Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How To Care For A Mother Who's Had A C-Section


Thank you for taking the time to look this over!  I feel it is a very important issue which receives little attention.
This is a hard subject to cover in one post.  There is a lot to say.  And there are many ways for women to feel about it.  
But it is near and dear to my heart, so I want to try.  

This post is intended to be for people who know and care for a woman (or women) who've had a c-section; and that women is experiencing any negative feelings about the c-section.  

Please Note: I do not wish to imply anyone should feel negatively about having a c-section. I do not believe that at all. I believe that every birth, and every entry into motherhood, is sacred and not to be looked down on. I believe that every mother is amazing and strong, and that she gave gloriously of herself to become a mother. 
And therefore, I write this post because I know that some women (not all) (but more than I had originally realized) do feel some form of negative feelings after a c-section. And it is my deep hope to be able to give some peace and healing for those in that scenario.
If you do not feel any negative feelings about your c-section I am so very glad, I wish that for every mother. But if that is the case you may find this post less applicable or helpful.

If you, yourself, have had a c-section and want to check this post out, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments!  ALSO, I'd just like to give you a heads up that if you are in an emotional state over your c-section while reading this, it could potentially be a difficult read.  Please take that into account and give yourself a chance to read it at a good time.



My name is Lydia and I had a c-section in 2010 delivering my first.  

It was shockingly difficult for me, emotionally.  I wasn't expecting that.
Then in 2012 I was blessed to be able to have a wonderful VBAC (Vaginal Birth After a Cesarean) delivery with my second.  
Despite having that experience, I still had many emotions to work through regarding my c-section.  

In the interim, I started blogging my heart on the matter.  Through that and everyday life, I've met many women who've opened up to me about how hard a c-section was on their heart.  

Not every woman struggles with their c-section---I personally know a few women who were just fine with theirs, even quite happy with it.  But I've met many more who've wrestled deeply with disappointment, a sense of loss or lack of resolution, an impression of failure, or lack of strength.  This notion seems to ring particularly true in the case of first-time-moms who haven't experienced any other births to weigh their experience against.  
Because of these things, in this post I'm going to lay out ideas about how to support women who are grieved by having a c-section.  

If you are taking the time to read this, then I know you already care deeply for a woman in your life who's had a c-section.  

I can't pretend to speak for her specifically.  We are each very unique.  But I do hope to shed some light  that may help your relationship during her recovery.  

Please feel free to share this with anyone you think may benefit from it.



Original photo source: Here, which got it from Here?


The first thing you should know is, if she is feeling anything negative about her c-section, it is valid.  She should be allowed to feel those feelings.  Having negative feelings doesn't mean she can't simultaneously be thrilled that she has a healthy baby because of the c-section (in best case scenarios).  One can be fully grateful and utterly disappointed at the same time.  And it's okay if she is.  
If you can allow her the space to have both feelings that will be HUGE in her emotional recovery.  It can be very difficult to work through without that leeway.  

There are things that she has lost and she should be allowed to grieve them.  
These things may not seem like something to everyone.  But if they mean something to her, you will not be able to convince her that they don't mean something.  The only way through a loss is grieving it.  

One of the hardest parts of this particular dynamic of grief is that it is very hard to relate to without experiencing it yourself.  These emotions are hard to convey, but in attempt to help you relate I will share a couple of ways in which I have heard them described.  Of course they are not universally accurate, but merely attempts to convey the emotion.  
One source said it is like planning a wedding that doesn't happen.  They said this because they are both a special day you plan and wait for with a certain outcome anticipated.  If you've planned a wedding and have your heart set on it, yet it doesn't come to fruition, if you've been stood up at the alter, that is certainly something to grieve.  A c-section can be slightly similar: a date with much anticipation and much disappointment instead.  *This, of course, cannot account for the happiness of having a baby, so it doesn't fully depict the scenario.  
Instead, I think this is the best comparison I've heard:  Another source described it as if your house caught fire and burned to the ground, but you and your family got out alive.  Of course you are thrilled to be alive and have your loved ones---you will likely be filled with a sense of awe, love, gratefulness, and perhaps a renewed sense of self.  But there is still so much loss---your home, all your personal belongings, especially the irreplaceable things like family photos and heirlooms.  If you knew someone who lost those things in a fire, you may try to remind them what they still have... but you would admit it a loss.  You can never get back your grandmother's wedding dress.  Additionally, it would not be at all surprising if the fire survivors struggled with post traumatic stress syndrome.  A traumatic birth is actually quite comparable to this scenario -- an experience full of blessing and gratitude but mixed with sorrow; and perhaps accompanied by distressing memories which can be hard to overcome. (Here is a link to a women’s account of living through an actual house fire which happened in the middle of the night and thankfully her family got out alive. It’s heart wrenching, and while I have never lived through a house fire, I do relate to her range of emotions she experiences soon after it, as they correlate to many things I felt after my c-section.) 

