A couple of weeks ago I had a long chat with a health care provider about how we can help mothers who have Caesarean Births not feel that they have “failed.”
This is something I struggle with because, in our attempt to normalize and promote vaginal birth, we do marginalize caesarean birth. We don’t want to consider it “normal” and yet about a third of mothers in Victoria give birth by caesarean! Clearly giving birth by caesarean is part of the range of normal experiences of childbearing women.
By happy coincidence, I came across this blog post the next afternoon: A Love Letter to C-Section Moms. In it, Michelle Zip says: “Moms who have had c-sections need and deserve respect and love for the way they birthed. We need to honor all ways of birth, even the ones that didn’t go as we planned.”
Yes, we need to honour mothers who give birth by caesarean. A mom in the New Baby Group yesterday pointed it that it’s an extremely brave thing for a woman to allow herself to be cut open for the sake of her child. It take courage and devotion to give birth by caesarean, just as it does to given birth vaginally.
There are a lot of mis-conceptions out there about caesarean birth – I hear them all in our prenatal classes. Some think caesarean birth is less painful than vaginal birth : It’s not. Post-surgical pain lasts a lot longer than labour! Some think that women who have caesareans choose them because they are more “convenient” : They don’t. According to The Listening to Mothers Survey, less than 1% of caesareans are done without medical indication. Some think that women who need caesareans are just not fit or healthy enough : Not true. Some of the healthiest, fittest, cleanest-living women need to have caesareans. Some think that women who have caesareans did not have the right attitude, didn’t think positively enough, didn’t have the right birth plan or just didn’t try hard enough : Not true! Caesareans happen to women with all sorts of attitudes and knowledge and levels of preparedness.
The biggest mis-conception that the participants in our childbirth preparation classes arrive with is, “It won’t happen to me.” I think they often don’t pay a lot of attention to the parts of our course about caesareans and other interventions because they don’t believe it is relevant to them – they’re planning a “natural birth”, so nothing else matters. And when it does happen to them, as it might to any of us, they are surprised and feel un-prepared. And (big sigh) I don’t know how to prepare them. I don’t want to threaten people and lecture them and warn them. I don’t want to discourage or scare them. I want them to believe in themselves and believe they can have the birth they want. I think they are more likely to get their dream birth if they plan for it. But it would be absurd to think that a plan is a guarantee!
I still want to invite women to dream about their ideal birth. I want women and their partners to plan for it and tell their care-providers about it. But I also want them to consider what might happen if it doesn’t turn out the way they dreamed. To imagine themselves having to have a cesarean and imagine how they might feel and what they might see and hear, perhaps when they find themselves in that situation for real, it won’t be quite such a shock.
As Michelle Zip says, women who give birth by cesarean may face some judgement from their friends and family. But I think the harshest judgement of these mothers may come from within themselves. They feel like failures because they went into this believing that if they tried hard enough they would be able to have a vaginal birth. But sometimes no amount of trying is going to be enough; sometime, a caesarean is the best choice, the only choice. The bravest choice.
It’s hard enough to live through recovery from surgery, and a new baby, and disappointment about how the birth went, without also blaming yourself for “failing”. Caesarean Moms need love and honouring from all of us, but first they need love and honouring from themselves.