Sunday, 28 November 2010

Remembering A Natural Birth In Brazil As Little Dove Turns Two

I've been busy baking
Meeting my future husband and giving birth to my first born were great days, but 29th November 2008, the birth of my daughter, was the most brilliant in my life.  She turns two tomorrow and it's got me all nostalgic for the day she arrived...

2 weeks overdue, barely able to move, and doomed to an induction if baby didn't get a move on, I finally started contractions at 5.30am.  By the time I arrived at the hospital I was 10cms dilated and by 7.45am, barely two hours after it all kicked off, I was holding a perfect, piggie-pink newborn in my hands.

My Little Dove, at 4.4kgs  (9.7lbs), was not so little by anyone's standards, but in Brazil she was considered a freaky-monster big baby.  Added to which, she came out the 'normal' way without any drugs.  In the world of Brazilian private hospitals this elevated me into some sort of divinity.  Nurses who had nothing to do with me were dropping in just to take a look at the girl who had birthed baby 'fenomeno' the crazy way.

You see, middle and upper class Brazil is a c-section culture.  I'm not entirely sure why.   Maybe they are terrified.  Maybe it's because Brazilians are climbing social ladders and natural birth is considered unsophisticated and ill befitting a refined individual.  Or maybe it's about Brazil's cult of the body-beautiful; Who would want to damage their nether regions when they can get an invisible bikini-line c-section and a mini tummy tuck at the same time?  Could it really be true that doctors encourage it because they don't want to be inconvenienced by babies arriving at weekends, in the middle of the night or on national holidays?

Whatever the case, everyone from parents to grandparents to nurses and doctors perpetuate this belief that a woman probably shouldn't, couldn't or wouldn't want to birth a baby vaginally, let alone without medication.  When mothers in Brazil go for their first prenatal appointment at 8 weeks, they generally schedule a date for their c-section some 30 weeks later.   The Albert Einstein hospital in Sao Paulo, where I delivered, has a c-section rate of 80%.  Of the 20% that have vaginal births, 99% of those have epidurals.....That makes me one of a very teeny weeny minority to birth the way I did.  Very rare indeed.  

So rare, in fact, that I honestly don't think that the nurses on my shift had seen a natural birth in a very long time, if ever.  Certainly, they had no understanding of why I would want to do such a thing, or what my needs might be.  When I announced that I would not be strapping on any monitors, inserting an IV or having an epidural (there are no other medical pain relief options given here), they started to visibly twitch.  They then started asking me a long list of questions regarding my medical history and looked offended when I gave them the 'talk to the hand not to my face' gesture.  They so rarely see women who are feeling (and trying to manage) painful contractions, and kept urging me to get on the bed to lie down...which is where they are used to seeing (and managing) their mothers.

With my son, I had accepted an epidural from a handsome anesthetist at 9cm dilation (no such thing as too late here) and couldn't feel a thing during his lengthy forceps 'extraction'.  This time, I was determined and well prepared, having read every book ever published in English or French about natural childbirth (tellingly, I never came across one in Portuguese).   I was coaching myself in my, breathe, relax, block out the voices, do what you feel, etc.  Finally, I got the tell-tale 'I need a crap'' feeling that anyone familiar with natural births will recognize as the baby's arrival.  I duly told the nurses what I was feeling and..well, they didn't crack the code.  They helped me get to the bathroom and then, when I started screaming that the baby's head was coming out (into the toilet bowl) they all started screaming too!

It was mass hysteria and my doctor had to shout at them all to get a grip and help me onto the bed.  (Yeah, he had limits...I had to have the baby on the bed...although I did manage to avoid the stirrups).  I had also made it very clear to my doctor that this time, no one was to 'help' me by violently forcing down on my belly as I pushed.  I've heard of this happening to loads of people here, but it seems to be a uniquely Brazilian practice.  I didn't have to worry this time because she shot out like a Champagne cork after 2 pushes, and that was that, the best day in my life and it wasn't even breakfast time...

Happy Birthday my gorgeous big girl.


  1. Wow, Congrats!! and Parabéns to your daughter ;) (see how I did that there?)

    I've had the same questions for my doctor husfriend as to why so many women get c-sections. He listed all of the reasons that you gave. So, in short, you're right.

    But if it makes you feel better, natural birth is the way to go in public SUS hospitals (it's cheaper), and doctors and nurses that study at or are trained in public hospitals and public med schools learn the ins and outs of it. Alexandre (the husfriend) always says, "If you ask your Brazilian gynecologist what's best, she'll say natural birth. But if you lift up her shirt, you'll see her scar from her c-section."

