I have had three pregnancies and now have three children, but I feel, in some way, that I have never given birth. During my first pregnancy, some seven years ago, I formed the opinion that a caesarean section was a dreadful thing to be avoided at all costs. I was confident, however that I would sail through labour despite my small size; I lost count of the number of times I told a member of the medical profession that I had size three feet, because all my relatives had given birth very quickly. I harboured a false illusion.
On the night of December 8th 1991 I began contractions. Not being able to sleep, I went to the toilet to discover blood. Convinced that I was losing the baby, rather than having it, I consulted my baby book to realise this must be "the show". When I told the Midwife that I was having contractions lasting one minute every two minutes she urged a speedy visit to the hospital. I fully expected to see my baby by the morning.
Twenty six hours later with my waters artificially broken, a syntocinon drip compounding my mountainous contractions and tied to an epidural that only partially worked, my cervix had reached a staggering two centimetres dilated. I was told that it was so bruised and swollen that in fact it was closing rather than getting any larger. A registrar tried to convince me that he could stretch it to a larger diameter. He also asked me why I was crying! We bartered over how many hours longer I was prepared to go: he started at nine hours and I got him down to three, but when the epidural finally gave up I gave up and screamed, "Get it out!" I can still hear the midwife's shoes running down the corridor to get the registrar.
The operation itself went well and I was overjoyed to hold by baby daughter. I again felt assured that, despite a less than idyllic beginning, all would now be well. I wish that somebody had told me the effects an emergency caesarean can have on mother and baby. My daughter, cried for the first five months of her life. She was nicknamed "the screamer" before I had even left hospital. Her head had been bashing against my pelvis for twenty six hours, no one suggested that she might have a head ache. My milk took forever to come in and I felt a failure. Before her birth I had wanted to breastfeed but had not felt that passionate about it, now I deeply resented the "give yourself a rest" bottles the midwives were giving me. I have since learnt that it can take five or more days for your milk to come in after such an operation.
Despite all of this when I next got pregnant I faced an unexpected battle. My baby was big; my midwife sent me for an early emergency scan because she thought he was twins. By thirty six weeks I was sure that I could not deliver him naturally. I could not even drive my car because my feet would not touch the pedals with my bump pushing against the steering wheel. I did not want another protracted labour followed by an emergency caesarean.
My consultant had other ideas. He refused to use any technology, remaining convinced that judging the size of babies was like, "Guessing the weight of a cake, it comes with experience". He wanted a "trial of scar". This sounded horrific and I refused. Eventually, he agreed and I had my son by elective caesarean. I now know that the scar very rarely ruptures and that they set an artificial time limit on labour, but at the time I did not want any labour and certainly not one that might burst me open! The birth was relaxed, he was a super baby and I was glad that he was born that way.
When I was pregnant with my third child I realised that things were different again. She was smaller and no one had ever fully explained why I had to have the first operation. I now had two lively children with hectic social lives. I did not fancy six weeks without driving close to Christmas, not to mention recovering from abdominal surgery and looking after them at the same time if it was not entirely necessary. I went to my thirty six week check at the hospital armed with questions. This time I had read every book I could find on sections and felt much more confident in my opinions. I was not on a crusade and I am still not, the caesarean I had with my daughter probably saved her life, but I wanted some answers which nobody seemed prepared to give. Eventually, the consultant came to see me and talked through everything. She did not try to blind me with "medic-speak" and neither did she patronise me. Between us we decided that another section was the safest and most sensible option.
When I went into theatre on November 11th 1998 it was with some concern when the surgeon greeted me with such familiarity: it had been with him that I had debated over the method of delivery. However, the fact that he knew how badly I wanted a "natural" birth had a positive rather than a negative outcome. He did all in his power to make my second daughter's birth a pleasurable experience: he allowed me to watch her being born: he held her up as he took her out and the screen was lowered; he insisted that I see her gender before any one else; someone took photographs of her birth and I was allowed to hold her as soon as the chord had been cut and she could physically be passed to me. I held her throughout the stitching up.
I still had all the related problems associated with not being able to drive and I still disagree with people that say Caesarean is the easy option, but I felt far more in control of my third birth than I did with the other two. In seven years I had learnt that a caesarean section is not to be feared providing you are aware of the associated physical and emotional aspects for both mother and child.