“I am not posh but I will not push.”
So says writer Bidisha online today at the Guardian, in response to new guidelines published by the Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which state that caesarean sections should be available to all pregnant women.
Until now, caesareans in the UK have mainly only been an option where a natural delivery would put the life or health of the mother or her baby at risk, but the review says women who have no medical or mental health grounds for opting for c-sections should be allowed them, including those who have suffered a previous traumatic birth.
Accordingly, Bidisha asserts that there’s no way she’s ‘squeezing a baby out of there’ and applauds the new guidelines, which will effectively allow ‘c-sections on demand’, as the Daily Mail puts it.
“The opening of my womb will be like the opening of Studio 54 during the heady days of disco,” writes Bidisha, prompting this particular mother – who has indeed pushed babies ‘out of there’ – to erupt into an involuntary bout of pelvic floor exercises.
Bidisha doesn’t explain why she would choose an elective caesarean but says she was appalled when she asked mothers about their experience of childbirth.
But, for balance, I wish she had asked any of the women I know whose experiences of natural childbirth are a world away from the horrifying ‘anecdotes of violation and objectification…’ that she recounts.
That Studio 54 reference is about the least apt description of a c-section that I can imagine. But that incongruity is nothing compared to the gulf that exists between Bidisha’s portrayal of what she calls the ‘myth’ of natural childbirth and my own experience of giving birth naturally to my two children, one weighing close to 10lbs, without so much as a sniff of paracetamol.
If I sound smug I can assure you that’s not the case. Before my children were born I witnessed a straightforward, beautifully-natural birth go horribly wrong at the very last minute.
Thankfully, that story ended happily but not before some dark days of uncertainty in the special care baby unit, so I am acutely aware that there are no guarantees of anything when it comes to giving birth.
Consequently, I have no dogmatic view about the ‘right’ way to give birth. Natural childbirth worked for me but I realise I was ‘lucky’ and that two happy-ever-after birth stories do not a one-size-fits-all approach to childbirth make.
Bidisha is right – there is no ‘should’ in childbirth and no mother is ever remiss for the choices made during the exquisite agony that is giving birth. I’m all in favour of women being able to opt for c-sections, particularly where trauma during a previous delivery has put them off the so-called natural route, but choosing ‘not to push’ should never be a decision taken lightly, and social convenience has no place in the delivery room.
Still, I am surprised by what appears to be no shortage of articles about natural birth of late, many written by women who haven’t experienced it yet are scathing or dismissive of it. It’s not ok for the ‘breastfeeding police’ to make anyone feel bad for feeding a baby formula milk these days, but sneering at ‘natural birth Nazis‘ seems positively de rigueur.
I used to dread people asking about my sons’ births. Admitting, among a group of new mums, that you had a positive, natural delivery can be akin to social suicide in some circles.
Interestingly, the consultant obstetrician and chair of the new guidelines said one of the key differences between countries with low and high caesarean rates was one-to-one support for women in labour from health professionals, and a supportive family.
We don’t need more c-sections. We need more midwives.
But above all we need less condemnation and better quality of care for all women in childbirth, however they go about it.