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'It doesn't mean you've failed.' The 4 things I wish I knew before having a c-section.

In 2019, 36 per cent of all women giving birth in Australia had a caesarean section. I was one of them. 

Like many women, I hadn’t planned on having one, in fact, I had specifically been induced in an attempt to avoid one. 

I had put lots of energy into reading and listening to everything and anything about birth.

I knew exactly what fruit size my baby was as each week went by. I decided not to have a 'birth plan' as such, except to trust my doctor. 

What I’ve since learnt is that birth is over relatively quickly when you think about what comes next - caring for a newborn.

Watch: Your questions about childbirth, answered by mums and non-mums. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia.

My baby was delivered safely medically, however there were some things I didn’t know enough about. Because of my focus on a vaginal birth, I hadn’t really done enough research into what was involved in a caesarean.

My first caesarean was classed as an emergency, but myself and my baby weren’t in any immediate danger. 

I simply failed to progress after almost 24 hours in labour. I wasn’t having 'real' contractions, and my body wasn’t responding. 

At the time, this was heartbreaking.

Popular culture bombards us with ideal images of what birth 'should be', and pregnancy forums are littered with advice from well-meaning parents telling you that you shouldn't worry as 'your body knows what to do'. 

So, what happens when it doesn’t? 

There are still ways that your caesarean section can be a great experience (if it’s not a life-threatening emergency, of course). So, I enlisted the help of Melbourne-based obstetrician Dr Joseph Sgroi, who 'catches' over 330 babies every year.

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As I prepare to welcome my second child into the world, here's everything I wish I knew about having a caesarean the first time around.

1. Forget birth plans and embrace birth education.

Each mother's experience of birth is completely unique, and Dr Sgroi recommends not having a birth plan in the traditional sense, because it can create disappointment.  

"The notion of a birthing plan is counter-intuitive as it sets up expectations of what should happen every single step of the way," he explained. 

"However, birth education is important, because it’s important to understand the breadth of things that may happen so that you have an opportunity to go through things with your caregiver before birth and be completely informed."

There are elements of a traditional birth plan that you might find helpful. Do you want to create a playlist? Go ahead. Would you like the lights dimmed? Sure. Would you like your partner to announce the sex of the baby if you don’t already know? Go for it. Delayed cord clamping? It can be done. 

One of the benefits of having so many people with you in the theatre is that someone will always volunteer to use your phone to take photos for you.

In fact, the midwives captured the most amazing video footage of my son being lifted up into the air. 

These are all things to discuss with your primary health care provider ahead of the birth. 

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2. You can still be physically involved with a caesarean birth.

Ever heard of a maternal assisted c-section? Me neither. 

It wasn’t until I noticed them popping up on Dr Sgroi's Instagram that I decided to look into it. 

There was a time when women were completely unconscious when a caesarean was performed. They’d wake a few hours after, groggy, dazed and confused, and a new baby would be by their side. 

In my case, I found my caesarean experience to be completely bizarre. 

I could feel pulling and tugging and then I heard my baby cry - and I couldn’t see him until he was lifted high above the curtain.

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So much progress has now been made in terms of how c-sections are performed. 

We’ve moved from being completely under anaesthetic and not being involved, to a spinal anaesthetic and the opportunity to be hands on. 

If there is no concern for the health of the baby or the mother, a maternal assisted caesarean is a good option for someone who wants to be more involved in the birth experience. 

Before going into theatre, the mother performs a full surgical scrub (including wearing gloves and a gown) and as long as sterility is maintained, she is able to physically remove her baby from the uterus.

This can also involve immediate skin to skin, where the mother removes her gown and places the baby straight on her chest. 

For Dr Sgroi, this is the default with his patients. "It allows for mothers to actually bring their baby into the world and it is a wonderful experience that allows for that instant connection," he said.

3. You don’t have to be separated from your baby during recovery.

This was a big one for me. If I look back and feel any sense of disappointment around my son's birth, it was the fact I was separated from him for almost two hours after he was born. 

I didn’t think I had the option to have him with me in recovery. 

Time has never gone slower. I was wheeled into recovery, alone, with a big clock hanging on the wall opposite me, and with every movement of the clock hand, I felt more and more frustrated. 

I had waited nine months to meet him and he was out in the world and not with me. 

Dr Sgroi said that this practice is changing and is referred to as 'non sep' (non separation of baby and mum after birth).

"The smell of mum is so important in primates for that infant maternal bond, so we need to continue that even during a caesarean. If everything is well with mum and baby, we limit that time as much as we possibly can," he explained.

"Your partner and baby leave the room while you’re sewn up and transferred to a hospital bed, once that’s done, you can be reunited with your baby."

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At most, the separation can be from five to 10 minutes. So if you find yourself in a situation where you know you may need a c-section (or even if you don’t know!), ask your caregivers beforehand what their non sep policy is and have your preferences known in advance.

4. A caesarean birth doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

Part of me is still disappointed that I’ll never get to experience birth in the way that I thought I would.

The way that it’s shown to us in movies or TV shows, the incredible pictures that flood my Instagram Feed, or the stories I listen to in podcasts. 

This time around, during my second pregnancy, I am slowly coming to accept that it can still be a beautiful experience, because I am bringing a new life into the world.

Becoming a mother has hands down been the most incredible and fulfilling experience, regardless of the birth. In the wise words of Dr Sgroi, "Every woman's birthing experience is unique to her."

There are going to be situations where an obstetrician or health care provider may suggest a caesarean section is in the best interest of mum or baby, and that shouldn’t be seen as failing. 

For more informative birth and pregnancy tips, follow Dr Joseph Sgroi on Instagram.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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