A gentle caesarean / by Belle Verdiglione

I got to meet and work with the gorgeous Em from Kisses In Chaos. Her journey, strength and tenacity has  been so inspiring to me. I'd love to share her story with you:

In her words: 

I was only a teenager when I was advised that whenever I decided to start a family, I'd need to give birth via a caesarean. With the health issues I was having this didn't seem a big deal at the time, but later I'd learn about the feeling of disempowerment by having this choice taken away from me. 

After fistula surgery from Crohn's disease, two fistula repairs, a bowel resection and autoimmune arthritis, by the time I was 25 and fell pregnant, each of my 3 specialists advised a c-section delivery.

At 30 weeks pregnant I was upset at the prospect of not having the option of a vaginal delivery but I worked through it. My daughter was delivered at 38 weeks, 5 days and my journey of motherhood began. Whilst I hated the spinal and the inactive role I felt I'd played in bringing my daughter earth side, I was instantly in love with her and the way she'd entered the world was soon forgotten.

Two years later I was pregnant again with another little girl. I was somewhat surprised as her impending birth approached at the emotions I felt just thinking about the upcoming delivery. My (quite rude and rather unsupportive obstetrician) wrote "emotional" on my chart when, through tears, I shared my sadness at having to birth via a caesarean again. Logically I knew it was the best (if not only choice) for my body, but I was still grieving for my inability to birth my babies myself.

Four years on and I was pregnant with another child, this time a son! Determined to be an active participant in the birth of my baby, I tried to make a number of changes. I discussed delayed cord clamping, which my obstetrician refused to do as he said the baby would get too cold. He did say however that he would milk the cord. He also gave permission for my husband to videotape the birth and for me to play music in the operating room. I also asked for no forceps to be used unless absolutely necessary. Like my previous birth we also elected for no Hep B vaccine at birth and for the Vitamin K to be administered orally.

On the day of my son's birth we arrive at the hospital at 6:30am. Starving and extremely thirsty it was over 4 hours before they finally came to take us to theatre. 

Our music started. My husband went past the screen to film the birth but it meant I couldn't even see him, let alone hold his hand. The obstetrician was talking to the other medical staff like I wasn't even there and the anaesthetist started telling me how her son won his soccer game on the weekend.  I closed my eyes and tried to block it all out. The obstetrician told me they were just breaking my waters when the next song began... the song I'd walked down the aisle to when at our wedding. I smiled to myself and opened my eyes. How perfect it was that in just a few short moments our son would be born and to such a special song. My brief moment of joy was soon interrupted when all of a sudden my obstetrician started to swear. "Fuck I hate this song!" he exclaimed, just as he delivered my son’s head…all captured on the video.

Also recorded on the video was the fact that he didn’t milk the cord at all and immediately used forceps, without a second hesitation. It was all autopilot, almost like he had a stopwatch and was trying to beat his own record. I felt like a number, the next object on a conveyer belt, not a person and certainly not a mother. 

After the birth I had a number of issues including chemical burns that tore away the first two layers of skin when my body reacted with the blue and white plastic disposable sheet I'd been laying on, severely cracked nipples from an undiagnosed tongue tie and chest pain from the angle I'd been on, straining to see my son when they examined him in theatre... all in all I was a physical and emotional mess... and I was so devastated and disappointed that my birth experience had been so horrible.

Two years later my husband and I discovered I was pregnant again. Knowing this would be our last baby I also knew this was my final chance to attempt to heal old birth wounds and have a positive birth experience - something I felt I'd always missed out on. 

Em and her family

Em and her family

Given I'd tried a number of things over my previous 3 births that had never resulted in the experience I'd been hoping for, I knew some drastic changes needed to be made. So first things first, I changed obstetricians. 

I was nervous on the day of my appointment, but was quickly reassured after the first meeting. My new obstetrician was supportive, positive and had very calm nature. He was disappointed, but sadly not surprised, to hear of my previous experiences and assured me that he was willing to assist me in creating the kind of birth experience I had always hoped for.

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Determined to ensure things would be different, I reflected for weeks on my previous births. It was difficult and I had much to work through. I knew I wanted my husband by my side, present, able to simply be with me and marvel at our beautiful baby, but at the same time, I wanted to capture the moments that our (final) baby would enter the world. 

