A Look At Life: A Babe Is Born

2nd December 2011

A Babe Is Born

Veronica Broome

So, childbirth. It’s on lots of minds this time of year, what with the imminent arrival of Baby Jesus and all, but it’s on mine because the recent arrival of my own new nephew coincided with that of the revised NICE (National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence) guidelines on caesarian section v vaginal delivery. And given that young Johnny made his appearance via the sunroof, as my sister likes to put it, it’s been rather interesting to watch reactions in the media, both in the printed press and in the many public comment sections and message boards online. The words ‘too posh to push’ have been mentioned…

The medicalisation of birth, as in the American model, does strike me as a Bad Thing, but I also think it inappropriate to sneer at a pregnant woman’s choices. In any case, if the critics researched the issues (but, hey, why let the facts get in the way of a good grumble?) they’d find that of the 25 per cent of UK births that take place by c-section, only around half are planned; the rest are emergencies. You could argue (and the Royal College of Midwives do) that improved midwife provision would reduce both types of c-section, but that’s a separate issue. The new NICE guidelines actively promote natural deliveries, stating ‘A planned caesarean section should only be offered if, after discussion and offer of support, a vaginal birth is still not an acceptable option.’ That’s reasonable, isn’t it? It’s hardly carte blanche to start delivering all babies at pre-appointed times.

You’d be surprised at the criticism my sister has had when she’s ‘admitted’ that Johnny was born by planned c-section – everything from raised eyebrows to outright disapproval. The ‘too posh to push’ opinion (and yes, one of her friends actually said that to her; we think it was meant as a joke) seems to be held by three types: women who’ve enjoyed straightforward natural deliveries and can’t understand why there might be an issue; women who have experienced challenging vaginal births and don’t see why everyone else shouldn’t suffer as they did; and people who haven’t had a baby at all, and who therefore have no personal experience on which to found their judgmentalism. I’m not sure which is worse.

It was rather strange, in advance, to hear her say (in answer to the ‘Do you know what it is?’ and ‘When is it due?’ questions that complete strangers think it’s perfectly acceptable to fire at you when you’re eight and a half months pregnant) ‘Yes, I’m having a boy at 11am on the 17th…’ but it made more sense than ‘well, I’m hoping for kittens, but they tell me it’s a baby’, which she trotted out earlier in pregnancy.

My sister feels a touch defensive now, and is prone, when the subject arises, to point out the downsides of the c-section as well as the positives, and to enumerate the medical reasons for which a surgical delivery was recommended. I find it sad that she needs to justify publicly that it wasn’t done for her own comfort, when I know that privately she has no doubt that it was the best decision she made, and with her baby’s interests at heart.

Everyone wants their own experience of birth to be the right one; everyone, it seems, is afraid of being judged. Be it your baby’s physical welfare or your own mental health that’s at stake, you should be able at least to aim for the birth you want; whether circumstances deliver it or deprive you of it, you shouldn’t have to defend your decisions. A hundred years ago, fifty years ago, women would have been crying out for the choices we have today; we should relish them and not use them as a tool to beat each other up. The aim, surely, is to have a healthy baby, and a healthy, happy mother.

Why can’t women be more supportive instead of taking sides over the methods they’ve used to achieve motherhood? If everyone’s this competitive about birth, God help us all when they get to the school gates.

Of course, there are traumatic births: none worse, without doubt, than the one that sends you home with no baby at all, alongside which the c-section v vaginal birth debate seems a minor and very high class problem indeed. As a general rule, however, once it’s over, it’s over. Your baby’s here. All that matters then is loving and feeding…

Feeding? Oh hell. Breast or bottle or a bit of both? Now there’s a maternal minefield to battle over…

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