You may be wondering what has she really lost by having a c-section?  
It may not seem like much, if anything.  But she has actually lost some sizable things.  Each woman will register the deficiency differently,  but a general summary of some of the losses are: 
  • The physical fulfillment of pregnancy---giving birth out of your own self.  This includes the hormonal shift naturally intended for mothers. Women experiencing vaginal birth have a different hormonal experience than c-section mothers. And in some cases it can result in challenging effects, both physical and emotional, for the mother.  
  • A sense of true womanhood/accomplishment/inner-strength.  
  • Sadly, she will have lost the respect of some people in regards to how she has birthed. Whether or not she believes their opinions to be true or false, or of any value at all, their opinions will at times be placed upon her without her permission. That can be very hard to live with.
  • In most scenarios, a mother who births via cesarean loses the chance to experience the first hour or two of her baby's life, as most hospitals take the baby to the nursery and the mother to a recovery room for at least an hour, possibly longer.  It can feel like a profound loss.  
  • In the same vein: a c-section is more difficult to recover from than a vaginal birth and it requires a longer amount of time to do so.  Many c-section-mothers feel they have lost the ability to really enjoy the first weeks (or longer) of their baby's life while they are dealing with the effects of major surgery.  Many feel they had an inability to take care of their baby they way they had hoped---simple things like getting out of bed to reach a crying baby can feel next to impossible, which may also adversely affect her ability to bond well with her baby.  
  • She has lost an unscarred uterus.  
  • With her uterus now scarred, she has lost the ability to simply see the doctor or midwife of her choice for any subsequent births.  She may not even get to go to the hospital of her preference for future births.  Many midwives will not see women who've had a prior c-section.  And many hospitals and providers will not allow a woman to have a vaginal birth after cesarean under their care.  In that case, regardless of her opinion, if this mother would like to be seen by that provider she will need to have a repeat cesarean.  Depending on where she lives her options for birth could now be severely limited.  
  • She has lost the chance to be spoken to in a non-threatening way regarding future births.  During any future pregnancies lots of stipulations will be placed on her.  And many more fear-filled scenarios will held over her head.  
  • Most women who've had a c-section have lost the ability to not fear birth.  She may struggle deeply with the idea of having more children even if she had previously wanted many.  
  • Additionally, many providers will now suggest she only have repeat cesareans, and therefore limit for her how many children she should have, since they do not recommend having many repeat cesareans.  Depending on her hopes for future family members, it could be devastating.   
These are just a few things she may be mourning.  And she needs space to work through that.  




Here are some tips I have for caring for this woman you know, based on how well you know her.  

You may want to just read the section that applies to you.  But you certainly may read it all to gain further insight.  
*IF after reading this post, you find that you would like to learn more about grieving a cesarean this has been the most in depth article I've ever come across on the subject.  





If this woman is more of a casual acquaintance of yours: 


I think it best if you leave any talk of the birth off the table.  
Giving birth is a deeply personal experience and it can be hard to speak of in general.  But if this birth was emotionally traumatizing, she won't want to bring those feelings back up at a surprise notice.  If you try to offer something on the matter, you may say it with the best of intentions, but she may take them in the worst of ways.  (When you are in a hard place, words can feel more harsh than they are.  And she is likely sleep deprived and hungry on top of it, not to mention going through a huge hormonal shift.  It's a really volatile time.)  
It is best to stick to blissful compliments of her new little love.  
As well as any you have for her: 


  • Does she look good?  Let her know!  
  • Is she glowing with love?  Say so!  
  • Is she taking great care of her baby?  By all means, mommas need to hear that!  
  • Did she just use her body to help create one of the most adorable things you've ever seen?  Yeah, say that!  
  • One of my favorite compliments had to do with my breast milk, as totally weird as that sounds.  My mom saw a bottle of pumped milk that had separated and said, "That's not skim milk, that's good milk!"  And it made me feel great that my body was doing something well.  (The c-section had made me doubt my body.)  So if you can roundabout-compliment her body's awesomeness (while still totally leaving the birth stuff off the table) (without it being totally weird, because I am assuming you are acquaintances), she'd likely be really blessed by that.  
The only caveat to the no-birth-talk rule I have is if you yourself have had a c-section and you'd be willing to listen to her feelings sometime, then you might mention that but just lightly and move quickly onto the baby and other things.  

If you know a mom who's had a c-section and she doesn't have nearby family or available friends to help her, and you'd be able to... that of course would be a huge blessing.  This might not seem like an acquaintance thing to do, but you never know.  I moved to a new state during my second pregnancy and needed to ask women I hardly knew if they might be able to watch my older daughter while I delivered my second (if my mom could not get there before I delivered).  It was really awkward for me.  If you can see a situation like that from a distance and would offer your help first to her, you'd knock her socks off with blessings.  
If you want to bring her a meal, foods that feel good when you are sick are the best option -- more towards mellow comfort foods -- it can be hard to stomach much after surgery.
You could offer to drive her to appointments--- c-section moms are not allowed to drive for the first two weeks, but still have doctors' appointments and things to get to.  
You can tell her you'd run the vacuum for her, or sit with the baby a bit for a nap of hers.  
This kindness is even more helpful for c-section moms with older kids since they have more work to do while recovering.  
I don't know what I would have done if my mom hadn't been able to stay with me after mine!  


If this woman is an acquaintance and you've been known to have strong birthing opinions or have had a beautiful birthing experience:


Please don't take it personally if she needs lots of space from you.  She's likely just terrified of being judged, already feels judged, and wants time to heal in peace.  
Give her space and in time do what you can to convey you're proud of her.  But tread lightly, it can be easy to come across as condescending.  


If this woman is related to you, but the two of you aren't on deep emotional terms: 


I'd say, essentially stick to the rules above.  
Try not to bring up the birth (or any births) much.  But do convey that you care deeply about how she is feeling and give space for her to open up if she is ready.  

If you do talk about the birth, try to always avoid words like "couldn't" and "didn't", or any words with negative connotations that might imply she couldn't hack it---because she can but circumstances just prevented it.  

Also, never assume things about, or pass judgement on, the birth.  You may want to assume something about the birth, and you may feel that by saying it you can bolster her spirits.   But unless you experienced her experience, it is not fair to assume anything.  And if you do, she will mostly likely take it as a hurtful statement.  

If she ever does open up to you, please be willing to JUST listen.  Try your very hardest to offer nothing but your ears, and kind eyes.  

If you are willing go beyond that into a deep place with her: 
Be willing to go to bat for her---to look out for conversations that may hurt her feelings and be ready to soothe her.  These can be any talk of giving birth (in person, online, or on TV)---especially vaginal; particularly "all natural".  
Be willing to try and steer away from those conversations for her.  Be willing to concede that she was fantastically strong and amazing for doing what she did.  

