I see you.
You’re patiently awaiting your baby’s arrival. You’ve prepared the nursery, the car seat base is installed and you’ve been thinking about the day that you go into labor, ready to welcome your little bundle of love into the world.
Then one day, you are in labor and some aspect of it veers off course and your original birth plan didn’t come to fruition.
Perhaps you planned to have an unmedicated birth, but the physical discomfort became too much and you ended up with an epidural you hadn’t originally wanted.
Maybe you wanted to avoid Pitocin, but you made it to 41 weeks, still without any sign of baby, so you were induced.
Perhaps your baby was breech, or became very stressed during a labor that wasn’t progressing, so you and your medical provider agreed that a cesarean was the best route for the safety of your baby.
Maybe your baby was born prematurely and it led to a stay in the NICU.
Maybe you were surprised with the scary diagnosis of preeclampsia, HELLP Syndrome or placenta abruption.
Or, perhaps you gave birth to your baby during the pandemic and the people you planned to have in the delivery room with you, or those who planned to be in the waiting room ready to meet your new baby, couldn’t be there.
Maybe it was a combination of factors or interventions that you never planned for, but happened.
Labor is an extremely emotional, life-altering experience. When it doesn’t go as planned, it can be shocking and depressing.
But things move quickly and suddenly your beautiful baby is in your arms.
Everything is okay again.
Still, you can’t help but have a mix of feelings, questions, confusion or disbelief about what you just experienced and how the events played out.
I’m here to tell you that it’s OKAY to be sad that things didn’t go as planned.
We place such high expectations on ourselves. We think that the ultimate gift of our baby in our arms should dismiss any unwanted interventions we may have had delivering that baby.
We feel guilty.
Guilty for even thinking that aspects of our labor were disappointing.
Guilty for feeling sad that our expectations around childbirth weren’t met.
Guilty for wishing something went differently, even though that thing was “small” and so insignificant compared to others’ labor complications you’ve heard about.
Guilty because the ultimate goal of having our baby in our arms WAS achieved, and shouldn’t that be all that matters?
No. It’s not all that matters.
Yes, our first priority as mamas is that our baby is born healthy and safely. But YOU matter, too.
To make things worse, so much attention is placed on the baby after birth that we can feel raw and unseen for the experience we just had. During moments when we MIGHT feel like confiding in someone about our labor disappointment, well-meaning family or friends respond with things like,
“At least your baby is healthy and safe.”
“Your baby is here and that’s all that matters.”
“Oh no one’s birth goes to plan, honey!”
This makes us feel even more alone. It causes us to further question our feelings and can make us feel even more guilty. Add this to our already heightened emotional state (thanks postpartum hormones 👋).
It’s the last thing we mamas need to be dealing with.
I’m here to tell you it IS okay to FEEL.
It’s okay to be MAD that things didn’t go as planned.
It’s okay to feel like it’s NOT FAIR – like you were robbed of the labor you wanted.
It’s okay to feel SAD about the loss of control you felt in the delivery room when your provider suggested a new course of action.
It’s okay to feel CONFUSED about the events that progressed, or FRUSTRATED about the way things went.
These feelings DO NOT make you less of a mother. They DO NOT make you selfish. They DO NOT detract the love you have for your baby. They show that you care and love your baby so much, that you HAD expectations and a vision for your baby’s birth. They make you human. An emotional, feeling human being. They come from the same body, soul and mind that lovingly grew and carried your baby for 9 (give or take) months. The same body, soul and mind that makes you the amazing mama you are to your baby.
If no one else has said it to you yet, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that some level of your expectations around childbirth weren’t met.
We all focus on the body healing after birth, but the mind has to heal, too. And it might take longer for your mind to heal than it did your body, and that’s okay. Pushing away or hiding your feelings of sadness, anger or guilt only makes you feel worse and slows down the healing process.
So what now? How do we focus on healing? How do we cope and move on from a birth that didn’t go to plan? Here are 10 ideas to consider:
- Acknowledge your feelings. Write them down. Sometimes just saying them out loud validates them and helps you feel better.
- Talk to a family member or friend.
- Talk to a counselor or therapist. These emotions you’re feeling are REAL and deserve your attention. You can’t be your best for your baby if you aren’t figuring out how to heal yourself. If you’re having a difficult time, seek professional help. Sometimes having a completely outside, objective person listening is the best form of help. Also, don’t feel like you have to stick with the first professional you meet with. If you don’t feel a match in your relationship, try meeting with someone else. They can’t help you heal if you don’t feel completely secure, safe and heard.
- Remember that you’re not alone. It can be easy to feel isolated in your experience. Find comfort in knowing that others have had the same experience. While we likely didn’t have the exact same birth expectations and the same outcomes, we each had a certain set of expectations that to some extent, weren’t all met.
- Check out mom support groups. There are online mom groups and often local ones in your area. Make sure whatever ones you check out provide the type of support you seek and focus on lifting one another up. If they don’t have that nature, check out another group or resource.
- Know that each birth experience is unique. If you hope to have another baby, that birth will be new and different. One birth not going to plan doesn’t mean another baby’s birth will be the same. It’s possible and likely that it will go exactly as you hope for it to be!
- Feel proud of yourself for having expectations about childbirth. That shows that you cared enough about the experience of childbirth, both for you and your baby, to envision what you did and didn’t want to have happen. If you hope to have another baby, PLEASE create a set of expectations for that birth, too! The universe will do its best to give you what you want, so don’t leave that to chance and picture what that is. Remember, countless women have had births that went exactly as planned – and you can, too.
- Move your body. Physical activity does amazing things for the mind. It’s even better if you can get outside. Take your baby for a walk. Do some exercises at home. Often, when moving feels like the last thing you want to do, it’s really the BEST thing for you to do for yourself.
- Feed your body nourishing food. I know this might seem challenging if you are having a hard time even making meals for yourself. However, empty carbs and simple sugars wreak havoc on the brain and body. Instead, feed it healthy fats and complex carbs and high quality protein. Check out our recipes page for easy meals that are nutritionally packed, like this Super Simple Green Curry. Craving a sweet? Try our Chocolate Chia Avocado Pudding.
- Think about the aspects of your baby’s birth that were positive and DID go to plan. Focusing on these things might help those that didn’t go as planned seem less impactful. Write them down and read them to yourself whenever you need to.
If you focus on the ideas above, you might start to feel better. If you’ve tried them all and still don’t find yourself feeling better, then talk to your doctor.
Let’s start bringing this conversation to light. Labor disappointment is real. It can impact our postpartum healing and even our plans for any future children. Countless women before us and after us will give birth and each birth has its own story. Let’s do a better job of talking about and supporting one another in the births we want to have and in the postpartum period after.
You are amazing, mama.
What you did for your baby is heroic and I want you to remember that always. You gave your baby the gift of life and you’ve nurtured and loved that baby every day since.
Give yourself grace and nurture yourself now, too.