Story by Kasia Ortiz

Giving birth is one of life’s biggest natural events, and sometimes birth – for one or more of many reasons – is by cesarean section. I have three children, and although I never thought I would give birth in any way other than the ‘natural’ way, I had all three by cesarean section. Of course, I still ask myself sometimes whether or not each of these interventions was necessary, whether things could have taken a different course.

Knowing what I do now, having experienced three births, and being more informed, I would do certain things differently. For example, unless there is an emergency, I would give myself more time – more time for the natural course of childbirth and more time to reflect on the proposal of a cesarean section.

But each case is unique, and the story of the birth of my third child starts like this:

I really wanted to have a third baby. And along with that desire, I always deeply wished to experience a birth as naturally as possible. But I found that opinions were coming from all angles: some saying that after one or two c-sections, a natural birth is more risky, or impossible. Or not? Others told me about women who had had up to five or more children by cesarean section. Others told me to trust my judgement and my body, to believe that a natural birth could be possible after two cesarean births.

In any case, the birth of my third child, the first to be born in Belgium and finally the third to be born by cesarean section – but a particularly gentle one – was healing for me. A third cut that has allowed me to have the opportunity again to experience the immense joy of the birth of a child, but that has also allowed me to accept, and to heal a good part of the emotional burden I was still carrying in relation to these experiences. A few details changed everything for me, and this is why I would like to share my story.

Working towards a shared, informed decision

When I found out I was pregnant with my third child, the first gynecologist I saw told me that this birth would need to be a cesarean birth, scheduled two weeks before the due date. I was already aware that it would almost certainly have to be a C-section, but I had wanted to keep at least some sense of ‘naturalness’: to let the contractions happen and therefore have a ‘sign’ that my baby was ready to be born.

And so, I left the doctor’s practice very disappointed. That same afternoon, I went out with my children and met with a woman, also a mother, who was training to be a midwife. She got involved in my story and decided from that day on to help me. Among other things, she recommended that I contact a gynaecologist at Erasme hospital in Brussels. I explained my story and my wish to that gynaecologist – that in the absence of a natural birth, I wanted to have a caesarean section only after the onset of contractions.

“…we felt that we had been involved in the decision-making process.”

A few weeks later, the second gynaecologist surprised us with great news: the medical team would consider supporting us in attempting a natural birth.

But they needed more information about my previous C-sections. A few days later, after receiving the file on my previous deliveries, my partner and I were told that a natural birth could be more risky in my case, especially for the baby.

Although the decision was not easy, we decided that day, together with the doctor, to have our third baby by C-section. We would leave enough time to allow the contractions to start, but we would still set a deadline to avoid risks (especially the baby growing much bigger and putting more pressure on the scar).

“I was determined, I would do a gentle C-section.”

The due date was January 4th and the deadline we decided on together was January 6th.

Up to that point, things had already changed a lot for me: our doctor presented us with different possibilities, and we felt that we had been involved in the decision-making process. I really appreciated how understanding, flexible and human our doctor and her team were, and I remain very grateful to them and to the woman who led me to them. And those were also the reasons we decided to choose the hospital at the other end of our house.

One of the possibilities the doctor presented to us was a gentle C-section. She asked the nurses to lend me a laptop so I could watch a video of one – I sat in a hospital room and watched the video with my daughter Emilia. I was determined, I would do a gentle C-section.

The birth of our daughter

On January 4th nothing had happened yet, so we received the instructions for the C-section for the 6th. But then, my husband got pneumonia and had to be hospitalised, so we pushed the deadline to the 8th so he could get better and be present for the birth.

On January 6th, I went to pick him up from the hospital. I was already feeling some contractions but with everything else going on, I wasn’t paying much attention. I went to a pharmacy to pick up my husband’s medication and the pharmacist asked me when I was due. We both laughed when I told her it was for that same day, and she wished us all the best. As soon as we got home, the contractions became stronger and more regular. An hour later, we left the house again and after another hour of traffic jams, we were back in the hospital.

During all the routine checks I thought deep down that I would love it if the baby suddenly decided to be born, and that all we could do would be to witness his natural birth. But that didn’t happen.

“At that moment, I felt it would be a bit silly to ask for music, but then I said to myself ‘why not?'”