Please avoid attempting to compare a vaginal birth to a c-section; and especially trying to put it in a happy light---it's likely to be an EPIC fail.  It is very likely to hurt your relationship.  


If this woman is a good friend or close family: 



  • If you are driving her home from the hospital, or somewhere else in the first few weeks, please be aware that riding in the car after surgery can be very uncomfortable.  Please try to drive as smoothly as possible, slowing down or speeding up gradually, not quickly, trying to take turns slowly---avoid as many bumps as possible, go over any of them really slowly (this usually includes getting into the driveway).  

  • Be really encouraging about her post-baby-body.  Tell her how great she looks.  I've found that after my c-section it took much longer to get my old figure back than after my vaginal birth---it's just harder for the skin and everything to recover from a surgery.  (My belly looked SOOOO different after my two different births.)  It can be discouraging to see other moms "snapping back" while you wait.  You may not want to mention recovery might take longer---in some ways that's helpful to know, and in others it's just another huge disappointment.  It depends on the person and it depends on the moment.  Just make sure to tell her she's looking good.  

  • Let her talk about it, a lot, for a long time (calendar year-wise).  When she's ready, that is.  (I didn't want to talk about it at first.)  If she tells you some parts of it a million times, let her.  
  • There is actually good science behind this: A traumatic event such as a c-section will first enter a mother's mind in the right side of the brain.  The right side of the brain is emotional, nonverbal, experiential and autobiographical.  The right side of the brain processes our emotions, memories, and bodily sensations.  And since it is nonverbal it needs our left side because the left brain is logical, linguistic and literal.  The left side is what makes sense of feelings and recollections.  To tell a story that makes sense, the left brain must put things in order using words and logic, as the right side contributes the bodily sensations, raw emotions and personal memories.  Therefore, talking about (as well as journaling about) a difficult event can be very powerful for helping to heal.  Allowing someone to put narrative details in order by telling their story allows them to begin to understand what she experienced with her emotions and her body.   In fact, scientific research shows that merely assigning a name or label to what we feel literally calms down the activity of the emotional circuitry in the right hemisphere.  For this reason it is important to let women tell their stories.  Healing from a difficult experience emerges when the left side begins to integrate the details from the right side as we tell our stories.  Sometimes loved ones avoid talking about the upsetting experiences with the mother, thinking that doing so will reinforce the pain or make things worse.  But it is actually the telling of the story that is what is needed, both to make sense of the event and to move on to a place where they can feel better about what happened. (1)  
  • Please be willing to JUST listen.  Try your very hardest to offer nothing but your ears, and kind eyes.  

  • If the moment is right, tell her it's not her fault.  Guilt... guilt eats at your brain after a c-section.  You feel like you earned it somehow.  And stupid statements from random sources can really start to cement it into your head and heart over time.  If you can help her feel less crushing pressure in that area, then you will be giving her a gift of immense worth!  Be warned... this one may be kinda hard to pull off because you can't just flippantly say it.  You have to be addressing the actual reasons she might be thinking it could be her fault.  But if you can help her work through them please do!  That's awesome!  

  • You may want to check in on her emotions every so often (probably not right away but over time, for a long time).  Ask how she's feeling about it.  Or check on things like: has anyone said anything (or if she has read anything) that was particularly discouraging or hurtful.  In that way she can vent it and feel safe in doing so.  If those things are left in her mind unattended they can start to eat away at her heart, and you can help her erase the lies she is hearing by helping her get them out of there.  
You may need to ask her about her emotions sort of often to make sure she knows you are actually wanting to know.  I didn't open up AT ALL when people first came to see me and the baby and asked "How are you doing?" because I didn't know if they really cared.  I could see in their eyes they were asking "How are you after a c-section?" but I would just tell them "Good!", "Great!" because I wasn't feeling terrible physically.  And I figured that's all the wanted to know.  And a lot of times people are so shocked to hear that a c-section makes your heart ache, that they just try and change the subject, or say "Well at least you have your baby... or some attempt at a positive spin because they can't figure out what to say.  (And they don't seem to know we actually are glad that we do have our baby, and would totally do it again to have them... but we are still SAD.)  So you might have to kinda of prove to her you are willing to actually listen.  Try and let her know you are a safe place.  (And remember, for her---a safe place in you is just someone who will listen, never compare or talk about other births.)  

  • If you've had a baby, but not a c-section, please be really, really reserved about saying anything about your birthing experience.  I had a horrible, horrible time hearing anyone's non-c-section birth story for at least a year.  (Natural ones especially.  Home births even more so.)  

  • Please avoid attempting to compare a vaginal birth to a c-section and trying to put it in a happy light---it's likely to be an EPIC fail.  It is very likely to hurt your relationship for a bit.  

  • Please be aware that she WILL hear hurtful things.  I don't know why, but people are so judgmental of birth.  I can't believe some of the things spoken over women who've had c-sections.  One woman shared with me that an otherwise-nice-person, who didn't know she was speaking to a mother who had a c-section, said to her that women who have delivered via c-section shouldn't be celebrated on Mother's Day because they haven't gone through labor.  I can't really tell you how upsetting that is to me.  (Actually I could write an essay on it, but I won't.)  Suffice it to say she is mistaken and no one should ever say anything like that in any regard!  But your loved one WILL hear and read things like that.  PLEASE be a soft place for her to land.  

  • If you hear anyone say how they did a natural birth around her (even if it's just someone on TV), make sure to mention at some point how she is awesome.  (I found my natural birth to be a walk in the park compared to my induction turned c-section and its recovery.  C-section mommas are strong ladies!  She is awesome!)  It would always hurt my feelings to hear women talk about how they did it all-natural.  It felt like they were saying they were better than me.  (I can still get haunted by one woman I saw on a late night TV show going on about "how she trained for her natural birth" still rips my heart out---I couldn't have trained my c-section away.)  

