Sunday, 4 September 2011

This ain't no competition: on Birthing

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!)


Clare said...

I wouldn't say that the NCT push natural birth, that is more a stereotype these days. My classes cover caesarean birth, assisted birth and different types of scenarios. I aim to give people information to make informed decisions and the best choices based on the situation they are in.

Metropolitan Mum said...

Unfortunately my NCT class fits right in with the stereotype - the teacher was a uber hippie who painted the whole pain relief/epidural/c-section scenario more than black. It's wonder I didn't feel like a failure after my emergency caesarean.
If there's going to be a second baby, I am going to opt for an elective c-section. No doubt about it. And not a single grain of guilt!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this post. I live in the US, so I don't have this issue of pressure that you talk of. If anything, it was the opposite for me. I came to HypnoBirthing on my own. And felt like I had an uphill battle convincing my doctors that I wanted this drug-free birth. Scaremongering? Youbetcha. One doctor threatened me with the idea of stillbirth if I didn't get induced a week after my due-date. Luckily my little fella decided to make his appearance the day before.
I had the natural birth. But it was absolutely nothing like the birth I'd dreamed of. The baby's heartrate plummeted with every contraction, and so the nurse and doctor were dictating my position, and I had to be hooked up to a monitor the entire time. After a beautiful pregnancy, I felt like my connection to my baby was being severed one tiny thread at a time. Because of the complications, my baby was whisked off to be examined for an hour. No bonding time.
My son is almost 2 years old now, and I still have trouble coming to terms with the birth. At least I can say I don't feel guilty about it anymore. But we're talking about trying for a second baby, and I have no idea what path I would choose. I love the idea of a natural birth. I also love the idea of an epidural and sleeping through contractions (true story - my cousin had this!). I still don't know the answer. But it's so encouraging to hear other women like yourself telling your story. And you're so right - it's one day out of a lifetime with your child. It's so much more important to appreciate my son and enjoy him every day!

cartside said...

@Clare, It seems to differ depending on teacher. Mine didn't push it, it was just information and options, and getting us to think about it. I've heard differently in various accounts, so it seems mixed. I think it's often the case that someone who feels strongly about something may appear pushy without noticing. To an extent that's ok, but it's also important to not cause feelings of inadequacy and failure (it took me a full year to come to terms with giving birth first time around)
@MetMum, lol, I know the feeling! While I'd love to have that natural birth, I too would probably go for an elective c-section. I just couldn't bare another 30 hour labour with the same outcome.
@germanintheafternoon, birth is such a massive experience I guess that coming to terms sometimes takes a long while. At my hospital, induction is only offered if you are at least 2 weeks over, and even then it's an option as risk only increases after 2 weeks over. I went over 15 and 11 days respectively. There are other hospitals in the UK with other guidelines, I have to say mine was fab because they encourage natural birth and will help you as best as possible, but are non-judgemental. I still thought it was amazing for the surgeon to visit the following day to make sure I was ok about the undesired outcome of c-section, a small gesture that can be so important for someone who might have felt bad about the experience (it would have helped if this had happened after my first delivery).



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