A recent study has shown that babies born by caesarean are more likely to suffer from a number of chronic illnesses. Despite there being a good number of studies that have previously shown the same thing, this one is being touted as bigger and better. The sad truth is that any study which shows caesareans to have risks for babies can trigger feelings of terrible guilt and sadness for some women, and whilst that’s unfortunate, the information still needs to be available.
Birth can be quite a hot button topic. There are a myriad of ways for women in wealthy countries to give birth, and regrettably there isn’t one single way that is risk free. Each woman must simply muddle her way through it all, balancing her perceptions of the risks as she goes, and hoping the choices she makes will be the best on the day.
All mothers – and I’m confident in that generalisation – want what is best for their babies, and sometimes what is best, is that the baby is born via caesarean.
Very few women ask their care provider to perform a caesarean on them, contrary to what we are frequently told. Those that do, do so from a place of fear that needs to be honoured. Despite the persistent myth that selfish mothers are “too posh to push”, what is most common, is that care providers recommend surgical birth. Sometimes for critical medical reasons, but sometimes for dubious reasons, that make women fearful and in a sense, they manufacture consent by doing so.
When women consent to major surgery, no matter what circumstances her consent is given, they always do so because they believe that one way or another, it is in the best interests of their baby. Undergoing major surgery, with all the inherent risks, the pain of recovery, and the fearful anticipation in the time before, is a powerful display of selflessness.
On social media where the articles detailing this newest study have featured, there have been countless women commenting with things like:
“I’m sick of this shaming of caesarean mums”
“I refuse to feel guilty for having my babies by caesarean, they wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t”
“Oh great, something else for me to feel bad about”
And my heart goes out to these women. If you can honestly say, that when you consented to surgical birth you did so believing to the best of your ability, in that moment, that it was the best option then you should feel PROUD, not guilty. Undergoing surgery is a brave thing to do. Perhaps if caesareans hadn’t been so normalised in our culture, if their far reaching impact hadn’t been so minimalised, women would feel less triggered by articles discussing the risks of caesareans in place of vaginal birth.
We, as a society, like to tell ourselves that birth doesn’t matter. It’s just one day out of a lifetime. The most important thing is a healthy baby. So, if this is true, and birth really doesn’t matter, why do women feel so upset at the suggestion that their babies might be at a higher risk after being born via caesarean?
The fact that so many women are triggered by the latest research about potential risks highlights very succinctly, just how very important birth is to women. It’s not because they have rose coloured glasses on, it’s not because they crave some “birthing goddess” experience, it’s because they want what’s best for their babies. They want nothing more than to be good mothers. They want their babies to get the very best start in life, and for some mothers, in order to give that to their babies, they themselves go under the knife.
There are far too many people lining up to criticise women for how they give birth. No matter how we do it, someone will tell us we did it wrongly, however sharing information about the health of babies born by caesarean isn’t designed to make women who have already given birth feel bad, it’s designed to help other women avoid the pain. The pain of surgery, and the emotional pain of birth grief and guilt that many women experience.
Perhaps this sort of information should be shared with a trigger warning from now on though. This allows some women to scroll on by, and others to click the link and learn.
It’s really important for women to be able to access information that can help them make decisions about birth. If you are likely to be triggered by an article discussing the risks of caesareans, you should avoid reading it. This sort of information can really help women make decisions and it needs to be available. Remember that you are under no obligation to read things that make you question the decisions you faced in the past. However your stories of regret and sadness after surgery are important. If you experience birth grief, trauma, or regret relating to a caesarean, reach out to a support group, tell your stories to help other women who might be facing the same decisions, but don’t feel bad. It takes great courage and love to go through major surgery for birth, no matter why you you do it.