  • Or if you hear anyone say anything like "you should be glad you had a c-section" to her---when the moment is right, let her know it was rude of them to assume things, and tell her she's awesome, and ask her if she's okay after hearing that.  

  • She might not know if she wants this for a while, but at some point I hope she would seek out an ICAN (International Caesarean Awareness Network) meeting.  Because, wow, was that ever good for me... to get to be around other c-section moms---it's a special room with a special comfort.  Maybe you could offer up the idea to her.  Don't push her, but gently remind her it's an option.  (To find a local group: http://ican-online.org/chapter/search).  

  • You may want to hold off on saying anything about a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Caesarean)  for a while.  Not all moms want another baby.  Not all moms want to VBAC, some feel more comfortable with the idea of a repeat c-section in the future.  So mentioning a VBAC may sound critical of their decision.  And even if this mom would like to VBAC, she may not be ready to talk about it.  I didn't like when my friends brought it up to me.  Before my second pregnancy it just somehow felt too overwhelming and too big to hope for.  And it also sort of felt wrong to hope too hard for it since it may invalidate my first birthing experience.  It was hard to have my friends try to offer up hope towards a VBAC  because they usually didn't understand that I now had MANY hoops to jump through---doctors/midwives/hospitals put a lot of limitations on someone who's had a c-section that only-vaginal-birthers don't have.  But once I was pregnant for the second time I couldn't get enough of anyone telling me "Yes you can VBAC!" (Because it was hard to come by! Most people tried to talk me out of it---even my mom initially).  Anyway, use your best judgment when speaking of hope for a future VBAC---which can often be gauged by letting the mother bring it up first.  

  • If it's appropriate pull her husband/partner aside and share these ideas with him as well.  (Or send him this post.)  

  • If she does have more children later:
  • Be a listening ear for her concerns about that upcoming birth.  


  • Be supportive of her hopes and decisions.  Trust that she is looking after the baby's best interests as well.  This mother knows what it is to love a child, she has one already, and she isn't going to weigh her experience as more important than this child.   


  • And try to watch how you word things when giving her birth advice.  She has already given birth at least once, perhaps not in the same way, but she has given birth.  At times being given tips by well-meaning friends can feel a bit condescending, as if they are kind of rubbing in your face what you didn't do last time.
  
  • If she does have a VBAC later, it may be surprising, but she may still need some room to continue grieving her c-section.




If this woman is your spouse/significant other: 


EVERYTHING written in this post (above) will be applicable to you.  (But I am going to copy and paste the biggies  under this heading for ease of use.)  
  • The first thing my husband said he wished he had known was how painful and sensitive my incision was.  He had no idea riding in the car would be painful for me.  We had a heated misunderstanding during our first car ride together after my delivery, before he realized my reaction to his driving was because of physical pain for me (not a nervous mother asking him to keep the baby safer.)  Please try to drive as smoothly as possible, slowing down or speeding up gradually, not quickly, trying to take turns slowly---avoid as many bumps as possible, go over any of them really slowly (this usually includes getting into the driveway).  

  • Be really encouraging about her post-baby-body.  Tell her how great she looks.  I've found that after my c-section it took much longer to get a figure back than after my vaginal birth---it's just harder for the skin and everything to recover from a surgery.  (My belly looked SOOOO different after my two different birthings.)  

  • Be aware that her incision will remain sensitive to touch for a long time, potentially a year or longer. This can be extremely important to remember during intimate times. I found a touch there to be an instantaneous mood killer because it would feel uncomfortable for one, but what was worse was it would also bring up tons of unbidden emotions that would distract me completely from the moment.

  • My husband said he was surprised at how long it took my emotions to stabilize.  He said our baby was walking before I was in a recovery stage.  He felt I could be irrationally upset (over something regarding birth memories or birth topics) at moments he couldn't understand.  

  • Many husbands/partners are similarly surprised at how emotionally difficult it is for the mother.  Oftentimes this difficulty can come as a surprise because often there is a small stage of disappointment initially after the birth, and she may seem to have come to terms with it all, but the truly deep emotions often don't surface for months.  

  • My husband told me he wished he knew not to try to "look on the bright side" with me.  He said, "That always just got me in trouble."  
  • Instead, what someone working through emotional pain needs is just a listening ear.  Men by nature want to find a fix for situations, and women want to just share feelings.  This dynamic can become much more intense after an emotional trauma.  Try to constantly remind yourself to just listen.  Your job is to listen, help her recall, sympathize, comfort, and hold her, but it is not to help her solve anything or get her to move on.  She will begin to heal while sharing, and that will be the fix you are hoping for.  
  • Let her talk about it a lot, for a long time (calendar year-wise)---when she's ready, that is.  (I didn't want to talk about it at first.)  If she tells you some parts of it a million times, let her. 

  • There is actually good science behind this: traumatic event such as a c-section will first enter a mother's mind in the right side of the brain.  The right side of the brain is emotional, nonverbal, experiential and autobiographical.  The right side of the brain processes our emotions, memories, and bodily sensations.  And since it is nonverbal it needs our left side because the left brain is logical, linguistic and literal.  The left side is what makes sense of feelings and recollections.  To tell a story that makes sense, the left brain must put things in order using words and logic, as the right side contributes the bodily sensations, raw emotions and personal memories.  Therefore, talking about (as well as journaling about) a difficult event can be very powerful for helping to heal.  Allowing someone to put narrative details in order by telling their story allows them to begin to understand what she experienced with her emotions and her body.   In fact, scientific research shows that merely assigning a name or label to what we feel literally calms down the activity of the emotional circuitry in the right hemisphere.  For this reason it is important to let women tell their stories.  Healing from a difficult experience emerges when the left side begins to integrate the details from the right side as we tell our stories.  Sometimes loved ones avoid talking about the upsetting experiences with the mother, thinking that doing so will reinforce the pain or make things worse.  But it is actually the telling of the story that is what is needed, both to make sense of the event and to move on to a place where they can feel better about what happened. (1)  


