Women’s emotional reactions and adjustment to cesarean birth vary widely. Although some women recover fairly quickly and accept the surgical birth as a necessary step to a healthy baby and to becoming a mother, others experience various degrees of sadness, disappointment, anger, violation, loss of self-esteem, guilt, depression, and sometimes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Some women experience their birth as a traumatic event. Often they are not aware of how the trauma has impacted their life, their sense of self and their feelings about mothering. Because a newborn demands so much care and attention mothers often do not have the time to process these feelings and they can linger for a long time. It is normal for a mother to appreciate the fact that her birth by cesarean resulted in a healthy baby while still feeling sad, confused, or angry about the experience itself. Friends, family, and even partners of mothers who have had an emotionally difficult cesarean often do not understand why mothers don’t just “move on,” or why they “obsess” about their birth experience.
The effects of trauma after childbirth include flashbacks of the birth, nightmares, avoiding and feeling stressed by reminders of the birth, feeling edgy, and experiencing panic attacks. Often these symptoms are confused with postpartum depression by mothers, doctors and mental health providers.
It is normal for a mother to appreciate the fact that her birth by cesarean resulted in a healthy baby while still feeling sad, confused, or angry about the experience itself. Mothers who have an unexpected cesarean, have general anesthesia, or are separated from their infants are especially vulnerable. A mother’s satisfaction with her birth experience depends on whether or not she was included in the decisions made on her behalf, if she was treated kindly and with respect by her caregivers, if she received medical interventions she feels were unnecessary, and/or if she felt she was “in control” of her birth.
Friends, family, and even partners of mothers who have had an emotionally difficult cesarean often do not understand why mothers don’t just “move on” or why they “obsess” about their birth experience. It is important that, whenever you are ready, you find the right time, a safe place, and a person you trust to resolve some of these feelings. It might be weeks, months, or years after your cesarean, or even during a subsequent pregnancy, before you will be able to talk about your traumatic birth.
If you are planning to have another baby and plan to labor for a VBAC, you will feel better about that pregnancy and birth if you first process your feelings about the difficult cesarean you’ve already experienced. Find out how you might be able to avoid the recurrence of those events. You can find out more about healing from a traumatic cesarean from the websites listed below.