Is it normal to feel disappointed that I had an unplanned c-section?

Answer by Sarah Best, LCSW

It's very common to feel mixed, even contradictory, emotions after having an unplanned c-section. While you may be overjoyed to finally meet your baby, you're also recovering from unexpected surgery. So in addition to the avalanche of feelings – excitement, fear, love, anxiety, joy, and terror – many new parents have, you may also feel emotions specific to your birth experience.

You might wonder what went wrong or whether you could have done something to avoid surgery. If you were concerned about what would happen to you and your baby during the birth, you may still feel anxious when you think about the experience, even though you know you're both safe now.

Similarly, if you spent a lot of time visualizing and preparing for your ideal birth, you probably feel cheated out of the experience you'd hoped for. Perhaps you are angry with your doctor for deciding to operate or feel guilty because you weren't able to breastfeed right away.

The range of possible reactions is wide. And all are equally understandable because each mother comes to terms with the experience in her own way. But the following three suggestions may help you process your emotions, move forward in your recovery, and enjoy your new baby with greater peace of mind.
 
Acknowledge your feelings. Resist the urge (and others' suggestions) to "just put it all behind you." You can't choose your feelings, and you can't wish them away. People might tell you to "be happy your baby is healthy," but ignoring feelings like anxiety, sadness, or anger often makes you feel worse in the long run. 

And feeling disappointment or other difficult emotions when you remember your baby's birth does not mean you love your baby less than a mother who claims it was the best day of her life. You can be happy to have a healthy baby and still feel sad, angry, guilty, or even numb when you think about the birth. Be real with yourself and trusted loved ones, so you can get the care and support you need.  

Honor your body. Many women who have an unplanned c-section feel as though they missed out on an experience that others describe as spiritual or transformative. Worse yet, some even feel that it's their fault they had a c-section because they didn't dilate fast enough or refuse medical intervention. 

Although you can't control these thoughts and feelings, you can challenge them. If you find that you're blaming yourself, take time to acknowledge the work your body did to grow and nurture your baby. Recognizing the strength it took to undergo and recover from major surgery is another great way to reduce negative self-talk and help you feel better faster.

Share your story. It can be a challenge to talk about a disappointing birth experience. But ignoring your feelings only makes them more intense in the long run. Consider asking family members and friends to listen to your birth story from start to finish. Let them know that while it's important for you to talk about the events of your birth, you also need to express your feelings about it in order to begin healing.

Consider joining a new moms' support group, especially if you can find one specifically for women who gave birth by c-section. Connecting with others who had a similar experience can help you feel understood and less alone. And as you recognize the strength and resiliency in other moms, you may begin to see more in yourself. 

But if the idea of sharing your birth story makes you anxious or afraid – or if you feel overwhelmed by your disappointment, sadness, or anger – you might benefit from individual counseling. A therapist who specializes in women's issues or trauma can help you develop coping skills to manage your distress while exploring and working through your feelings.

Doing these three things won't eliminate your disappointment overnight. But by acknowledging your true feelings, honoring your body, and sharing your birth story, you lay the foundation for feeling better.

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