A birth not going to plan is entirely natural
My body, the monstrous thing that it is, had other ideas
‘You’ll be wanting a water birth, of course.” I nodded vigorously. I wasn’t actually sure I wanted a water birth – I had heard that you needed to pack a colander in your hospital bag to scoop up the… well, let’s not go there – but the way the midwife made her statement suggested that any other response would be met with a Paddington Bear-style long hard stare.
“Or you could always have a home birth!” she said, cheerfully, as if she had just asked if I fancied a cup of tea and a biscuit. “If you have a complication-free pregnancy, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to have your baby in the comfort of your own home.”
But she hadn’t been to my home, which at the time was a tiny flat where there was barely room to swing a cat. We had just got a nice new sofa. I wasn’t sure I wanted it covered in… well, let’s not go there.
I mean, of course I
wanted a home birth, or a water birth, in much the same way that I have always wanted to win the lottery and marry Brad Pitt. In an ideal world, where there was peace in the Middle East and an American president who didn’t think that some Nazis were fine people, I would have got to my due date, gone to a pregnancy yoga class, then returned home to sneeze my baby out of my vagina without the slightest bit of pain.
I mean, I was totally and utterly 100 per cent up for “natural” childbirth. There would be candles, there would be golden thread breathing, there would be a playlist that probably involved whale sounds.
But then my body, the monstrous, unnatural thing that it is, had other ideas, and after 36-odd hours of huffing, puffing and some pretty fruitless pushing, I was whisked into theatre, where a consultant announced that my baby was stuck and its heart rate was dropping and he was very sorry but they were going to have perform an emergency caesarean section. I didn’t know why he was apologising – it would all be over in three minutes, and so it was, and four and a bit years on I have a healthy child who is about to start school.
How I thanked the Lord for the wonder of modern medicine and doctors. Had it been the late-19th century, one or both of us would almost certainly have died. And yet women who have C sections are told their births aren’t natural and are made to feel as if they have fallen at the very first hurdle of motherhood – see Denise Van Outen, who this week said that having a caesarean made her feel like a “failure”.
A birth that happens any other way than through the vaginal canal is as much a stain on a mother’s character as it is a simple biological balls-up.
Friends of mine have been traumatised by a birth that didn’t go to plan – the early days of motherhood clouded by a sense that they are just not up to it. But it has always seemed curious to me that the only parts of a human we don’t expect to ever go wrong are parts that belong to a woman: wombs for creating babies and breasts for feeding them. Our eyesight may be poor, our hearts might be dodgy, we can have a bad back, but get a woman pregnant and watch as the medical establishment steps aside and leaves her at the hands of the natural childbirth lobby, who will get her through labour with hypnotherapy and good vibes, and God damn those women who are too posh to push (or just happen to be on the verge of stillbirth).
Thankfully, things seem to be changing, though it is not before time. This week, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) quietly abandoned its decade-long campaign for natural childbirth, saying that it
made women feel like failures. More damaging, though, is the danger it has put mothers and babies in. As part of this campaign, the RCM website advised midwives that, during labour, they should “wait and see – let natural physiology take its own time”, and if they were uncertain they should “trust their intuition”.
New Scientist reported that these policies are “directly at odds with safety advice to consult guidelines on how frequently to check the baby’s heart rate… and to seek second opinions to make sure danger signs are not being missed”.
Last month, a major audit by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists found that more than three quarters of newborns who die or are left brain damaged in maternity units might have been saved with the right care. And on Tuesday, it was revealed that a “cult-like” fixation on “normal” birth had fuelled a record rise in newborn babies with brain injuries.
Pregnancy is not an illness, but neither is childbirth straightforward. Yes, there are plenty of women who listen to a hypnobirthing CD and go on to have their babies quickly and safely, but just because they can it doesn’t mean the same can be said for everyone.
And yet, again and again, women are left without proper care because… well, why, exactly? Because it’s cheaper to deliver a baby through a vagina than it is through a C section? Well, yes. But it’s not if you then end up having to pay out millions of pounds in compensation to the parent of a severely disabled or dead child.
I wish we would stop obsessing about the way women give birth.
An unnatural birth is one where a woman feels unsafe because of a dogmatic approach that would not be tolerated in any other field of healthcare. The most natural birth of all is simply the one that is best for the mother and baby.
Healthy and happy: Bryony Gordon and her daughter Edie