When you’re pregnant again after a difficult first birth, everyone says “it’ll be easier this time”. I wasn’t looking for easier, just better: an experience where I didn’t fear me or my baby were dying; that I wouldn’t anxiously replay in my head years later and, preferably, didn’t involve a dozen worried-looking medical professionals in the delivery room. So, I decided to request an elective caesarean section for my second birth. My experience shows why this must be a choice available to all women.
Until a scan at 36 weeks, there was a chance I would need one on medical grounds anyway because of a low-lying placenta. I clung on to the hope that I’d be offered a section without argument. But the placenta moved. The sonographer smiled and said: “Yay! No caesarean!” But I still knew I wanted one because I wasn’t willing to take the risk of another traumatic birth.
After almost seven years, I can still vividly picture the face of the obstetrician who attempted to deliver my daughter with a ventouse. He had three goes at it, because that was hospital policy. Three times the suction cup went over his shoulder, the final time with so much force I was convinced my baby was on the end of it and had been flung against the wall. She was then urgently delivered by forceps at the end of an overnight labour, which involved numerous complications and was followed by a postpartum haemorrhage and blood transfusion.
Given that mums-to-be are led to believe that birthing your baby in a pool, without pain relief and using hypnobirthing techniques are the gold standard, I was utterly traumatised by an experience that felt completely out of my control. I spent the first few weeks of motherhood feeling like I’d been hit by a bus and left for dead at the side of a road. I would never take the risk of a repeat performance.
Over a series of meetings, I had to convince a registrar, consultant and consultant midwife that I really did want my second child to be born via the elective caesarean I had the right to be offered under official guidelines. There was never a flat-out refusal in my case, unlike in many others, but there was resistance. I was shocked to hear this week that one in six NHS trusts do not support maternal request caesarean, despite the guidelines being in place for several years.
I can hardly bear to think about what it must be like to be denied the procedure and treated as if you don’t know your own mind. The consultant midwife told me to view the first birth as a practice and aim to do it “right” second time. Sure, subsequent births can be healing in some cases. But what if it wasn’t in mine? I feared I’d be left with both physical and mental health problems that could take years to recover from.
With that mind, I repeatedly stated my case, answered endless questions and explained the trauma of the first birth in detail. My husband backed me up at these appointments. He was in the delivery room the first time round and had no desire to witness anything like it again. If I hadn’t had his support, I’m not sure I would have been mentally strong enough, while heavily pregnant, to keep pushing for what I wanted.
Eventually, the mood changed and at one last appointment, the consultant agreed. The conversation turned almost comical as we negotiated on dates. His first “offer” was that if I went to 42 weeks, I could have a C-section instead of being induced. I refused, knowing I’d probably go into labour before then. We settled on 38+6.
I am proud that I gave birth to my son in a calm and peaceful elective caesarean. There was a lovely moment when my husband had an overwhelming urge to stand up and look over the surgical screen. He saw our son still in the fluid sac! His first glimpse of our daughter was somewhat different – she was purple and being handed straight to a paediatrician for urgent checks. I spent one night in hospital after the caesarean and went home 36 hours post-birth - compared with 96 hours after my so-called “normal” delivery.
To me, that is why it is so important that women have the right to choose a caesarean, so as many of us as possible can walk out of hospital feeling happy with the life-changing experience we’ve just been through. Whether that’s labouring for hours in a birthing pool before breathing your baby out, or lying on an operating table having them cut from your body - women have the right to choose and that must be respected.