    I'm not a doctor and I'm not a mom and I'm not pregnant, so I don't have any strong opinions about it either way. But I think it's interesting that other people do.

  2. Good for you! Congratulations to the little-big one =) I've personally always felt like I wanted a c-section. Also not a mom yet, before I was unemployed and was "trying" I shared this with my US-doctor who refused and told me I'd be hard pressed to find a doctor who'd agree to a voluntary c-section. Some people might say US doctors refuse because it costs more to do a surgery. Who knows.

    Glad I moved to Rio. Now, doctors who'll do a voluntary C-section gladly are a dime a dozen. When I'm ready, I'm glad to know I'll be able to make that choice without breaking my back to find a willing doctor or lying on an insurance form to prove "necessity".

  3. Hey, we should start a branch of the NCT here!
    Similar experience but length of time elapsed times 10+... Went back to Einstein a few months later for something or another and a nurse actually did come up to me if I was that woman who had had the really long natural birth without any drugs... whatever!

  4. There were some parts of your post about c-section I couldn't even read. I am 100% for natural birth and Holland is THE place for that. During all the pregnancy I had the supervision of midwives, I followed a gym course and everything went well - twice. Brazil is the world champion of unecessary c-sections 80% of all deliveries are like taht ! This means $$$ for the doctors and hospitals and they push since the beginning of pregnancy for that kind of surgery. My mother in 1969 had to state loud and clear to doctors that it would be a normal delivery. She had to insist on that during every pregnancy (3). She prepared me for the benefits of a normal (or natural if possible) delivery - luckily I was living in Holland where that is rather the norm than the exception.

  5. thank you for this post, I'm 33 weeks pregnant, and just moved to Rio from Canada, I've been having a hard time finding a doctor without a high c-section rate, I finally found her and feel so relieved!!!

  6. @Danielle

    Daniella you are quite right, I could go to a public hospital if I wanted a non drug experience. Our friend Ranting Rachel did just that.....
    But I can't deny how much I loved The Einstein's four day 'hotel' experience...I didn't have to change a nappy once!! It was a shock to get home.

  7. @Florencia

    Glad you've found someone who is pro natural birth! GOOD LUCK...and enjoy the last few weeks of your preganancy, it that's possible in this heat!

  8. @TLC
    Totally support your choice to have a c-section, if that's what you want. What saddens me here is that I think that many Brazilian women are led to believe that there isn't actually a choice...sections are somewhat obligatory for many people - their babies are too big, their hips are too small etc etc....Most of the time (and in most other countries) these babies could and would be born normally

  9. You make it sound so easy... !!!

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  11. I just found your blog & this post. My husband & I are in love with the thought of moving our family to Brazil & I just had my 4th baby 4 weeks ago totally natural. Even in the US having a natural birth feels like a battle, I can't imagine how it must be in a place where the rate is 80%! but it's true, my best friend is from Brazil & she had 3 c-sections for no stated reason & she was astounded that I'd want to have mine naturally. So I had her in the delivery room for my last 3 babies to show her how amazing it is!
    Congrats to you & your family! Also, thank you so much for your blog! What a great resource!

  12. I was just sent this link and at 39 weeks it's come at a perfect time. I've been wavering a little on the drug-front. No. 1 was born in London with gas and air and Brazilians think I am crazy and it makes me ask the same question. I think the answer is 'sometimes'...

  13. Thank you so much for posting this! I'm an expat mom-to-be living in Brazil, and I really didn't think it would be possible to go against the doctors to have a natural birth here. You showed me it is possible! Now I am seriously going to get every book I can about natural birth to read before baby comes...

  14. Hello Tasha, I'm the co-creator of South East Asia's first Latin American online magazine, Vida De Latinos. I would like to schedule an interview with you or have your articles published. Pls do not hesitate to contact me at, thanks.


  15. Tasha, I've been living in Sao Paulo for about 2.5 years now and am 7 months pregnant with my first baby. I'm planning on having her naturally (no c-section, hopefully no drugs) in Sao Paulo (probably at Albert Einstein and was wondering if you could tell me more about your experience giving birth in Brazil, what to expect, ask for, etc. Since I'm totally new to the whole birthing scene I'm a little bit unsure of what to look for/ask for while looking at hospitals and options in SP. Any wisdom or thoughts you might have would be so helpful to me! Thanks for your time!


  16. I love reading your blog because it is a real documentary of your Brazilian Tummy Tuck Surgery experience. I'm learning a lot of lessons. Thanks for sharing.