Healing Old Birth Wounds: My Birth Journey With Gentle Caesarean

Photography: Belle Verdiglione

You may have already seen this startling image in our Birth Photography Image of the Year Awards gallery. We were lucky enough to hear first-hand the story behind this image – a gentle caesarean as fought for by a wonderfully determined mama. May Em’s story give you hope that you too, can create the birth experience that you yearn for.

Birth story by Em. Photography by Belle Verdiglione

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 three specialists advised a c-section delivery.

Photography: Belle Verdiglione

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.

Photography: Belle Verdiglione

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 arrived 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 conveyor 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 to the blue and white plastic disposable sheet I’d been lying 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.

Given I’d tried a number of things over my previous three 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.

Photography: Belle Verdiglione

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.

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.

The baby blanket. Photography: Belle Verdiglione

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.

The birth plan. Photography: Belle Verdiglione.

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.

The spinal. Photography: Belle Verdiglione.

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  1. says: Sarah

    This was so raw but so beautiful to read, thanks for sharing. I just happened to come across this article on Facebook, and instantly thought this must be an overseas story. I was happy to find that it wasn’t. I wonder if this will ever become the “norm” with c section births. I am 32 weeks pregnant with my first baby, and would love some of these things to be part of my birth plan, should a vaginal birth not “go to plan”. Thanks for fighting for your rights, and giving other people the vision to also do the same. Would you consider sharing the name of the obstetrician?
    Thanks again, this was amazing to read, and really opened my eyes to a lot of things.

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