Why mothers deserve better: Gemma McCaw opens up about her birth experience

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1 January 1970

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Birth is birth, no matter which way you do it. In her own words, mum-of-two Gemma McCaw shares her very different experiences and hopes society will stop with the delivery drama.

I honestly felt like I had failed. Like my body had somehow let me down, unable to do what I felt like it was supposed to when it came to delivering my firstborn baby. And up until now, I didn’t really want to talk about it. My birth story that is.

“So, did you have a natural birth or C-section?”

Often well-meaning, this is one of the first questions people ask when you’ve had a baby. And I totally get it – we’re all curious to know details about one of the biggest physical feats we can experience. But I think, as a society, we’ve got it wrong in the way we frame birth.

It doesn’t matter how you “have” your baby, the only thing that really matters is that mum and baby are safe and healthy. To me, birth is a natural process whichever way you look at it, as there is nothing more precious than bringing new life into the world.

In New Zealand, we tend to walk around wearing our pride like a shiny new bag, but I believe it’s time to start sharing how we feel and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. As mothers, we should feel supported, nurtured and cared for, whichever “way” we choose – or sometimes don’t choose – to give birth. I wouldn’t normally talk so openly about something so personal, but I feel compelled to as I have now experienced birthing both ways.

I didn’t really want people to know I had an emergency caesarean with my first daughter, Charlotte. I was so fortunate to have an amazing midwife and obstetrician who ensured the safety of me and my baby. No “birth plan” could have been followed, because when your baby is in distress, you do what you have to do ensure a safe delivery – and for that I will always be grateful.

But the recovery from a C-section was difficult for me – not being able to pick my baby up, drive myself anywhere, walk far or do daily chores was really tough. The emotional toll was even tougher. Each time I was asked about my birth, that familiar sense of failure crept in.

Instead of celebrating the arrival of a healthy baby, I was reluctant to tell people I had a C-section. Comments like “too posh to push” and “that’s the easy way out” were ringing in my mind; I truly felt that because I hadn’t experienced the “natural” birth I was hoping for, I was less of a mother. I felt like I had to explain myself, like perhaps I didn’t try hard enough or maybe there was more I could’ve done.

I truly felt that because I hadn’t experienced the ‘natural’ birth I was hoping for, I was less of a mother


But when I look back now, I realise how silly this sounds. My baby was in distress and she needed to come out. The reality is, I delivered a healthy baby, and that’s amazing.

I do think we underestimate how important it is for mothers to feel understood and connected to those around them, encouraging you through one of the toughest (and greatest) journeys you can ever embark on.

With my second baby, I wanted to have a vaginal birth, but always maintained that I would do whatever was right for me and my baby on the day. Again, guided by my amazing midwife and obstetric team, I was able to deliver my baby this way… with a little help, of course (cue forceps, ventouse and an episiotomy). The recovery was different in many ways, but I did find it easier than a C-section. But hey, everyone is different – and that’s OK.

Societal views around birth were reaffirmed by the current care model, too. I was effectively “rewarded” for having a vaginal birth, which meant three free nights at St George’s birthing unit, where I received incredible support from the midwives and nurses, all on hand to help new mums learn to breastfeed and care for their babies – not to mention amazing food (if you’ve had their Milo milkshakes before, you’ll know what I mean) and a private room.

When I had a caesarean, I had one night in the hospital and when I went to move to St George’s, the cost for two nights was at my own expense. Go figure.

As for my dear midwife, she also received more remuneration for my vaginal delivery than she did when I had a c-section. How backwards is that? Both require the same amount of care leading up to the delivery, and afterwards, too.

These attitudes need to change, from pregnancy right through to birth and the weeks after. We need better support and less stigma around birth. Women should have the choice to deliver their babies how they wish (based on medical recommendations) and there needs to be equity of care once in the hospital or birthing unit.

No two births are the same and we must honour each and every mother and their choice. We need our mothers to feel seen, heard and safe. If women feel connected and supported, we will have better outcomes for mums and their beautiful babies.

So, if you are sitting there thinking about your birthing story, be proud of yourself no matter how it ended up happening for you. You are strong. I now know that motherhood has a way of evoking strength and resilience you never knew you had.

We are hard enough on ourselves as it is. But growing, delivering and nurturing the most precious thing on the planet is worth celebrating. Birth is birth, after all.

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