I feel like I should kick off with some sort of disclaimer about how you don’t have to have a cesarean after experiencing a stillbirth. You may not want a cesarean – indeed, I personally know someone who delivered her second baby naturally following the stillbirth of her first baby, so I’m totally on board that it can be an excellent choice for many…
I knew I wanted an elective cesarean long before I even fell pregnant again. After losing my son Louis, I was naturally terrified at the prospect of losing another baby and knew I couldn’t endure another labour and delivery. It was simply all too much for me.
Louis was stillborn at 41 weeks and I knew for the duration of my labour that he was already dead. As far a physical delivery goes, I can say that my body coped well. Louis was nearly 11lbs, no one was prepared for him to be so big and even the midwives were surprised I delivered him unscathed without stitches.
The truth though, was that I was far, far from unscathed. Louis died in 2002 – and the memory of his delivery is so horrific that it still haunts me, nearly 14 years later. Life is so busy these days, I can barely remember what I did last week; yet I can recall almost every horrendous moment of his labour and delivery. I wish I could forget.
One midwife commented that she believed the reason I had managed to deliver such a big baby (without tearing etc) was because I had point blank refused to push. During the traditional period of labour, I officially Lost. My. Shit. There’s really no other way to put it. Up until that point I think I was coping reasonably well but the thought of delivering his body, making it real, totally pushed me over the edge. Childbirth is always painful (obviously) but delivering a stillborn child is something different altogether.
Long before falling pregnant again (five years after losing my son), I spoke with a Doctor who said I probably had a form of PTSD – apparently this isn’t uncommon in women who experience stillbirth. The Doctor confirmed that I would probably be able to choose to have a cesarean. I later discovered that getting an elective cesarean in the UK is far from easy.
Pregnant with my second baby, I tried to engage my midwife in conversations about my desire to have an elective cesarean (I actually made her write it in my notes at my 6 week booking in appointment – possibly a little early!!). My midwife wasn’t keen at all and shut down most conversations by telling me talk to the consultant. Given my history, I was given extra scans and appointments at the hospital to keep an eye on the pregnancy, at each and every appointment I reiterated my desire to have an elective cesarean. At times I was told it would be very unlikely, most didn’t even want to discuss it at all; I was made to feel unreasonable and over emotional (which, to be fair, I was). To say I became increasingly stressed out would be an understatement (I’m lucky to have a very calm and patient husband!).
By 34 weeks pregnant I was starting to lose hope, I even attended a class on the labour ward in case I had to delivery naturally – being on the maternity ward only confirmed all of my anxieties. Attending one of my last consultant appointments I went in totally stressed out. A young male consultant listened patiently while I rambled on about losing my son and all the terrifying memories of his delivery. No doubt I was probably waving my hands around and trying not to cry by this point. After I finished ranting he simply took out a large desk diary, opened it and said ‘let’s pick a date for your cesarean’, he also said that he totally understood and would feel the same if it was him.
After an entire pregnancy spent trying to convince other people (who to the best of my knowledge had never experienced a stillbirth themselves) his words were a weight off my shoulders; not only was I able to have the delivery I wanted but I also, finally, didn’t feel unreasonable in my decision – if I hadn’t been so huge by that point I probably would have jumped over the desk to kiss him!
So I got my cesarean, my daughter Amelia was born in 2007 and like every parent ever said…it was amazing; she was the most perfect baby (now the most lovely eight-year old). They handed her to my husband and seeing her in his arms healed so much of the pain I had carried with me since my son’s death. I didn’t get to have immediate skin-to-skin and I couldn’t have cared less (I got it later…and years of cuddles ever since). I didn’t get to breastfeed in the end and it was all fine, my daughter is completely healthy. I was in pain for days/weeks, I have a weird pouchy bit on my stomach that will never go and my insides are apparently riddled with scar tissue but quite frankly, I don’t give a monkeys!
I would do it the same all over again – in fact I did, three years ago when I had our youngest daughter, Poppy.
Here are some points to consider when deciding if an elective cesarean is right for you:
- It is major surgery, and I do mean major. I didn’t give this nearly enough thought (so fixated on getting the delivery I wanted). Being awake for an operation, having the spinal administered and being unable to move are points not to be taken lightly. I was so scared during the pre-op prep that it took two nursery to hold my hand steady to get the cannula in!
- It hurts! There is so much crap around (written by utter idiots) about cesareans somehow being an ‘easier birth’ – cesareans are so painful, the pain lingers for days/weeks. Trying to get off the bed for the first time after my daughter’s birth remains the single most painful moment of my life. I won’t sugar coat it.
- Your Doctors would like to spare you major surgery. If they try to talk you into attempting a natural delivery, they’re not trying to be mean or dismissive (I understand this now), for the reasons mentioned above, cesareans are dangerous, as is all surgery – you sign a form acknowledging you might die! Doctors just want to keep you safe but only you can decide if the risks are worth it.
- If you are sure you want a cesarean, if you feel it is the only way you can safely deliver your baby after stillbirth, then be firm. Accept you’re probably going to feel emotional about it (because you’re pregnant and you’ve already lost a child) but be firm.
- Get back up. My husband was my greatest champion. We met after my son died so he hadn’t gone through stillbirth himself but he accepted that I knew exactly what I needed and helped me explain myself to each and every Doctor (there were many).
I don’t doubt that it’s better to give birth without having major surgery. After delivering my son naturally my body bounced back (pretty much), I recovered so much quicker than I did after undergoing cesareans. I might have had more success breastfeeding had I delivered naturally (though many people do breastfeed after cesareans). Cesarean experience can differ wildly, just like natural deliveries. My second cesarean was a far more physically unpleasant experience than my first.
Despite all this, I stand by my assertion that an elective cesarean after experiencing a stillbirth was 100% right for me.