April is International Caesarean Section Awareness Month – so Alice O’Connell is talking all about her own c-section, as well as insane preconceptions of the whole thing and why misogynistic headlines from the 90s have created so much unnecessary stigma.
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I read an article yesterday about how Brooklyn Beckham and his wife are hoping to have a baby soon (apparently rumours have been swirling since early this year when she posted a pic of herself in character as a pregnant woman in a project she’s working on, and it wasn’t immediately obvious that she was just in costume). The story I read said they really are keen to get cracking at it soon, as although they’re young (he’s 24, she’s 28), their dream number of kids is apparently five.
This came as quite a shock.
Not just because five is a lot of babies, but – at the risk of sounding really old here – I remember when Brooklyn was born.
And the reason I can remember it so clearly, is because of the headlines that accompanied his birth:
‘Too Posh to Push’
See, apparently his mum, Posh Spice, was, at the time, part of a growing trend of affluent women choosing to have planned Caesarean Sections.
I was a teenager at the time and knew next-to-nothing about pregnancy, childbirth or bringing up babies, but apparently, I soaked up these bits of information and stored them away somewhere deep in my brain for future reference.
I catalogued them in there as c-sections being seen as the easy way out, and as some sort of shortcut, like picking up a favourable Community Chest card in a game of Monopoly and getting to head straight past Go, instantly picking up $200.
I know this, because when my obstetrician told me that we needed an emergency c-section and would be having our baby as soon as an operating room was available, this information popped off of the shelves in the deep recesses of my brain and screamed at me for a wee while, that this wasn’t supposed to be what happened.
I immediately felt a bit deflated that I wasn’t going to give birth “properly” and was missing out on something, or somehow cheating a test. Thankfully it only lasted a few minutes, until the reality kicked in that this was my only option (that was being made for me anyway, for the safety of my son) and I was still about to give birth, but it stung.
And I can’t just blame in on that one old headline – there’s plenty of that rhetoric still flying around. Unfortunately I made the mistake of googling ‘Too Posh to Push’ before writing this story and, wowsers, some of the stuff written about c-sections is diabolical and downright misogynistic.
Among the articles that came up when I searched, many were super recent, giving lists of fellow celebrities who “didn’t feel like chewing on ice chips and sweating it out in the delivery room”. One reported how Kate Hudson once said that getting a planned c-section was “the laziest thing I’ve ever done’. Another Kate, my favourite Kate, Winslet, lied for years about the birth of her first child, Mia, finally announcing:
“I’ve never talked about this. I’ve actually gone to great pains to cover it up. But Mia was an emergency C-section. I just said that I had a natural birth because I was so completely traumatized by the fact that I hadn’t given birth. I felt like a complete failure. My whole life, I’d been told I had great childbearing hips. There’s this thing amongst women in the world that if you can handle childbirth, you can handle anything. I had never handled childbirth, and I felt like, in some way that I couldn’t join that ‘powerful women’s club.’”
The article went on to say FORTUNATELY she got to join that club when she had a VBAC (that’s a vaginal birth after c-section) years later with her son, Bear.
Kate didn’t need to have a vaginal birth to join the powerful women’s club. She was already bloody in it. She had already given birth to a child. She was already a mother and she was already in the powerful women’s club before any of that happened!
Again, speaking as someone who has undergone an c-section, I feel like calling every one of those newspaper editors and people who are still adding to the conversation now (maybe even my favourite Kate – whose title is currently on thin ice!) and asking them just what the heck is wrong with them.
I can tell you that a c-section is no walk in the park. It is a major operation, where they cut through SEVEN layers of tissue, WHILE YOU ARE AWAKE. It’s one of the only operations you’re awake for, and likely the only one where your partner or birthing pal is sitting next to you while blood splashes by their feet.
I’d been in labour for 36 hours before I had my c-section. We’d gone in to hospital at the 34 hour mark, when my obstetrician thought it was wise to check how we were looking – my contractions had been jumping all over the show, getting down to being regularly 6-7 minutes apart, then jumping down to 3 mins, then up to 11, then repeating the cycle all over again. When she got out the ultrasound, she discovered that he had moved to being transverse – that means he was lying horizontally across my stomach, with no way out. She explained that they couldn’t flip him at this stage and the imminent danger was that if I dilated any further there was a risk that the umbilical cord could start coming out – cutting off his blood supply in the process.
