Emotional recovery from an unplanned Caesarean - a personal perspective
A Caesarean is major surgery. For some people, their Caesarean was something they chose and planned for, or it was known in advance that they would need it for medical reasons. For others, it was something they did not plan, did not expect, and did not want.
For those who had hoped for a low intervention, vaginal birth, ending up with a Caesarean can at best be disappointing, and at worst, absolutely devastating. There can be a huge conflict of emotions, from relief and gratitude that your baby has survived, to anger, regret and sadness as you mourn the birth experience you had hoped to have. These feelings are ALL valid. And they will change over time. They will swing from hour to hour, day to day, and around big life events such as birthdays.
I know this from experience - my son Max was born by emergency Caesarean as each contraction I had caused his heart rate to drop dangerously low and take a long time to recover. I was whisked to an operating room where my doctor cut me open and pulled out my baby. Max was fine, and at first I was a bit too bewildered by everything to even think about the fact that this wasn’t what I had planned.
But hours later, as I became reliant on Giresh, my husband, to do everything from bringing me a drink to injecting me with anti-clotting medicine I felt waves of different emotions - sadness, because my son was taken from me and put in an observation nursery while I was in recovery, relief that we were both ok, frustration at being helpless, and grateful to my doctor for her compassionate care.
As weeks passed, I realised that I was coming out of a fog I didn’t know I was in at the time. I began to bond more with Max - who until then I had called ‘the baby’ unknowingly, and felt something more like what I had expected in the beginning - that all encompassing love for my baby that I didn’t initially feel but was too scared to admit. Looking back, this was more than just the baby blues, and verged towards postnatal depression.
And as months passed I found myself asking questions and getting angry. Did I really need to have a Caesarean? Couldn’t we have waited a while to see how things progressed? Why did my baby come out with almost perfect Apgar scores if he was in distress in my womb? So I contacted my doctor and asked those questions. Her responses somewhat answered my questions and I was placated for a while. There were (and still are) times when I think back to the day my son was born and I remember our excitement when my waters broke, and how quickly the mood changed at the hospital. When his first birthday came around I spent a lot of time dwelling on his birth, and when it came to April and Caesarean Awareness Month I reflected on how my feelings have changed over the past 15 months.
I think I will always have questions, and I don’t think I will ever get the answers. I know that being born by Caesarean has not affected Max. He is surrounded by love and is growing up to be the most deliciously mischievous little boy.
One of the things that has really helped me mentally and emotionally over the past year is my friendship with Stacey, who I met at a mothers group. Co-incidentally she too has a little boy just a bit older than Max who was also born by emergency Caesarean. We immediately bonded and often talk about our births and recoveries. Despite living in different countries now, we stay in touch and let each other know when we’re feeling down or need to talk. It’s connections like these which are so so valuable to new parents, and I’d like to think that being open and reflective with my own experiences helps me to understand and support others who have had a less than positive birth experience. I set up Bumps and Bubs as a place for parents to talk, and in normal circumstances we would meet in person once a month to make friends, chat, and support each other. Whilst the coronavirus is around we are meeting online instead, which helps fill the gap.
As we share our stories with each other I recognise that every experience is unique - even between partners. My experience of Max’s birth is not the same as Giresh’s experience of it, despite us both being there. When I’m visiting a client after their birth, I listen. I don’t judge, and I don’t put my own spin on things. How you feel is how you feel. So whether you had a traumatic vaginal birth, a Caesarean you didn’t plan for, or your birth experience just wasn’t what you wanted, I’m here for you when you’re ready to talk.
If you feel you are suffering from postnatal depression or anxiety, you can access professional help through your GP, health visitor or midwife. You can also contact PANDAS (Pre and PostNatal Depression Advice and Support) totally free and confidentially.
For tips on physical recovery from a Caesarean, click here.
To read more about how a postpartum doula can support your transition to parenthood, click here.