“Not While I Still Have A Pulse” – A Story Of CBAC

Unwanted CBAC wasn't as traumatic as my initial caesarean, but I still wanted more for my baby.

“Not While I Still Have A Pulse” – A Story Of CBAC

“Not while I still have a pulse”

That’s what I said when they told me I needed my second caesarean. Of course I have no recollection of actually saying that, but I know I did because I can’t deny that it’s something I would say.

At first when I read it in my medical records I was really angry. The fact they wrote it down with some mention of irrational distress, really highlighted how little they understood me.  Even in labour I’m quite articulate. The midwife who made the note thought I was hysterical, she couldn’t see why I would want to avoid surgery, after all, caesareans are easy, right?

My first caesarean was done so badly, it probably caused my second one. I’d felt them cutting my skin, through the layers of my body. I’d felt them stapling me back together, like your thumb feels a stapler ….. but in my flesh, and painfully. I’d begged for my baby and had been laughed at, and then I’d spent my time in recovery vomiting on myself, unable to move for pain.

Ten months afterwards the wound still popped open unpredictably, sometimes it oozed foul smelling stuff, and I cried if I had to sit up unaided in a hurry. It’s safe to say that they completely botched my first caesarean.

Families, partners, and even complete strangers, often flippantly tell women to “just book the caesarean and be done with it” as if major surgery is the easiest thing in the world. And make no mistake about it, caesareans ARE major surgery. Women who would prefer a VBAC to a repeat caesarean are often viewed as neurotic, unhinged, selfish, whingers, who have no foresight. Women who shouldn’t be trusted to care for an indoor fern, let alone a baby.

Interestingly no one has the same attitude to other major surgeries, and no one, other than a mother, is expected to care for other humans, after they undergo major surgery. If you have an ingrown toenail removed “Ohhhh, you should definitely take it easy!” if you have a baby removed you’re fine!? And here’s a small helpless human plus a couple of toddlers who need your constant attention.

The caesarean is so normalised that society has an almost negligible level of empathy or support for a new mother who underwent one, and even less for those who seek to avoid one where possible.

People honestly have so little faith in women that they seriously think we would give birth to a dead baby, rather than submit to surgery. To them, our desperation to avoid surgery is “all about the experience”. It’s rubbish quite frankly. Women go above and beyond to bring their babies into the world safely, and they deserve a little bit of credit for that! Wanting more than a pulse after birth seems pretty normal to me.

Birth is about more than having a pulse at the end of it.

It’s not about destroying women so they can prove themselves worthy of motherhood because of their martyrdom.

Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers–strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.

― Barbara Katz Rothman

I was destroyed by my first caesarean, and when I was staring down the barrel of the second, a CBAC transfer from planned HBAC, I didn’t leap for joy. But I did sign the consent forms. Some minutes later I had a panic attack so severe I had to be sedated on the operating table. I had never had a panic attack before then, I literally thought I was dying and no one was listening to me, and I would never meet my baby or say goodbye to my older daughter.

But strangely, after that, it was a totally different experience. The recovery was nothing like the first, neither physically nor emotionally. Furthermore I was at peace with it for quite a few months afterwards. I grieved for the birth I had wanted, but I did so without trauma clouding everything.

There is no other operation on the planet that people are expected to happily sign up for, no other operation where the feelings of the patient are so blatantly ignored by friends, family, and sometimes medical staff. I had a truly caring doctor doing my second caesarean, I was lucky.

Four years later when I welcomed a baby into my arms, in a pool at home, I finally knew just how much birth meant.  I left the pool with with a pulse. One quickened by awe, and love like I had never felt before. I felt like I could move mountains.

If a pulse is all that a woman can hope for after giving birth, why would we want to have children!? Birth is about welcoming babies with love, not about demanding martyrdom from women who would enter motherhood. Our view of caesareans must change, and the place to start is trust. We need to trust mothers, because no one cares more about babies than their very own mother. No one.


Mother and baby with pulse
There’s more to birth than simply having a pulse at the end of it
License: Creative Commons CC0.

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