As caesarean awareness month draws to a close I have just started reflecting on what, exactly, it has given me this year.
I’ll be honest. I had high expectations for caesarean awareness month. We live in a culture where caesareans are seen as routine and safe and as a lesser deal than having your wisdom teeth taken out. We are in the midst of a caesarean epidemic with rates in most hospitals at least double those recommended by the World Health Organisation. The majority of caesareans are not being performed for actual health reasons, women are being pressured into them by care providers or unsupportive partners and our vbac rate is a joke.
Respect. I wasn't feeling it this caesarean awareness month. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Personally I think that all of this should make for some very robust conversation over the course of caesarean awareness month.
And I’m sure that there were some articles getting shared that covered off these topics.
I didn’t see them.
All I saw were memes and articles telling me that I am brave and strong. Telling me that I “should” feel brave. That I should never feel like I didn’t give birth. That you can’t fail at birth and that there’s no such thing as a “failed vbac”. That I should feel strong because I laid down my life for my baby. It almost feels like a lot of the posts are saying "Oh. You tried your best. Here's your participation ribbon – a label of bravery". I find them condescending and crap.
Caesareans can absolutely be life-saving and I am thankful that they are available. But the majority are not performed because a mother or baby's life is truly in danger. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
And here’s the kicker…
I did not have caesareans because I was bravely laying down my life for my baby. I did not have caesareans to save my babies lives. And both of my births involved many failures – some were mine and some were not. Here’s a comment that I posted against an article about how you can’t fail.
“I had caesareans because I failed to choose the best care providers for me.
I had caesareans because I failed to fight for the birth my babies deserved.
I had caesareans because I failed to understand the impact that birth locations would have.
I had caesareans because I failed to keep my baby safe from the care providers who felt that policy was more important than my babies births.
I had caesareans because my care providers failed to provide the care that my baby and I needed to be happy, healthy and whole.
I had caesareans because society fails to see the importance of birth and conditions women to believe that it doesn't matter.
I had caesareans because my partner failed to support me to birth at home. And because he failed to prevent an OB from bullying me - even after he admitted to me that he was not okay with me being bullied.
I read stories everyday of women who have caesareans because it's convenient for their OB. Or because their partner is uncomfortable with VBAC. Or because their hospital decided that they should for no health reasons.
Women don't fail at birth. But that doesn't mean that birth in this country isn't shrouded in failure.”
And I am not alone.
Image courtesy of MorgueFile.
I also didn't lay down my life for my baby. My cesarean was not necessary and was one that was done for convenience for the care providers – Ellie, Qld
There were lots of failures around my caesareans, some of them were mine and I own them. - Erin, NSW
I had two completely unnecessary c sections. I don't feel brave, I feel stupid. - Erin, Vic.
And a comment that I feel had the potential to be THE FOCUS of the month.
I feel that the bigger issue here is the issue of the lie of obstetrics making us believe that our body is faulty rather than the system... - Caitlin from Qld
When we are told that the reason for our caesarean is because we “failed to progress” or that we have an “inadequate pelvis”; When care providers keep telling us (and we keep telling each other) that "some women just can't birth vaginally no matter how hard they try" how can we NOT believe that we failed? The obstetric patriarchy seems very keen to continue to perpetuate the myth that women do, in fact, fail at birth.
In the end how you feel about your birth is completely unique. I saw many women who really resonated with these memes and articles about bravery and women who found them comforting and useful. That’s awesome. But it’s not the whole story.
Your feelings about your birth are valid. Regardless of what birth experience you had. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
It’s okay to feel like you failed. But equally important to remember that just because you failed to achieve your goal or failed to make the choices that would move you to your goal – You are not a failure.
My own failures have served a wonderful purpose. They have motivated me to learn more and to make different choices. I can acknowledge my failings without feeling like I am a failure.
I own my failures – but I don’t become them.
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I share your frustration about the way that the facts are ignored: the facts about the emotional, psychological and physical impacts on both mother and baby of disrespectfully managed birth. I applaud you for your honesty and for turning painful memories and the experience of failure into opportunities to grow and learn and to be helpful to others.
I would also add that giving birth is not about bravery or how you get the baby out. It's about getting the baby out. So you got the baby out, then you had a successful birth. I didn't have cesareans so I may be missing an emotional issue but sure the wonderful baby is the only reason any of us give birth? That's the prize, not how it got out.
For me it was never about the mode of birth but about the assaults and bullying which took place. To be honest the actual surgery was pretty easy compared to everything else that happened. And yes - the baby is what I wanted, but I didn't need to be bullied in order to get the baby out safely. In fact there is a lot of evidence that most practices in hospital births are not actually based on evidence that it is best for mothers or babies, but rather because it's easier for hospitals.
There are many hormonal responses that take place during a physiological labour which can have significant impacts on the health of both the mother and the baby - including the mental health of the mother.
And healthy babies deserve healthy mothers - I cried through flashbacks every night for 6 months after my first baby was born. I still have occasional flashbacks even though my second child is nearly 3. These issues affected how I saw myself as a mother and how I mothered both my children.
I would argue the other way - you can't fail at birth because it's not about you. It's not your birth. It's the baby's birth. If you died as a baby then I guess maybe you could see that as a fail, but as you are writing this, you didn't fail at birth.