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You are a failure and an embarrassment, frankly.

Fight So, I was chatting with a new Mum this week and she was telling me about her baby’s birth. After a long labour, she had an epidural, but the labour failed to progress quickly enough and my friend ended up having a c-section to deliver her little boy.

Of course, I immediately told my friend that she is a complete loser.

She looked a bit shocked, and it was a bit embarrassing the way she started to cry in the street like that.  But you know what? Just because you’re the vicar’s wife doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the truth.

The truth – as I explained to her loudly enough for passers-by to hear – is that she probably won’t bond with her baby. He’ll likely struggle to breastfeed, which of course means he’ll fail his 11+ and go to a second-rate comprehensive school, where he’ll be bullied, and end up under-achieving and passing only two GCSEs, probably in subjects that don’t really count, like Art and General Studies.

Because I care enough to be honest, I explained that, sadly, I am only in a position to remain friends with women who give birth on all fours, in a water pool, surrounded by candles. Then I kicked her in the shins and walked away, taking her wallet with me. Well, she’s just had a c-section, it’s not like she’s going to run after me, is it?


Why do so many women still trot out the line about being failures because we had c-sections?

I struggled to stay pregnant so it wasn’t a surprise to me when labour didn’t proceed in the textbook manner our NCT leader had laid out for us.

So there were four days of attempted inductions and hormone drips and finding the doctor with the longest fingers (I kid you not) to break my waters and then, finally, an epidural that didn’t work. Then there was the decision to do a c-section, then a spinal block that didn’t work. Then there was a general anaesthetic. That one worked.

It was a really horrible four days. But it was a week out of my life. And nobody died.

It did make me laugh when the NCT teacher said I wasn’t the right person to come and talk to her next group about the birth, because I hadn’t had the “right” sort of experience. I think this idea that birth is some sort of “experience” that you prepare for and then do “right” or “wrong” is just laughable.

As far as I can see, if giving birth is a test for women, there are only three questions:

–    Did a human baby come out?
–    Was the baby alive?
–    Are you alive?

Answer all three of those, and you’ve passed with flying colours. I don’t care if you were on all fours, or flat on your back with a doctor rocking you from side to side to try and spread the anaesthetic to your left side (true story), you’ve done something amazing.

By all means be upset if you feel a clinician treated you badly or made the wrong choice for you, but I don’t think that you, or your body, failed.


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.

About The Author


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.


  1. Carol (New Mummy)

    Well I’m an embarrassment and failure too! and we all know what a bad parent I am and how badly BG is progressing.

  2. Dan

    not that i probably have much of a right to an opinion, being male and all, but I couldn’t agree more.
    The anti medicine natural birth lot make me furious. Yes, people may not have had c sections and pain relief in the old days. and it is “natural” to have unassisted births. But it’s also “natural” for women and babies to die during birth too.
    Poncy bloody middle class values.
    You can stick your “dulas” up your arse too. Give me a midwife who is a) trained and b) has professional accountability any day of the week.
    and as for breastfeeding – anyone would think formula has arsenic added to it.

  3. Supersinglemum

    I’m a failure twice over then, and if I have any more kids I will be an automatic failure at word go as have been told I can’t try vaginal birth any more.
    I had that the judgements are there, 30 years ago I would have died in childbirth the 2nd time round, if I had managed to get through the 1st time that is!! I think people forget that sections are as normal as vaginal births these days. Easily 50% of my mummy friends have had sections so the NCT woman was out of order. I’d have loved to hear from someone who had a section at my ante natal classes – I would have been more prepared for what happens!

  4. Wendy Mallins

    Nothing irritates me more than C-Sec mum’s who feel they’ve failed! It is a complete ridiculous statement – I’ve had a baby both the usual way and the C-Sec way and have to say I felt 100% better following the C-Sec than the usual. And can fully understand the ‘too posh to push’ women who choose the C-Sec route out of wanting it rather than medical necessity . As for the feeling of failure it is extremely sad that a new mummy at her lowest ebb is made to feel like she failed – I remember attending an NCT mum & baby group after having a C-Sec I was practically forced to sit in corner facing wall! GRRRRR

  5. FeeHorne

    Wow! Tell it like it is! Thank you! I had one of those ’emegency elective c sections: went in for a scan at 34 weeks, was told that a)I had pre-eclmpsia and b) boy twin wasn’t growing properly and that they would operate the next morning. It was a very positive experience and I had nothing but good things to say about the team. I am the only one out of my NCT group not to have been asked back to talk about my experience because of the c-section and the fact that I don’t feel guilty about having it!

  6. Karin @ Cafe Bebe

    I knew I was in good company! I too have “FAILED” and will definitely “FAIL AGAIN” if we have another child. I ended up in 27 hours of pain, a patchy epidural (which involved laying in bizarre positions to try to get it to flow properly) and a horrendous c-section that I wish I had been unconscious for. But, I have a glorious girl and a moderate scar (and completely destroyed abdominals) as a result. All good, all alive. I really hate the NATURAL BIRTH MAFIA who make you feel like a heinous slacker for not breathing through the misery and squirting out a watermelon with no pain relief other than a stick to chomp down on. There…I’ve said it.
    Thank you for this! 😉

  7. Trish

    Such a refreshing post. Here here!
    When I look at the patchwork of my undercarriage and remember the pain, I can’t see that my son’s birth was “better” than having a C-section.
    (Having a chuckle at Dan’s wonderfully irreverent comments!)

  8. Insomniac Mummy

    I ended up with a forceps birth with Big E, after epidurals, diamorphene, syntocinon and double doses of antibiotics.
    My NCT leader asked us to go and chat to the next class *because* our experience was not anything like the ‘natural ideal’.
    Giving birth isn’t a competition and medical intervention exists for a reason!
    It’s such a shame that the first moments of actually becoming a parent to a real live baby have to be marred by the oneupmanship that becomes an obsession for so many parents

  9. Sally Whittle

    Absolutely – and before there were medical c-sections, of course, there were still c-sections except people just cut women open, took the baby out, and let the woman die.

