In the first photographs I have of my babies, they are already all wrapped up, pink and clean. No naked, just emerged, skin-to-skin shots for us.
If I am being perfectly honest, this makes me sad. Which in many senses is utterly illogical. Here are my beautiful, perfect, healthy little babies, in my arms (or at least in reach of them) at long last. Safe and well. Please take this as given: I never, ever, for a moment forget how unbelievably lucky I am to have my Beans. Never.
Yet recently, when a friend was asking what she should just say to her sister-in-law, upset after an emergency caesarean, the first thing that sprung to mind was ‘Just DON’T say “your baby is here safe and well and that’s the important thing”‘. Believe me, those of us sad at how our babies’ births turned out know this more than most. We saw how it could all go wrong, and have our babies here despite that. We know how very, very fortunate we are. So please understand how that simple platitude ‘You and your baby are safe, that’s what matters’ only serves to amplify our guilt, confusion and upset, all whilst taking away our right to share it.
My babies were both born by emergency caesareans. With Bean1, I was blindsided. Lying in an operating theater, naked and numb from the chest down whilst my baby was hauled out of my belly was not on the birth plan, dammit. Add to this she didn’t cry when she was born; that nobody told me she was ok; that I didn’t get to see her for a good ten minutes and when I finally did she was all wrapped up and so still I thought I was being shown my dead baby and I think it’s fair to say the nature of her arrival left me traumatised. But after the first six or so people had trotted out that ‘you’re all safe and that’s what’s important’ line, I stopped talking about it. I still thought about it, and cried about it, every single day for the first year of her life. But I didn’t tell anyone. I felt I had no right to. No right to be sad because I had my baby in my arms when lots of women don’t. No right to be understood, or listened to, because it wasn’t important.
I stopped crying after 12 months because I was pregnant with Bean2. Now I pursued VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) with unhealthy zeal. I researched, and prepared, and fought my corner and perceived opposition even where there was none. I was desperate to ‘get it right’ this time.
Bean2 arrived, after 4 full days of labour, by emergency caesarean. And, actually, it was ok. More than ok. It was beautiful. He cried, and was placed on my chest, and everyone was so respectful of us, and it wasn’t a shock. It healed a lot of the pain of Bean1’s birth, too. When, immediately after delivery, I was told that any future births would have to be by caesarean, that too felt ok. I had given it my best shot, and it wasn’t to be, but here was my baby and we all moved on.
And yet. Last week, over 20 months after Bean2’s birth, with all the physical scars long healed, I cried over it for the first time. It seems the sadness hasn’t quite left me, after all.
The reason? My very best friend in the whole world had an amazing birth with her second child. The perfect kind of birth, exactly the one I had imagined and envisaged and was on my birth plan. The one I now know, no matter how many more births I have (chances are there won’t be any more!), I will never get. And I do feel loss over that.
Luckily, she is the very best sort of friend, so she could forgive me the sadness in my congratulations. I could tell her how thrilled I am for her (and I really am) but also how jealous. And she knew that she didn’t need to tell me what the important thing is in all this birth business. Instead she just said she’s sorry I didn’t get that kind of birth too. Which meant more than I can ever tell her.