And so, we were all prepped for the OR and I said goodbye briefly to my partner while they got me onto the gurney and got the anaesthetic going. But while I was sitting here, trying to stay perfectly still while I was having a contraction as they placed the needle in my back, I certainly wasn’t thinking about how this was an easy way out.
As I lay there, making small talk with the anaesthetist and my partner comforted me, while they scrambled to administer more anaesthetic, I was feeling surprisingly calm, but wasn’t thinking about what a walk in the park it was.
I felt every single bit of my c-section (apparently this isn’t all that uncommon) – don’t get me wrong, I didn’t feel any sharp pain, but I felt every cut, every movement, every tug and pull. The incisions felt more like someone was just drawing on my stomach with a pen, rather than a knife going through it – but it wasn’t pleasant. And with every I tug and pull I felt my lungs tighten and my baby trying to avoid the hands of the OB. It was pretty darn intense.
At some point I remember looking at the ceiling and seeing there was a bit of blood on the halogen lights. While I was wondering if it was mine, I also realised that in the reflection of the lights, I could vaguely see what was happening behind the sheet draped in front of me. I decided not to look up again.
I’d also remembered a friend telling me to talk to my partner in advance just in case I needed a c-section – her advice was to get him to touch my face as much as possible, because the feeling of being completely numb is really scary. When we were going in I said to my partner to do so – but I certainly didn’t need it, I wasn’t one of the folks who feels entirely numb, and the associated scariness of that option!
And then, there is the aftercare of a c-section. You can’t bend properly for quite some time. You have to hold your belly where the incision is (and grit your teeth) every time you sneeze, cough or go to the bathroom. Your partner likely only gets two weeks off to spend with you both, but its SIX until you can drive and venture out yourself.
But, this is apparently the “easy way out”?
The stigma around c-sections is quite frankly insane, and needs to be changed. Stat.
Thankfully, I had a few friends who’d had them before and text me amazing messages after the birth, and before it, letting me know that if I ended up in the OR it would still be an amazing birth and I would still be a supermom at the end of it. And, the pelvic floor specialist physio I’d seen during pregnancy told me often that she hoped I’d have one and that although it may be difficult for a while, in her opinion it would probably be my best option and she’d be delighted to get a text saying I’d had one and had a healthy little boy.
See, although my little man was just wee, his head was in the 99th percentile. We found this fact out at a late ultrasound when the technician said, with a bit of terror in her voice, “Um, were you planning on having a vaginal birth?”
Thankfully, their voices were also in my head – besides those headlines – when the obstetrician delivered the news I’d be heading to surgery. After the dejection, came some relief.
And I needed all those well wishes and honest supporters, because my self-esteem and resolve did get tested a few times.
I remember meeting my post-natal midwife for the first time the day after we arrived home from hospital and her asking me about my birth. I straight away said it had been via a c-section.
Without looking up from the papers in front of her – a face-mask covering most of her face (we had a baby during the depths of Covid!) – she asked, “Elective?”
She barely hid the judgement in her voice. And for some ridiculous reason (maybe all those articles?) I over-explained why we had to have it, to likely save both of our lives.
I shouldn’t have explained myself like that, or felt any need to.
Because whether you had to have an emergency c-section or you had a planned one due to the baby being breech, or any host of reasons – or you simply elected to have one, shouldn’t make a darned difference. Going through a c-section is no better or worse, or braver or lazier than having a vaginal birth. It’s an incredible, life-changing experience to go through – and, at the end of it, you get handed a tiny little babe, who is your’s forever.
This month it’s c-section awareness month and I wanted to share my experience in the hopes that other women will share their stories and be proud of their little (or not so little!) scars.
Of all births in NZ, an estimated 25% are delivered via Caesarean (with around 10% being planned). That’s a huge number of super mums out there, who have tested their resilience and bravery (and a lot of birth partners who have tested the strength of their stomachs).
This month I celebrate all of you.
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