Yes, there was pain. Yes, there was the cold operating table, and yes, I think the doctors did have a conversation about something unrelated while I was being prepped for surgery. But my caesarean was beautiful. And what's more, it got me my son: my big, screaming, healthy, son.
And guess what else? Despite not pushing him out, I cried, and my heart skipped, and I felt the rush of love and pride when I saw him for the first time.
I strongly believe that I missed out on nothing. That having a caesarean is something I was lucky enough to experience. Different, maybe. But not any less than the birth I had pictured, and I would not change a second of it.
There does appear to be the idea, primarily amongst women, and possibly largely self-inflicted, that having a caesarean is somehow the 'easy way out'. That if a vaginal birth is a 'natural birth' then a caesarean is unnatural. That we need to prove to ourselves and the world that we are strong women and will be good mothers by delivering vaginally. I must have bought into that idea because when my doctor told me at 38 weeks that he strongly recommended a C-section on medical grounds, I felt myself choking on my own pride and disappointment when I went to say "okay. If that's what's best".
I knew it was best, and I understood the reasons. I knew that it was what we needed to do, and yet when we left the room, I cried because I felt like I was saying goodbye to a life experience that I'd always pictured, that I'd dreaded, but also romanticised and admired. My husband hugged me, and told me it was no less, that we were going to be parents and that's what mattered. But I felt cheated, and I felt selfish and guilty for feeling that way.
I went into labour a day before my scheduled caesarean. My husband rushed home from work and we went to hospital. Lying there waiting for my doctor in the labour ward, I could hear a woman in the final stages of labour the next room. She sounded just how I'd imagined labour to sound. The exhaustion and the pain in her voice, a doctor telling her she needed to push one last time, and then … the triumphant cheer when her baby entered the world. Her baby's first sounds. The nurses and doctor congratulating her, telling her she's done so well. I was so excited, but also painfully jealous. I would not get the chance to go through that for my child, or I suppose, to prove that I could.
I was in quite a lot of physical pain by this point too. My contractions were building, and I was wheeled through to theatre. I had my epidural placed, and the pain stopped. Then they placed my catheter, and I was wheeled into the OR. The room was busy, and although I was undeniably pretty terrified, the activity around me was reassuring. I also couldn't stop shaking with the epidural – apparently a normal response, which did quickly resolve.
The doctors and nurses talked to me, and the excitement started to kick in through the fog of nerves. Part of me just wanted everyone to leave me alone so I could process it all, but I can see now that keeping me talking, laughing and occupied was the best thing they could have done. My husband was with me the entire time, and I think a million unspoken fears and excited thoughts were expressed in long, teary (on my part at least) glances as we waited. I just wanted my baby delivered safely and could think of nothing but him.
The sheet was raised, and the incision was made. I felt pressure, some strange pulling and pushing sensations in my belly, and the sheet was dropped. I pushed the sheet as low as I could and craned my neck to see as much as my belly would allow. My husband squeezed my hand and I'm quite sure we both held our last breaths as parents-to-be…
And then there he was.
The doctor lifted him out and held him up: our little man, all covered in blood, his eyes squeezed shut. He took his first breath and started to cry. Nothing could have prepared me for the surge of love and ecstasy that swept over me at that moment. I had an uncontrollable urge to get to him and might have jumped right off the table had I been able to move my legs. I cried tears of pure joy as he was weighed and checked, and my husband trimmed the umbilical cord. And then he was handed to me and nothing else mattered. He was safe in my arms, and he was perfect.
He started to breastfeed in recovery. He made it look so easy. The epidural wore off fast, and there was certainly pain (particularly when the nurses had to press on my belly and incision to encourage my uterus to contact down), but nothing could have ruined those moments.
One of my other fears had been that I wouldn't be able to care for him because I'd be unable to get out of bed during recovery, as I thought I would be bed-bound for days. I wasn't – it was only one night (my baby was born at 3:30pm), and the only thing I couldn't do on the first night was change his nappy. I was lucky as my husband stayed the night, and was able to pass my son to me for feeds and cuddles. And the next morning a wonderful midwife came in, took out my urinary catheter and helped me shower, and I was suddenly human again.
I'm not going to lie: my incision site did hurt, as you would expect after a major surgery. But I was given analgesia and it was manageable. It didn't stop me from enjoying and bonding with my son.
I suppose my point is that it doesn't really matter which route your little one enters the world via, but having a negative birth experience is not determined in the moment the doctor says you need a caesarean. You can have a wonderful, warm, emotional caesarean, or I'm sure you can have a horrible and scary one – just as you could have a smooth, rewarding vaginal birth, or a traumatic, complicated one (particularly if perhaps it wasn't the safest choice for you).
At the end of it all, you become a mother when you fall in love with your child, when that baby is handed to you and you realise you'd never known love like it, and that suddenly there's nothing you wouldn't do for them. You'll have a million opportunities to demonstrate your strength as a mother and to show the depth of your love for your child – It does not have to be in the delivery room. Sometimes the bravest, most selfless thing you can do for your child when it comes to their delivery is to say "okay, if that's what's best".
You are not opting out of childbirth – you are actively making a choice based on medical advice. And it may just be the best day of your life.
This story was originally shared on the Essential Baby Facebook page, and has been republished here with permission.