  10. Sally Whittle

    Absolutely, I always thought I’d have learned a lot more from listening to someone who’d had an induction/section than from the lucky one from the last group who had a water birth at home.

  11. Sally Whittle

    It must be really interesting to compare the 2, Wendy, and how ridiculous to be treated that way by the new mum & baby group!

  12. Lindy

    Well said! Women just need to give themselves a break.
    Now how about all those people that make you feel bad for not breastfeeding?? I’m looking at “you” ya you that stopped commenting on a friends blog when she said she didn’t breastfeed any of her kids. Oh and thanks for sending her the email explaining why you weren’t commenting any more.

  13. Heather

    do people really think they’ve failed because they had a c-section? I never even realised! And people make them feel like this? what a messed up place we live where we make others feel this way, and for something as stupid as this! Great post.

  14. Emily Vest

    Sally – as ever, not sitting on that fence. That’s what we love about you.
    I could not agree more. There is no need to presume that one birth or one woman is better than another. We have enough to beat ourselves up about, why add to that list unnecessarily. We all do the best that we can (mothers, medical professionals) and a healthy mother and child at the end of it all is the most important thing of all.
    By all means, ensure that women know about the different options and are educated in the choices that they make, but do remember life doesn’t always work out the way it is planned. If the birth plan doesn’t run like clockwork, there is no need to stress about it as long as the end result is attained.
    Certainly there are medical professionals that could do with some brush ups regarding patient care and listening to their patients, and hospitals can always improve maternity services. But I’ve spent time in Sierra Leone (where 1 in 6 women will die in childbirth, think about that statistic – 1 in SIX) and in Bosnia, a European country with a well developed medical system but their maternity services are of a far lower standard than the UK.
    Sally is right. There is no need for competition about this. We are lucky to live in a country where good quality medical care is available, for free. We should be celebrating our children and their lives, not mourning the loss of an idealised picture of their arrival. Their arrival takes a few days at most. Their lives are for years.

  15. Grace London

    I did it the ‘natural’ way (not through choice, Miss L was in too much of a rush to let me get to the proper drugs) and let me tell you, there is nothing natural about it. I totally agree with the healthy baby+healthy mother = birthing win statement.

  16. ella

    I’ve had both types of birth and all sorts of different types of complications but the end results were safe births which is all that mattered.
    I still wince at the memory of an episiotomy 8 years ago though 😉

  17. mamacrow

    Hear hear Sally, great post! Tho i must own up to having had 6 vaginal births, 5 of those at home in the bath with no pain medication – i can only appologise- luck of the draw i suppose. After the 1st awful long experience, theyve all been 8hrs or less, which i find bearable enough to get thru.. And my undercarridge is fine too thanks!

  18. JulieB

    HEAR, HEAR! Whilst I did not have a c-section, I too was classed as having “unnatural” births both times by my NCT leader. I was induced early both times, due to being diagnosed with obstetric cholestasis ( problems with liver function in pregnancy), which can be fatal for the baby if the pregnancy is allowed to go to full term. Given the choice, I know which I preferred. Thank God we no longer live on an age where mothers and babies routinely die in childbirth.

  19. Tanya (Bump2Basics)

    How true! I for one moved from my “hand me an epidural pronto” outlook to hoping for a more natural birth, a home birth in fact. In the end it didn’t happen as I went over 42 weeks and had to be induced however I did labor without pain relief and have an assisted vaginal birth, which worked for me.
    Saying that, in the moment if I’d wanted the pain relief or needed a c-section I would not have felt a failure for it as I’d have done whatever I needed to do to get my little girl out safely.
    Birth is such an accomplishment no matter how it transpires. I don’t think natural birth plans are harmful as long as you keep them in perspective, know they often don’t go to plan and don’t let them cloud your mind as to what really counts – a health baby/mother when it’s all said and done.
    And I would never judge anyone else about their birth experience or approach, to each her own!

  20. Craig McGill

    The breast-is-best nazis in Scotland gave my wife a hard time over not breastfeeding and, as you say, if everyone comes out alive and in one piece, then job done.
    I did laugh at you not being invited along though to their talk as you would ruin the fiction they spin.

  21. Nat

    HAHHAHA Love it. I tired natural both times, and had 2 sections. Hoping to go natural again. But meh might set myself up to fail again though

  22. Mwa

    Hear, hear!

  23. Sally Whittle

    Yes, it’s depressing sometimes. I wish more NCT leaders would be like yours, though, then perhaps women would accept that intervention, complication and medical stuff is really the norm, not an exception.

  24. Sally Whittle

    Oh. My. God.
    Note to Lindy’s friend: get a life.

  25. Sally Whittle

    I keep reading blog posts from women who think they’re failed, and are really struggling to deal with the trauam of not having the birth “experience” they wanted, and it makes me SO frustrated!

  26. TheMadHouse

    I had something of a similar expeiance as you, so I totally understand where you are coming from. I didnt fail, after 10 years of trying I brought a baby into this world. OK so he was dragged out after horrid pregnancy and even wose bith, but he survived, I survived and we are happy – job done!!
    Oh and I blame the NCT for giving me delusions of the perfect birth

  27. Sally Whittle

    I know. This fence makes my bum sore I sit on it so often 😉
    You’re dead right, though – one in SIX is a very sobering figure, indeed.

  28. Sally Whittle

    Excellent, love the idea of her being in rush!

  29. Sally Whittle

    Ouch at the thought. I got off lightly I guess!

  30. Sally Whittle

    “Thank God we no longer live on an age where mothers and babies routinely die in childbirth.”

  31. Hannah

    This is one thing I really dislike about the NCT that they completely fail to prepare you for the fact it’s not all whale music and bliss. For me a birth plan should read ‘i’d like you to help me and my baby do this in a way that ensures we both come out of this alive and healthy. Please’
    Women who have c-sections aren’t failures (especially when they have to recover from surgery as well as everything else) in the same way that women who do it without pain relief aren’t super stars (mostly they’d have liked someone to get the pain relief to them in time and it didn’t work out)

  32. Deb

    I’ve given birth in a number of ways and each was fantastic because I ended up with a healthy child and just a few stitches.
    I also breastfed my five for more than a year each time and have friends who didn’t. Whatever.
    What I do object to is the usual tired old “breast feeding nazis” rubbish. Nobody has the power to make you feel anything – bad, guilty, anything. You give them that power {and with that she climbs off her hobby horse and scuttles back to oblivion….}.

  33. diane

    I’m not a mother, but I consider it a feminist issue how there’s so much judgement about what choices mothers make. Whether women have a C-sec or not, breastfeed or not, homeschool or not, work or not… in 99% of cases, women are just trying their best and don’t deserve to be hassled about it. Even worse is when the judgement comes from other mothers. I know it’s a cliche but I really think it is the hardest job in the world, and good luck to anyone who’s doing it.

  34. diane

    Ps: Great post, Sally. Meant to say that!

  35. diane

    I don’t agree, Deb. I mean, yes, it’s up to you if you breastfeed. But when the government launches campaigns designed to pressure women to make that choice, and every other mother gives you a dirty look for bottle-feeding (I know people who’ve had that experience) there might feel like there’s a groundswell against you.
    No-one has the power to make you feel bad, it’s true. But no one has the right to try, either, especially when you’re hormonal and exhausted.

  36. Mummy Mania

    here here. I too had an emergency c-section and then desperate for a ‘real birth’ second time round discovered Poppy was breach and so I had to have another. I spent a long long time feeling I hadn’t had a proper birth experience and was desperately sad about it. But after then loosing three babies and now pregnant again I realise I don’t give a damn if the stork delivers it, it comes out my nose or by osmosis, as long as it comes out alive. We’re mothers, end of story. And the birth is only the beginning of a wonderful story. great post.

  37. littledude's mummy

    Oooh, bit weird, feel a bit like a big girl for my post this morning now ( ) – to clarify though, I don’t feel like a failure – I actually think I’m doing okay for the most part – more than anything, I was pissed off that I went through hours of pain only to end up been sliced open, but hey ho.
    Absolutely agree with you though – how the baby gets into the world has no bearing on what happens after they’re out – I breastfed for a few months, bonded just fine, and I’m fairly sure I have a child genius on my hands. (He can eat crisps and poo at the same time. Oh yeah.)

  38. Vic

    Ok, I admit it, I’ve done the childbirth thing twice, naturally, without pain relief, although in all fairness, the first time around that wouldn’t have been my decision. It did however make me believe that I could manage it the second time around. That said, if at any time I felt I couldn’t have, I see no shame in opting for an epidural and if necessary a c-section.
    It’s clear there are dangers with whatever type of birth choice you go for. We need to stop being so hung up on how these babies make their way into the world and start focusing on the fact that they come out healthy. After all, that’s all that really matters.
    (and I know people who can’t believe I went natural!)

  39. veryanniemary

    I had three vaginal births as my 3 year old proudly told her class when she brought her baby sister in for show and tell…3 epidurals, 3 long labors, 3 healthy girls. 3 completely different experiences – all because of the staff I had attending. Any shame should be from the professionals who can make a woman’s birth experience less than joyful.

  40. Deb

    Don’t want to hijack Sally’s great post but it’s nice to have a debate ;0)
    I honestly don’t think the government launches campaigns specifically aimed at pressurising women. As far as I can tell they were just “breast is best” but have to admit I didn’t take too much notice.
    And as for other mums giving bottle feeding mothers “dirty looks” well, um…perhaps they do but in my experience mothers are adept at giving others dirty looks about a whole host of things as children grow up. Mothers seem to be highly judgemental and competitive.
    My point is that when you become a mother nearly every decision you make is questioned by someone (whether it’s authority, family, peers) and the sooner mums have confidence in those decisions and shrug off the looks the better it is for them.
    And calling breastfeeding advocates “nazis” is at best immature and at worst unnecessary and repulsive.

  41. Nikki

    I must admit I agree wholeheartedly with Diane.
    I went to NCT classes and the session on what’s involved in a c-section terrified me, I cried on the way home. I was convinced that a natural birth was the best way forward and that breastfeeding was a must-do or leave baby open to increased risk of everything imaginable.
    Picture the scenario when my daughter had to be induced, failed ventouse, episiotomy and forceps delivery. I put myself through that because the NCT had terrified me about a c-section which may have been better for me and my baby.
    I then couldn’t breastfeed because my milk didn’t come in for 5 days by which my daughter was screaming for 24 hours in hunger and I felt she needed a feed and conceeded to bottle feed her. A decision that wasn’t taken lightly but was right for her and us. But the grief people gave me online for doing so – and some face to face was awful.
    With our Son arriving just 15 months after our daughter (this time easier and with just gas and air- oh and a 3rd degree tear inside and out) – and symptomatic of group B strep again I was unable to feed him but this time I was prepared for the grief about it. It doesn’t help that we’re bombarded with breast feeding images, posters on every wall in the maternity units etc because yes, we do feel guilty at not being able to live upto everyone else’s – gov included standards.
    Each birth is a unique experience as is parenting. Stop criticising (not you Sally PMSL) other people and focus on your own kid. Delivery and feeding are such a small part of it all. Get over it.
    PS – And Shut up NCT!

  42. Sally

    Yes, I think the idea of “whatever gets you through” is the important thing to remember!

  43. Sally Whittle

    I think that sums it up perfectly – you brought a baby into the world and that’s a success however you look at it!

