When Your Birth Doesn’t Go As Planned

Woman Contemplating Feelings

Whether you had hoped for a home or birth center delivery and needed to transfer to the hospital, or had prepared for a natural birth and ended up having a C-section, births that do not go according to plan can be disappointing. Many mothers spend their pregnancies preparing for and creating a detailed birth plan in the hopes of having the experience they’ve always envisioned for themselves and their baby. Despite the best laid plans, birthing classes, and providers, sometimes our bodies and our babies have other plans in mind. When your birth doesn’t go as planned, it’s not uncommon to experience some negative emotions along with the excitement you’re feeling about the new baby. Many women who have experienced some form  of birth trauma  or unexpected intervention report feeling disappointed, angry, guilty, frustrated, indifferent and sometimes even resentful towards their baby or their body. These feelings usually follow birth experiences that felt out of their control, traumatic or unexpected such as having an episiotomy or emergency C-section. If your birth experience has left you feeling as though your body failed to do what you had hoped it would do, here are some ways to cope with those negative emotions and acknowledge the strength and courage in your journey.

Writing Birth Story
  1. Acknowledge your feelings: This can be difficult to do when everyone is expecting you to be overjoyed by the arrival of your new baby. However, if you are experiencing disappointment, sadness, guilt or anger about the way your delivery unfolded, it’s important to take the time to allow yourself to experience those feelings without judgment. Giving birth may be the single most important event in your life thus far and it is okay to feel sadness about any part of the labor or delivery that was traumatic or upsetting to you. If you try to push away your negative feelings about the experience, they will likely resurface at a later date as unresolved issues. 
  2. Take steps to process your grief: It is perfectly normal to experience grief following a traumatic or upsetting birth experience. It is important to allow yourself to experience the grief so that you can move forward feeling as though you have processed your feelings. Talking to your midwife or doctor and asking questions so that you can better understand and process your experience is one way to work through what you may be feeling. Two cathartic ways to process grief following birth are: telling your birth story to a trusted friend or family member or writing down your birth story. Writing or telling a detailed account of your experience can help you process your feelings of disappointment or guilt and also help you identify  all of the moments (there are so many!) of great courage and strength.
  3. Surround yourself with loving and supportive people: Limit visitors in the early weeks following your delivery to people who can be sensitive to your feelings and your experience. While not intending to be unsupportive, people may make comments suggesting that the only thing that is important is that you have a healthy baby. You can gently remind them that the experience was important to you and you are not ready to discuss it further at this time. You can also ask your partner to help play gatekeeper in the early days staving off unnecessary visitors and unsavory comments.
  4. Acknowledge the strength and courage in your story: Even if your birth didn’t end the way you had hoped, do your best to remember the amazing work that your body did. Whether you labored for 18 hours before ultimately having a C-section, endured hours of natural labor before electing to have an epidural, or had to undergo any number of interventions that were frightening or upsetting to you, your body has done an amazing thing. There is also an incredible amount of strength and courage in having to let go of your birth plan and have a birth experience that feels completely out of your control. Whatever your story is, whatever the intervention or unplanned turn your birth took, your body has done a miraculous thing.
  5. Ask for help: Whether you would like extra support from your partner, your provider, a friend to listen or to seek out a new moms’ group in your area, make the effort to reach out for help and comfort. The postpartum period, despite the awe and excitement of a newborn, can be an isolating and overwhelming experience. Adding grief from your birth experience to this mix may be too much to handle on your own. If at any point your grief begins to impact your ability to function throughout the day or seems to overwhelm the joy you have for your new baby, see your doctor or a therapist for an assessment for Postpartum Depression. Although the baby blues are a normal experience in the weeks following delivery, moms who have experienced a traumatic birth experience are more likely to develop Postpartum Depression. Ask for help right away if you feel like you might be experiencing Postpartum Depression. Click here to learn more about Postpartum Depression

If you’ve experienced a traumatic or disappointing birth experience, don’t suffer in silence. There are many women out there whose birth plans have not gone according to plan and who are left feeling guilty, angry and even depressed. There is no shame in a birth that does not go as planned and no shame in grieving the experience you did not have. Remember that you gave it your all and that is enough; that you are just as strong, powerful and amazing as all of the other mamas before you. At Health Foundations, we are here to support you throughout your pregnancy, delivery and postpartum period, regardless of whether or not your delivery took place with us, in the hospital or in the operating room. We are here for you. Contact Health Foundations to schedule a free consultation with a midwife or to find support.