No matter the type of birth a woman has, she will never forget the day her baby was born, nor the way she felt.
She may forget the details.
She may forget the names and faces of those who surrounded her.
She may forget the words spoken.
She may forget the weights and measurements.
But she will not forget feeling joyful and empowered, or traumatised and broken.
So many times, these feelings are dismissed by society, because as long as the baby is healthy, that’s all that matters, right?
Wrong. So very, very wrong.
A baby’s birth day is a pivotal, life-changing day.
While a caesarean may be a “routine procedure” for the staff involved, for the mother and father it is so much more.
On the other side of the drape is a real PERSON. A human, with thoughts and feelings.
Not just a uterus.
Often, women are told “just be grateful that you and your baby are healthy, that’s all that matters”. They are told this by their family, their friends, their partners, the hospital staff, and well-meaning strangers.
And whilst of course the health and wellbeing of mothers and babies are the number one goal (nobody is debating that), it is certainly not ALL that matters.
And what is “healthy” anyway? Alive? It seems that way sometimes. What kind of a standard is that anyway, to simply aim for “alive”? Surely we can do better than that! The health of a mother is not just about the physical aspects, but the emotional and mental health, too.
“It is not about trying to control the actual event of childbirth.
It is not about whether you have gas or pethidine, or a waterbirth or a caesarean.
It is about walking away from your birth feeling strong, positive, and confident.
It is about knowing what things are important in birth for you to feel good about it and gain from it, and how to get them.”
Sometimes it is the small things that can make the biggest difference to how a woman feels about her birth, no matter what it looks like on paper.
Was she supported? Was she spoken to kindly? Given the opportunity to make decisions? Had things explained to her? Treated respectfully? Involved in the process? Had her feelings acknowledged and validated? Had her baby kept close to her whenever (and as soon as) possible?
Or was she ignored? Left alone? Spoken to harshly? Confused about what was happening? Had things done to her without consent? Separated unnecessarily from her baby? Treated like a child? Not given any options or a chance to be a part of the decision making?
Whilst many caesarean mothers grieve the loss of a natural childbirth, the trauma often stems not from what happened, but the way she felt.
And no woman will feel the same. Every woman, and every experience, is unique.
The following mothers have bravely shared a little of their story, to shed some light on the way they felt during and after their caesarean births, and to break the “healthy baby is all that matters” stigma and show that their feelings matter, TOO (it doesn’t have to be either or – gratitude and grief are not mutually exclusive).
This is Nicole.
This is Alma.
My name is Alma and I had Jennifer in July 2013.
The first photo is basically the during Csection. It was an “emergency” but wasn’t as I was overdue and had a failed induction, I had just ran out of time, so there was no real panic getting to the theatre or any of that.
Jennifer was what I can only describe as removed from my person, whisked away to be weighed etc and then plonked into a heating unit.
Noone took a photo of me, this is the only photo, Jennifer was put in this heating unit as far away as possible from me while I was tied onto a table being put back together. I hadn’t yet touched her at this point either. At the time I felt like a spectator, about as far away from what I thought seeing my child for the first time could possibly have been. I at the very, very, least expected the image of baby born, baby put into my arms straight away and I feel happiness and relief.
Instead I felt nothing and I cried silently on the table trying to get a glimpse of her and then I cried silently staring at the ceiling when they wheeled her away with my husband. Nobody spoke to me, including my husband who didn’t even realise my arms were tied down and was in total shock himself, noone wiped away my tears, noone acknowledged me. It was a very isolating experience. The absolute silence of it all, no touch, no joy, clinical.
Looking at this photo today just makes me very sad, I still feel a great loss at missing out on a very basic experience and I feel no happiness about this picture. I try not to look at this picture as I still have nightmares about being tied onto a table and I feel horrible guilt that my beautiful daughter’s first few hours of life were spent alone in an incubator with noone touching her.
The second picture I tell people is the birth one but its actually about three hours later after they wheeled me back to the ward and I have very little recollection of this happening, I’m so drugged up my eyes are barely open and I know my family was there but I don’t really remember what was said or their reactions, only I have photos of that time Id say it never happened.
This is Lorie.