  44. Sally Whittle

    I don’t know about the NCT. I was a little disappointed that the parents they invited back to speak to each group did seem to be those who had a certain sort of experience, which experience now tells me was unusual – home birth, water pool etc. Great if it happens, but the chances are for most of us in that group, it wouldn’t.

  45. Expat Mum

    Wow – I’ve had both and I wouldn’t advise anyone to have the C electively. Which just goes to show that everyone’s experience is different and it’s all natural. I wish women would leave each other alone. Who cares anyway? And, more to the point, why?

  46. Sally Whittle

    With my feminist hat on, I sort of agree.
    To me, this handing over of responsibility for birth to women as though it’s up to them to make the right choice and succceed at a natural birth and perfect breastfeeding *is* just another way to box women in, and limit them. In reality the birth “experience” is probably down to luck, biology and perhaps what’s going on in the hospital at the time you happen to be in labour.

  47. Sally Whittle

    Crisps AND poo? Impressive.
    You’re doing more than okay. You’re doing brilliantly and so is the little dude x

  48. Sally Whittle

    I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for introducing me to the phrase “vadge of honour.” Truly, I heart you.

  49. Expat Mum

    Me again – I felt like I had failed after my first labour of about 20 hours and 2 hours pushing ended in a C. I wasn’t comparing myself to anyone else but I really hadn’t wanted surgery. It’s such a long period of recuperation (at least for me) and makes the newborn phase harder.

  50. Sally Whittle

    That sounds like really hard work Nikki, and it never fails to shock me that people like you get grief from (presumably) well-meaning third parties. Tsk. Some people need to get out more.

  51. Tara@Sticky Fingers

    Oh for heaven’s sake. I hate hate hate this issue of ‘if you didn’t do it this way, you failed as a mother’.
    Utter rot, and what makes it even more unpalatable is the fact that it’s OTHER WOMEN making people feel like it.
    It’s not just the group with 3 initials either . . .
    I had two ‘natural’ births; as far as I’m concerned my babies came out safe and ended up in my arms so I did good. I would have done anything in my power to ensure that happened.
    My best friend was upset for the longest time because she had this ‘perfect’ birth planned and ended up having to have a C section. I said to her ‘look at your boy, look at him – what does it matter how he came out? He’s ruddy gorgeous and you love him. End of’

  52. Insomniac Mummy

    I don’t breastfeed anymore, had huge problems so both my children were formula fed after a few weeks. But, everytime I see the term ‘nazi’ used in conjunction with breastfeeding it makes me cringe.
    The comparison is just ridiculous, unneccessary and horrible!
    Yes, there are women who are extremely pro breastfeeding and truly believe regardless of anyone’s feelings/experiences that it is the only way to feed a babay, but the term ‘nazi’ should never be rolled out and used so flippantly.
    Just my two pence worth.

  53. Fiona

    Brilliant post! I so agree with you, but extend that to breastfeeding too (people being judgemental and rough on people who struggle, fail, or don’t do it for the whole first 6 months). I ended up with 2 emergency c-sections, both when fully dilated! I would say that I feel I missed out with having a c-section – and by that I mean I missed out on:
    1. Seeing the placenta – I wanted to for some reason!
    2. Seeing my baby immediately and still messy (instead of cleaned up and wrapped in a towel with only face showing).

  54. Hot Cross Mum

    I hadn’t realised mums who’d had a section felt like this. What I seem to hear more of (and annoys me equally) is the almost bragging of those who elect to have a section for non medical reasons and are delighted that they don’t have to experience the inconvenience, pain and trauma of a natural birth. Now THAT is very annoying.

  55. Siriol

    Well said Sally. I am an elective c-section person and proud. I had the best birth “experience” and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Anyone who disagrees with me can stick it in their torn perineum.
    I make no apologies for greeting my baby into the world with laughs and smiles instead of shrieks of agony. I make no apologies for not wanting to almost die in labour like my mother and grandmother. And I make no apologies for not wanting to spend the next thirty years having surgery to correct the injuries from a vaginal birth.
    I wonder whether these people who extol the virtues of “natural” birth, feel the same way about a tooth abscess or a burst appendix. Let nature take its course, eh.
    I’m going to stop now, or I’m in danger of getting into rant mode. All I will say is that we are incredibly lucky to be living in an age where we can benefit from all the advances in medical technology.

  56. Sally Whittle

    I think it’s so sad when women are depressed and upset because they had a birth different to the one they imagined. I read a blog post recently about a new Mum who says she has PTSD because she had a c-section, and her entire blog since the birth has been about nothing other than how this was forced on her, and she’s been robbed and so on and on – and it’s not being put on her by other women – in fact, she’s upset if you say “But you have a healthy son, what does it matter?” It’s a pressure she’s putting on herself.
    But yes, it also sucks when women do it to other women, even more.

  57. Sally Whittle

    I saw a photo of a placenta once. You didn’t miss much.

  58. Sally Whittle

    Yeah, I’m a big fan of the whole “medicine” thing really.

  59. Nikki

    Couldn’t agree more Sally and as for the births, well it’s all worth it in the end regardless of how they arrive 🙂
    PS – just love how you actually respond to so many replies – no wonder you’re so popular- we love ya!!

  60. Gappy

    O.k. I’m wading in.
    Firstly I’d like to say that it really saddens me that when birth doesn’t go according to plan, and interventions and c-sections become necessary, that some women can end up feeling like failures. No woman ‘fails’ at childbirth.
    But I do believe that womens experiences of childbirth – whether they feel safe, and as though their wishes were respected for example, are extremely important. Unnecessary intervention happens. A lot. So does birth trauma. Women who are traumatised by their experience of childbirth are more likely to experience post natal depression, and more likely to have trouble bonding with their babies. This can have hugely negative consequences for both them and their children. The last thing that these women need to hear is that they are being somehow spoilt, and that they should be grateful – they’ve got their baby, what more do they want…
    I am certainly not anti-medicine. Neither am I middle class (I really wish people wouldn’t make such generalisations.) I am extremely grateful to have access to high quality, free medical care should I need it. But I am troubled by the over medicalisaton of childbirth and I do think that women should have real choices over where and how they give birth. These are feminist issues in my opinion – women are not just mere vessels whose only purpose is to produce a healthy child – their experiences matter too.
    But I think perhaps I’ve wandered off topic slightly – I can see that your main point Sally was to show how shocking it is that women feel like failures because they have needed a section, and on that I couldn’t agree with you more.

