Sometimes I feel like a warrior woman having battled two intensive labours and come through them triumphant, scars ‘n’ all. Persevering with breastfeeding which didn’t come easily either time, whilst barely being able to get out of bed due to the huge slice across my abdomen. And after my second was born, looking after a newborn and a toddler whilst also having to inject myself daily with blood thinners, take countless pills to ease the pain and wincing everytime my beautiful son came up for a cuddle. Get me, the well ‘ard mama!
But other times, I feel like an epic failure. How could I manage to not do something (twice) that mother nature has built us mighty women to do? Somehow experiencing that euphoric moment of pushing my baby out and being able to rightfully claim my mantle as ‘Mother’ has eluded me.
I feel like a selfish mother indeed telling this story. The result of each of my births, both by emergency C-section, has been a wonderful, healthy and vibrant child. And of course, that is the most important thing. But it doesn’t stop me feeling a huge sense of loss. And that’s where the conflict lies. I know that C-Sections can be life saving procedures and for some women they are the preferred and only choice. And I have no problem with that. I’m also no fool, I know that vaginal births are by no means a walk in the park. But that isn’t what this is about. Damnit, this is about me wanting to push both my babies out, and I didn’t. And I feel that I should be ok with how things went, but I’m not. So in sharing this, I ask you to try and hold judgment. Please keep an open mind and know that I realise life holds much harder trials for many people. But this is my particular cross to bear and I finally need to speak it.
After two caesareans and one failed VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) the thing I am most bereft about (however new age and frankly douchey you might think this sounds) is the sense that a part of my innate, womanly essence will never recover from this. I want to weep for my womb for being sliced open twice and the aches and tenderness it still feels for not quite being joined back the way it once was. I want to emphatically apologise to both of my children that their arrival into this world wasn’t a sacred, primordial dance between the two of us, each of our bodies working in tandem to achieve a single, unifying and miraculous goal. And I particularly want to say sorry to my daughter for not kicking birth in the ass (excuse the pun) and showing her the strength and power of a woman’s body. So that if and when, her time comes to be a mum, she will fully believe her body is built to do this.
Because to be honest, that’s what I think I’m grieving about the most. The belief I once held dear, that a woman’s body, my body is perfectly designed and able to birth a baby, is now irrevocably damaged. And I just don’t know how I can ever make peace with that.
I think of my grandmother who gave birth to no less than 13 children through the ‘proper’ exit. And I feel my head will explode trying to figure out how her body was able to achieve such a magnificent feat. How did you do that Grandmama?! In fact, when I hear of stories of any woman giving birth via their ‘foof’, I always feel this pang of I don’t know what – sadness/jealousy/frustration/incredulity – that I can’t know or identify with how that feels. Sometimes, it just feels plain weird that I have children, without having had my children, if you know what I mean. I feel like I’m part of an exclusive mum club that I sneaked into without the proper initiation ceremony.
My first C-section and the birth of my son took place due to a ‘failure to progress’ after a nearly four day back-to-back labour. My care was patchy and by the end of it, I was just plain exhausted. I don’t think I’ll ever know whether the procedure was entirely necessary. After that birth, I felt totally broken, physically, emotionally and mentally. How could things have ended this way? All the hypnobirthing preparation, books avidly read on active birth and time spent preparing for a peaceful homebirth weren’t enough to enable me to give birth vaginally. Of course, I was supremely grateful my baby was safe. But that didn’t help me get over the fact that my body had malfunctioned in some major way and I’d missed out on that empowering experience of becoming a mother. There’s something very active and powerful about the notion of pushing a baby out, but having a baby taken out of you from a man-made hole, well, that feels like the most passive and disempowering thing indeed.
The one thing that gave me a sense of hope that I could right this totally left field experience, was the thought that if I was lucky enough to have another baby, I was sure as hell gonna try for a VBAC.
My daughter (my second child) will be one in a little over a month. And I can’t help reflect on how this time last year, just a few weeks before my little lady was due, how hopeful I was feeling that maybe for this birth I’d be able to see through / finish off what I ‘d started last time. To bring things full circle. To finally get a sense of completion that I never had from my son’s birth. And even though the birth experience was so much more positive than the first time (getting to labour for several hours in the peace of my own home, using the birth pool and gas and air for pain relief and being totally surrounded by people I loved and trusted, including my amazing husband and a wonderful independent midwife); I couldn’t quite finish the deed without help. My little lady got in distress and the call was made to be transferred into hospital which culminated in another emergency C-Section. And so it was again, I still didn’t get to go the whole hog. And that inner lioness of mine didn’t get to roar.
Which led me to a place of limbo. How do you get over an unsuccessful VBAC? Especially when you know that that last attempt at birth was most likely your one and only shot of making things right? To redress the balance from being a passive vessel to a powerful birth mama? And to finally receive that holy rite of passage into motherhood that had been unceremoniously snatched from you the first time?
I’m 98% sure it won’t be third time lucky for me. Apart from the fact that I’m pretty sure our family is complete as it is, at 42 years old my body feels too weary to put it through another pregnancy and the likelihood of yet another C-section. And even though I know of many incredibly inspiring stories of women having VBACs after two, three and even four C-sections (I salute you warrior women!) I no longer have the fight left in me to battle a system that doesn’t wholeheartedly support VBACs. And of course, as I mentioned before, my self belief that I can actually birth a baby as nature intended has taken a pretty heavy beating.
And so the only thing that’s left to do is make peace with the births I had. Looking back, I’m definitely in a better place after my second birth than I was following my first. Heck, the fact that I can now say I have given birth is a major improvement. I certainly didn’t feel like I had after having my son, rather that birth had taken place and I’d been a passive bystander. In fact, I didn’t even believe I truly qualified to be a mother I felt so uninvolved. So possibly, experiencing a more positive C-Section birth for my second has helped me heal and move on from how I felt the first time round.
But maybe I will never truly make peace with the fact that I never got to birth vaginally. To me, making peace with it would mean I concede my body couldn’t, and wouldn’t ever be able to do it naturally. And that’s something I don’t think I can ever quite accept. But then I look into both of my children’s bright, wondrous eyes and I know that I would go through it all again, ten times over, to have them in my arms and be their mother, however our journey first began. And maybe there is some peace in that.