C Is For: C Section Guilt

C is for…. C-Section

Or more specifically, c-section guilt. Because, as many women who’ve had one (or like me, two) will know, this is actually ‘a Thing’. And it can be debilitating.

Who’da thunk?! Why should this be? It shouldn’t matter how our adorable squishes get here, should it? They’re going to come out one way or the other.

When I was preggers with Muffin #1, it was always in the back of my mind that it might not be possible to give birth ‘naturally’, but I didn’t much care, as long as bambino arrived safe and sound.

It was only afterwards, in the throes of the baby blues (which became full-on, stomach churning, mind-numbing post-natal depression) that I began to question how my little boy had made his entrance into this world.

As it happened, it was at 37 weeks – an emergency c-section after I swelled up like a balloon and was told “that’s pre-eclampsia, and yes, it’s rather dangerous”.

Wow, so you didn’t even go into labour, then? A friend asked me a few weeks later.

No…

And you didn’t get to do much skin to skin right after?

Err, again, that’d be a no…

Ah, that’s a shame, isn’t it?

Well, yes, I thought. I suppose it was.

The burgeoning relationship with my newborn was thrown into a new light. There was no immediate rush of love (actually I was too busy puking into a bowl to feel anything much initially). There was a distance between us – was this because we didn’t bond in those first, crucial moments? Is that why breastfeeding wasn’t going great, and he never seemed ‘happy’? Did his highly medicalised arrival mean I’d failed him in some way?

Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough. I should have told them I wanted to do it ‘properly’.

With the second pregnancy we decided to go to a well-known brand of antenatal classes. When we got to the bit about medical interventions, our teacher (who made a point of telling us she’d had all of her children drug-free and naturally), gave us some stats about childbirth abroad. I forget the country now. Over there, she said, some 90 odd per cent of women have c-sections. Over there, you’d be looked at like you were a lunatic if you rocked up at hospital demanding a ‘normal’ birth’!

Dutifully, all the prospective parents chuckled. “Isn’t that terrible?!” their laughs seemed to say. Well that won’t be me, I thought. Not this time. I’ve learned from my mistakes!

My midwife seemed thrilled I was planning on a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean). “That’s a really good decision” she said, encouragingly. Great, I thought. I’m doing the best thing for my baby, and for me. And, I’ll really get to experience labour! I’ll feel like a REAL WOMAN this time.

You might have guessed – second time around didn’t go to plan either. High blood pressure, an induction, failure to progress and suspected sepsis meant that poor little Muffin#2 arrived via another section, and had a couple of weeks in intensive care to boot.

Of course, nothing about the experience, in particular the failed labour (which was excruciating) was good. In fact, I thoroughly regretted the decision to even try the VBAC in the end. They said it was likely the gap between my waters breaking and labour starting that caused the infection. An elective c-section probably wouldn’t have had the same outcome…. but shoulda woulda coulda, etc.

Where am I going with this? Well, every bugger has an opinion when it comes to motherhood and child-rearing, and sadly, this seems to start from the get-go. As women we are constantly under pressure – often from ourselves – to do things in a certain way, to be a certain kind of parent. Apparently a specific kind of birth experience is necessary too.

A friend of mine had another baby recently. The eagerly awaited news arrived from her husband via WhatsApp – a healthy baby girl! Hurrah! Followed swiftly by “but unfortunately we had to have a c-section”.

It was a throw away comment, but it irked.

Surely a c-section isn’t ‘unfortunate’, is it? I mean, shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that another baby has been bought into the world – albeit with a bit of extra help  – and that both mum and baby are doing well?

As a veteran of two, obviously I was being over-sensitive. It’s natural to be disappointed when your birth plan doesn’t go, well, to plan (it’s a big deal, right?) But, it got me thinking about the negative language surrounding c-sections, which for many women, like me, is genuinely detrimental and can cause long lasting issues.

Too posh to push. Lazy. Unnatural. All words that we have probably heard or read at some point about sections, or women that choose to have them. The tabloids shrieked about Victoria Beckham’s choice to have four. The BBC’s ‘The Portland’ documentary arguably didn’t portray the privileged women who had sections there in the best light. And actor Kate Hudson recently told Cosmo that having one was, quote, the “laziest” thing she’d ever done. Just a few examples.

Poor Kate received a bit of a backlash for what were probably just ill-thought, throw away remarks. Like me, she might simply have regretted not having the perfect, longed-for birth experience.

However, the negativity around c-sections remains, and it’s incredibly unhelpful. Not to mention ludicrous.

Anyone who’s had one will tell you that a section must be the LEAST glamorous thing a woman could ever experience. Yeah, having someone rummaging, yes, literally rummaging, around your innards is delightful. So too the difficulty walking afterwards, the inability to pick up your newborn squish, and the yucky infections that can sometimes happen. As for being “lazy”, many women have no choice but to have a section. And where it’s elective (I mean, HEAVEN FORBID you actually CHOOSE to have one!), I’m fairly certain that ‘laziness’ has nothing to do with it.

C-section rates are higher now than say, in the 1990s, and there is a valid debate to be had around the public purse, and the necessity of some procedures. However, it’s also undeniable that there many babies, and mums too, that are only here today because they were able to have one. That’s a wonderful thing, though the positives don’t seem to get mentioned much.

The Royal College of Midwives announced recently that they were scrapping their campaign for “normal births”. That it should be called this in the first place seems inconceivable – by very definition it suggests that anyone who has an intervention, for whatever reason, is “abnormal”. They also advised they’d be changing the way midwives talk about childbirth – to avoid making mothers who opt for medical interventions feel like failures.

These are both positive steps in my opinion. Despite what many people seem to think, giving birth is not a competition. You’re not going to win any prizes for eschewing the gas and air, nor are you any less of a woman for not being able to (nor choosing not to) push a baby out of your vagina.

If baby arrives happy and healthy, should it really matter?

This post is part of our A-Z of Parenting series where we take a look at the whole alphabet of things that can go right – or wrong – with parenting. A new letter is added every couple of days. Check out what’s happened so far here.
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Emma is mum to two cheeky boys and lives in South East London. When she isn't mumming, she spends her days working in PR, fuelled by coffee. She enjoys music, singing loudly and posh gin (all the better if it's at the same time). When she gets time, she likes nothing better than pottering un the garden or curling up in front of Netflix.

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