Moments later I was typing "birth photographer" into my search engine. 

After trawling some sites and contacting a few people my instincts told me I'd found the right person to capture our birth journey. I knew Belle Verdiglione would be a perfect fit with our family.

The next roadblock was to get pre- approval to have our birth photographer present in theatre. Belle was amazing and so supportive. I spoke with my obstetrician, the Maternity Ward Manager and the Head of Procedures and Operations. After I was turned down by the hospital (it’s against protocol to have more than one person present in theatre) I decided I would not be easily deterred and so put my request in writing. Belle sent me a 7 page document regarding her role as a birth photographer which I included with my 2 page letter that outlined my "case" and all the reasons I wanted a birth photographer alongside us in the operating room.

I rang Belle on the day I reviewed the news. She was beside herself with excitement for me. They said yes!

Next I knew I wanted to make this birth more natural. The cold room, bright lights and sterile feel of an operating room is hardly conducive to get oxytocin flowing and my previous births all felt so surgical where everything was happening TO me and my baby. 

I wanted, no, I needed to own this birth and make it my own.

I spoke with my obstetrician about my wishes. He respected them all.

I wanted a nurturing and supportive environment. This meant we had a playlist of music and there was limited talking and a gentle ambience. As our baby entered the world no one uttered a single word. In that moment the clock stopped, the world stopped spinning and I held my breath. For the first time, I watched in silence and marveled at this amazing human, this beautiful baby I was birthing right there on the operating table.

I wanted to feel like was giving birth, not having surgery. This meant I watched our baby’s head being delivered. Our obstetrician agreed to deliver our baby’s head, then stand back so our baby could started to breath on it’s own. This essentially meant we could delay the cord clamping without the baby’s body being cold. I can’t even begin to describe what I felt watching our baby lie on my stomach, seemingly asleep! It was the most beautiful, raw, magical and amazing experience I could have ever imagined. And Belle captured it perfectly.

I wanted to own this birth and this long and emotional journey. This meant I wanted to do things differently. For the first time, we opted to not find out the gender of our baby during the pregnancy. It was so special; once the rest of the body was delivered that we were able to discover (Ourselves! As we’d asked for no announcement) that we had a son.

I wanted this birth to feel ‘natural’. This meant my left hand was cannulated (as I’m right handed) and my chest was free of wires. I bought a baby blanket during my pregnancy and slept with it each night. Once our baby was born, he was immediately placed on my chest for skin on skin contact and covered with the blanket that smelt just like me. It also meant he was able to be in contact with my micro biomes, rather than the hospital’s, or the paediatrician who’d normally be holding him and checking him over. 

I wanted my baby to have the benefits of a vaginal birth. This meant that whilst I couldn’t give birth vaginally, we could still have for a gentle delivery with no forceps and delayed cord clamping followed by milking the cord. We also opted to ‘seed’ our baby so he had the opportunity to be exposed to greater levels and various types of beneficial bacteria that would more closely mimic the bacteria of a vaginal born baby. For me, the process of seeding began as a scientific and medical decision, however it was also symbolic and I could feel the wounds healing as I watched my husband gently swab my son’s face.  

I wanted to have some control of my body and what happened to it. This meant that I chose to have my placenta encapsulated. My placenta was dried, ground into a powder and then placed in capsules. As I took the pills each day I felt my hormones balancing and my oxytocin flowing, and slowly, the injuries my spirit had encountered from my previous births began to heal. 

My final pregnancy and the birth of our baby was a journey all of it’s own. The lessons I’ve learnt about myself, motherhood, the obstetric community and the amazing positive birth movement is invaluable. I had to stand up and fight for my rights to birth my baby in a way that felt right for me. I had to fight for my right to own my own body and I had to demand respect for something that should be a given. 

Birth, in itself, is such a raw, honest and emotional journey and I am filled with gratitude that I was finally able to bring a baby earth-side in a way that felt completely ‘right’ for me. My wish for the future is that other women are able to have positive birth experiences, no matter which way their baby enters our world.

~ Em