  • Since the need to talk about the experience can sometimes be so all-encompassing, one suggestion that works for many couples is to schedule specific times for the mother to focus on birth issues and discussion of birth-related feelings with their partners.  The husband/partner has to promise that during this time he will really listen to the woman's feelings and try to understand them, and that he will not judge them or dismiss them.  The wife has to promise that she will try to limit her birth discussions with him to these times, so that he can have the relief of  'birth-free' times when the subject is tucked away and the two of you can focus on your relationship, your family, or other issues in your lives.  Scheduling specific times can provide the outlet the woman needs---an opportunity for discussion of important birth issues between partners, while keeping the grieving to more manageable chunks so that the couple doesn't spend all its time being dominated by this issue.  

  • Be sure to continue checking in on her over time.  This is a long recovery and she may try to hide it from you.  But if you can get in there with her I think you will both be better off. 

  • Please be very careful with your words.  My husband once accidentally said "you didn't give birth" in the middle of a conversation.  It wasn't that he meant I didn't "give birth" but that I didn't do what we were discussing---vaginally getting the baby out.  It really was a verbal slip up, but I'm not sure I've ever been more shell-shocked.  

  •  Always affirm that she did in fact give birth.  Many women struggle over that concept after a c-section.  But I can tell you as a woman who has given birth both ways, each way is most definitely a selfless act of extremely difficult love.  C-section mommas most certainly have given birth.  She needs your affirmations on the matter.  

  • Make sure you tell her how proud of her you are, how impressed you are by the way she brought your baby into the world, how strong you think she is.

  • But please note that you can be SO proud of her, that you constantly say that to her instead of letting her share her feelings.  You may not understand them, but you can listen to them.  This situation is  kind of tricky... it calls for a mixture of listening laced with sweet statements, used with discernment. 

  • Be aware that she WILL hear hurtful things about c-sections.  I don't know why, but people are so judgmental of birth.  And the internet can come up and slap you in the face when you aren't even looking up birth stuff.  PLEASE be a soft place for her to land. 

  • If you hear anyone talk about giving birth around her, make sure you chime in about how great she did.  This could be anything from a husband musing over how strong his wife is who just gave birth, to a woman throwing around those natural birth terms, to someone on TV talking about how she "trained for her natural home birth." A c-section momma's mind can go to some really dark places in those moments.  Help pull her back out.  Tell her right then and there that she was amazing during your child's birth.  If the situation keeps you from saying it right then and there, please try to bring it back up later and make sure you tell her how awesome she is.

  • She might not know if she wants this for a while, but at some point I hope she would seek out an ICAN (International Caesarean Awareness Network) meeting.  Because, wow, was that ever good for me... to get to be around other c-section moms---it's a special room with a special comfort.  Maybe you could offer up the idea to her.  Don't push her, but gently remind her it's an option.  (To find a local group: http://ican-online.org/chapter/search).  

  • If you are both planning to have more children: try to get on board with her choices for the next birth.  Trust that she is looking after the baby's best interests as well---she knows what it is to love her children and would not try to endanger them just to have a good experience in birth.  Try to absorb important information on the subject she will feel so loved.  One woman shared with me that the hard times in her marriage after the c-section drastically improved once her husband actually told her he hoped she could VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Caesarean).   She had been wanting to try for a VBAC, but up until that point he would just say he wanted her to be happy.  But once he said "VBAC" she felt supported.  (Some women end up feeling better about a repeat c-section.  She just needs you to support her.)  Having your husband/partner agree with your hopes and choices in regards to them is a deeply-rooted vote of confidence.

  • Be prepared for tears.  I cried more times than I can even try to count in front of my husband, both after the c-section and also while pregnant the second time, waiting to VBAC.  (I cried at least once a week for a couple hours while pregnant the second time, because I was so scared.)  (*I should mention I am a natural born crier.)  

  • On the road to my VBAC my husband was my rock and just let me cry, all the time, and then told me I could do it, and would do it.  He would tell me how he wouldn't let any doctors mistreat me.  He really was what held me together during that time.  You have the opportunity to hold your love together and change her life for the better.  

  • If she does have a VBAC later, it may be surprising, but she may still need some room to continue grieving her c-section.



So those are my suggestions based off my experiences as well as many women who have shared their hearts with me.
Thank you once again for taking the time to read this.
I hope it benefits you and your loved one.  




*Once again, if after reading this you find that you would like to learn more about grieving a cesarean this has been the most in depth article I've ever come across on the subject.  



I love connecting with c-section mommas.  If anyone would like to contact me (you don't have to be the c-section momma herself) please feel free to do so.  Leave me a comment and we can get in touch.  



If, in the future, any of you  would like to know more about pregnancy and the things I learned between my c-section and my VBAC I have a page dedicated to that here.  




(1) This information was found within: "The Whole Brain Child---12 Revolutionary strategies to nurture your child's developing mind" by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.  
This book has nothing to do with c-sections.  I read it in an attempt to learn more about being a mother and I was shocked to have gained so much insight into my own traumatic experience.  It's a very cool book.  I totally recommend it.

37 comments:

  1. Very wonderful! I am so glad that this is out there for everyone to see! C-section Mommas are great!!!

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      Delete
  2. I'm so glad you keep addressing this topic - I've been reading your blog since early in my pregnancy (which ended up as an unplanned cesarean birth a little over a week ago). Although its way early for me to even want to think about vbac, I did find it comforting to come back to your blog a few days after getting home from the hospital. The mixed emotions you describe are so real, and I don't yet know of anyone in my "real life" who can relate. I probably will seek out a local ICAN meeting sometime in the near future. I'd love to connect with you, as well, especially since my scenario seems kind of similar to your first (baby didn't engage before labor, midwife/OB says it was because of his tilted-head position).

