! (A terrible affliction of the female high achiever!) 😉
    After all you have been through, being able to summon the strength to keep going and achieve what you have is, in my opinion, far more admirable and courageous than a ‘natural’ birth (if there ever were such a thing!’
    I was lucky with my little girl’s birth but that’s all it was: LUCK!
    And still, my other half would argue that he saw a few ‘unnatural’ things that day! 🙂
    I think we set ourselves up for problems when we put pressure on ourselves, whether it be at the birth, breast feeding, parenting etc so just go with the flow and do not beat yourself up. You have absolutely no reason to! You have already demonstrated that you are a superhuman, primal Mummy who didn’t give up on her hopes and dreams and I’m sure when you have your little girl in your arms you simply won’t give a toss how she came to be there!
    Much love xx

  2. I scheduled a section to see our daughter safely into the world after a series of losses over almost eight years ttc and early bleeding with her. It felt like the best way to take a little control in the face of overwhelming powerlessness. But in NCT classes the “yay for the natural way” message was reiterated to any too posh to push mums by a role play demonstrating the number of strangers who might be present at a scheduled surgery. The tone being how icky and clinical our choice was. How wrong.

    At the time I was incensed and passionately defended our decision explaining how reassuring such a presence could actually be for parents like us. Yet subconsciously, even then, I was sure it would be a compromised or ‘lesser’ birth experience. I felt that by prioritising a swift and well supervised delivery I would be robbing us of the ‘real’ experience of giving birth. And that saddened me.

    In fact it was quite the contrary. Our birth plan (for oodles of skin to skin contact) was followed to the letter and (thanks to a lovely understanding team) the atmosphere in the operating room celebratory and warm. It was absolutely the most positive outcome we could have wished for. Of the 10 women comprising our NCT group all but two had complicated or dramatic labours, the majority necessitating intervention, and I believe no one had anything resembling the natural/home births they’d planned.

    I wish you the same reassuring and safeguarded birth day we enjoyed and hope you find increasing confidence and comfort in your scheduled delivery in the coming days. My only advice would be to write yourselves a birthplan that feels like you, crank up a song that makes you smile and know that you are doing the very best for your little girl. Much love and good luck to you xxx

    • Thank you for this – great to hear. Yes I’ve been reading about slow/natural caeserians and want to ask for lots of skin to skin after she comes out (in fact before she is weighed/cleaned if they will let me) and am planning the birth music. It seems to just be a case of changing my perception – I’m imagining a calm beautiful c-section rather than a water birth. I also had envisaged a water birth last time and definitely didn’t turn out that way!

      Yes I remember the c-section role play too – that and other ‘too posh to push’ comments (plus stories of how a baby must come out of a vagina apparently due to bacteria or something there) just put on pressure that it’s not natural or wrong somehow. Wish people understood sometimes there’s no choice.

      Thank you for your lovely reassuring comments! X

  3. I always thought the good thing about a scheduled c section is you can actually plan for it! I’m glad your pregnancy is going so well and wish you the very best.

  4. I’ve had two c-section births, both positive. First for the same reason as you and second because I could choose and I went with what I already knew. Our second was ready to come, so after an 8 hour taster of labour (that’s en of that thank you) we into surgery. It is by no means an easy option, but after what you have been through, having a date, being able to plan childcare for your boy and actually prepare mentally for your new arrival with a specific date to work towards, is also a healing process. Your yoga training will keep you calm in theatre and will help you heal afterwards. Caesarean birth is still birth and you can still make it yours. X

  5. I had a very positive birth with D, epidural all the way! That was always my plan. I wasn’t going to be in agony just show I was somekind of hero?! Surely what matters is that she arrives safely – I’d take a c-section every time if it meant we could have a 2nd baby 😦 good luck honey xxx

    • Thank you. I think this time it just all felt perfect and I placed a lot of weight on the birth being this amazing thing after all we’ve been through. Like it would be this cathartic thing. Wanted to feel my body was strong again too after feeling it was so duff! Anyway quite right I need to focus on the bigger picture. Glad to hear D’s birth was lovely tho. Hoping I’ll see you soon xxx

  6. OMG I had 5 children…3 w/o any pain relief other than breathing. I’m sorry, (not really) it was no fun, it hurt like hell and the only reason I went on to have other children was because thank God I forgot how bad it really was !!! On my 4th, I went into the Dr’s. when I was about 8 months and said, “I can’t do this again ;( .” He said, “Why not just do an epidural ?” So on #’s 4 & 5 it was epidural baby and I never looked back. I recovered so much more quickly that the first 3 !!! I don’t go to the dentist and get a tooth pulled w/o novocaine, do you ❤ The perfect birth experience is having a beautiful, healthy baby !!! No worries, enjoy the rest of you pregnancy and have healthy baby and safe delivery !!! So much more important ❤ Blessings ❤

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