  61. Gappy

    O.k. I’m wading in.
    Firstly I’d like to say that it really saddens me that when birth doesn’t go according to plan, and interventions and c-sections become necessary, that some women can end up feeling like failures. No woman ‘fails’ at childbirth.
    But I do believe that womens experiences of childbirth – whether they feel safe, and as though their wishes were respected for example, are extremely important. Unnecessary intervention happens. A lot. So does birth trauma. Women who are traumatised by their experience of childbirth are more likely to experience post natal depression, and more likely to have trouble bonding with their babies. This can have hugely negative consequences for both them and their children. The last thing that these women need to hear is that they are being somehow spoilt, and that they should be grateful – they’ve got their baby, what more do they want…
    I am certainly not anti-medicine. Neither am I middle class (I really wish people wouldn’t make such generalisations.) I am extremely grateful to have access to high quality, free medical care should I need it. But I am troubled by the over medicalisaton of childbirth and I do think that women should have real choices over where and how they give birth. These are feminist issues in my opinion – women are not just mere vessels whose only purpose is to produce a healthy child – their experiences matter too.
    But I think perhaps I’ve wandered off topic slightly – I can see that your main point Sally was to show how shocking it is that women feel like failures because they have needed a section, and on that I couldn’t agree with you more.

  62. Gappy

    O.k. I’m wading in.
    Firstly I’d like to say that it really saddens me that when birth doesn’t go according to plan, and interventions and c-sections become necessary, that some women can end up feeling like failures. No woman ‘fails’ at childbirth.
    But I do believe that womens experiences of childbirth – whether they feel safe, and as though their wishes were respected for example, are extremely important. Unnecessary intervention happens. A lot. So does birth trauma. Women who are traumatised by their experience of childbirth are more likely to experience post natal depression, and more likely to have trouble bonding with their babies. This can have hugely negative consequences for both them and their children. The last thing that these women need to hear is that they are being somehow spoilt, and that they should be grateful – they’ve got their baby, what more do they want…
    I am certainly not anti-medicine. Neither am I middle class (I really wish people wouldn’t make such generalisations.) I am extremely grateful to have access to high quality, free medical care should I need it. But I am troubled by the over medicalisaton of childbirth and I do think that women should have real choices over where and how they give birth. These are feminist issues in my opinion – women are not just mere vessels whose only purpose is to produce a healthy child – their experiences matter too.
    But I think perhaps I’ve wandered off topic slightly – I can see that your main point Sally was to show how shocking it is that women feel like failures because they have needed a section, and on that I couldn’t agree with you more.

  63. Gappy

    Not entirely sure how I managed to post that three times. Sorry.

  64. Noble Savage

    Okay. This has touched a nerve so I’m going to stick my neck out and go against the grain here. As far as I can tell, there is no ‘Natural Birth/Breastfeeding Conspiracy’. The vast majority of the people who advocate for these things are not, by default, judging those who didn’t have or do these things. Are some people within the ‘movement’ (though why we need a movement for two perfectly normal bodily functions is beyond me) up their own arses, rude and tactless? Sure. There’s no denying that. They are people after all, and in any group of people you’re going to get some jerks.
    But I, for one, get sick and tired of hearing my birth choices (home birth with no drugs or interventions) denigrated too. All the disparaging remarks about whale music and candles or the popular sneer: “You know you don’t get a medal for birth, right?” as if the only possible reason to give birth naturally could be in some kind of perverse one-upmanship or social status kind of thing. C-section mums are made to feel bad about their births by some people? I don’t doubt it. But attempts to make me feel bad about mine are there too. I often feel like I can’t talk about my great birth experience and that I have to play up all the bad bits because people roll their eyes or think I’m “trying to make them feel bad” if I talk about how wonderful it was or how empowering I found it. If I talk about how rewarding and special I’ve found breastfeeding, I know that some other mum may take offence. Do most mums do this? No. Most say “Whatever floats yer boat” and we all get on with it. I don’t hold the minority who think I’m mad to have a home birth or those who kick up a fuss about breastfeeding and say, “See! ALL these women who had medicalised births and didn’t breastfeed are making me feeeel baddddd.” I am confident in my choices and do my utmost to respect others’. But it would be nice if that same respect could be extended to mine.
    And yes, I believe a birth plan is a good idea, mainly just because it gets you to do some research and think about your options and no, I don’t think that a healthy baby at the end is ALL that matters. Does it matter a lot? Of course. But it is, in my mind, very anti-woman to say that the way we feel about our births, the way we experience them and how it affects our recovery and ability to care for our newborns is irrelevant. If it was, no one would be depressed or traumatised by their children’s births and many are. You can’t lay the blame for all of that at the feet of birth advocates.
    There are a lot of things right with our maternity care system but there are also a lot of things wrong; things that don’t give women the control they need to ensure each choice was made BY them, not FOR them. If wanting to better that system and ensure that more women are able to have successful and, yes, HAPPY births (be it vaginally or by caesarean, with no drugs or every single one) puts me on level pegging with a Nazi or a ‘fanatic’, then I don’t know what to say. I’m sure I’ve said too much already so I’ll leave it there.
    P.S. – Dan, a ‘doula’ is not there to replace a midwife or act in any medical way, she is there to support the mother (and the entire family) throughout the pregnancy and birth. I’m studying to be one so I suppose I’d better go stick myself up someone’s arse, eh?