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    1. Ohh, thank you for sharing, Carrie! I'd encourage you to ask those close to you to read this article because I think it would be big help for all of you. I know my emotions were particularly challenging for my husband and mom to grasp, as well as some of my friends....if this article had existed then I think they would have been better equipped and therefore felt less helpless. It may just be written by a layperson, but I really have based this on LOTS of women's experiences. So I do think it holds water.
      Your labor and delivery sounds just like my first. I'd love to be a listening ear for you. You can email me at 1lydiajohnson [at] gmail [dot] com if you'd like to.
      I hope you are settling in as a mommy nicely. Congratulations on your new little one.

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  3. This is such a wonderful post. Thank you.
    As a woman, a doula, and a mother who has birthed naturally and by caesarean, thank you. This is such an intuitive, sensitive treatment of what women feels and experiences after a caesarean birth. The emotions are messy and complicated and putting them into words isn't easy. You've done a great job.

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    1. Oh thank you, Tina. This piece has been something I’ve been writing in my heart for years. It means a lot to me, I so deeply appreciate you compliment. I hope this post helps many people.

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  4. Lydia, (thats my daughter's name :) thank you thank you for your well worded post. I have struggled to find other women who recognize the emotional grieving process following a caesarean. My first birth was a c-section. 3 years later I planned and attempted a VBAC but it also ended in a c-section (both were for fetal distress). I am also a labor and delivery nurse. I can logically explain everything about it, the necessity of the surgery, etc. There was nothing different I or anyone else could have done about it but the fact remains that twice over I did not get to birth my babies the way I planned or intended to. This wounded me deeply on the most primal level- that my body could not do what it was designed to do by its very nature and design. Women and their bodies are for birthing...and I could not do that. The second time around I began to trust my body and it's ability, I did every natural means I could to help me go into labor on my own (and a big financial investment too, like with acupuncture, and we don't have much disposable income) I felt a huge burden of guilt afterwards for the investment I made and in the end still having a c-section. I would cry during my second pregnancy fearing the possibility of another c-section and it's exactly what happened. I also really wanted to have an empowering experience from my birth, to be able to be the first to hold my baby and not miss out on her first hour of life. I wanted my husband to see me as strong and able. instead my births were very disempowering (although still beautiful in their own ways). In terms of c-sections I had the best possible scenario, with my co-workers and the best ob as my surgeon. but you are right, good outcomes don't mean your emotions aren't still there to work through. I was also scarred thinking about what my birth outcome might have been without modern medicine and technology...how I and/or my baby may not have survived. My daughter is now 8 month and thankfully I don't (like the first few months) cry every single time i'm alone, reading this post brought all my emotions back to the surface and I know they are still there to work through. I am thankful I have been blessed enough to have good breastfeeding experiences with both children and I feel that has been my saving grace, giving me something I can credit my body for (that its not completely broken). Thank you for what you have written here, and for helping me realize i am not alone, that my feelings of a lost birth experience are not self-loathing or selfish, and i am not crazy! If you are ever in daytona beach I would love to have coffee with you, Lydia :)

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    1. Oh Rebecca, Thank you so much for sharing! I relate to you so much. Those emotions are so much bigger than I had ever even thought to anticipate before having children. Its shocking how deep they run. To be honest, after my VBAC I went back into a funk over my original c-section. I had expected a VBAC to cure me, and it really didn't. I still have to work through all my emotions around my c-section regardless of it. I still was grieving even after a great experience.
      The one thing that it changed for me was my mental stance on the idea of "I couldn't do it." But that extents to every women ever. I am now powerfully aware that we all CAN do it. You are able to birth -- you are that strong, you really are. You have everything in you, always have, always will. Its just a messy world and things can get in the way of how things should be. But that doesn't change who you are, and what you can do.
      And can I tell you a secret? I had to be stronger to have my c-section than I did to VBAC. That was the first thing I thought after pushing by baby out, that I had been so much stronger than this all along, I just didn't know it. You are crazy strong.
      I'm so glad you had empowering breastfeeding experiences. I did as well, and that went a LONG way in healing my heart after my c-section. I told myself that I was glad to have, out of the two (natural birthing, and breastfeeding) that I got to do the one that lasted the longest and I could cherish over more time.
      I'd love to have coffee sometime. Maybe life will bring me to Daytona Beach someday, and maybe I could meet your Lydia. :)
      Before then, if you ever wanted to email me you can reach me at 1lydiajohnson [at] gmail [dot] com.

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  5. This was an amazing read. I am that woman struggling with my c-section. You pretty much hit every nail on the head. I think the hardest part right now is trying to connect with other moms who understand what I'm going through. I tried to go to an ICAN meeting but the chapter in my city is not running right now. I want so bad to talk to some one who will understand and the other moms I know all had natural births. I have thought about going to counseling but that is still not really what I want right now. Anyway, I am going to make my husband read this. He's really supportive but I think this will help him understand what I'm dealing with better. Thank you for this!

