Around half of all caesarean sections are not planned. When how we expected to give birth changes from having a vaginal birth to a C-section, often with little time to process this change, the effect on our emotions can be dramatic. These emotions can be part of processing your birth experience and it is totally ok to feel this way. By recognising them you are helping to process your birth experience and this can also help you to heal emotionally, should you need to.
Here are some of the feelings you may find yourself dealing with after having a caesarean section, whether it was an emergency, unplanned or even a planned procedure.
- Lack of control. Even if you have thought during pregnancy that a C-section might be the way that your baby needs to be born, it can still come as quite a shock if it does happen, and this can lead to having feelings that events were out of our control. Unplanned C-sections are most likely to happen during labour - a time when you feel at your most vulnerable - but they can also happen before labour even starts. You may also feel as though things happened really fast and this can in turn lead to feeling that you lacked control during your birth. Talking with people you trust can help you to process these events and to make sense of why they happened.
- Feeling guilty. You have a healthy baby, right? So, what’s the problem? It is common to feel guilty about your birth not going how you wanted it to or expected it to. Others around you may add to these feelings by saying things like ‘at least you and your baby are alive and healthy’. Remember it’s ok to feel upset and to grieve for the experience you wanted. Of course, you are grateful for having a healthy baby and being alive - after all you are the person who is most invested in yourself and your baby! But this does not cancel out your right to feel disappointed and working your way through these feelings may take some time, and that is ok.
- Body failure. It is common to feel as though your body has failed you when you have been unable to give birth vaginally. We may have heard and seen messages that it is the most natural and normal thing for a woman to give birth vaginally during pregnancy, so this can make you question your body’s abilities. You may even feel as though your body is broken and not working as it should. Try not to blame your body as it is more than likely that the circumstances may have been out of your control. Birth is unpredictable and there are many variables in the balance before and during labour which could have led to your unplanned C-section.
- Feeling traumatised. You may feel as though you have experienced a traumatic birth both physically and mentally. Surgery needs recovery time, but unplanned or emergency surgery needs a significant amount of recovery time for your mind to adjust to what has happened, too. Take things slowly and be gentle with yourself during your recovery. Find other people, family, friends or healthcare professionals who can empathise with you and help you process your feelings.
- Feeling detached. This is part of processing what has happened to you. You may feel disconnected from your own body or disconnected from your baby. This is part of processing your experiences and is not usually serious, but something you need to work through. Again, talking to others that you trust who are empathetic towards your situation can be a big help. Search these people out. They may be close by around you, or you may need to look further afield for professional help or towards online communities of likeminded people who have had similar experiences.
- Feeling angry. Feelings of anger and resentment often can come after those feelings we have already discussed. You may ask yourself what events actually happened to lead up to your unplanned C-section and were they preventable? Could you have done things differently or could your care have been better? If you feel as though you have unresolved issues surrounding your unplanned C-section you can contact your hospital and arrange to talk through these events with a doctor or midwife, who will help explain the sequence of events and if things could have been improved. This can be helpful with processing and understanding what happened during this time.
- Continued low mood. If you continue to feel low in mood, without any improvement, talk to a trusted person close to you and seek help from a qualified professional. If you don’t feel better in the first few months after the birth, you could benefit from more support and help. This could be with a specially trained counsellor or psychotherapist to help you develop techniques for managing how you feel about events. Your GP will be able to signpost you towards the resources available in your local area.