So, you have had an unplanned caesarean to birth your baby.
Hopefully, you are healing well physically and are able to take care of yourself with the support of your family and loved ones. And, hopefully, you feel like a complete birth warrior who was able to access intervention when it became necessary for yourself and your baby.
However, the feelings after birthing a baby via unplanned (or emergency) caesarean can be complex.
Perhaps you are wondering where things ‘went wrong’. Perhaps your birth was very much removed from what you had planned and envisioned. Perhaps you had some care that made you feel unheard, ignored, coerced or scared. Perhaps you feel like you missed out on an experience that felt really important to you.
You are not alone. Many people have ambiguous feelings after a birth that did not go to plan. This does not mean you are being “precious”, you should have managed your expectations better or you did something wrong. It also does not mean that you are not grateful for your baby.
Talking about a difficult birth, a disappointing birth or one that ended in an unplanned caesarean is often met with ‘well, all that matters is that you have a healthy baby’. And of course, it is wonderful to have a new healthy baby. But there are other things that also matter.
It matters that you feel well, emotionally and physically, so that you can start your mothering/parenting journey in a positive place. Starting life as a new family while also having to recover from major abdominal surgery adds a complicating layer to those early days/weeks/months. How you feel your birth went also matters. Research tells us that people who had their babies by unplanned caesarean section feel generally the least satisfied with their birth experience, compared to people who had a vaginal birth. It also tells us that feelings of disappointment and even failure are common.
Of course you are not a failure, you are simply a person who did what they felt they needed to do when birth became more complex, for whatever reason.
Birth is a very primal event, as well as a deeply personal one, and therefore how people perceive their experience is very individual. Any feeling is a valid one, and you are deserving of support should you wish to access it.
So, what can you do and where can you go for support if negative emotions about your birth are lingering?
- Family/friend support: Your family and friends can be your biggest allies and supporters, and they are often really well placed to support you both emotionally (listening, letting you vent, hugs and kind words) and practically (cooking/cleaning/taking care of older kids etc etc)… However, occasionally there can be a lack of understanding as to why you are struggling with your birth, so choose your support wisely.
- Seek to explore your maternity notes with someone who you trust and who can give you an objective explanation of what happened during your birth. This can be organised by the NHS trust your baby was born with, sometimes called a ‘Debrief’, ‘Birth Afterthoughts Appointment’ etc. Some people feel more comfortable exploring what happened with an independent midwife, most of whom offer this service as a one-off appointment in your home. These appointments can be very helpful and affirming of your feelings if they clarify what happened for you. Occasionally, however, they can be with an unsympathetic professional or unexpectedly uncover issues that make processing your birth even harder, so it’s worth considering this and again choose your support wisely.
- Access a support group: there are many support groups you can join, mostly online. It can be a great help chatting with people who have experienced similar emotions, and to exchange strategies to help, and other resources that might help you feel more at peace with what happened.
- Find a specialised therapist: Sometimes, family and peer support is not enough to help you cope. The potential impact of a difficult birth on your mental health can be profound. Accessing therapy, either via an NHS service such as IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Services - you can self-refer and get fast tracked in the postnatal period) or via a therapist of your choosing can be a very positive step.
- If you are acutely struggling with your mental health and need some more proactive help, your GP (or even A&E in urgent situations) may be helpful to assess what is happening and offer help or signpost you to appropriate services.
- But also, take your TIME. It is ok to grieve for a birth you did not get. Grief can be a long, convoluted process and different for everyone. Acknowledge your feelings to yourself and let yourself feel them, even if this is painful. Taking the time for this grieving process is ok and even necessary. You might find that there are times when you feel ok, then something happens (perhaps a friend has a baby easily with no complications) and this triggers negative thoughts again. This is normal, but if it impacts your life negatively, seek help as outlined above.
- One more important thing. You may never feel fully happy or at peace with your birth. This is a difficult thought for many people. But you will hopefully integrate the experience into your life somehow, and your experience might even give you a very powerful motivation to plan proactively for your next birth, and that will make a positive experience a lot more likely.
- Above all: Be gentle with yourself. What you are feeling is ok.