About 25% of all births are caesarean births so it’s sensible to be prepared in advance. Even in the case of an emergency caesarean, gentle caesarean practices can be followed and it’s well worth talking things through together during pregnancy so you know what is important to her, like lowering the drapes to watch baby being born, baby emerging slowly, immediate skin-to-skin and delayed cord clamping. Find out from your community midwife what is possible at your local hospital/s.
Having a slow, gentle birth is best for everyone. If the baby is born in good condition, the obstetrician could hand the baby straight to mummy rather than baby being taken for wiping and weighing. Being separated from baby while unable to move or feel her body can be distressing for some women, as this Dad says: “Help get baby to mummy as fast as possible.” If your partner isn’t able to do skin-to-skin with baby, the next best place for baby is on your chest next to your skin where there will be familiar family skin microbes.
An emergency caesarean (EMCS) can be a shock. Your partner may have been in labour for some time and then it takes an unexpected turn. The obstetrician is explaining things, there’s a consent form for your partner to sign, someone is handing you a gown and hat and wheeling your partner into surgery. Once in there, there’s lots of people and everyone busy with a job to do. It may be an operating theatre but this is your baby’s birth and you and your partner will remember it forever; be brave, advocate for your partner and ask questions for her.
If your partner is under General Anaesthetic (GA) and unconscious try to ‘fill in the missing hour’ for her. Take photos or video of baby, snuggled up with mother skin-to-skin or on your chest, remember the details of how baby was (did he cry? Who comforted him?). Discuss with your partner if she’d like to meet her baby in as ‘new’ a state as possible, unwashed and undressed.
Immediately after birth if baby is taken across the operating theatre to the resuscitator follow baby and relay reassuring news to your partner (‘It’s a girl! ‘Though she’s not crying she’s ok’). If your baby needs to be transferred to the special care baby unit (SCBU): do you follow baby or wait with her? It’s best to talk about it beforehand.
After the operation, if everyone is well, your partner, baby and you will go to the recovery ward together, then on to the postnatal ward. Your partner will be in hospital for a few days or longer after the birth; if you have other children you’ll need to arrange cover. (You could find out beforehand about the postnatal ward visiting hours and what the rules are about partners staying overnight.)
Your partner needs time, rest and nourishment to recover from major surgery whilst caring for a new baby round-the-clock with your support. If she needs pain medication, help remind her before the medication wears off, through the night too. If you can, take some extra time off work. Will she want a family member or friend to help around the house after you return to work? Feed her meals and ask family and friends to cook dinners. It takes time to heal and recover.
Be prepared for a complex emotional response if the caesarean birth was unexpected. It is understandable for there to be feelings of disappointment: your job is to listen not to rationalise. It’s ok for her to be sad about the birth whilst happy that the baby is healthy. If you’re worried about your partner, encourage her to talk to [links to local org’s].
Written by Rachel James, Cambridge VBAC Friends, an online peer support group for women planning birth after caesarean, with input from members’ and their partners.