  65. Sally Whittle

    Kinda, sorta, yeah.
    I’m a feminist. I absolutely believe women should be empowered, informed and involved in childbirth. I absolutely believe that a minimum of intervention is almost certainly best for mother and child. I also believe that not all women receive amazing care during what’s a very vulnerable time – hence saying this isn’t about saying you shouldn’t be upset if a clinician makes a poor choice for you, or treats you badly.
    Similarly, I’m not anti-home birth or natural childbirth. I gave birth in Brighton, where home births are more common than (I think) anywhere else in the UK. It was never going to be an option for me due to a complicated pregnancy, but I certainly think it’s a great choice if it’s for you.
    I confess, I get irritated by people who present birth as a lifestyle or political choice – I think it increases birth trauma because a) it gives women unrealistic expectations and b) it leads to guilt if subsequently women don’t “live up to” their own expectations.

  66. Sally Whittle

    You make some great points.
    As I said to Gappy, I’m a feminist. Obviously (I have a brain). I’m hugely supportive of the idea that women should be educated and empowered and given choices around a birth.
    I can’t comment for others, but I don’t criticise anyone who has an amazing, positive experience of childbirth at home (although I’d personally suggest the fact you had that twice wasn’t a choice, it was luck). But my point is that I had a fantastic, positive experience of childbirth – I had a healthy baby, when for the longest time that seemed impossible. I just get frustrated when women can’t see past what they perceive as a “failure” on their part because they weren’t lucky enough to experience what you experienced.
    I’m not debating, particularly, WHY they didn’t experience that. In some cases it would be to ensure the safety of mother and child, in other cases perhaps it wasn’t entirely necessary – but what I’m saying is it shouldn’t automatically be labelled a failure if you have a c-section.

  67. muummmeeeee!

    Well I’d have given anything to be an embarrassment or failure when I gave birth the first time round. I was in labour for nearly 3 days, the pain and exhaustion became a bit tiresome and my daughter nearly died. A C-Section carried out by the porter would have been preferable to Meg’s “natural” birth…

  68. Josie

    Ok. I have to say it, I hold a slightly different view… *ducks*
    No, I don’t think in a objective sense it matters how you give birth – there is no physically right way. Vaginal birth is no ‘better’ than a C Section, using pain relief no ‘worse’ than managing without.
    But how you give birth IS important. It IS an experience, one of the most powerful ones in the history of anything. So I think there is an important fourth question. If your baby came out, if you are alive, if your baby is alive then yes, that’s great. But it’s NOT enough. If you are left feeling like your baby’s birth, for whatever reason, was something that left you feeling powerless, scared, with decisions made out of your control, then that wasn’t right.
    How many people here who have talked about C-Sections also talk about how negatively they view their birth experiences? What does that tell you? I’m not saying that in anyway to make judgement on C-Sections as a technique – if it’s what’s needed, it’s what’s needed – but we do need to think about how they’re being used and how they are making women feel. That goes the same for assisted delivery, and induction and all the rest too. It’s not that these techniques are ‘bad’ or that using them means you’ve ‘failed’, but if you are left traumatised by your babies birth then that IS bad.
    It’s not the mother’s fault though. And an ethos that gives women an unrealistic attitude to birth and judgement on birth experiences is not helping this. Likewise, criticism of movements and organisations that are working hard to try and make birth better for women doesn’t help either.
    I don’t care how a woman chooses to give birth. I just want to see her coming away from the experience feeling positive about what happened. And right now, I’m not seeing a lot of that.
    Just my thoughts. Sorry for the long comment x

  69. Sally Whittle

    I hope it’s okay that you made me laugh.

  70. Sally Whittle

    Hmm. *lobs water bomb*
    I don’t think we’re holding a different view particularly. My post isn’t about whether or not birth trauma happens – of course it does, it’s a major issue for women affected, who deserve support, sympathy and better systems to reduce the incidence of problems in the first place.
    First, I’d say my post is about women themselves feeling they’ve failed or that their bodies failed. Seems to me that very few women come out of a vaginal birth with minimal pain relief feeling that they’ve failed. But plenty of women feel they failed if they have had an assisted birth or c-section.
    My view is that any woman who gives birth just did something AMAZING, no matter how they did it.
    The second thing I’d say though is that in some instances, I do think the amount of propaganda that’s peddled in pregnancy magazines, ante-natal classes and pregnancy books does, in my opinion, contribute to women often having unrealistic expectations of birth, which I personally believe, in some cases, may contribute to that feeling of failure and loss.
    By all means let’s hope for natural childbirth. By all means let’s be empowered and informed and involved in birth. By all means let’s support women who suffer birth trauama and let’s do all we can to put in place better care or systems to support women to have better experiences.
    But let’s stop feeling as though we’re somehow responsible for whether or not we get that birth – that we succeeded if we get it, failed it we didn’t – because, 99 times out of 100, it’s just dumb luck which one you get.

  71. lastofthemojitos

    I’ve blogged about this before, it’s certainly a topic that many women can relate to. I managed to avoid a section but had a forceps delivery (after being induced 14 days overdue). I felt like a complete failure I think it was the mounted expectations from everyone waiting for my baby to be born and then the fact that my body just didn’t seem to want help to get my baby out. I hope if i’m lucky enough to have future babies, things might be different. I feel as though i have a point to prove which it totally ridiculous, I know!

  72. Alan Burkitt-Gray

    Three caesarians out of three in our family. Two already at university, including one at Oxford, and the third heading that way, with school expecting four A* at A level. Total failures, obviously.

  73. Josie

    Actually I was more disagreeing with your commenters 😛
    The personal responsibility thing I am totally behind. Women need to stop being made to feel crappy about stuff that wasn’t their fault. Like you say, so much of it is out of our hands.

  74. Vegemitevix

    Yeah, I must be triple loser then. One 34 hour labour, and emergency c-section followed by two more c-sections to order. Yeah! Oh, and I didn’t breastfeed the last one either – how good for baby can it be if you want to kill them everytime you put them to the breast?

