For the nine or so months between positive pregnancy test and due date, expectant moms have a lot of time to think and prepare. By the time delivery rolls around, many moms have their birth plan scripted down to the last detail. Unfortunately, though, many births don’t play out as expected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three women end up requiring a C-section, and it can be a blow both physically and psychologically when well-laid birth plans go surgically awry.
But hurt feelings and scarred bellies notwithstanding, it’s still very possible for C-section mamas to leave the hospital with a positive and meaningful birth experience. Here’s how …
Let the tears flow
Jamie Botzer, mother of one in Centreville, Virginia, was a few weeks out from deliver- ing her daughter last year when her doctor gave her the news that her footling breech baby would have to be delivered via caesarean. “I understood the medical reasoning and thought I was OK with it, but as the minutes ticked away, I became really upset,” recalls Botzer. The following weeks were filled with crying and feelings of isolation as Botzer was forced to come to terms with the procedure. “I felt like my natural right as a woman and a mother was stripped away from me,” she says.
Botzer’s feelings are not unique. Whether they learn of their impending procedure weeks in advance or just minutes before being wheeled into the operating room, women with visions of pushing their babies into the world are disappointed when those plans are dashed.
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“It’s important to realize that whenever we put time, care and emotional energy into thinking about something as profound as the birth of a child, we invest a good deal of our heart and soul in the planning,” says Dayna Kurtz, LMSW, CPT, a post-partum specialist in New York City who offers physical and emotional support for new mothers. “When things don’t happen as we hoped they would, it’s natural to feel a sense of loss.”
Though it may seem counterintuitive to focus on the birth that never happened, taking time to grieve that loss is an important part of the healing process. New moms should never feel pressured to suppress those painful feelings, even if others question how they can feel anything but happiness in the presence of their new baby. “This loss can be felt at the same time we also feel the joy and excitement of meeting a baby for the first time,” explains Kurtz. “Acknowledging that the birth was not the one she hoped for can provide a new mom with the opportunity to feel that loss fully. In so doing, new mothers have a chance to move forward in a healthy and enthusiastic way.”
Like a bottle of vintage Bordeaux, new baby excitement is best when it’s shared. But new moms are less inclined to communicate negative feelings with others, including the ones associated with an unplanned C-section. “When feelings go unexpressed, they may become trapped within us and can often seep out in other less productive ways,” says Kurtz. “Setting some time aside to voice our emotions can actually help us to move past the disappointment and refocus our energies in a positive way.”
How a woman chooses to seek support is less important than the fact that she does, says Kurtz. Speaking with a trusted friend or connecting with other moms online are both viable ways to begin to process and move past the C-section disappointment.
Janet Zinn, LCSW, a psychotherapist in New York City, often works with mothers who are coping with an unplanned C-section. When friends and family don’t provide the necessary support emotionally scarred moms need, she recommends seeking professional help.
Seeing a therapist can help moms get an alternate perspective of their experience, and that’s often all they need to begin breaking through painful walls. “One of the biggest ideas [for women] to work on is that their birth experience is also their first motherhood experience, and it is a great lesson on being with the moment rather than laying expectation on their child or circumstances,” says Zinn. “Parenthood is fraught with times that don’t go as planned, and the opportunity to learn this first thing is a great way to get through the experience, mourn the loss and see what can be gained from the new reality.”
Marvel at the miracle
Prods from friends and family to celebrate the delivery of a healthy baby may ring hollow to moms fresh off the operating room table, but those well wishers are right. The act of giving birth is still one of life’s greatest miracles. And, in most cases, C-sections are performed as a medically necessary intervention to protect mom and/or baby.
Maria Antoinette Loggins, mother of one in Knoxville, Tennessee, felt the emotional stab of a C-section after laboring for 27 hours. Once she had dilated 7 centimeters, her midwife broke her water to speed up the process, only to discover meconium in her amniotic fluid, a sure sign the baby was in distress. But hundreds of tears and one broken spirit later, Loggins and her husband received news that completely changed their perception of her procedure: There had been a knot in her son Garrison’s umbilical cord.
“If I were to have delivered my baby vaginally, my son would have been stillborn,” says Loggins. “My lesson [from the experience] was that all things work the way they are supposed to. I might have been disappointed at first, but as my husband so eloquently put it, ‘You get a medal as a mom no matter how you give birth.’”
Linda Burke-Galloway, MD, MS, FACOG, an OB/GYN in Orlando, Florida, and author of The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy, agrees. She’s witnessed the births of neurologically damaged babies as a result of women attempting ill-advised vaginal deliveries. “These are conditions—prevent-able conditions—that babies have because someone didn’t intervene properly and didn’t do the C-section when they were supposed to,” she says.
Candy Tolentino, founder of the Earth Café Living Foods, a vegan/gluten-free cafe in Los Angeles, is committed to a natural life-style. So when it came time to prepare for the birth of her son, she wanted to take a minimally invasive approach. She planned for a home birth and even hired a doula to increase her odds of having her baby naturally. Still, her efforts proved futile. A routine checkup the week before her due date revealed the baby was in a breech position and her amniotic fluid was dangerously low. A C-section was promptly scheduled.
Despite the immediate devastation, Tolentino consented to the procedure and is now able to celebrate her beautiful son. “Ten and a half months later, I don’t even think about ‘how’ he was born, just how much joy, love and magic he has brought into our lives,” Tolentino says. “My scar really is not that bad, the pain is gone, and thank goodness, my baby is happy, active, bouncing, beautiful and none the wiser that his birth ended up being dramatically different from what I originally intended.”
It’s important, says Burke-Galloway, for C-section mamas to be proud of the role that they play in delivering a healthy baby. Even when they’ve done everything possible to avoid surgery, in certain cases like Tolentino’s, it’s simply unavoidable. Moms who look past their own birth plans for the sake of their babies are exhibiting the kind of selfless love that will become commonplace in their new role as parents.
“Part of the birth experience is the mystery of the birth experience, and that’s what women need to come to grips with,” says Burke-Galloway. “If nature decides, for whatever reason, that the baby has to be delivered emergently or there’s a condition that requires the baby to be delivered by a caesarean, and if at the end of that procedure, the baby is healthy, you’ve done your job. And your physician has done her job because she anticipated a potential problem, and she avoided it.”