The day you turn a mom should be one of the happiest of your life, but, for scores of women that delight is clouded by worry that their labour wasn’t really good enough.
According to a latest survey of 2,000 mothers by Channel Mum one in five women say that going for a caesarean would mean they’d ‘failed’ and they would refuse pain relief for fear of being judged.
Here 3 women – who ended up on the operating table – disclose how they faced judgement and felt extreme guilt since they missed out on the ‘perfect drug-free’ birth.
After 39-year-old Sarah Ivens had a c-section for the birth of her first son (pictured), a friend queried her whether she felt like ‘less of a mother’. Pictured with hubby Russell
Author and journalist Sarah Ivens, who lives in London had her first baby at 35; Her husband Russell, is a software architect, and they have two children William, 3, and Matilda, 1
I intended to have a ‘flawless’ drug-free birth. I imagined candles, deep breathing and feeling like a goddess.’ My mum attempted to clarify I was being a bit unrealistic but what did she know – she’d only had three babies.’
So I joined hypno-birthing classes, read several books and hired a doula to help me stay calm and resilient in the face of childbirth and the tempting drugs on offer.’ My son had different plans though and when I went for a check-up on his due date, my doctor told me that the pain I was undergoing was not actually the beginning of labour but was provoked by his baby gymnastics.
He had made the decision, at the last moment, when I was in fact 4cm dilated, to do a total flip. His head was now wedged up into my ribs and he had one foot down.
Sarah pictured with her three-year-old son William, for whom she underwent a caesarean
We can try and flip him but we have to caution you, it rarely ever works, it will be very painful so we’d suggest an epidural, if we are to try, and there is a risk the cord could wrap around the baby’s neck,’ she said, as my husband and I gawped at the ultrasound screen, and I got a bit teary.
I was worried about one thing though – my son’s safe delivery. Therefore, 4 hours later I was wheeled into surgery, got a spinal injection to numb me up, got shaved and then slit open. It wasn’t painful but it was uncomfortable – which I’m certain no one has ever said about giving birth naturally.
And then he popped out – healthy, perfect and shouting, William, a pink piglet of longed-for loveliness. Sadly, as I was still being sewn up and fiddled with, my husband got to hold him first but my two boys sat by my side and we all cried tears – me and Russ in delight, William in intense shock at this brave new world he’d entered.
I didn’t think much of my experience till some months later when a ‘friend’ asked me something funny.
‘Do you feel less of a woman because you had a C-section? Less of a mother?’
Driven by my newly-acquired lioness protectiveness, I firmly and plainly said no.
Shocked, I replied: ‘My birth was different but it was a very real birthing experience for me, and although it wasn’t what I’d hoped for, how can I regret anything about the way I met my son?’
She balked but I was angry. After a couple of years being not able to conceive, and then two miscarriages, how dare some judgemental know-it-all cast a cloud over my biggest feat?
‘Because finally, all that mattered to me – and should matter to anyone – is the health and wellbeing of their kid and themselves': Sarah with children William, 3 (left), and Matilda, 1 (middle)
‘My birth was unnatural but it was a immensely real birthing experience for me, and though it wasn’t what I’d hoped for, how can I rue anything about the way I met my son?': Sarah defended her choice to have a c-section
When I got pregnant a second time, someone felt the need to say, ‘Oh good, you’ll be able to give birthing a proper shot now. A natural birth will set you off on the right track to motherhood!’
The decision was taken away from me, since I was diagnosed late on with placenta previa, which indicates it’s quite close to the cervix, and had to have Matilda by C-section as well.
But I didn’t care, as every snip was worth it – and all the extra weeks of recovery that C-section mums have to endure were worth it too.
Because finally, all that mattered to me – and should matter to anyone – is the health and wellbeing of their child and themselves. Take no notice of anyone who tells you otherwise.
Polly Phillips, 33, from, London, lives with husband Al, 32, an engineer. Her daughter Lala is 21 months old
Lying in intensive care feeling depleted, both literally and figuratively; I regretted why I did not opt for the elective caesarean section that I was offered after I fell pregnant with my daughter, now 21 months.
Instead, coaxed by friends and family, I’d chosen to deliver her naturally, which is how I came to be lying in intensive care, having lost 3.5 litres of blood during delivery.
My sweet daughter was in a totally different ward to me – a far cry from the skin-to-skin contact I’d been craving post-delivery.
Polly Phillips, 33, was firm about having a natural birth with daughter Lala, and ended up being in hospital for 10 days because of excessive blood loss
After a complicated miscarriage led to a post-partum haemorrhage during my previous pregnancy, my gut instinct had conveyed to me that a caesarean section was the perfect option for me.
Nevertheless as the birth drew closer, more and more of my friends and family expressed their worries. One friend, an obstetrician, advised me to think carefully prior to volunteering for major abdominal surgery.
Moms I knew who’d undergone natural births seemed to wear their efforts like badges of pride. In their conversations of stitches, labour length and birthing battles, it was evident that having a C-section didn’t measure up.
Due to Polly’s natural birth, she was separated from her daughter and was seriously unwell
And my most-loved aunt, worried that, conforming to the ban on driving for up to eight weeks after a C-section, I would feel trapped at home with the baby if I chose to deliver this way.
In spite of myself, I began to feel influenced by their worries and affected by their judgement.
Thus, swept up in the ‘best way to birth’ competition, I changed my mind.
In place of my elective C-section, I chose to be induced and, while the delivery was normal, later I suffered a massive bleed leading to transfusion after transfusion, my life hanging in the balance.
Though a few doctors contend it’s possible I’d still have haemorrhaged after a C-section, they all agree that if I’d already been in the operating theatre undergoing a caesarean, stemming my blood loss would have been much quicker and things wouldn’t have been so precarious for me.
Ironically, the real reason that I chose to deliver vaginally was to just avoid the incapacitation that a C-section can bring.
‘But, as I find out daily, with so much of parenting being about trusting your own instincts, it’s not a mistake I’ll make again’
But due to my natural birth I ended up being in hospital for 10 days and was frail, because of my excessive blood loss, for months afterwards.
I don’t lay the blame on those who convinced me to change my mind – it was all my decision to go against my gut.
But, as I find out daily, with so much of parenting being about trusting your own instincts, it’s not a mistake I’ll make again.
Barbara Metcalfe, 56, lives in Hale near Altrincham with her partner Peter, an independent documentary maker, and daughters Thea 17, and Isabella, 12
The day we enrolled for National Childbirth Trust classes we had begun heading towards the Nirvana of a natural birth.
We’d watched in horror at the plastic model of a pretend baby being ushered down the pretend birth canal by a woman who had done this for real four times and without as much as a paracetamol.
At that juncture I hardly had a reason to think I would be any different.
Nevertheless at 41 weeks I coughed up blood and was immediately taken to hospital where they suspected a pulmonary embolism.
Writer Barbara Metcalfe with her daughters Thea (left) and Isabella (right)
Barbara Metcalfe, 56, underwent emergency caesarean after 12 hours on labour, leaving her birth plan in tatters
I remained in bed for a week while I had tests to rule out the potentially destructive PE. So by 42 weeks I was the size of a small people carrier and extremely tired.
I went home for the weekend to get ready for a caesarean. I was in despair that I wouldn’t have a natural birth after all.
But, my waters broke and I went to hospital feeling like I was getting a reprieve. At some point I gave in to gas and air.
I recall having some pethidine. My birth plan was in tatters, but I still thought I could go the natural course.
12 hours into labor, and I was failing and so was baby – I had no option.
Her heart rate had risen too fast yet 12 hours into labour she hadn’t even entered my pelvis. At the same time my contractions had come thick and very, very fast – every 30 seconds.
Eventually I consented to an epidural, and an hour later Thea was born, healthy and smiley with eyes wide open.
Then the guilt began. I couldn’t lay her on my tummy due to the stitches.
I couldn’t lift her properly due to the morphine tube in my wrist. I couldn’t breastfeed her owing to the drugs.
Then the comments began: ‘If you’d had a natural birth you wouldn’t be in that pain… if you hadn’t had the Caesarean you would be up and about by now.
‘It’s so much easier when you have a natural birth,’ said one midwife.
Barbara Metcalfe, 56, found later on that she had put her first child Thea’s health at risk with her initial emphasis on having a natural birth
‘We’ll show Dad how to do the first bath,’ said another, wheeling my daughter away.
At home it was even more worse. I was the lone person in my NCT group to have a section.
I didn’t fully bond with my baby since I felt less of a mother. I couldn’t let the feeling go that I had taken the easy way out.
My health visitor realised I was in distress.
She arranged for a midwife to bring my hospital notes to show to me I had no other option but to have a C-section.
It made scary reading. I was so adamant on a natural birth that I had been putting my daughter in danger and maybe myself too.
After five years when her sister Izzy was due, we booked a caesarean without a hint of regret.
The only thing that matters is a baby is born safely – how and when is immaterial after that.