  75. Sally

    Well, that makes me a failure 3 times over! I have always felt a little cheated out of a natural birth I suppose and did struggle to breastfeed – I got there in the end tho. You are so right – my children (9,6,4) are wonderful and growing into creative, thoughtful and intelligent little people, despite my 3 sections. I often think I was so lucky to have had the option of a section in the first place – without it,it’s possible that my children wouldn’t have made it into the world.
    Your post was great!

  76. Young Mummy

    I managed to be a double failure all in one go! My twins were delivered by planned c-section. As soon as I found out I was expecting twins I was prepared for a c-section, and probably would have been more shocked if I’d ended up having to have a vaginal birth (I’m not going to use the term ‘natural birth’ because that makes it sound as though giving birth to my babies wasn’t natural). I feel no shame in having a c-section, though I do struggle with the fact I didn’t experience any of the ‘normal’ birth experiences such as contractions etc (I know, I know – no great loss, right?).

  77. Young Mummy

    I have to say that I think this is very much down to the particular teacher you get. I was so impressed with our NCT lessons – our teacher was down-to-earth, sensible, and very encouraging. Maybe because she had me in her group (expecing twins) she had to make an effort to be more realistic, but I don’t think so. She really helped us prepare for the unexpected, and not to think of birth through rose-tinted specs.

  78. SandyCalico

    Hear hear, brilliant post.
    I’ve just given myself a clip round the ear for allowing the interventions that saved my son’s life. I wasn’t invited back to the NCT either, obviously a cord round the neck wasn’t natural enough for them. I’ll stop now. I can feel a rant coming on!!

  79. Sally Whittle

    If it’s how you feel, you can’t argue with that, but I think it sounds like it was totally outside your control!

  80. Sally Whittle

    Obviously. It occurs to me that, being adopted, I’ve no idea how I was born, so I guess I could still go either way…

  81. Gappy

    Yes, I agree with you too – sort of.
    But surely the expectation that your wishes will be respected, that nothing will be done to you without your consent, and that you will have some choice over how and where you give birth (depending on your level of risk) should never be unrealistic?
    These are basics I feel that have nothing to do with lifestyle choices or women setting themselves up for ‘failure’.

  82. Noble Savage

    Okay, but WHO is “automatically labelling women as failures” for having c-sections? I find it hard to believe that every NCT teacher and natural birth advocate would hear ‘c-section’ and go “Oh, you failed. Get out of my sight.” Is it that they may have suggested that if X or Y had been done differently, the surgery might not have become necessary? Because I think that’s what is often misconstrued as a judgement or failure. Obviously there is a gentle way to ask more questions about what happened and help that woman work through the events that led to the section, and there is a rude, abrupt way which comes off as the attitude you describe. But I don’t think that, in the majority of cases, it is meant as judgement on the woman, but the SYSTEM.
    It *is* upsetting to me when I hear a woman talking about her traumatic emergency caesarean after an induction because they thought her baby was ‘too big’ and the baby ended up being 7 lbs, knowing how inaccurate foetal ultrasound weight guesses are and how hard inductions are on a woman’s body when it’s not ready yet. But I’m not upset at HER, I’m upset at the silly system that thinks any baby over 8lbs is a giant and that it’s perfectly okay to use synthetic drugs to force women’s bodies into labour, even though it makes everything much more painful and makes the likelihood of a caesarean multiply.
    It makes me sad when I hear that a woman’s labour was progressing well until the hospital staff insisted on putting the continuous foetal monitor on (even though studies and even its own inventors say it is being misused and used far too often) which confined her to bed and made the pain unbearable, which resulted in a patchy epidural and a stalling of labour and then a crash section. Because those things could probably have been prevented but they weren’t, mainly because of hospital policy or doctor error/convenience. THAT is what I, as a birth advocate, am fighting against, not the women themselves.
    That said, I know that birth is a very personal, sensitive topic and so I never offer my unsolicited opinion on someone’s birth experience unless they are distressed or traumatised by it and would like my help working through it. A lot of women ARE extremely distressed by their experiences and, yes, some of them even suffer from PTSD. The worst thing to say to someone suffering this level of distress is “But at least you have a healthy baby!” because it totally minimises their feelings. We are not vessels whose sole purpose is to deliver a ‘healthy baby’ — we are sentient human beings and how we feel about an experience and what is done to our bodies matters. It matters a lot. I’m sorry if that is offensive or ‘crazy’ to anyone.

  83. Hayley

    Cor blimey when I read that first bit I was fit to explode at you! Whoops!
    I cant believe what the NCT teacher said! Mothers need to be aware that things may not work out as perfectly as they would like.
    Like everyone I hoped for a natural birth but I knew it may be possible having two uterus’. Fact of the matter is it wasnt and after an exhausting 24 hour labour an emergency c-section occured, J was brought out quickly and fine, I ended up in a mess but after a week in hospital I was on the mend and we were both healthy. Thats all that mattered. It really angers me the way some people see c-sections as failures, they bloody well arent!

  84. Emily Vest

    In defence of the NCT – they have a certain reputation but it isn’t always true. I think it very much depends upon the teacher. My NCT teacher was amazing and made it her mission to ensure that we knew about all the different options, what they entailed and some of the political issues behind them (eg involving funding etc.). She never made any attempts to say that any one way was better or more preferable than another. I know others have had different experiences of the NCT, but I’ve only had positive ones and my sessions with them left me well informed and with no particular bias.

