Five days ago, I had my second elective C-section and welcomed by second baby. I was up half the night last night feeding my son; my cracked nipples hurt more than my healing scar does; and I’ve just been for my first walk outside. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Kate Hudson has lit the internet on fire by describing, in the October issue of Cosmo, her own decision to have a C-section in 2004 as the "laziest thing she’s ever done." While I wouldn't have used her exact wording — it feels a bit judgmental even just of herself — I also chose to give birth that way, precisely because I expected it to be easier. Risking the ire I know is to come, I’ll add that my surgical birth last week was even easier than my first one two-and-half years ago. And that I have no regrets.
In fact, the only truly difficult thing about having my first elective C-section was finding a doctor willing to perform it. It was a stressful fight for my bodily rights that took me all the way up to 37 weeks and, in the end, meant changing hospitals to one on the other side of the U.K., where I was living at the time (I'm now in Spain). And then, there was the secondary difficulty of almost universal disapproval of my birth choice from friends, some of my family, and everyone else who thought it was their business.
But my decision wasn’t spur-of-the moment, like Kate Hudson’s. The Huffington Post cites an earlier interview in which she says she went to the hospital in labor, hadn't progressed far enough to deliver, and on the spot opted to have a C-section rather than run the gauntlet of photographers waiting for her outside, only to have to traverse the gauntlet again when or if she became ready for vaginal delivery. I can’t really claim to relate to what it’s like living in the public eye like that, but this choice makes sense to me, because, frankly, it’s an individual's right to choose how they give birth, and that should be the end of the conversation.
As for me, I’d been anything but lazy in my birth planning. I wasn’t comfortable with the lottery I was expected to play when it came to birth, and spent weeks reading up on the risks of both vaginal and surgical methods. “Wait and see how labor and delivery goes” did not constitute a birth plan to me. I needed something concrete. A friend accused me of wanting to control everything. I promise I wasn't, but I damn sure wanted to know someone was in control, and I wanted the facts, numbers, and risks all spelled out so I could make an informed choice. And yes, I wanted it to be as easy as possible, too. Statistically safe — which scheduled C-sections are — sounded easier to me than leaving everything to blind luck.
The way I saw it, in exchange for that certainty, I was accepting certain risks. Among them, according to the Mayo Clinic: the possibility of infection, a slight increase of complications in future births, and a longer stay in hospital. I made my choice, lined it up and scheduled it in advance, so I knew just what was coming.
Much of the conversation about C-sections (like the scornful ones I had with friends and family) fails to distinguish between emergency procedures, performed when the mother and/or infant’s life is in danger, and the calm precision of a scheduled surgery like mine. No one can guarantee labor will not end in an emergency C-section — 17% of the deliveries so far that year at my hospital had ended that way, in fact. And so stats that are still pretty safe-sounding come off needlessly fearmongering to those of us who might choose that path (like a 0.65% increase in the likelihood of needing a hysterectomy, for example). I know several women who had particularly calamitous vaginal birth experiences, which felt more alarming to me than a less-than-1% risk of being unable to have another baby. But again, that’s me.
Statistically safe — which scheduled C-sections are — sounded easier to me than leaving everything to blind luck.
I decided it was easier to have a C-section than risk suffering nerve damage from a forceps or vacuum intervention (one of which was used in 3% of U.S. live births as of 2015, according to the CDC). I saw there were 6,000 women in one pelvic-prolapse support group on Facebook, the main cause of which is pregnancy and childbirth, and thought it would be easier to recover from surgery than to deal with the pain and (possibly lifetime) urinary and/or anal incontinence after a complicated vaginal delivery. I figured recovering from an incision made to my belly and uterus would be both physically and psychologically easier for me to handle than the aftereffects of vaginal tears or a botched episiotomy. (This is a cut made to widen the vaginal opening, a technique the ACOG officially recommended against in 2006, and the usage of which has been on the decline in the States ever since.) Easier, yes, but it never occurred to me to consider myself lazy for choosing this.
The thing I wonder, though, is what’s wrong with wanting an easy birth? We do allow women to claim a judgement-free easy birth but only those who’ve lucked out at their “natural” delivery and popped out their baby like toast. I’ve never heard those women judged because they suffered less than someone who endured 40 hours of labor and third-degree vaginal tears. Quite the opposite, in fact. They’re praised and held up as shining examples of our amazing capacity to bring forth life, and all too often become the sticks women beat themselves with if their delivery doesn’t go as hoped.
When I finally found a sympathetic Ob/Gyn to perform my surgery, he was at a hospital situated a three-hour train ride away from home. Relocating across the country at 39 weeks pregnant, arranging an Airbnb for when I’d come out of the hospital with the baby, and negotiating the post-surgery trip back home a week later indeed took some effort, and was all worthwhile to get the birth I believed would be manageable.
And I was right. It was easy. The baby was out about five minutes after the incision was made. I found concentrating on staying calm while being operated on more challenging than expected, and I’ll admit to feeling overwhelmed by the physical aspects of having someone rummage around in my organs at the same time as hearing my baby’s first cry. Afterward, I was sore, and that car journey back to London a few days post-op wasn’t fun, but with well-managed meds, I was up and walking around the day after surgery, and able to breastfeed and look after the baby. I’m not saying recovery is easy for everyone, just like I don’t think Kate Hudson was speaking for anyone but herself when she described feeling her choice was lazy.
When I had my second C-section, just last week, I actually enjoyed my operation and, while being stitched up, thought, I could do this again. The anaesthesia seemed deeper somehow than with my first child, so I didn’t even realise the surgeon had started cutting until I heard the baby cry. I was elated at the lightness of my body after the placenta was removed, and grinning as they handed me my chalky-white, vernix-covered miracle.
Recovery, this time, has been harder because of a somewhat stingy medication policy (I was on literally the same drug I took for an ear infection this spring). Whereas last time I was up and walking around in 24 hours, this time I was in tears and unable to get up at 48. Five days on, I can do everything my baby needs, while my boyfriend is at work, and I just moved fast enough to kill a mosquito buzzing around. I don’t need help getting up from a chair and can pick things up off the floor, though carefully. I’m admittedly nervous of my toddler jumping on top of me and am still more comfortable in bed half propped up with pillows than laying flat. But I’m no longer following a medication timetable and those earache tablets are now enough to do the job when I feel I need them. This all, still, is something I’d qualify as a relatively easy childbirth experience, not least because it’s pretty much exactly what I had expected and planned for.
I am sure an emergency C-section can be horribly traumatic. That’s why I tried to rule out the possibility of having to have one myself. I’m certain, too, that not getting the kind of birth you hoped for is difficult and upsetting, whatever that birth might’ve looked like. Had I not been able to find a doctor to perform my surgeries, I’d perhaps be writing now about the trauma of my forced vaginal deliveries.
Would I describe my birth choices as better? They were better for me and my baby and that’s all that matters. If Kate Hudson thinks of herself as lazy, then I only hope she also feels she made a choice that was best for her and her baby, too. Maybe she was just being facetious, to throw all of our preconceived notions about elective C-sections back in our faces. One can’t know. But I know this much for sure: I chose easy, and I’d do it again.
Welcome to Mothership: Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you're thinking about or passing on kids, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big if — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.