I was made to feel like a failure for having a c-section – hopefully scrapping NHS targets will help

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I feel a strange pang whenever I hear dreamy birth stories involving candlelit rooms, gentle music and warm, lapping water. My daughter was born two years ago by c-section, and although the surgery was on doctor’s orders, there’s still part of me that feels like a failure for not having a natural birth.

On paper, my self-criticism is ridiculous. After a sonographer cheerfully told me my baby’s size was ‘off the scale’ during a third trimester scan, I was dispatched to an obstetrician, who advised a c-section due to the increased risk of my daughter’s shoulders getting stuck during the birth. While normally fine, the consequences of this problem (called shoulder dystocia) can include anything from fourth degree tears for the mum to brain damage for the baby. When I learnt this, there seemed only one logical course of action.

Except apparently there wasn’t! On relaying this news to my midwife, I was told I certainly should ‘have a go’ at a natural birth. My notes were slapped angrily back together and shoved into my hand when I said I’d be following the doctor’s advice, as if I was being a bit of a spoilsport for refusing to attempt a natural birth with my apparently gigantic baby, the risk of potential brain damage simmering in my mind throughout.

Even two weeks later, as I lay on the operating table waiting to be sewn up, a different midwife handed me my new daughter and told me I probably could’ve had her naturally ‘if I’d tried’. On reflection, the fact I still feel a bit of a failure does make some sense after all.

Having been in the crossfire between safety risks and the ‘natural birth at all costs’ crusade, I was happy to hear news this week that the NHS has abandoned targets that encourage hospitals to pursue ‘normal births’. Caesarean section rates will no longer used to assess performance, amidst concerns that maternity units are risking the safety of women and babies by trying to keep their c-section rates low.

Although on the one hand I was pleased to read this, I can’t help but feel this should’ve happened a long, long time ago. After all, my experience absolutely pales in comparison to some of the dreadful stories of women who have lost babies because they say their pleas for caesareans were ignored.

I also know plenty of women left traumatised by their ‘natural birth’ experiences, which on reflection don’t sound particularly natural at all, involving bright, surgical lights, legs in stirrups and babies heaved out with forceps. These same women find the ‘hilarious’ new BBC adaptation of This Is Going To Hurt – Adam Kay’s book about life on an NHS labour ward – too distressing to watch. For some, the show feels steeped in misogyny, treating pregnant and birthing women as a nuisance or the butt of a joke. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the only person I know who had both her children by planned caesarean for non-medical reasons is a gynaecologist.

I’m not having a go at maternity staff – for every midwife who told me to try harder, I’m sure there are hundreds doing their utmost to offer a caring service despite being short-staffed, overstretched and underpaid. Clearly, more funding is needed so that they have the time and resources they desperately need. While getting rid of caesarean targets is a small step in providing maternity services that put the individual mother and baby first, there’s still a long way to go.

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