I chose to attempt natural childbirth with all three of my daughters, yet all three were delivered by cesarean section. With my second daughter, emergency surgery saved both of our lives. With my third daughter, I chose a cesarean because, in my shock and disbelief at hearing that our obstetrician could find no heartbeat, I believed it could possibly save her life. Unfortunately it didn’t, though it did end up saving mine, yet again.
I did not intentionally put my daughter’s life in danger by going two weeks overdue. I would never have chosen to attempt a natural labor and childbirth if I had known that my daughter was going to die. From the vantage point of hindsight, I wish I could turn back time and consent to the bi-monthly ultrasounds, the amniocentesis at 36 weeks and the cesarean section at 38 weeks. If I had done so, my daughter would be here today. I was scared of hospitals, a fear that began with my second birth and which developed into full-blown terror over the intervening decade.
I allowed my fear, and my absolute belief that I could have a natural childbirth like so many other mothers do, to color my decisions. I assessed risks, but unwittingly I was only looking at one side of the coin. I worried, questioned myself, asked questions and looked for reassurance on natural childbirth message boards. I was told about women who had gone many weeks postdates, women whose babies had no ill effects from passing meconium, women who had breech babies at home with only their husbands in attendance. I believed, completely and absolutely, that I was doing the right thing by avoiding induction and staying home until I was ready to give birth. I allowed popular birth culture to color my decisions.
I cannot turn back time. I cannot make different decisions for that pregnancy, that birth. I wish I could, more than I could ever express to anyone. All I can do is learn from the mistakes that I made, and hope that other mothers will find my story in the course of their own research and learn from my mistakes, so that they can make better choices for their own pregnancies and births.
The natural childbirth community is full of wonderful people, who mean to empower women into trusting their bodies and allowing their babies to be born into the world peacefully. They don’t mean any harm by advocating these beliefs, but unfortunately, it is all too easy for a pregnant and hormonal mother to become hypnotized by the adrenaline high of other women’s experiences. Too often, the risks are skimmed over, with much focus given to staying positive and avoiding negativity.
Conversely, I have read articles and comments on websites that convey the belief that natural childbirth is inherently dangerous and that home birth should be outlawed. I have seen grieving mothers who have lost their babies told that they deserved what they got, or that they should have known better. I have seen real, true information that will never be received by the intended audience because of the aggressive wording and nature of the writer.
What I have come to believe, in the 12 weeks since my daughter died and was born, is that taking an extreme stance on either side of the birthing communities is very dangerous. There is no one course of action that is best for all birthing mamas. Doctors and midwives are not always right, but they are not always wrong, either. Not all obstetricians and hospitals and mothers are created equal.
The risks of meconium aspiration, postmaturity, uterine rupture, maternal mortality and stillbirth are real, and need to be discussed as openly as the benefits and risks of episiotomy, amniotomy and epidurals are. The feeling that pregnant mamas shouldn’t worry themselves that their babies could die, because it stresses them out unnecessarily, is misplaced. Mothers need to know that it can happen to them, because it does happen to mothers just like them every day, so that they can make informed decisions regarding their health care providers, their birthing facilities and their births.
My daughter should not have died. I take responsibility for my part in her death, and I torment myself with how I should have done things differently, every day. I probably always will. It is my hope that by sharing my story… Clara’s story… other mothers will not have to experience the horrific sadness that is losing their babies.
Be smart, mamas. Don’t believe everything that you are told, by either your doctors, your midwives or your friends. Every article on the internet is not fact. Do your research, read both sides (good and bad) and decide the parameters of your comfort zone for yourself. Neither natural childbirth nor cesarean sections are the right answer for every woman. Find a compatible and educated health care provider who can guide you through the medical end of the journey.
If in doubt, get to a hospital and make sure that your baby is fine. Don’t hesitate. Above all else, be safe.
No soapbox or belief is worth the life of your baby. Believe me, I know.
(Please, share this post with anyone you know who is pregnant or trying to conceive. Help get the word out to mamas to be aware of the benefits and the risks of the choices that they make regarding their pregnancies and births. If we can help just one mama to make choices that prevent the death of a baby, than we have made all the difference in the world.)