As the weekly BabyCentre email reminded my husband and I yesterday – by the end of this week, our little man will technically be ‘full term’, which is a crazy thought. There is a fully grown, fully developed little dude curled up inside my tummy, and he probably weighs between 2.5 and 3kg, and is gaining about 30g per day. I had breakfast recently with two girlfriends who both delivered their babies just before 37 weeks. They both said that they were surprised (even though they are a doctor and a lactation consultant) at the early feeding difficulties their babies had, and how those extra few weeks in utero potentially would have given their daughters stronger sucking abilities and a better ability to create an optimal milk supply. So Button… stay in a little longer if you can, please?
I have spent this blog reflecting on how I’m feeling at this ‘nearly full term’ phase of pregnancy. There is still some mild guilt at how good I feel… because I’m fully aware that many women do NOT enjoy pregnancy, especially late pregnancy. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve mentioned before about my varicose veins, constipation and lower abdominal discomfort that stops me walking, among other things. But in general I’m sleeping well, I’m embracing my big belly and my extra 13kg, and I feel strong – I actually have a little pang of sadness when I realize that soon I will have to share little Button with the rest of the world rather than have him to myself. I love growing life inside of me. But on that note, do I feel love for this son of mine? I don’t know yet. I have read and heard other women talk about feeling unconditional love for their unborn child… I feel that for my 6-month-old nephew, for sure. But little Button is still so hypothetical. I am really looking forward to him becoming ‘real’ – meeting him, naming him, and getting to share the feeling of unconditional love together with my husband. So close now.
Obviously as the birth approaches, my thoughts have been more and more pre-occupied by the delivery. I have to consider how this little human is going to get out of my womb and into the real world, which in reality is such a tiny part of his and my lifespan. However, in this day and age, birthing in a private hospital, I have the right to decide whether I will have an elective Caesarean or try for a vaginal birth, and I feel a huge responsibility to choose the birthing option that will set my son up for the best start to his life.
What if I choose an elective Caesarean, only to find out in years to come that it is likely that I have caused him to have health problems like allergies and gut issues that could have been avoided by his passage through the birth canal? What if I have a vaginal birth and he suffers trauma during delivery from the cord being around his neck or his shoulder getting stuck?
And it’s not just him – there is a big selfish side to this decision too. What if I have a Caesarean and I end up with a uterine scar that causes problems getting pregnant, or staying pregnant, a second time? What if I am in the high proportion of women who end up with bladder or bowel issues from pelvic floor muscle damage sustained during a vaginal birth? (Obviously quite a pertinent question in my line of work!)
So… the bottom line is that my husband and obstetrician are fully supportive of whatever I decide – which means that the decision lies squarely on my shoulders. What is obviously reassuring is that the overwhelming majority of mothers and babies who go through childbirth in a country as medically well-equipped as Australia are fine no matter how they choose (or how circumstances force them) to birth, and in my job I meet classes full of mothers and babies every week who have birthed successfully.
What is not so reassuring is that unfortunately there is a lot of judgment out there surrounding this choice (you’ve got to love this day and age of gossip mags, social media and ‘mummy trolls’) A pregnant woman and her partner should have rights – the right to full disclosure of the potential risks and benefits associated with both modes of delivery, the right to the birth of their choice (within the boundaries of safety) and the right to not be judged on their decision – especially in the age of articles about people who decide to have a home birth ‘putting their unborn child in danger’ and people being ‘too posh to push’ if they have an elective Caesarean.
When I spoke about my concerns over this big, looming decision with my obstetrician, he told me about another patient who broke down in tears when told that her baby had moved from breech into a ‘perfect head down position’ in the final few weeks before her due date. She confessed that she had been relieved to have a breech baby because there were reasons that she thought a Caesarean section would be the best option for her, and the baby’s feet-down presentation had taken the decision out of her hands. Now she was left in the decision-makers chair again and it petrified her.
I meet dozens of postnatal women every week, and they share their birth stories with me, most amazing but some traumatic – and nothing makes me sadder than when a woman says ‘I feel like I was forced into that type of delivery’, ‘I wish I knew these risks beforehand’ or ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me that this could happen?’ I believe that knowledge is power, and I don’t really think that many couples are fully informed during their pregnancies about the benefits and risks of different modes of childbirth. Which is why I have spent a large amount of my first week of maternity leave researching and writing an article on this topic, which is published in a different blog post. I hope that in it’s own little way, this article may help women to choose the right setting for their birth, to ask the right questions through the pregnancy, and to feel empowered to make the birthing decisions that are right for them.