This is one in a series of guest posts by other bloggers. Read to the end for a longer biographical note on today's guest blogger, Melissa from White Noise and Mothers of Change. Melissa shares how she navigated through sadness at her cesarean through to healing and birth advocacy.
Guest post by Melissa from White Noise
I had my first baby when I was 24. It took me awhile to get used to being unexpectedly pregnant, and many of the pregnancy milestones or discomforts felt like unasked for, alien body invasions. By my third trimester I finally felt emotionally settled in to the fact that I was going to have a baby, and was mentally preparing for a natural birth. When I was 36 weeks pregnant, I felt my fairly active baby make one herculean, earthquake-like somersault and wedge himself into my uterus head up, bottom down: breech. My doctor referred me to an obstetrician, who tried to turn him with an external cephalic version two weeks later. My baby was bigger than average, and I am small and compact, so turning him was unsuccessful. A week later I checked into the hospital for a scheduled cesarean, because that is what the recommendation was for breech babies at that time. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada has since reversed that recommendation based on more extensive and up-to-date research, but we did what we thought was best at the time.
Now, I've always been a believer that nature is pretty smart. Handcrafted, homemade, baked, sewn or knit with love is pretty cool. My parents were hippies and my mom works in obstetrics and had her babies in the heat of the natural birth movement of the late seventies, so I always figured I would have natural births. I just didn't factor in the possibility of a cesarean. Surgical birth was something that happened to other women, ones with dangerous health situations or enormous babies~surely I wouldn't have a birth like that? I was planning on a drug-free natural birth with my husband there to help me out and lots of self-gratification for being strong and weathering pain like a champion.
Instead, I lay on a narrow operating table numb and cold, got my guts hauled out and my baby handed to me in a sort of awkward moment in which I felt no emotion whatsoever. I didn't feel bad, I just didn't feel anything at all until I had been in the recovery room for about half an hour. Like when you get a cut and don't really realize it until you look down and there's blood on your leg, and then it starts hurting a few minutes after your realize it really should.
My doctors were nice, the operating room nurse was very kind, the pediatrician was fine; nobody was mean to me or bullied me into a cesarean or anything: in fact, my obstetrician told me there was absolutely no reason I couldn't have a vaginal birth next time around. In my head I thought, damn straight. But I appreciate that she didn't try to instil fear in me, or question my body's ability to give birth naturally in the future. However, this birth was nowhere near what I had anticipated, hoped, or dreamed about for as long as I can remember, and it took some time to process that fact.
Cesarean birth happened to me. It was like this train that scooped me up at a railway crossing and just took me along for the ride. There are many ways to give birth vaginally; in hospital, at home, in a birthing center, unassiseted, husband-coached, epidural for pain relief or exhaustion, augmented, induced, by candlelight, in water, or with the help of acupuncture. There is pretty much only one way to have a cesarean, and as the birthing woman in the room I knew the least about the necessary process and had the least say in how things went down. There are ways to be empowered and make choices regarding cesarean delivery, but I didn't know about any of them and as such was swept away by the medical way of doing things and left feeling kind of like this:
|From Woman to Woman and the Unnecessarean|
Some women feel their cesareans were unnecessary and experience varying levels of emotional trauma from the experience. I don't feel that way. I feel that although breech vaginal birth is safe, I am not a good candidate for it because my babies are large and my pelvis is small. It took me three hours to push out my next biological son, five years later, and one hour to push out my daughter, two years after that. Breech babies can run into trouble during extended pushing stages because the head compresses the cord as it passes through the pelvis. Given the opportunity I would love to have at least tried, but I think that likely I would have wound up with a cesarean for fetal distress anyways. So I generally felt that my cesarean was a positive choice, and I didn't feel traumatized or emotionally scarred from it.
But I was very sad. The loss of that natural birth I planned for was very deep and real. And it started me off kind of limping, rather than euphoric and proud. As though I had signed up for a marathon, trained for it, started it, and then, not too far into the race, slipped and fell. The race had this miraculous prize: a baby! And everyone got a prize regardless of whether they ran across the finish line or were wheeled there by an obstetrician. But still, I had really hoped and trained for running the actual marathon…
|One-day-old peanut; all I can think of when I look at this photo is 'cover that poor baby UP!' Newbies. Sheesh.|
Every birth is beautiful, and miraculous, and every birth day is cause for celebration, no matter how that baby made its entrance earthside. And humans are remarkably adaptable creatures, so we can thrive and love and grow under a great variety of circumstances, natural or otherwise. I think sometimes this fact can get lost in discussions surrounding cesarean birth. Babies and birth are to be celebrated! I love my son and I'm so glad he is here! I am grateful that my obstetrician was skilled and helped me to give birth well and heal wholly. I'm grateful we are both healthy.
It is also important to acknowledge that when we circumnavigate nature, there will be inherent some measure of loss. Emotional loss like I experienced, in grieving the natural birth I did not have a chance to have that first time around. Loss of immunological optimization for my son, since the biochemical process of labour gives babies an immunological boost, and prepares their lungs for the outside world. Physical loss, since I was at greater risk for severe bleeding or hysterectomy during surgical birth. Loss of dignity and bodily autonomy. And loss of expectation of health for future pregnancies and births, since subsequent pregnancies and VBAC pose more risk for me and future babies than if I had never had a surgical birth.
Skipping the marathon may have started me off limping, but I adapted. Successfully breastfeeding my son helped me find my stride and made me feel strong and powerful, much as I imagined giving birth might. It was the first thing I did, as opposed to had happen. And five years later I had my chance to try again. Eight hours of labour, three hours of pushing, and out slid my 10 lb, 2 oz, VBAC baby, into my midwife's waiting hands. That experience was so positive and amazing that I immediately wanted to do it again, and two years later I did. Six hours of labour, one hour of pushing, and I gave birth to my little girl. It was beautiful. Her birth was so peaceful and calm and full of joy.
|My second VBAC, March 1st, 2011|
I gave birth three times, and all three times I welcomed the same beautiful prize into my arms. I'm so grateful. My cesarean gave me a profound, experiential empathy for all women who give birth this way, and our joy and our loss mixed together. It also made me a passionate advocate of VBAC, changes in maternity care, and access for all women to empowering choices in all modes of birth. Empowering choices may be natural, and they may not be. We all deserve to have the best, healthiest birth possible. Marathon or not.
Melissa Vose is an artist, writer, women's advocate, doula, and kid-wrangler. She lives in Western Canada with her wonderful husband and their four noisy, crazy kids. She blogs at White Noise, and is the Editor of Mothers of Change, a birth advocacy organization working to improve maternity care services in Canada. She is passionate about breastfeeding, attachment parenting, ecological living, advocacy work, art, social justice, traveling, and raising awareness regarding mental illness. She and her husband adopted their second son in late 2005.