I seem to have a strange habit of looking back at the whole birthing thing around about a year after having kids. It might be a bit of a coincidence, or maybe not, but with quite a few of my friends coming close to their own due dates, I guess there is a bit of birthing chat going on these days.
As a bit of background: For all my life, I'd been absolutely scared of giving birth. So much so that for most of my life, I didn't want to have any kids. As soon as I got pregnant for the first time, I searched and searched how to deal with this fear. I went down the route of a HypnoBirthing course, totally tried to find out every information on birth, was addicted to reading birth stories, and I also took part in an NCT course.
Both the NCT and HypnoBirthing of course advocate a natural birth, if possible without any pain relief. I totally bought into it. Two long drawn out labours later, with one instrumental birth and one emergency c-section, (and trying out most available pain relief) I still long for that natural, serene, birth experience. You know, the one where you actually have a sense of birthing rather than having the baby taken out of you.
I felt totally disempowered first time around, and totally empowered the second time. The first birth, though more "natural" than the second, was a massive disappointment. With all my hope, preparation, longing to have a natural birth, it didn't happen. I kept going over it, analysing where it went wrong. In contrast with the second birth, an even longer back-to-back labour, hours of pushing without any movement, I was begging for a c-section. I was exhausted after labouring two nights in a row (and the day in between) and had had enough. Shame for that natural birth I never had but you know what? Having had a child before I knew there was much more to having babies than the birth and it didn't matter so much.
I'm not saying of course that birth doesn't matter. It does. What is important though is that with all the encouragement towards natural, drug free births, preferably at home, it doesn't become a pressure or competition to have such a birth, and above all, no woman should be made to feel a failure for not achieving this ideal. It may come as a surprise (hear the irony bell?), but different women labour differently, and it may well be that in times gone by with lesser health care, our outcome might have been a much worse one. It's only looking back after two births (and the parenting in between) that I realise it's not all about birth. Birth is important, every woman should be informed and be able to make choices about medical intervention and those choices should be respected. The thing is, it's also ok to choose pain relief, to choose a hospital birth or even an elective c-section. It's ok and doesn't make us a better or worse parent.
The choice though should be based on information, knowledge and weighing up of risk without scaremongering, and facilitated by non-judgemental staff. I had a great experience in that respect at the Southern General Hosptial. The surgeon visited me on the postnatal ward to discuss the c-section and answer any questions I may have. She also reassured me that none of the previous choices I had made would have made a difference on the outcome. In both labours, my birth plan was given due attention and followed to the word (so much so that I had to wait 2 hours for the decision to have an emergency c-section after I had given up all hope that this baby would come out on its own accord, the staff never failed to encourage me, had me upright and moving, and did everything to enable me to have that natural birth I was hoping for). However, I have heard of different experiences in other hospitals, where choices women make were questions, where birth plans were ridiculed.
It is one thing to encourage women to be better informed and make decisions on that basis, another to recommend and push for a natural birth, which it appears the NCT at times seems to be guilty of from what I have heard (not in my personal experience I hasten to add). Because the damage of unmet expectations and hopes can be quite significant and contribute towards negative feelings after birth. In my own case, an empowered c-section might actually have been better than a non-surgical birth where expectations were not met. And as to bonding post c-section - it's all relative. Again, it's more about how one feels about the birth experience than what it was actually like. I felt a failure after the first birth and didn't think twice about the c-section after the second, and found bonding, breastfeeding and general adjustment much easier second time around, though admittedly I had a more serious case of the baby blues (which I attributed to my slight panic of having to look after two kids, which at the time seemed impossible - it wasn't of course!).
Of course, if I had a real choice I'd love to have given birth naturally, but, heyho, it's just a day in the life of a baby and a mother, and there are many more that count just as much. Too many important days to waste time on what ifs and if onlys. There are enough pressures on women and mothers, let's not add the one of having to birth naturally as a rite of passage to it. Becoming a mum is in itself a right of passage, and that's plenty to deal with on its own.
(and for anyone who has that failure blues: For 9 full months YOU grew a baby. How effing amazing is that? Give yourself a massive pat on the back!)