It’s the last day of International Caesarian awareness month and I wanted to write a post about my experience as I’ve only touched on it briefly in my previous posts. Caesarian sections are becoming increasingly more common with 1 in 4 babies being delivered this way. With this statistic being so high and this kind of birth being so normal, it can be easy to forget that it is still major surgery with a considerable recovery time and risks involved. There can be numerous reasons for needing one whether it be an emergency or elective, however I feel there can be a lot of stigma attached to the planned ones. People assume it’s a lazy or easy option because they are ‘too posh to push’ or are worried about natural labour. I think this partly stems from the fact many celebrities and royalty choose to have an elective Caesarian over a natural delivery due to preference, however there can be other reasons for needing one.
Firstly, I’m honestly not surprised that a lot of us women in Britain are terrified of childbirth. Partly because of the obvious logistics of pushing a human head out of your vagina, but partly because we are so uneducated on the subject. Until attending antenatal classes, the majority of us have no idea about the facts of labour or the different birthing choices out there because it just isn’t taught. People feel the need to share their horrendous experiences with the world and there are a lot of myths surrounding it. I remember growing up I was told ‘well apparently it’s horrendous because your vagina and your anus both become one hole…. and you poo yourself… and if you have a water birth you just end up bathing in a pool of your own blood with chunks of placenta and faeces…. and it all gets in your hair…. then your partner ends up leaving you because he can’t get the image out of his head’ and so on. Then there’s the myth that sex after childbirth is like chucking a cocktail sausage down a corridor and your labia ends up looking like a poorly made corned beef sandwich in the reduced section at Sainsburys.
When I had my first pregnancy scan, I was told I have a bicornuate uterus which means it has two conjoined cavities, making it appear heart shaped and meaning the foetus grows in one half of the uterus. This subsequently means it has half the space to grow and put me at higher risk of miscarriage, early labour, retained placenta after birth and giving birth to a small baby (I’m not selling my womb services well to any potential love interests, I know). I was placed under consultant led care and had scans every month to monitor the baby’s growth.
From about 35 weeks of pregnancy, I could no longer feel the baby’s kicks and a scan confirmed that she was breech. With the lack of space to turn or even move, I was told the only way to get her out safely was to have a C-section. I remember being asked if I was upset about being unable to have a natural delivery. Oddly, if you’d have asked me that question before becoming pregnant, I’d have probably been over the moon to go for the ‘sun roof’ option, however since pregnancy I felt somewhat differently about it. I don’t know if the maternal instinct had kicked in but I actually felt ready to take on childbirth and give it everything I had. I think with the love a mother has for the foetus, you know you simply have to do it in order to meet your child and that feeling overpowers the fear. Despite this, I didn’t feel precious about the situation and was just grateful to live in a day and age where this is an option, otherwise she and/or I wouldn’t have survived. Mother’s can be hard on themselves if they’ve had a natural birth plan in mind and have ended up needing an epidural or Caesarian but the most important thing is the end result. I’ve always felt it doesn’t make a difference to them how they are brought into this world, it’s what you do once they’re here that counts. I remember a few midwives being quite abrupt with me about my ‘choice’, telling me that it is possible for babies to be born bottoms first but I knew from my own research it was risky. I can’t imagine there is much worse than going through hours of labour and pain, only to be rushed in for an emergency C-section at the end of it. If there was an option to avoid all that, I was going to go with it.
Once I had signed the paperwork and was given a date and time, I tried to find as much information about the procedure as I could. It was then that I found many websites were quite negative and dismissive, with the general mood being to dissuade women from having one. I had so many questions that I couldn’t find the answers to like are you supposed to wax/shave your bikini line or do they do it? Are the stitches dissolvable or will they need to be removed? I was booked in for 8.30 am on 28th April 2017 but I had a call a few days earlier to ask if I could do the 27th instead. It was bizarre knowing exactly when it was going to happen but it was nice to be prepared at the same time. I couldn’t eat past a certain time the night before (I can’t remember what time now) and I had to wake up at 6 am to drink the most horrendous lemon flavoured drink. I had to put on some ultra tight and unsexy beige stockings to help circulation.
When I got to hospital, they scanned me to check the baby was still breech, otherwise I’d have been sent home. As she was, I was wheeled through to the operating theatre and the spinal block was inserted into my lower back. This was probably the thing I was most nervous about because the needle looks so big but it was no worse than a regular injection and I had to lay back on a slight tilt. A catheter was inserted by a doctor which was all a bit over familiar on first meeting (I waxed it) but it was better than wetting yourself all over the operating table I imagine. They spray a cold spray onto your skin to make sure you can’t feel the coldness and that’s how they know it’s safe to put the screen up and start cutting away. I couldn’t feel them cutting through the skin or layers of stomach, though I could feel the tugging as they were pulling her out and breaking my waters. To be honest, all I could really concentrate on was the fact some wanker (probably me) had put the Arctic Monkeys CD back in the James Bay case and my child was going to be born to ‘I wanna build you up brick by brick’. Meanwhile my mum, famously known for fainting at the first sight of blood is sat beside me wearing scrubs, her face white as a sheet.
As well as the music, I had requested for the curtain to be lowered so I could watch her be born (like a lion king moment albeit slightly more bloody), however, as they started to lower it, they quickly put it back up and there was no crying. The next thing I knew, about eight people rushed in and all gathered around her before she let out the most precious little cry I had ever heard. I burst into tears of joy as they placed this tiny little 5.14 lbs baby on my chest. She was simply perfect. I completely forgot about the fact my stomach was being stitched up and the fact there was loud guitar music playing in the background As I was being put back together again, the midwife suggested I start feeding her because of her being so small and I was given some help to get her latched on. So far that morning I’d had a man touch my vagina, two women grab my breasts and it wasn’t even 10 am yet. The whole experience was completely extraordinary.
On a serious note, the support I received for breastfeeding was great as it’s difficult to get yourself or the baby into the right position when you have no sensation from the waist down. I was wheeled out at around 9.30 and I remember feeling freezing cold as the spinal block began to wear off so they put a heater on me. I don’t know if I’m by myself here but the toast they gave me was single handedly the best toast I’ve ever tasted in my life. I have never enjoyed something so much. Once I could feel my stomach again, it felt about as sore as I expected, however what I didn’t take into account is how much you need your stomach muscles to do the smallest of tasks. I think after you give birth, the adrenaline kicks in and you have all this energy to take care of your newborn baby. I remember feeling really frustrated because I wanted to be able to lift her out of her cot from beside me and change her nappy but I just wasn’t able to. Even trying to reposition myself in the bed felt impossible enough and I worried how I would cope by myself overnight. Some nurses were lovely and understanding, where as others would look at me like I had four heads when I asked them for help.
The worst thing about the first 24 hours is being bed ridden with a catheter in, bleeding directly onto a giant sanitary pad on the bed that a nurse has to come round and change for you, feeling generally a bit helpless. To top it all off, you have horrendous wind from all of the air getting into your stomach which you have to try and control, being on a ward of about half a dozen other women. I was there for two nights which I think is about standard but it felt like the longest two-night break of my life. I was relieved to finally get back home, though the pain was still a struggle. I probably took more paracetamol than I should have done trying to manage things and though the pain was much more bearable after a couple of weeks, it’s still six before you can lift much or drive again.
Overall, even though the birth itself may be quick and painless, the recovery afterwards definitely isn’t and this needs to be recognised more. I am so grateful to the NHS staff members that performed my Caesarian section as they really did save Isabella’s life (a now happy, healthy and utterly tiring two-year-old).