This photo was taken minutes after Emerson’s birth. At the time I felt pretty numb & scripted in my emotions & reactions. I’d had a big argument with the Dr about what I wanted from the birth. When she was born I had such little fight left but I felt it my turn to speak so I yelled ‘it’s a girl, it’s a girl! Jesse it’s a girl!’ Apparently everyone in the theatre had a smile & a tear. I felt pretty spaced out but tried my hardest to remain mentally in the room.
I remember thinking, ‘ This is who we’ve been waiting to meet, this is the baby whose been growing & kicking me, this is my baby & I can kiss her & take her home’, and I did.
When I look at it now, I remember thinking that I was just taking it one step at a time. It was such a big process to bring her those few centimetres earthside.
I’d been meditating through, thinking, one minute, one moment, one breathe at a time and I will get through this.
I received her over the blind from the surgeon & just stared at her while keeping her as close as possible. She has hardly left my side since & turned one last week.
When I look at it now, I feel strength, I feel accomplishment & I feel grateful that she told me she needed to be born.
This is Felicity.
Just because I’m happy with my caesarean experience doesn’t mean I’m not sad that I didn’t have the natural birth that I’d been planning for. I was pregnant but didn’t go into labour. I don’t know that if I had tried to give birth naturally that I would have been able to withstand it. I have a medical condition that affects my physical endurance. Deep down I wanted to experience labour though. Maybe with an epidural, I could have. Who knows? I questioned myself many times, could I do it? In the end, I didn’t 100% trust that I could so I signed the form for the planned caesarean. This option allowed me some control over how my birth would go.
“There will always be many “what ifs” about Lainey’s birth but overall, I’m happy with how the day went. There will always be positives and negatives. I had my sister there for support and to take professional photos before and after the surgery, I didn’t watch her come out, photos were able to be taken on our iPhone, they did wait briefly before cutting her umbilical cord, obs were done before we met, she fed while in the operating theatre, we had skin to skin in recovery. I have more to be thankful for than others.”
Lainey is here safely. My wounds will heal in time. I made the right choice for me and my little girl.
This is Kate.
I had complete placenta previa with the placenta positioned anteriorly. This meant that the obstetrician was required to cut through the placenta to reach the baby. Having already had several significant bleeds throughout the pregnancy, I was deemed extremely high risk and despite my strong request not to be asleep for my baby’s birth, the hospital overruled the supportive anaesthetist and ordered I be given the general anaesthetic; a far cry for the completely natural, midwife only birth I had planned for. As I lay on the operating table attached to iv lines, arterial lines, a cell saver and several bags of blood hanging above my head, ready to be pumped into me, I thought about my children and the letters I had written them in the event that I didn’t make it through the surgery. I had a genuine and very real belief that I would not be waking up from this anaesthetic. This photo was the last one taken seconds before I was injected with the drug to put me to sleep. I looked at my midwife and begged her not to let them do this and remember screaming no, no, no, no, no…. as I succumbed to unconsciousness.
The image of my daughter is the first photo taken of her after birth. I hate that she’s lying on a sterile table and not in her mother’s arms where she should be. I know she was well taken care of by my midwife and my husband, but it seems so cold and unnatural.
When I look at these photos side by side, I feel nothing but grief, both for my lost birth experience and my baby’s first life experience. I see the terror we both felt in images taken only minutes apart. I grieve the moment in between these two images that I shall never know about; a moment that was supposed to be sacred and shared between my husband, my baby and me. I grieve for my baby girl, who was handled and poked and prodded by too many people before hours later, she finally met her mother; a mother too drugged up and hurting to be able to hold her properly. When I look at these images, I have more questions than answers as I wonder what her first sounds were like. Who did she see first? What was she thinking? Did she feel safe? I feel nothing but sadness that I completely missed the birth of this child from my body. I feel robbed and jealous that people with no emotional investment got to birth my baby for me and, although I have a ‘birth story’ to share with her when she grows, it doesn’t contain a birth it only contains the before and after; something I think I will always struggle with.
These women matter. Their feelings matter. Their stories matter.
Birth is more than a healthy baby.
If you have had a caesarean and would like support in your journey, or would like more information about the Caesarean Warrior Project, please join the Facebook group HERE.
Jen is currently offering Caesarean Warrior Project sessions Australia-wide, as a means of offering women a chance to tell their story, to be heard, and to heal.