It's a divisive parenting debate that flares up often: natural childbirth versus an elective caesarean. Now, after Western Australian obstetrician Mark Sillender recently spoke in favour of the planned c-section, it has been thrust back into the spotlight, with many in the medical fraternity – as well as members of the wider community – vehemently disagreeing with his views.
As someone who has experienced both these birthing styles, I want to share my story. Because for me, it was a caesarean, not natural childbirth, that was by far the safer option; without it I would never have had my second child.
To be clear, I went against a vaginal birth not because I was "too posh to push", nor was it for the convenience that came with selecting a date to fit in with my busy schedule. My caesarean was to help ensure my mental and emotional wellbeing after the traumatic birth of my firstborn – an event that was riddled with complications, an event I’m yet to recover from, even more than five years on.
Natural birth for me involved so much panic. Doctors and midwives suddenly swarming around me; my sister clawing at my ears as she tried to remove my jewellery when the chance of an emergency c-section loomed; medical staff shouting above my head. In catches of frenzied conversations I heard the phrases "baby in distress", "too far gone now" and "use forceps". And then there was my husband, forced to pin me down to the bed, the pull of the forceps dragging me forward as they tried to free my distressed baby from my womb.
Eventually my baby was safe, but scarred. And while his wounds would fade with time, mine weren't so fast to heal.
This was my first experience of natural childbirth, and I vowed it would be my last. I would never put myself in that situation again, even if it meant not having another child.
The ramifications ensured I wouldn’t forget this ordeal so soon either. Left sporting an excruciating third-degree tear requiring 'countless' stitches (yes, that was the official term used), I underwent rigorous pelvic rehabilitation just to enable me to sit, stand and even walk without feeling like a hot poker was stabbing me every time I moved.
What was worse, though, was the mental toll. I'd been a staunch advocate for natural birth prior to going into labour, and had even embarked on a Calm Birth course to give my body its best shot at birth. Afterwards, I was devastated that my body had let me down; it all left me struggling to bond with son and battling undiagnosed postnatal depression.
I underwent counselling and even saw a kinesiologist to try and get over my fears of natural birth. None of it worked. The only way I could even contemplate a second child was by being able to chose a caesarean. For me, it was the one avenue that would almost guarantee my safety – and my sanity.
Considering it took me over three years to come to this decision, it wasn’t something I entered into lightly. But when I weighed up another possible six-month physical recovery, as opposed to a six-week one, and the fragility of my mental state the first time around, I wasn’t prepared to chance lightning striking twice. Thankfully, nor was my public hospital doctor. He didn't grant requests for elective c-sections after a natural birth very often, but agreed the same happening again was too great a gamble to take.
Consequently, in stark contrast to the birth of my son, my daughter was brought into this world via a planned caesarean section. The environment was calm, I was lucid, and best of all, I felt elation instead of anxiety. I could relish every second of meeting my child for the first time, instead of trying to squeeze out the nightmare of what had happened in a birthing suite years before. I could focus on bonding and being present in the moment, instead of spending the first weeks of her life terrified that by peeing or passing a bowel motion my insides might fall out. And as this was to be my last child, achieving that was very important to me and my mental wellbeing.
So please don't judge me for choosing – and preferring – this childbirth option. An elective caesarean was what gave me the most positive start to parenthood, and what saved my mental health. Finally I felt in control; I felt safe.
Read more birth stories in the Essential Baby forum.