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    1. Oh I’m so glad you found this helpful. I hope it proved helpful for your husband too. I’m super late in seeing this comment, but if you see this reply, and ever wanted to email me just to kinda “talk” I’be be more than willing to “listen.” -Lydia 1lydiajohnson@gmail.com

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  6. I had to have a emergency c-section with my daughter. We had only been at the hospital about 5 minutes when I was taken back and completely sedated for the c-section. I woke a few hours later. My daughter spent 5 days in the NICU. I was so blessed and happy that she was healthy despite the scare she gave us all. It took me a few weeks for me to realize this is what I was feeling. I would wake in the middle of the and feel my stomach to see if I could feel her move. I was still expecting to be pregnant. For nine months I had tried to prepare myself mentally and physically to vaginally deliver a baby. I was still expecting it to happen. When I realized this is what I was feeling, I talked to my husband about it. He didn't really understand. I felt like I had missed the most important moment in my life and my daughter's. I talked to some friends about it, but they had all had vaginal births or planned c-sections. They would just say 'yeah that makes sense' then change the subject. My daughter is five now. I still have moments where it upsets me. I can't watch Baby stories without crying because of the longing for what they are experienceing, and for happiness for those mothers who get to experience it. My scar still feels 'weird.' I am proud that I have it. That I did what it took for my daughter to be healthy. I can joke about it now, because its easier to. I have never met someone who seems to feel the same way I do about it. Most people seem to think I should be glad I didn't have to go through contractions, labor pains, etc. But I would have loved to. to see my daughter the moment she was born, have the pictures of us together with my reaction, her father cut the cord. I am pregnant with my second child now. I cried at the first appt when the doctor told me I would have to have another csection. ( my incision on the uterus is vertical). But I know again I am prepared to do what it takes.
    Thank you for this article. It has shown me that I am not the only one. That my difference can be normal. Thank You.

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    1. Heather, you are definitely not the only one. I completely understand all the things you are saying, and I’ve met quite a few women who do too. It is a very relieving thing to find out it’s normal. For me that was the real start to my healing. All the best to you! -Lydia

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  7. Thank you for this. My first birth was a c-section after a failed induction at 38 weeks (all at the insistence of my ex-husband- the OB said my little boy was going to be too big to birth if we waited any longer, and they ganged up on me. My "too big baby" was 7 lbs 12 oz.). Had I been older, wiser, and better prepared, I feel like I would have fought much harder against the induction and the c-section. I grieved for 2 years after that. All of those things you list in the "What She's Lost" part were spot on. I also felt like I had lost my voice as a woman and a mother. The only person who understood me was my mom, who had a c-section after being in labor with me for 22 hours and had failure to progress. She was my rock and was totally supportive of my decision to attempt a VBAC with baby #2. I changed doctors, hospitals, the whole nine-yards so I could have the chance to VBAC, At 7 months pregnant, my ex-husband announced that he no longer loved me and wanted to leave. Needless to say, this put me into a tailspin of major stress. I had prodromal labor for 6 weeks (in the dead heat of summer) and ended up electing to have a second c-section at 39 weeks, 5 days because I simply could not physically and mentally hold on any longer. It was a much better experience than my first, but still, I grieved that chance for a VBAC. By the way, baby #2 surprised us all by weighing in at nearly 10 lbs, so I would have likely needed a c-section anyway.
    I have plans in the future to have my scar integrated into a tattoo about love and strength. I think it's more than appropriate for me to honor both of my experiences in such a way.

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    1. Oh your story just touches my heart. I love that you have plans for a tattoo interrogated with your scar -- I’ve thought that same thought! I think that would be lovely.

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  8. Just found this & wanted to reach out to you. What a beautiful article that covers every facet of emotions a c-section mamma goes through!

    I had a c-section with my first baby nearly 3 years ago and another after a failed VBAC just 7 months ago. I am definitely in a better place (emotionally and physically) this time than I was after the first c-section but I am still haunted by what-ifs and the feeling of failure from both births.

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    1. Thank you so much Allie. It means so much to me to hear you call the article beautiful.
      I know those feelings and thoughts so well. But I’ve also come to know they aren’t true. (It took me a long time to get there.) You are not even close to a failure, you are a pillar of amazing strength and an awesome mom. I really truly do believe that.

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  9. Thank You SO MUCH for this post!

    I had an unexpected c-section with my first child in 2012 and it took me a year to pull myself together..
    I think I have gone through all of the emotions you described.

    It's great to know I'm not alone out there..

    Currently expecting baby nr2 I'm hoping for a chance at a vaginal birth but if it goes the other way I want to believe I'm much stronger to deal with everything a c-section brings.

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    1. The realizing I wasn’t alone in these feelings was really the first step to my healing. I hope all the best for you and your next birth. I do think you will be stronger to deal with it all no matter what this time. And I hope you know your body is awesome no matter what -- after my VBAC I was most proud of myself for going through with a c-section -- you are a strong wonderful momma.

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  10. I found this on Pinterest and I have read it everyday since. I cried the first time I came across it, just relieved that I wasn't alone. I had an emergency caesarian 7 months ago, after a 50 hour labour and suffering from Hyperemesis through the whole 42 weeks gestation. Then a bladder infection after birth, which lead to a further 5 days recovery in hospital. I honestly felt like giving up. I am so thankful I got to have, and still have a good breastfeeding experience, to have a very healthy, beautiful little boy and to have such a brilliant partner who helped me through every single part of it.

    I would love to have more children but I really couldn't put us all through that again.

    But it's not just the birth I am grieving, I was robbed of a healthy pregnancy too. I found a bracelet in my jewellery box a few months back and I took it to my boyfriend and said 'look at this, I just found it in my jewellery box and I have no idea whose it is.' To which he replied 'it's yours, I gave it to you a year ago.' My heart just sank, I hated myself for what he must have gone through. I just wanted to cry (again) for not even being able to say thanks.

    Thank you so much for writing this, I feel like I can begin to understand my emotions towards everything. I don't think I will be able to ever think of the day my little boy was born without feeling like I lost a massive part of myself. My love for him is ever-growing but I will always feel sorrow when I think back to that day.

