When I gave birth, to my now 11 year old daughter, I had already been a doula for over 10 years and I was truly excited to finally have this powerful experience for myself. In my prenatal planning I had decided to not have a birth plan at all. After all the births I had been to, I knew that I would rather roll with the punches and gracefully accept the events as they would unfold in front of me; with one caveat: I did not want a c-section.
I told my midwife that as long as I don’t end up with a c-section I would be happy. I wanted to experience the full gamut of birthing, every contraction, every emotion, every high, and every low and then to have it end with me pushing my child into the world and into my awaiting arms. I wanted to feel all the power of the many women that I had supported in birth.
Almost 2 weeks after my estimated due date, I began having contractions, but they would suddenly stop and then start up again. This cycle, also known as prodromal labour, went on for days. I won’t go into all the nitty gritty of the details, but I will say I certainly did have the full experience of birthing, just not in the way I had envisioned.
It was decided after a very long time of being in labour, I would need a cesarean.
It took me quite a while and a lot of reflecting to really realize the true value in my experience with the way my daughter was born. The impact that the birth of our daughter had on her father was actually quite beautiful, and in many ways this was because she was born by cesarean.
Throughout my pregnancy, I had the experience of this life growing within me, while my partner was somewhat detached from it all. He went to the ultrasound appointments, felt the baby kicking and even talked to my belly, but he admits that he didn’t really grasp how his life would change once he became a father.
In the OR , my viewpoint was basically limited to what I could see within a few feet in front of me, with a curtain wall hiding anything from the chest down from my sight; I was relying on my partner to be my eyes. He watched as our daughter was brought into the world by a scalpel and firm, yet careful, hands. He got the experience of being the first to see her; something that he felt was just for him. He later explained to me that all of the stuff I got to experience during my pregnancy was not anything he could ever have, so this was his moment for him to cherish. I never expected to look up at him and see tears in his eyes, but sure enough they were there, and even though the surgical hat and mask hid most of his expression, his eyes said it all, he was beaming with pride.
My daughter was placed beside my face so we could meet and she briefly sucked on my nose, but then daddy got his turn with his new little girl and was proud to show her off to awaiting family. I will never know if he would have had the same experience had I had a vaginal delivery, with my mom and best friend also there, but to speculate does not matter, because how it turned out was beautiful and the bond between a girl and her daddy is stronger than ever.
When we as doulas talk about our many benefits, we sometimes speak to the studies which show how doulas assist in lowering cesarean rates. We often pride ourselves in how our support contributes to ‘better’ birth outcomes. While this is true and studies do back this, it leaves me wondering what message this portrays to our clients that give birth the cesarean way, whether by choice, planned or unplanned. Does it mean they did not successfully birth their babies? Why did I feel that this would be the worst case scenario for myself?
I spent a lot of time pondering and wondering what I could have done differently to have prevented the cesarean, I was a doula afterall. I am now at peace with my birth story and I feel like it has brought me to a new place as a doula. In recent years I have had the opportunity to support clients in their own cesarean births and I feel so much better equipped to know how I can best support them in feeling that their birth is just as it should be. Cesarean brings about different elements to birth, but really and truly every birth I have ever been witness to has been different, no vaginal birth is the same as another and does not come without its own challenges to overcome.
My wish going forward as a doula is for all of my clients to feel supported and empowered in the choices they make and how the events of their experience unfolds, no matter how they birth their babies.
Having to accept that I had a cesarean and even learning to appreciate that this was my birth story, is an invaluable lesson as a mother. As parents we set a lot of expectations of how we want to raise our kids, how we think they ought to be and become. Just as quick as we set those expectations they are just as quick to knock them down. We can have wishes and desires for how we want things to be, but we don’t get to control them.
We can take a deep breath and accept the challenges that we are thrown at us in birth, parenting and in life, and it will all become the story of us.
Talk to any woman about their birth story and you will see how impactful it is on her life; the birth of my own daughter is now at the core of my being. As a doula I look forward to supporting many of you through your story. It is my hope that the story you will tell is not defined by vaginal vs. cesarean, medicated vs. unmedicated, but rather one of being supported, empowered and just the way it should have been.