When you’re expecting your first baby, you over plan everything. You go to parenting classes, read labor books, purchase non-essentials for the pregnancy, and ask yourself a countless number of questions. Do you go for disposable or cloth diapers? Will you bottle-feed or breastfeed?
Once decided, you create a birth plan for the different birthing methods. These plans can range from an all-natural birth at home in a birthing pool surrounded by non-scented candles to normal hospital birth. But often, our birth plan is more of a guideline.
When your birth plan changes
Having a baby is a natural process that we have little control over. Creating a birth plan is just a way to feel more in control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation. During my first pregnancy, the plan was to have her naturally at the hospital. It’s what I wanted. Besides pain-relieving medication, I knew I would get on with the birth as naturally as possible. I did not wish for nor anticipate surgical intervention.
I was apprehensive about having a cesarean delivery, also known as C-section. I will admit that my fear of surgery was based more on the type of scars I could acquire than the idea of having a “belly birth.” Not the typical C-section scar; I was somewhat scared I would have a monster-looking scar.
Unfortunately, I am prone to developing hypertrophic scarring, and I’ve had a few keloids removed throughout my life. I’ve had to avoid any extreme piercing or tattoos, or body modification procedures since puberty.
The initial plan was to get my baby out safely, without going under the knife by any means possible. It was essentially a no-fuss, simple birth plan. But as you might have guessed, nothing went according to plan. My daughter was a post-term baby. At 42 weeks, I still had no signs of going into labor. After several at-home remedies and a membrane sweep from my midwife, I got booked into the hospital to induce labor.
Induction is quite prevalent in the UK, where I live, where 1 in 5 labors have been artificially induced. I was placed on a hormone drip to hasten the contractions. It didn’t quite help progress the labor. I could hear the midwife whisper something about fetal distress and changes in the baby’s heart rate. From a failed induction point of view, I knew the next course of action would be an emergency section.
Exploring C-section stigma and the emotional scars
At this point, I retreated to my fear of scars. More worryingly, I remembered all the C-section vs. natural birth debates I witnessed online and offline. All the shaming in passive-aggressive tones for moms who especially choose an elective cesarean section (CS). The misplaced notion that women who opt for a C-section have it easier than “normal moms.” Almost as if a C-section somehow makes you less of a woman.
I didn’t even realize that I was stubbornly fighting internal battles to have a normal birth just because of the C-section shaming messages that kept replaying in my head. When my doctor confirmed it was cesarean, or he could lose either of us, I cried out, but consented because I knew there was no other option. Our safety was paramount. However, I honestly felt like I failed.
The recovery process was nowhere near easy. The fatigue from extreme blood loss meant I could barely hold my baby still. I wasn’t able to move my legs for a while, which meant I was at the mercy of my care providers. Again, I felt a deep sense of failure. My newborn daughter nearly choked, laying right beside me, but I couldn’t physically get up to help her.
When my loved ones met my daughter, the joy on everyone’s faces could not wipe the emotional C-section trauma I underwent. My only concern then was how fast enough my wound needed to heal so we could bounce off.
It was a tough time emotionally, but it’s not something I felt I could discuss with anyone. I also later found out that many women who have had an emergency C-section have trouble bonding with their new baby. I didn’t realize just how common this was and the emotional conflict inflicted. I also didn’t know how to cope with the influx of emotions, so I assumed they would pass.
They did for some time. But I would often visit the online parenting forums and get triggered by the comments on C-section. The jokes about how they wished they had a C-section instead as it seemed easy were unpleasant for me. I always found myself trying to justify why I still had a C-section despite me not wanting one. It wasn’t enjoyable to admit that I didn’t deliver naturally.
Common struggles after a C-section
Most women in the groups would worry about how their belly would look like after cesarean delivery. Plenty of mothers inevitably struggle to embrace their postpartum belly.
For CS moms, how to get rid of a C-Section pooch is one of their major concerns. But I have never been a bikini model, so that part didn’t bother me. Luckily for me, the constant pressure from the roll of my tummy and tension from wearing jeans surprisingly helped minimize my hypertrophic scar.
I was still determined to try a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) for my second pregnancy. After reading volumes of data on how to increase the chances of a VBAC so that I could not “fail” again, my midwife informed me otherwise. The probability of going under the knife again is much higher to avoid the increased risk of complications in subsequent pregnancies.
For my second pregnancy, which was also post-term, I went into labor excited. My water had already broke hours before admission, my cervix had dilated, and I was experiencing some contractions. But the fact that my water broke 24 hours into labor, and my labor stopped progressing, was, in fact, a risk. The possibility of infection meant another emergency CS was due.
I was distraught because I was determined to try VBAC all along. To spend all those hours in labor only to end up at the operating table again is devastating. I went through similar emotional struggles feeling like I’ve been robbed of the opportunity twice, but this time it was bittersweet. I knew how closely I had bonded with my firstborn and couldn’t wait to have that with my second child as well.
I also understood then that not many doctors would dare attempt a VBAC after 2 C-sections. So I resigned to the fact that a chance at natural birth would not happen for me. However, in my 3rd pregnancy, I still wanted a VBAC trial. My husband couldn’t understand my obsession and why I didn’t just choose the “easier” elective cesarean option. He was worried about possibly putting the baby and me at unnecessary risk, and yet CS is where we would end up anyway.
My doctors were also not comfortable with the idea, and so I booked for elective CS. The experience was not as terrifying as an emergency section, and it felt nice bypassing the labor pain this time around. The lingering feeling of an emotional defeat was still present. Only that this time, it was much less pronounced.
The silver lining
Being already a mom of 2, with good enough parenting and bonding experience, had a lot to do with it. I stayed up with them and fed them all night. I potty trained them, taught them to walk and talk. I read them stories at night and held them while they were sick.
Through all these years of being a mother, I gained the confidence I did not have during the deliveries. Confidence that said it didn’t matter how I gave birth to my child. I was still in every way a woman and good mother.
My story isn’t uncommon as 1 in 4 women in the UK will end up with cesarean birth, and half of these are unplanned emergency C-sections like mine. I hope my story will help spread C-section awareness on the unspoken stigma against women who do not have a natural birth.
A stigma not expressed outrightly, but the effects of being looked down upon, negatively affects women for a long time. I wish I’d known at the time that there are C-section support groups to lean on and share similar experiences.
The main take away here is how your baby comes out of your body doesn’t determine your ability as a woman or mother. So let’s ditch the stigma.