Tasmanian Mum Musings | emergency cesarean birth
Teddy arrived in this world on 9 February 2018 by emergency cesarean. It wasn’t what I expected. I wanted to share my story because the more cesarean mums I speak with, the more I realise I'm not alone in trying to make sense of this complex, traumatic experience.
My labour started at 3am on 8 February and ended at 10:30am the next day. It was a long labour but the contractions were bearable. David and I thought each contraction and push was bringing our baby boy closer to us and we were excited. During labour we felt close and I felt so secure with David by my side. Sadly things just didn’t progress.
After an epidural, more pushing, and an attempt to turn Teddy, the decision was made for us - we would be taken to theatre where a final attempt to turn Teddy would be made and then he would be delivered via cesarean.
Those words hurt.
I did not give birth to my baby - a surgeon delivered him. It felt passive. I was passive. I felt redundant and the whole experience was traumatic.
I don’t fully understand why the cesarean is so very difficult for me to process. I'm a rational person, and from what I can tell a quarter to a third of all Tasmanian births result in a cesarean, so I knew there was every chance it could happen to me. But I didn’t expect it.
I expected the birth they show you in the videos. The one where there is skin to skin contact straight away. We were told that 2 hours of the baby on mums chest after the birth is normal. That baby would have its first feed there. Teddy was in David’s arms instead. Does that mean our experience wasn't normal?
I had to ask David not to talk to me, not to crowd me. I wasn’t feeling well. Thought I might be sick. My blood pressure kept dropping and I was trying to ignore what was happening on the other side of that blue curtain. Trying to stop my body from shaking but I had no control. I couldn't think about Teddy let alone touch him.
I wanted THAT moment. That triumphant moment with the three of us together - Teddy on my chest with tears of joy and relief. I’ve heard other mums describe it as the most empowering moment of their lives which couldn’t be further from what I experienced.
I know that some families have more traumatic experiences than ours and that we are lucky to be safe and well. But this was my experience and they are my feelings.
There were of course redeeming moments. My labour was a labour of love and it was exciting and beautiful. David and I shared a lot of special moments that day and night. My midwife was extremely understanding of our preference for a quiet and calm birth with minimal intervention. There was also a special moment in theatre where David and I held hands, as well as our breath, waiting to hear Teddy’s first cry. Then getting to see him held up by the surgeon before he was whisked away by the paediatrician.
In his usual wise and caring fashion David encouraged me to seek advice on my complex feelings towards Teddy’s birth. I spoke with a psychologist and it helped a lot. I think I won’t ever be at peace with the idea that I did not truly give birth to Teddy. I’m sad that if we don’t have any more children I may never know that feeling.
Oddly enough the most reassuring thought for me has been:
“we don’t always get what we want”.
It feels more empowering than the usual:
“at least you and Teddy are safe and well” (which is true of course).
I think the implication that a natural birth was something that I wanted but didn’t get feels more empowering than resignation that a cesarean was "for the best". In my head those two thoughts are like: wanting to run a race but missing out because you had to go to the dentist; versus getting a pat on the back for coming last.
There are two things I would do differently next time:
- I would make 2 birth plans. One for a natural birth and one for a cesarean. I wish that I had properly considered the risk of cesarean and written down any preferences I may have had so that my midwife would know.
- I would seriously consider hiring a doula. Someone with a holistic approach to childbirth who can bridge the gap between hospital staff and us. David and I made a big effort to learn as much as we could before Teddy’s birth but it’s hard to remember everything in the moment. It would also be great to have an additional advocate in the hospital. I endured a really rough cervical exam before my midwife arrived and it would have been great to have had someone there who felt comfortable saying “no, this is unnecessary discomfort, let’s wait for the midwife”.
The more cesarean mums I talk to the more I realise that I’m not alone with my complex feelings. They all feel grateful for their beautiful babies, that goes without saying, but they bear more than just the visible scar on their abdomen. And the reminders, especially in the first 6 weeks are frequent with breast feeding, skin to skin, and even just picking up your baby being uncomfortable.
My own experience has made me wonder how mums can be better supported after a cesarean, and how we might be able to better prepare for the now common procedure.
What are your thoughts on your cesarean?