  85. Mathew

    don’t think our NCT leader wouldn’t have invited C-section mums back in to chat. newham has a well high rate anyway and 3 or 4 of the 7 mums had C-section for one reason or another. i agree fully w/ sal, if mother and baby are both healthy at the end, then all is well. if that means a c-section, so be it. if that means a doula and frickin whalesong as well, so be it 😉

  86. Sally Whittle

    My post was about the judgments women make on themselves. Lots of women automatically label THEMSELVES as failures for c-sections, and I’m just saying don’t do that, you’re amazing. Possibly a clinician let you down, and it’s fine to be upset or angry about that, but you’re not a failure.
    That said, I do think there’s a need to ask where this feeling of failure comes from. And my personal view is that the natural birth movement, together with the pregnancy mags, the NCT and other women have done an amazing job of creating a notion that there is a superior birth experience and an inferior birth experience.
    What bothers me even more than that is this idea that getting the superior experience is down to you, as a mother – you must make the right birth plan, go to the right class, bounce on the right ball, do the right yoga, have the right birth partner, argue enough with the doctor and the midwife, remain upright.
    Is it any wonder then, that so many women coming round from a c-section think, “I failed. I didn’t argue enough, I didn’t push hard enough, I didn’t do X, Y or Z.”
    I personally think your birth experience is 90% down to biology and luck. Pushing it onto women as just something else where they need to measure up seems unhelpful to me. I do think at least some women with very negative feelings about their experience of childbirth would not have those feelings if it wasn’t for their expectations and feelings of responsibility going into the birth.

  87. angelsandurchinsblog

    aargh! The ‘right’ sort of experience. My mother is a midwife and she says she’d love to rip up birthplans. Not that she doesn’t want mothers to have a choice, far from it, but because she sees so many get incredibly upset when the routine they had planned doesn’t materialise. I’d have loved the whole scented candle/water birth routine, but ended up with a C-section. And when the NCT group met up to discuss their ‘natural’ births and didn’t invite me to that particular session for fear of ‘upsetting me’, I went and had a beer in the pub, newborns in tow, with a friend who’d also recently had a baby. Which they may well have considered an embarassment (hurrah!)

  88. Liz (LivingwithKids)

    Oh it is awful. I was on the maternity ward with a woman who couldn’t stop crying because she’d had to have a C-section and she felt like a failure because her birth plan hadn’t gone to plan. For the love of God – the most important thing is to get your baby out safe and well. Nothing else matters.

  89. Sally Whittle

    You make a great point that we often use natural and vaginal as synonymous – which suggests a c-section isn’t “natural”

  90. Sally Whittle

    Gosh, in that scenario I can imagine how relieved you must have been. And no, of course a c-section isn’t a failure!

  91. Beth

    I’m afraid I’m in the natural birth camp.. not because I think c-sections are wrong, but because, quite frankly, the thought puts the willies into me.
    However, I know for certain, that if mine or my baby’s life was at risk, I wouldn’t hesitate in accepting a c-section.
    As for breastfeeding I tried and failed twice. The first time my body let me down by not producing enough milk, and the second I let myself down because I didn’t see help early enough to sort out positioning and ended up with a holy nip. :s
    As long as the baby is born safely, you are still alive, and the baby thrives.. it doesn’t matter how it happens.

  92. Sally Whittle

    Our NCT class was lovely – but I do think c-sections were presented as a failure, and it was unrealistic. I remember telling our consultant that we were the only ones in a class of 7 couples who were planning a hospital birth. Of the other 6 couples, 4 were planning a home birth, and 2 at the midwife-led centre.
    “They’ll all end up in hospital,” the consultant said.
    And he was right. Of those 7 couples, 5 ended up having c-sections, and 2 natural births, one in hospital after a really slow labour meant there was no room in the midwife-led unit and the other transferred to hospital after complications.
    So although I loved the NCT classes, did they really do a good job of preparing those 7 women to feel positive about what would probably happen to them? I’m not sure.

  93. Sally Whittle

    WOW! People are insensitive. Bet your beer was more fun, anyway.

  94. Sally Whittle

    That’s the thing that gets me – the idea women get that THEY or their bodies have failed. I’m not denying trauma happens but if you’re alive and the baby’s alive, YOU are a triumph. In my book, at any rate.

  95. Sally Whittle

    I think the willies come earlier. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
    Why do you say you failed at feeding though? It didn’t work out. That’s not a failure!

  96. Ania

    I am so happy you wrote this post – I have actually forwarded it to a few mums I know who had this experience as well. I fall into the group of emergency C section, and a complicated one at that as my epidural didn’t work properly and only once they cut into me, I realised I could still feel pain so general anaesthetic followed. But with many family members and friends in the medical profession I was also brought up to trust the judgement of professionally trained medical staff who are there to help me and my baby, not to reinforce some delusion of a perfect orgasmic birth! I nearly jumped out of my skin when after my baby was born somebody asked me if I felt bad that I didn’t get to experience the miracle of life in it’s full screaming glory. Erm, no. I didn’t. And I refuse to be bullied into this guilt-trip! My baby was born healthy, I recovered fast, the hospital staff helped us to establish breastfeeding by reinforcing skin-to skin contact first with my hubby, then with me. But I am still baffled by the amount of times this has come up!

  97. Emily Vest

    I think our teacher must have been unusual in being a rare NCT teacher that didn’t present medical intervention as negative but more as an option. She went through all the different options, presented them equally, said you should make a birth plan but it seldom happens that it works that way and prepared us for it all to go a bit pear shaped. Wish there were more like her, she was an absolute gem.


    My jaw slightly lowered at the beginning of this post! It’s funny that when you get a group of mums together that we all seem to compete to see who had the worse labour. Mine was quick and I was very grateful. My worst fear was having to have a caesarean but if it had been a choice between having a healthy baby delivered and not then I would have jumped at the caesarean option.

  99. Khrys

    Hear Bloody hear!! Who actually cares how the bay comes out as long as its fine! Having two friends who sadly lost their babies I can tell you with some degree of certainty that they would not have cared less how the baby got born if ONLY they had lived! Bollocks to this failure lark. Give birth however it is right for you and the health of the baby. And the same for BF… Formula is not poison. Surely people should just care a little less about the minuatiae of the actual process and a lot more about the future health and happiness of both mum and baby!


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