There’s no such thing as a ‘natural birth’ so why are women still shamed for having caesareans?

There’s no such thing as a ‘natural birth’ so why are women still shamed for having caesareans?

I kept asking to see and hold my baby, but the midwife refused, saying I shouldn’t as I couldn’t sit up yet. But eventually, she allowed it, and I held him – this very large baby boy. Though the midwives had told me he would probably be small, because I was, he was 9lb 5oz. I gazed into his eyes, and I could finally breathe again, knowing he was really ok, really here. After that, we were inseparable. I was so terrified about losing him, after that near-death experience, that I would spend the next years of our lives with chronic anxiety and PTSD. Every day of our life together, I have been grateful he is here.

When people learned that he had been born by caesarean, they assumed this meant the birth had been ‘easy’, or ‘not really giving birth’; my experience was dismissed and the trauma of it diminished.

It was seen as the easy option; that I had been somehow weak in having surgery. But the caesarean was a matter of life and death, following 23 hours of severe, shattering agony; there was nothing ‘easy’ about it.

And even if I had had an elective caesarean, without the hours of painful labour beforehand, why should that have led people to believe it was somehow lesser, for being less immediately painful? Why was this still the norm – to assume that a better birth meant more suffering, less surgery, or less pain relief? Why were women everywhere being limited and let down by misogynistic notions that women should suffer, even if they didn’t need to, to be a ‘real’ woman?

The cult of the ‘natural’ birth harms women and children. It insists upon an overly romanticised conception of pregnancy, birth and motherhood in which women must suffer through these stages as if medical developments never happened, and where ‘empowerment’ somehow requires submission and agony.

‘Resisting’ pain relief and bowing down to suffering and damage is a show of strength, something to brag about, and something to make other women feel bad. But women have different births and different pain thresholds, different sized and positioned babies and different bodies. Women have different needs and experiences. To hold everyone to some arbitrary and archaic conception of motherhood-as-martyrdom is not only misguided but dangerous.

Many so-called ‘natural’ births or ‘failed labours’ – where an elective caesarean earlier on would have vastly improved the experience of the mother and baby – give rise to PTSD and post-natal depression in the mother, as well as developmental problems due to starvation of oxygen (among other health issues) for babies forced to endure ‘natural’ labour. And, as we’ve seen in the recent Shrewsbury and Telford maternity care scandals, in the worst cases these situations can also lead to the avoidable death of babies and their mothers.

The emphasis should be, and should always have been, on having a safe birth, regardless of whether that entails a caesarean, an epidural, or not. All that matters is the health and wellbeing of the mother and child, and if pressuring a ‘natural’ birth puts that in jeopardy, then it’s time to abolish that terminology once and for all, and the misguided bias and medical misogyny it represents.

Medical interventions save lives and reduce suffering, and there should be no shame in choosing or requiring them, and no pressure to avoid them. A caesarean saved my son’s life, and though I wish it had happened earlier, and in less stressful circumstances, I am eternally grateful he was born healthy and alive as a result.

We were the lucky ones. Tragically, for many babies and their parents, who have instead been let down so cruelly, the pressure to have a ‘natural’ birth led to avoidable suffering and death — and an endless void of ‘what if’s. What if they had been allowed, or advised to have a caesarean? What if they had been listened to? What if they had lived?

I hope we can learn from these heartbreaking stories and stop pressuring women during such a vulnerable and precarious time – and instead focus on bringing babies safely into the world, and caring for their mothers, in whatever way is necessary and ethical.

It’s time to leave the cult of ‘natural’ birth behind and to build a world in which we support and care for one another, prioritising life and health above all else. We don’t want a ‘state of nature’ when it comes to having children; we want them, and us, to live and to thrive.

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