Coping with a C-Section Guilt

C-section guilt has a negative effect on a mother's mental health.

Everything is ready, your hospital bag is packed, grandmas are on speed dial, and the baby’s room has never looked cuter. It’s time to go to the hospital or call the midwife, and you are ready. You’ve read every book, crossed every t, dotted every I and prepared yourself for labor and delivery. You have meditations preloaded on your phone, brought a tennis ball to massage your back during contractions, and even picked out a going home outfit for you and your new baby. When you discussed your birth plan with your partner and doctor everything seemed reasonable and do-able, but now something’s changed.

Sometimes it feels like a birth plan should really be called a birth hope. You can plan all you want and you should, but you can never account for every eventuality and at times things change so fast that you end up with a completely different outcome than you prepared for. Having a C-Section is often the best choice when a mother or baby’s life is on the line, and while you may intellectually know it was the best choice in the situation your emotions may feel differently. Many women can feel cheated out of their birth experience or even guilty after a cesarean section and those reactions are common. While it may be normal to feel upset, it can also tinge those early days with a negativity that you don’t need or want.

Feelings of ambivalence about a c-section can happen for a variety of reasons, you may feel like you didn’t have a full choice of what was going to happen, especially if the c-section was in response to a problem during labor and was decided on quickly without giving you time to adjust your expectations. Add in some toxic online mommy culture and you can start feeling pretty bad about how things went down. Never fear, this article will help you sort through the feelings you’re having.

You are fully and completely a real mom

There are posts all over social media stating that a woman must have a vaginal birth to be a real mom. Those posts are wrong. If you have a baby and you are the mother, you are indeed a real mom. Adoptive moms are moms, moms who gave birth through surgery are moms, moms who had pain medication during labor are moms, and moms who gave birth at home with little medical intervention are moms. However your baby comes to you, you are a real mom and you did the real mom stuff.

It’s not easier

Many people who have never had a c-section see it as an easy way out, and that is the farthest thing from the truth! Your stitches may be in a different place, but your postpartum recovery isn’t any easier. You will still have weeks of postpartum bleeding, your uterus will still cramp as it returns to normal size, you’re still going to be sleep deprived, and it will still take about 6 weeks to get back into the groove of things.

A cesarean section is major surgery and your recovery will take a while. For the first few weeks, you’ll be on limited activity and not even be allowed to pick up things heavier than your baby, and that can make things even harder if you think about it.

You didn’t do anything wrong

You may feel like you didn’t give it your all, like if you had just waited longer or made a different choice early on that this wouldn’t have happened, but you can never truly know that. While women have been giving birth since the beginning of time, complications have been around just as long. Originally a c-section was only done when the mother had died during childbirth in a desperate attempt to save the baby. Modern times have perfected the procedure so that there is a much greater chance of both mother and baby surviving.

Anything can happen and you are not in control over whether you experience complications that require a c-section. Some women develop deadly complications and a c-section is the only way. Other women have differences in anatomy that require a planned c-section just so things don’t go wrong during delivery. Whatever the reason you made the right choice for your body at the moment and your baby for a lifetime.

There’s no shame in your game

You’d never feel guilty for breaking your arm and getting a cast, but so many women feel shame for having medical interventions in their delivery. There is nothing to be ashamed of because there was nothing you could have done to change it, otherwise, you would have, right? Your baby is going to be fine. It’s much more important to care for them after they are born than how they were born. Nobody can tell if a baby was born vaginally or via c-section because both are valid ways to have a baby. You did the best you could in the situation you were given.

Moving forward

Bonding with your baby can help you feel better, so skin to skin contact, lots of cuddles, and just relaxing in the knowledge that you grew a whole human and did a good job can go a long way towards your recovery both physical and emotional. Your body will be different now and your scar will fade with time. Getting a belly band to help support your abdominal muscles can help. Try to make peace with your postpartum body and don’t rush into anything, wait until you’re fully recovered to start a post-baby exercise plan.

Talk with your doctor if you’re having other symptoms like pelvic floor problems or if your abdominal muscles don’t seem to be tightening back up after a month or two. You may have other issues that were caused by the surgery and your doctor can help you find solutions.

Having baby blues is normal, being a little sad, grieving your loss of control over the situation, even lamenting the changes to your birth plan can be healthy. However, if you feel apathetic towards your baby, are having negative thoughts more than positive ones, or your baby blues are lingering past a few weeks you may have postpartum depression and need more help.