The C word

by Julie Alpine-Crabtree

Adding her calm voice to the recent brouhaha on C-sections, following new guidelines proposing that caesareans should be made available to all women regardless of medical need, Dr Luisa Dillner stated in Monday’s Guardian that “women who have had caesarean sections … … will take the same time to have sex again as women who have had a vaginal delivery, despite being less likely to have damaged their vagina.”

Both of my children were born by elective caesarean. I was less worried about resuming sex in a hurry than I was about damaging my vagina. Too posh to push? No. Too scared to tear.

I was convinced that I would resist labour, impede my baby’s safe journey out, end up with a highly medicalised birth and lots of trauma. Enough so that I fought for that first caesarean. I wrote letters, poured out my heart to midwives, was poked and prodded by a registrar, who did her best to bully me out of the idea, before I met a consultant who believed it should be a woman’s choice how she gives birth and booked me in for a Monday in January in Brighton’s Royal Sussex County Hospital.

If it hadn’t been for that consultant, I may have ended up in some private Cypriot hospital where the whole shebang comes in at under £5k. You hear about dental tourism and cosmetic surgery tourism but not baby tourism. Maybe something to do with the fact you’d have to fly before 30-whatever-it-is weeks and stay wherever you were flying to for who-knows-how-long?

Second time around, and back in London, I wanted nothing more than to recreate the positive experience of Milo’s birth. When I saw an obstetrician at UCH, I had a big speech rehearsed, but I didn’t need it. There’s no fighting for a second C-section. The female obstetrician just winked at my chef and said to me, faux serious: “Let me guess: you’re here to ask if you can have a vaginal birth, yes?”

A surgical birth costs the NHS around £800 more than the other kind. I would guess that £800 is small change compared to what a mother struggling with postnatal depression, issues with bonding with her baby and problems with breastfeeding could cost the NHS over the course of a couple of children. I mean, the prescription drugs alone…

Sure, I could have had a smooth, joyous vaginal birth. I know plenty of women do. I salute those women. It’s like with weddings, though. For every girl who gets married in a cloud of tulle and hands out 300+ silver favours hand-made by Indian hermaphrodites, there will be one who ties the knot in a skin-tight, see-through sheath and parties with 20 of her nearest and dearest on a Shoreditch roof terrace afterwards. Would you begrudge either of them their nuptial happiness? That basically sums up my whole viewpoint on the to-cut-or-not-to-cut question.

Dr Dillner concludes by suggesting that the most significant part of the new recommendations is that women should have a say in what music is played in the operating theatre.

On this point I couldn’t agree more. While others in our NCT group were agonising over the birth plan, I was agonising over the playlist. For this, I have to thank the anesthesiologist at my pre-op consultation, who urged me to bring a CD. I guess there’s not much anesthesiologists don’t know about mood-enhancing tricks.

Earnest and nervous, I wanted tracks that would stand the test of time. Good as they are, I didn’t want The First Cut is the Deepest or Comfortably Numb.

I listened to both my birth playlists today and they still make me smile, make me cry, make me dance around the lounge, baby in my arms. They take me back to the experience of welcoming my children into the world as powerfully as a sniff of a fragrance or smell of baking can take you straight back to a powerful, half-forgotten childhood memory.

I didn’t know the sex of either of my children pre-theatre, but listening today, I’m thinking maybe there was some knowing on some level. The first playlist, Milo’s, is heavy on male artists. There’s the spit-and-smoke of Buena Vista Social Club’s Chang Chang, the haunting Omaid e Man by the goosebump-inducing Ehsan Aman, some Moby, a couple of come-everywhere-with-me Cat Stevens numbers, “our song”, Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love… It all adds up to a kind of chill-out lounge, end-of-the-night haziness (apt for saying goodbye to a life without responsibility) meets a leonine outpouring of love.

For Nini’s birth, it’s more lemon drops and Scottish lochs, heavier on the female artist and female-centric lyrics – I’m thinking in particular of the utterly beguiling Under the Ivy by Kate Bush.

Under the Ivy, incidentally, was a favourite of the late, great Sebastian Horsley, who died last year. At his funeral, I smoked a cigarette for the first time since stopping. I didn’t know I was already pregnant with Nini. I dedicated my second caesarean section to Sebastian. He would have liked that.

Going into a second birth, our CD showed a greater understanding of what was at stake. We were having a baby. Such anticipation. Such call for hallelujahs.

I will never forget the look of delight on the face of one of the theatre assistants when Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata came on. She hadn’t heard it since her youth in South Africa. I hadn’t heard it until I accidentally stumbled across it a couple of days before. It is now a forever favourite. In fact, the entire “Hello New Baby” CD was such a hit with the theatre team that we left them a copy (I’d brought two in case one got broken/lost/scratched). The amazing Dr Michelle, who delivered Nini, told me the next day that they’d already had it playing during two births since, and that it made a nice change from Robbie Williams.

So don’t leave it to chance. To the radio. To the taste of the girl under the knife before you. Whatever kind of birth you’re hoping for, go through your old music collection, get onto iTunes, beg, borrow or buy, and burn, baby, burn.

If nothing else, those birth CDs are going to make the perfect 21st birthday present for your kids.