A few days back, I was shocked to read a tragic story about a pregnant woman who jumped to her death when she was denied a C-section in China. The hospital maintained that doctors had recommended a caesarean because the baby’s head was too big, and that despite the pregnant lady’s wishes, the husband and family refused “consent”, insisting on a natural vaginal birth.
The hospital has since been charged with negligence and the tragedy has sparked international uproar. Why did the pregnant lady not have the right to make the decision of having a caesarean herself? A debate has ensued as to how this could have happened – whether it had been due to traditional Chinese family values, the perceived stigma of c-sections, or the high cost of health care, the fact remains that a woman was denied autonomy of her own body.
While not all mothers need to give birth, in the case of a pregnancy, a woman waits for almost 40 weeks to see and hold the little person growing inside her. There may be a birth plan in place, but sometimes medical circumstances can cause the doctor to recommend a c-section. There are also cases where for a separate set of reasons, a woman may have an elective, or emergency c-section. In any scenario, the safety of the mother and child and the comfort of the mom-to-be has to remain top priority for everyone involved – and ultimately the decision of what happens to her body, should rest with the expecting mother herself.
I found out I was pregnant a couple of weeks after I got my first job in Singapore, and thanks to being busy round the clock, I never really sat down and created a birth plan. I just assumed that if all went well it would be an intervention free birth. Thankfully I had a supportive family, but the subliminal pressure to have a ‘natural’ birth was hard to miss. One example was the prenatal class I attended at a local hospital. The instructors would repeatedly emphasize that the aim was to have as ‘natural’ a birth as possible, without epidurals and certainly without surgery. More worryingly, the responsibility of making this perfect birth happen was mine. I had to eat, breathe and do everything right to keep things natural and come out top.
I ended up having an emergency c-section when I developed high blood pressure, and my daughter was born almost a month before my due date. I was completely unprepared, and undergoing a major surgery in a medically tricky situation was certainly not my dream birthing scenario. People who came visiting did not help matters. From comparing recovery times, to how private hospitals were pushing c-sections to make more money, to actually insinuating that I never experienced the ’pain’ of childbirth, I heard a whole range of anti c-section comments. As grateful as I was for having a beautiful little girl, the comments of those around me put this nagging doubt in my head that I had been shortchanged of the miracle of birth. I began to imagine that the doctors had, in fact, tricked me into a surgery, and it was only much later when I did a lot of research of my own, did I make my peace with my birth story.
Truth be told, there is no painless way to have a child. C-section moms are not the runners up at a childbirth pageant. They don’t need pity, bravery awards or sympathetic head tilts. Just coffee, cake, a hug, and of course some sleep, but let’s not get too hopeful.
Instead of shaming and questioning women on how they gave birth, let’s empower them with information on their bodies, childbirth options, and possible D-day scenarios. It is a basic human right to have autonomy over one’s own body. That is what we teach our children. That is the very least a mother deserves.
Ultimate Guide To C-Sections: What they don’t tell you, preparation and recovery tips (and free c-section birth plan)
How to Write a Birth Plan
How to have an intervention free birth in Singapore
Guide to Natural Birth