April is caesarean awareness month. There’s a good reason why it took me until the very last day to acknowledge it. On a personal level caesarean birth wasn’t something I wanted to acknowledge, as to me this meant failure. My failure.
I want to be very clear here that this in no way means that I believe that those who have had a caesarean birth are failures. To choose to lay on an operating table and have a skilled obstetrician cut you open and bring your baby earthside is, I feel, an act of pure maternal love. I’ve met lots and lots of people who’s baby ended up being born by caesarean and the way that each one of them feels about this is different. Some have chosen it as their preferred mode of birth in pregnancy and are confident it is the right choice for them. For others a situation arises in labour which means that a caesarean is deemed as the safest choice and necessary to save the mother or her baby and they are still coming to terms with this. However your baby comes into the world and however you feel about it is valid.
I want to tell you my experience now. Its taken me almost 3 years to get to this point. Where I feel at peace about how my little boy came into the world. I used to describe his birth as traumatic and its taken me such as long time to figure out why I felt that way.
I was a midwife when I became pregnant so I knew all about labour and birth and I quickly started putting things in place to have the birth of my dreams. I hired an amazing doula, Vanessa, to support both my husband and I, and I was gifted a birthing pool from a wonderful friend, Gemma. I wrote my birth plan, made my ‘birthing nest’ in our spare bedroom and started to look forward to giving birth in the comfort of my own home. I was a healthy first time mum and with a healthy baby on board-I though I had covered every base and things would go according to plan.
To some, my birth story may sound standard. We were both kept safe and policies and protocols we’re followed. No one was unkind to me, or ignored my wishes. No one did any procedures or examinations without my consent and in fact a lot of the things on my birth plan were respected. Others may hear my story and say that it’s traumatic. In fact, a midwife who came to visit me at home in the early days said ‘I’m so glad your smiling and ok, as when I knew you’d had a caesarean after planning a home birth I wasn’t sure what to expect seeing you today!’. Others may hear it and say ‘well you’re both here and healthy and that’s all that matters’, as if this makes up for a birth not going according to plan (and this is a topic for another day…) but they are all just different opinions and interpretations of the same event. They are not fact.
For 18 months I couldn’t put my finger on why I was getting flashbacks to elements of my labour and birth at random times…whilst washing the pots, trying to go to sleep at night, in the shower. Why I felt so anxious and why I had put such rigid rules in place about how a mother should be and if I wasn’t following them then I was a ‘bad mum’. For so long I’d thought it was because I had failed to do one of the most sacred and feminine acts- push my baby out of my body. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that I was still beating myself up about something which happened so long ago. Why did it still matter so much to me?
One of the amazing midwives who cared for me during labour said to me at one point, when a caesarean was looking more likely “you just need to be able to look back and know that you did everything you could” and for a while the memory of those words brought me comfort. But I couldn’t shake the thought that if I did everything I could to avoid a caesarean birth (which I really believe that I did) then why was I not feeling happy and fulfilled with my experience, regardless of the actual outcome?
Its taken me almost 3 years and the help of some wonderful people to get to the bottom of it, in particular my recent work with the wonderful Sarah Brent in her Emotional Health Coach Academy. I have suspected for some time that attending antenatal classes, making a birth plan and having a supportive birth team wasn’t enough to ensure a positive experience (and I was living proof!) and I wanted to understand why this might be. Qualifying as an Emotional Health Coach has not only helped me understand this deeply but gave me an amazing opportunity to heal myself and hit the master reset button on so many things which have been negatively impacting me, particularly regarding my own birth experience.
My core belief prior to and during pregnancy was that if left undisturbed birth could and should be a natural, amazing and transformative experience. I had pre-loaded my expectations that this is how it was going to be for me, even though I had never given birth before so I had no ‘evidence’ that this would be the case.
I have cared for enough people in labour to understand that birth can be unpredictable, but I believed I had done everything I could to ensure it would go according to plan for me.
I’d started off with high self confidence and self esteem about the birth. I had put so many things in place to try and safeguard the ‘perfect birth’. The doula, the birth plan, my unwavering belief in the awesomeness of my body and trust in my baby…and for some birthing folk this would be enough for them to achieve a positive and empowering birth. But my self esteem took such a massive hit when all those external things i’d put in place were no longer working to help keep the birth I wanted on track. And they never would have. As the one thing which I didn’t have in place was my mindset. The reason I considered my birth to be traumatic and a personal failure is because unknowingly I was trying to control the uncontrollable through external factors rather than developing my own internal resources.
I had needed a caesarean to give birth and as this realisation ‘threatened’ my core belief about birth, it had caused me to start thinking very negatively about my own birth. It made me internalise the outcome and blame myself for not being able to achieve the very thing which I truly believe in. I dwelled on it. Replayed that day over and over in my mind. Visualising all the different ways it could have gone. Feeding those negative thoughts and feelings. Not once did I give myself any credit for the hours and hours of preparation I had put in to trying to achieve my best birth. The pregnancy yoga and frequent chiropractic sessions, my nightly self care and bonding time with my baby bump, the birth plan I’d written to help me be able to clearly communicate the things which we’re important to me. I hadn’t even acknowledged the hours I had thrived in my labour- fully in my power and owning my experience. All I had been focusing on was the final few hours when everything had gone ‘wrong’.
I’ve realised that what makes one persons birth ‘bad’ and another persons ‘good’ is perception and interpretation. We don’t all feel and react the same in similar situations. I had been telling myself for so long that I had failed as I had not pushed my baby out. This is not a fact but a belief. No one else was judging me so harshly. I have come to understand that I can start to change this belief by changing my perception, and acknowledging all my efforts rather than just the end result. I already feel so much better.
I truly believe that the KEY to preparing for a positive birth experience should include an understanding of a persons own core beliefs about birth, mothering and in general terms. How they view themselves and their place in the world has such a massive impact on this and the ability to develop skills for their internal self esteem and self worth. All of which will help them approach motherhood with resilience and confidence.
This in my souls work and regardless of whether you already know how to approach labour and birth as a midwife, developing a view from the other side, how you approach birth as a pregnant person and the additional challenges being on the receiving end of care brings, will undoubtedly make a huge difference to your experience.
Love Radha x