I’ve had two babies. They were both born naturally, or by spontaneous vaginal delivery (SVD) as the medical world puts it so poetically.
Giving birth is hands-down the most intense thing I have ever and will ever experience. Intense is the best word I can think of to describe it because it balances precariously on that rickety fence between out-of-this-world-sweet-crazy pleasure and all-consuming pain. In that way having a baby is kind of like BDSM. And I suppose only those who are into that kind of thing or who have had a positive natural birth experience might understand what the hell I am talking about.
I’ll try to explain.
First, let me qualify the pain part. Because this is the thing most of us have been led to associate with having babies. And fear of pain is why caesarean and medicalised birth statistics are as shockingly high as they are (in the developed, private medical-care funded world that is).
I’ve done this twice—the first time with pethidine, the second time with nothing stronger than paracetemol and gas & air. And I can honestly say that if you gave me a choice between one root-canal even with the local anaesthetic (which I’ve also experienced) and having two more babies drug-free, I’d give birth to both of them again in a heartbeat. That’s because it’s a different kind of pain: one that my body is built to withstand and one that is productive. So productive that it brings the most mind-blowing, heart-expanding result of all.
It was only three months ago that I had my second son and the intoxicating memory of the moment of his birth is still vivid for me. I say intoxicating because I honestly felt like I had been given the strongest happy-drug in the world when I had him. I have never felt as powerful in all my life as I did in the seconds, minutes and hours after I birthed him. In fact the post-birth high lasted for almost a week. I felt like Superwoman. I had just birthed a baby without anyone having to tell me what to do. There was a lot of help and support, yes, but no instructions. In those final minutes the most primal part of me took over completely. I can remember the sound of my own voice as I pushed him out in one visceral effort. And there he was in the water.
My body had taken over from my mind and it had kicked ass. I had done what generations of women before me had done and for those moments after his birth I tasted life in its most concentrated form. Pure, potent and simply miraculous.
I would not exchange that experience for all the riches of the world. And I am deeply saddened when I see women handing that power over to doctors and gynaecologists who would (often) rather schedule births around their golf dates than be honest about the best interests of both mother and baby.
Because a natural vaginal delivery is best for both. Really, it is. I’m not talking about the scenarios that call for an emergency or preventative c-section. Modern medical science is the most amazingly life-saving thing when called for but, when unnecessary, potentially damaging.
I am not out to shame those of us who have had c-sections whether through choice or necessity. I know women who have struggled needlessly with guilt after emergency c-sections. I do believe that those who have had a c-section should own it. Regret has no place here and we are no less mothers or powerful women because of it, even if we chose it. Truly.
What I am out to do is inform women who might be on the fence, who might doubt their ability to birth their babies, who might be afraid of natural birth and coerced into the “easy” route. Don’t be fooled. It is neither easier nor better than the way nature intended. Make an informed decision that will empower you.
This is what many women are not being told:
- Naturally delivered babies come when they’re ready (unless induction is necessary, of course). If nature is left to do her thing, labour has the chance to start naturally. Your body has the chance to take over, and your child has the chance to be ready to be born—with mature lungs and other major developments complete in order to minimise the need for medical intervention after birth.
- There is a lower risk of respiratory and feeding problems in naturally delivered babies because, among other reasons, when a baby passes through the vaginal canal, the pressure helps them to expel the amniotic fluid in their lungs and stomachs.
- Evidence is mounting to suggest that babies delivered by c-section miss out on the benefits of their mother’s microbiome, or protective bacteria. This has a potential effect on their immune system and digestive function. Scientists are even starting to connect the gut bacteria in infants with problems such as obesity, asthma, allergies, type 1 diabetes, eczema and celiac disease.
- Studies have shown that maternal and infant mortality is actually less of a risk in natural birth. Less interference from hospital staff means less emergency scenarios for mom and baby, giving both a higher rate of survival.
- Besides the more obvious fact that a c-section is major abdominal surgery which comes with a longer recovery time, more time in hospital, more stress for mother and baby, and one rather large scar.
Those are the medical facts.
Anecdotally, I know women who have been able to birth naturally and have used words like “invincible” and “powerful” to describe how they felt after labour. I also know women who have had c-sections and have used words like “helpless” and “stressed” to describe their post-birth experiences—often because of unexpected complications in their baby’s or their own well-being as a direct result of the procedure and, frequently, problems with bonding and feeding too.
But the most surprising thing I learnt from having my babies is this: pain is not always the opposite of pleasure.
Giving birth, for me, is an experience that defies logic and explanation. For a few moments when my babies were actually born, I existed outside the realm of duality and rational thought. There was no happy/sad, good/bad, pain/pleasure. I connected to something beyond myself and within myself that I can only describe as love. Intense, agonising, spectacular love.
No other experience will ever come close.
“Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond the pain.” ~ Saint Bartholomew
Author: Khara-Jade Warren
Editor: Caroline Beaton