I’ve come home from the hospital after giving birth to our second child. She is a beautiful little baby girl and she has given my husband and me more joy than we could ever possibly imagine. It has been nearly ten days now since she we born and her dad is due to go back to work in a few days. Already she has put on weight and is growing bigger by the day.
I was in hospital for six days recovering from another caesarean section. Whilst in hospital, although our baby was healthy, she had a bit of jaundice and was placed in special care for some phototherapy. Still unsteady on my feet I made four-hourly trips to the special care unit to breastfeed her. There I saw another mother who also had a child in special care and she was breastfeeding at the same time as me.
We got talking; it was her first child. We talked about the birth, the overwhelming feelings of giving birth, and the fact that life is so precious. We felt blessed to have a child and we saw the world so differently since having a child. But then this woman went on and told me how she felt like a failure because she needed drugs during the birth, and I was astonished (like her husband was) that she could be so hard on herself that she felt this way. I said to her, “No! Childbirth is hard and whatever gets you and your baby through it, just do it.” She looked at me as if to say ‘thank you’ like she really needed to hear that.
I thought about my own situation. When I gave birth to my first child, I was overwhelmed with the birth and recovering from a painful caesarean. Just the operation and knowing that my gut was opened up like it was, was a real shock. That, and adjusting to motherhood and my whole life changing, it was just survival and I didn’t process a lot of the feelings that I had with the whole experience.
So the second time I gave birth all those feelings came flooding back. The second pregnancy was difficult and I was bedridden for the last four weeks, going in and out of hospital right up to the birth. I had a lot of time to think. My body was in pain. The picture of my life always included three children, but I did not think my body could go through it all again.
I had placenta insufficiency with my first child and if it wasn’t for my obstetrician’s expertise and care, I would not have known and there could have been a possibility of losing my baby. I wasn’t planning a caesarean but I ended up having one and we delivered a small, but healthy baby boy.
I was shaken with this experience and I was nervous about having my second child. It was only nineteen months since I had delivered my first child and so I discussed with my doctor the risks of delivering the baby naturally and the risks of delivering by C-section. In the end I decided to go with the latter but this was such a difficult decision for me that inside I was still weighing up the risks right up until I was in the delivery suite. Except for two lovely midwives who comforted me when I was in pain and distress, there were other midwives who would grill me on why I was having a caesarean as if I had committed some horrid crime, when I was in excruciating pain and terrified that there might be something wrong with me or my baby. One even came back after speaking to the doctor about my condition and said to me in a belittling and condescending tone, “We’re not going to slash you open right now because it’s not fair on the baby!”
Only another woman who has given birth to a child knows the extremes of pain and joy that childbirth brings; and yet we pit ourselves against each other with judgements and comments as to who is the better woman for it. The ridiculous hierarchy (which I actually did not know existed until I read a woman’s magazine) that a woman who has a drug free vaginal birth is queen bee and the woman who has a caesarean as a second class citizen is a view that has no valid purpose.
Vaginal or C-section, drug free or with drugs, childbirth bloody hurts! It’s hard, it’s painful and we are all women who have put our own lives on the line to give birth to another human being!
With all the modern technology and scientific knowledge that we have today, childbirth has become much safer than ever before, and therefore there is a belief that ‘you just have a baby’. But no matter how technologically advanced we become, childbirth is still a primal, sacred act that goes to the heart of being human, where we are in the balance of life and death, physically and metaphysically. All women, no matter how they deliver their child, need to be supported, and the act of childbirth needs to be respected.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem