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Friday, July 26, 2013

C-Section guilt

Confessions of Mama Guilt 
We've been delving into this Mama Guilt thing in the Confessions of Mama Guilt series on the blog the last few weeks in July. So many inspiring and honest moms shared their stories of guilt, to whom I'm so grateful. It's so nice featuring other real moms on this blog. This post is a final installment of the guilty mom stories.

Over the last few months I'd seen many moms refer to the guilt they were feeling about their Cesarean section births, especially for those who went into the hospital on those birth days not expecting a surgery to deliver their babies.

I could not understand this type of guilt.

Why feel sooo guilty, sad, disappointed ... about something you had no control over, about something that ultimately left you with a brand new baby who you should be excited about? 

I had two PLANNED C-sections. I felt sadness and disappointment, maybe a slight tinge of anger for like 5 minutes after I was told I'd need to have surgeries to deliver, after having previous surgeries. I was told the news at least two years before getting pregnant, so I'd had time to accept it and move on from any longing I had about a vaginal birth. Therein lies why I did not understand these women's guilt at first.

So I messaged and got many responses. We formed a small email group and went back and forth on there for a week or so answering my questions. I wondered what it was like the moment they were told they needed a surgery instead of the pushing. I wanted to know their feelings about it - in that moment and then after the fact, even years later - did they still feel guilty? I wanted to know if they fought the decision, if they cried or tried pushing labor even harder at that point? I wanted to most of all know how they moved past the guilt and into a place of acceptance and even a smile on their faces when looking back at those births.

I hope you can relate to these women's stories, and if not, at least understand a little more of where they are coming from. Thank you in advance to the moms who wrote in the smaller group!

Meeting my son, Owen, for the first time :) 

Most women who felt the guilt about the C-section were those who did not expect this to be the route they delivered their babies. This was not "how it was supposed to be." This was not how millions of women delivered babies, back in the olden days, how their own mothers delivered babies. It was not ideal, not perfect, not what the books wrote.

A woman, S wrote, "I took a natural childbirth class because I thought, of course, that I would have a natural/vaginal birth... I loved being pregnant and couldn't wait for the birthing process. I WANTED to push, to have contractions, and have my baby come out of me from down there." 

For some, the unplanned nature of the C-section also meant something most did not understand. For many moms it happened quickly, after an induction that was not progressing, or because the mom was dilating and was too early to be delivering, or because of dropped baby's heartbeat. It was scary, fast, and the unknown that contributed to these moms' feelings of disappointment and even heartache over having a surgery birth.

Mom J said, "I also had the feeling of it not being the 'right' way for the baby to come out. What if the baby was small and the C-section wasn't necessary, how would I feel?" 

For some moms, the lack of control over the situation was what sent them into a downward spiral. Not being able to start off their mothering journey on the right path they thought was best was hard to accept. Mom JE said, "If it weren't for modern surgery we'd both be dead. I don't know why I feel like I could have controlled it..." 

The emotions moms reported feeling were guilt of course, a deep sense of guilt, disappointment, sadness, anger and frustration. For most mothers, their guilt was put on by themselves, not the media or family or friends. A few people had others say things that disappointed them, but overall it was guilt within that they experienced.

The feelings of guilt and sadness seem to start the very second a mother is told she cannot push any longer, it's time to quit the vaginal birth dream, and move to the Operating Room (OR).

Mom M had high blood pressure, an induction that did not progress due to stress, and then chest pains and preeclamsia. An emergency C-section was ordered. M said, "I looked at my husband and shook my head 'no' with tears in my eyes, although he already knew the answer, he knew I was asking him to change the doctor's mind. He asked if that was the only option, to which they assured him that if the C-section didn't happen now that my life was in grave danger and also a chance that the baby's was, too." 

Mom S said,
"My guilt and feeling of being cheated out of childbirth is very strong. Even now as I'm writing this I still feel the emotions flooding back. I KNOW that I did all I could to have him naturally. However I don't feel like I went through childbirth. My son was just cut out of me. There was no 'I see his head! One more push! He's coming! He's coming!' That's what I imagined it to be. It was almost like an out-of-body experience for me. I was just lying on the surgery table and all of a sudden I could hear my son crying ..."

Several moms mentioned this idea of feeling "cheated" out of what is "supposed" to happen "naturally." For some moms, that guilt extends to other things beyond just the way their children were born.

Mom J said, "I think it comes from nature. There aren't operating rooms in the woods or years ago." 

Mom K said, "I think it is simply that childbirth is natural. Women have been doing it forever. Long ago women died if there were complications during childbirth. If my ancestors could do it, why can't I?" 

Mom M said she was afraid of having a C-section because
"I thought I wouldn't get the motherly instincts or my milk wouldn't come in or I wouldn't have a bond with my baby and people would see me as a failure or weak if I didn't have that experience of labor and child birth naturally."

One mom was sick and needed a C-section. Then her daughter got allergies. She Googled and found one site that said having C-section births can contribute to kids with allergies. She was so guilty from that point on. Mom JE said, "I was devastated. My illness that sent me into a C-section did this to my daughter. I spent years blaming myself. This kills me and I'm in tears right now." 

A few moms mentioned feeling grateful for their surgeries, despite that they were not what they planned for birth. Some said it didn't matter to them when it was over, just HOW their baby arrived, just that she or he was here safe and sound.

Mom M said she was so grateful for how far modern medicine and technology had come. Several moms mentioned feeling so lucky for their surgeries, because without them they and their babies may not be here.

Mom JE said, "I think I'm over it. My kids are as healthy as can be and are living and breathing... I did that! I made them and they are here. End of story for me and that's how I leave it."

One mom, J, said having a C-section allowed here a few things her other births did not. Her husband took many more photos with the C-section than the others.

Mom J said,
"I don't look at it as a failure, but rather a safe way for my baby to be born without injury or death. After my second and third I was facing some very scary end results if I fought for vaginal {the fourth time}. I had to look at the risks and make my choice." 

How do you move past this serious Mama Guilt about how your baby's birth did not unfold how you hoped it would? How do you let go of those dreams, hopes and ideals of what it was supposed to be, that picture perfect birth day?

Most moms agreed it was time. They needed time to process, reflect, even talk about the births of their babies, before they could put the guilt and disappointment to rest.

One mom, K, said it took her a while. 
"I finally had a moment of 'getting over it' when I realized I have two wonderful children. Their entrance into this world was different, but they are here, they are my children. I love them, and they love me." 

I think she sums it up perfectly. When you see a newborn baby, it's like all those feelings, disappointments and ideas of what was "supposed" to happen go away. For most moms this is how it went. Still, others took a bit longer to move past the guilt.

Mom K also added,
"C-sections are not the way nature intended children to be born, but my children were born and survived," she said. "I was angry I didn't have a vaginal birth, but I don't care now. My kids are what matter, not the way they arrived." 

She added a plus side is she never has to worry about peeing when she sneezes until she's old :) Some humor fights all types of guilt!

Mom JE said, "I'm not sure it's guilt I feel anymore. Everyone is alive and who they are because of the way things happened." She continued to say, "It has changed for me, for now. I say that because I think I'm OK, but it still lingers for me. When I think of having another baby it all comes rushing back."

Mom M said all it took to get over her Mama Guilt about having a C-section was looking at her healthy baby boy. "I'm sure labor is an amazing experience and kudos to all you women who go through it, no matter how easy or how tough, but in the end, I got my baby boy and he was healthy and I was healthy. I didn't care how it happened anymore," she said. M even said that there is hope after a first unplanned C-section because having a planned C-section with baby #2 is so much easier, less stressful. "My first comment after ohhing and ahhing over my new baby girl was, 'Why does anyone have a child any other way?'" 

A few mothers talked about having a Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC), where after having a C-section for child #1, you can try a vaginal birth for child #2. Some doctors won't approve this, and some women are unable to go this route. For those who tried it, like a few moms in this group, it was a lifechanging experience that helped them ease their guilt from the previous "failed" attempt at vaginal birth.

There's my new daughter, after C-section #2 :) 

It seems that most moms do survive the guilt they felt about having an unplanned C-section. With time and some patience as a new mom, they move past it and come to a place of healing and acceptance, even happiness.

Reflecting on one's birth experience with their child should be a happy thing to think about. It should be thoughts of pride and accomplishment, strength and courage. It should not be filled with guilt, sadness or frustration. Finding some way to let go of those negative feelings is paramount to moving on and being a fully present mother... especially since the reminder of that trying birth day comes along once a year, which should be a celebration of all you accomplished - regardless of the end result of surgery birth.

If you are still feeling this Mama Guilt about your own child's birth experience, I encourage you to write about it.
Answer these questions:
Why do you still feel guilty about how the birth went?
What ideals did you have before the birth day?
How was it "supposed" to be to you?
What might have happened if you didn't have a C-section and kept trying for vaginal?
What did you miss out on by having a C-section birth?
What perhaps did you gain by having that C-section?
What really matters now that it's said and done?
Can you come to be grateful about any part of your child's birth?

Write your experience for yourself, or even share it with me in a message or even to the Mommy Stories Facebook group. We're here to help you past the guilt.

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