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    1. Oh Erin, I’m so, so sorry. That all sounds so incredibly hard. I’m currently pregnant with my third, and this pregnancy has been very hard (much different than my other two.) I don’t technically have hypermesis, but I have had terrible, round the clock, nausea for about 22 weeks now. So I can very much relate to the concept of how emotionally draining pregnancy can be. And I’ve definitely told my husband numerous times that I’m not sure I can do this ever again. It’s entirely more emotionally draining (due to the physical draining) than I had ever anticipated. It feels extremely lonely as well.
      I’m so sorry it all had to be so hard for you.
      I’m so thankful for you, as well, to have that good breastfeeding experience. I felt that breastfeeding after my c-section was a wonderful emotional salve for me, I’m not sure what I would have done without that.
      I hope you get more and more chances to understand all your emotions on it all (For me ICAN was an awesome place for that) and get more and more healing on it all. I hope you feel comfortable sharing this post with some of your closest so they help you heal. And I hope you stay patient with yourself through the process. It make make it’s mark on us, but speaking four and a half years out from my c-section, time does have a way of dulling the ache.
      Thank you for sharing your story a little bit with me, it means a lot to me.

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    2. Thank you so much for your reply.
      Oh dear, yes, it is terrible isn't it? I seem to remember my vomiting went away after about 24 weeks, so fingers crossed that it gets better for you. I lost 15% of my body weight in this time.
      If ever more children did come in to the equation I would need to find a doctor who knows about this and would except me having a past caesarian too.
      I would like to share my feelings with my family and friends, it would be a huge relief, but no one understood the Hyperemesis. I think my caesarian would have been easier for me to handle emotionally, if I didn't already feel so judged by having that. That was completely isolating for me.
      I hope you have lovely people around you who are very supportive!

      I wish you all the very best.

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    3. Thank you. And yes I understand what you are saying. Even just with the extended nausea, it’s been really hard to be around anyone any more, they don’t know how to respond to me after I say I’m still feeling sick. It’s entirely more isolating than I ever imagined it could be. I think it has been more isolating that the c-section emotions just because it seems less common and people seem to think I’m making it up. It’s hard, but at least I know eventually I’ll have the baby. :)
      I wish you all the best with everything as well! :)

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  11. Thank you so much for writing this. I wanted a natural, unmedicated birth and I ended up with every intervention possible and a very traumatizing c-section. Then my son died a few days later. It was terrible. I'm currently pregnant again, and though I'm hoping for a VBAC I'm sure I will end up with another c-section.

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    1. I’m so so sorry to hear of your son. My heart aches for you. I pray all the best for you in the future.

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  12. I have a c-section before, three time to be precise. I wanted to point out that I gave BIRTH three times. It may not had been vaginally, but they were birthed out of my body. You gave birth also, and had just as much pains and rewards as a a mother who delivered vaginally. Fathers are the ones who do not birth babies. But as long as another human being was developed and delivered out of that woman's body, that is an official birthing of a baby. Congratulations to all mothers! :-)

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    1. I couldn’t agree with you more LaTonya. I did my best to verbalize that in my post: " Always affirm that she did in fact give birth. Many women struggle over that concept after a c-section. But I can tell you as a woman who has given birth both ways, each way is most definitely a selfless act of extremely difficult love. C-section mommas most certainly have given birth. She needs your affirmations on the matter. “ You are right, Mothers need to be congratulated and praised and loved and supported regardless of so many things, birth styles included.

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    2. I have also now updated my intro to this post hoping to convey the tone in which I come at this topic. It now reads:
      "Please Note: I do not wish to imply anyone should feel negatively about having a c-section. I do not believe that at all. I believe that every birth, and every entry into motherhood, is sacred and not to be looked down on. I believe that every mother is amazing and strong, and that she gave gloriously of herself to become a mother.
      And therefore, I write this post because I know that some women (not all) (but more than I had originally realized) do feel some form of negative feelings after a c-section. And it is my deep hope to be able to give some peace and healing for those in that scenario.
      If you do not feel any negative feelings about your c-section I am so very glad, I wish that for every mother. But if that is the case you may find this post less applicable or helpful."

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  13. Nothing wrong with c-section births. This article really offended me. You have made this way more dramatic than it really is. The important thing is a healthy, happy baby! All moms should be praised for carrying their little ones and bringing them into this world.

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    1. I'm very sorry I offended you. That was not my intention at all. And I hope it did not come across as saying mothers who have had csections are not worthy of praise. All mothers are, no matter how they reach their children and motherhood. Healthy babies are what all mothers live for.
      These are emotions I personally have had to work through after my csection, and have personally spoken with many other mothers who have as well. But as I stated at the start of the post some mothers do not struggle with them, so this post is not for them.
      But I am grieved if my emotions and my healing process have hurt you in their wake. I am very sorry to have done so.

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    2. I have updated my intro to this post hoping to convey the tone in which I come at this topic. It now reads:
      "Please Note: I do not wish to imply anyone should feel negatively about having a c-section. I do not believe that at all. I believe that every birth, and every entry into motherhood, is sacred and not to be looked down on. I believe that every mother is amazing and strong, and that she gave gloriously of herself to become a mother.
      And therefore, I write this post because I know that some women (not all) (but more than I had originally realized) do feel some form of negative feelings after a c-section. And it is my deep hope to be able to give some peace and healing for those in that scenario.
      If you do not feel any negative feelings about your c-section I am so very glad, I wish that for every mother. But if that is the case you may find this post less applicable or helpful."

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  18. I know this was written years ago but I just read it and it made me cry! I have a 5month old daughter who was born via c-section in an urgent manner. I have had such a hard time with this. My husband saw me struggling in the early days and would tell me over and over "you are a fantastic mom". It was great to hear but it doesn't change how I feel about the experience and this horrible scar. I think I am going to get a tattoo not covering it but near it helping to tell the story. I truly hate that scar and I am terrified of having more kids, just like you wrote about in your post. Thank you so much for writing this, you are dead on with what you think a c-section mom needs to hear. And thanks for the info on the C-section group, I will check it out right now!!

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