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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.

 

 

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