I got an epidural, and was taken to the operating room, with its huge lamps and a team of doctors in green gowns and masks preparing all their utensils. The contradiction between that surgical environment and such a natural life event felt huge. And I began to feel nervous and to tremble – maybe because of the nerves or maybe due to the effect of the anaesthesia. I remembered then that this had happened to me the previous times too.

They medical team introduced themselves, each one explaining what they would do. They dimmed the lights. My partner came into the room, and felt relieved.

“With the dim light and the music, I felt calmer.”

The doctor opened my arms and explained that I could leave them like that as long as I never touched my stomach. I don’t think I would have even thought to do that. But in that position, naked, anesthetised, I felt totally vulnerable and at the mercy of the medical team. They spread a cloth that meant I couldn’t see where they would operate.

As I’d seen in the video my doctor had showed me, I was asked if I wanted a particular music to be played. At that moment, I felt it would be a bit silly to ask for music, but then I said to myself ‘why not?’. My partner confirmed, why not Chopin? As my mother is Polish, the love between my parents began in Warsaw, as did the love between my partner and me.

“I was very happy that I had gotten my wish, that I had felt those contractions, that our little baby was ready.”

The other doctor confirmed “Chopin. Does anyone have a mobile phone?” Chopin’s music started and I realised that it was not a bad idea at all. With the dim light and the music, I felt calmer. They prepared me, talked to me, confirmed several times that the operation area was anesthetized.

They asked me several times how I was feeling. I felt very emotional, a little sad that the end of my pregnancy was approaching and that I had not experienced a natural birth. But I was very happy that I had gotten my wish, that I had felt those contractions, that our little baby was ready. I wanted to live intensely and enjoy the birth of my third child – we don’t get many occasions like this in life!

“One of the doctors asked me to push, they needed my help. I knew it wasn’t true but I wanted to help and yes, to get a little closer to what a natural birth is.”

My husband’s presence was fundamental for me in that moment. To hold his hand and know that he was there with me, caressing my head, talking to me, looking at each other. We were asked what the baby’s name would be, but in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the last few days, we hadn’t come to any decisions about it. “It will be a child without a name! There’s no hurry,” laughed the doctor.

I felt the movements in my belly – I already knew them. After some time waiting and feeling physical sensations, suddenly one of the doctors asked me to push, they needed my help. I knew it wasn’t true but I wanted to help and yes, to get a little closer to what a natural birth is. So I did. Then they asked us if we were ready, and we said yes! They removed the green cloth and left only a transparent plastic sheet that we could see through.

“For the first time, we saw how our child was born, still in the same rolled-up position that she had been in my belly.”

And we saw – for the first of three times – how our child was born, still in the same rolled-up position that she had been in my belly. Since we had decided from the beginning to keep the gender a surprise, since the way he or she would be born was no longer a surprise, I asked if it was a boy or a girl… The doctor showed us: a girl!

The ‘little girl still with no name’ started to cry, they cleaned her up with a towel and put her in my arms. My husband said: “what a little girl she is”! At only 2.8kg, she was much smaller than her brother Mathijs with his 4.1kg and her sister Emilia with her 3.8kg. I remember so clearly that she immediately stopped crying when I held her in my arms and how we admired her in these first moments together! And finally, my partner said that being so small she could only have a name with not too many letters. Among the options we had had, we chose: her name would be Chloé.

Chloé was in my arms until my muscles were already a little sore. Only at the end when it was all over, my husband took her and went out with the midwife while they took me to my room.

I slept skin-to-skin with her all night.

Looking back

Now I have a wonderful memory of Chloé’s birth with the dim lights, the music and our first moments together, so close. I have not felt like listening to Chopin’s music since her birth – it’s as if not listening to it again allows me to leave that magical memory still intact. There will come a special moment to listen to it together again.

Sometimes I even dare to think maybe Chloé could have been born naturally, since she was so small. But this time it really doesn’t matter, her birth was beautiful and we felt those long-awaited contractions. And now it is even less important that her siblings were also born by cesarean section.

I feel good, I am more aware of the presence of my scar and when I feel it, I feel something like gratitude and more acceptance for the way I gave birth to three new lives. A gentle scar that tells three great stories!

If one day I am asked my opinion about C-sections, I would propose to think about it three times if it is not absolutely necessary! And if it is necessary, then there is the possibility of the gentle C-section! And this is a new concept for some doctors or hospitals, then make it possible together with the medical team!

Some details and small changes in medical protocol can change many things in such an important event in people’s lives.