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Saturday, April 7, 2012

C-section Aftermath: Living with the Guilt

It’s been almost 17 months since I had my son. We conceived him via IVF after trying on our own for what felt like forever. By the end of the process, we were all doctored out. We opted for a midwife and a home water birth. I was mentally prepared, I was physically ready, I was at peace with my baby and my body – I knew this was going to be an amazing, life-affirming birth and I feared nothing.

My water broke Monday night, which was 6 days past my EDD. Significant contractions came within ½ hour. I tried to rest through it, but there would be none of that. We finally called for the tub early the next morning. Sweet, sweet bliss! Why hadn’t I done this earlier (like during my 1st trimester!)? The midwife and her student (a doula…bonus two-fer!) came later that afternoon. My contractions were coming one right on top of the other. At one point, I had what was timed as one 5-minute long contraction, which was when the midwife knew that the baby’s position was off. I asked to be checked and after 20 hours of labor, I was only 2 centimeters. The midwife and my husband decided to transfer me to the hospital. I was well beyond being able to make such a decision on my own.
Pushing began around 6 o’clock the next morning. It was Wednesday, for those counting. All of a sudden, I KNEW something was wrong. I can’t explain it, I just knew. I yelled for a C-section, something which horrified even me as it came out of my mouth. I immediately doubted myself, but I couldn’t stop that nagging voice from screaming inside my head. I just knew! The doctor (my home-birth friendly OB who was my midwife’s choice for back-up, so I trusted him) fought me on it, telling me, as is understandable, that I would regret it. He even went outside to call my midwife (who had by then gone home) to get her to convince me to not give up. I tried pushing more, but there was something wrong! I was not going to be silenced again. I put my foot down (hard to do, since they were in the air). I saw the looks of disappointment on everyone’s faces – the doctor, the nurse, even my husband. I felt like an utter failure immediately. How could I go from wanting an all-natural home birth in the water to ASKING for a C-section?? Was I just being a HUGE wimp? Clearly, I sucked at life – everyone thought so, even I thought so.
As I was being wheeled into that room, nobody spoke to me. I had done a bad thing and I was being punished, leastwise that’s how I felt. They talked and joked amongst themselves, but I was just a slab on a table. I shook violently. I could not manage to calm either my body or my mind. I had failed. I had failed my baby, my husband, the doctor, the nurse, the midwife, all my friends and family who said I couldn’t do it, and myself. I let everyone down. I couldn’t get over it. The weight of the world was on my shoulders and then, as if that pressure wasn’t enough, they started slicing, dicing, pulling, and tugging. And I wasn’t an active participant in any of it. My son was being born and I had nothing to do with it. What a loser. Way to bring your son into the world peacefully, Amy. Way to make your first act as a mom a selfish, cowardly one.

Then he was out. I didn’t get to see him first, I didn’t get to help guide him out of my body and up to my breast, my husband didn’t get to help receive him, he was just plucked out of me like something out of Alien. Our whole plan was thrown off. He was supposed to be born at home, instead he was in a cold operating room. The cord clamping was supposed to be delayed, instead his life-blood was cut off from him without regard. There were so many “supposed tos” and so many “insteads” that my head was reeling.

Then it happened. A break in the clouds. The doctor leaned over the curtain, looked at me very gravely, and said, “I am SO sorry, Amy. I am so sorry. There is a deformity in your pelvic bone. There is no way you or anyone else could’ve known. There was no way in the world for a baby to fit through. It could’ve killed the both of you. I am so sorry. Good for you for listening to your body. I should’ve listened to you, too.” Over the next two days, he came and told me this two or three more times. Wow. Maybe I wasn’t such a failure. I mean, I couldn’t help that any more than my husband could help being born with just one kidney. I was born this way.

So why did I still feel such guilt, such remorse? I was wheeled into the recovery room where my husband was waiting with our perfect newborn son who I had only met briefly and in passing and as I took him to my breast for the first time, I cried and apologized profusely. I told him over and over again how sorry I was for his harsh entry into the world. It is 16 months later and I am still apologizing, though less frequently and usually without tears. I have the most perfect son, he is securely attached, we are tightly bound, he still breastfeeds and cosleeps, I am blessed enough to be home with him – our little family of three has a perfect life together. There is just one little blemish and I’m not sure if it will ever heal…I’m not sure what I can do to make it better for us. I’ll keep trying, though. I’ll always keep trying.


  1. What courage for sharing your story! As with many of our stories, I hope that the telling takes away some of the grief, and the retelling, more. You have been an encouragement to me, and likely will be to so many moms as they come across this post. Thank you for sharing!

    1. yes a big break in the guilt for me to read this ... same story same outcome... except I didn't know until after the birth of my second child! my daughter is now 15, and my son almost 7... and your story has reminded me to forgive myself. Thank you yes for sharing.

  2. Dear Zen Mama, such congratulations for listening to your gorgeous body that told you so faithfully that it needed help to bring baby through. Simply magnificent, dear girl -- and good for you for writing it all out too.
    It feels sad to read you talking about your sense of 'blemish' in your birth -- I can't see how you could find any in what you've done. For someone with the problem it turned out you have, you and your body, or perhaps you and your baby in your own secret tandem, have done the very best job possible. In what unknowable way did your bones tell you they wouldn't be able to make it? It's truly amazing, and there's not a thing here that needs making better.
    God bless you and your sweet family.

  3. i cried as i read your story...the grief you feel over a lost dream (the birth story you imagined and so desperately desired) is palpable. however, what stands out most to me in this moment is the paradox that while you didn't get the birth story you so desired, you do have everything else that you imagined would come with the "perfect" birthing scenerio--secure attachment, etc. (which you articulated beautifully yourself) it sucks that the "outcome" doesn't erase the grief and all the other complex feelings that come with a dream lost...and may i also say (though you might be tired of hearing this), i am so struck by your ability to listen to your body and your baby when they both needed you most...there is no more beautiful mothering on this planet than attentive mothering, and my oh my in this story you were attentive and then some!
    i admire you for giving voice to the feelings of guilt, grief and loss associated with your experience of having a less than desirable birthing experience...i fear many of us are suffering in silence. jamie

  4. you're not a loser.

    thank you for sharing, you should never apologise for any decisions made in labour, you thought it was what you needed at the time.

    it's good to listen to your body :)

  5. Beautifully written and made me cry and feel EVERY written word!! You are a hero!! Thank goodness you listened to your inner voice!

  6. Weird I typed a huge long response but it didnt post!!

    But I wanted to say thank you for sharing. I too had a traumatic home birth experience 16 months ago and I'm still recovering. All are well on our end as well, but it was really like being in a car accident.

    I hope soon you will find peace and know that you trusted your intuition!

  7. Oh, mama. I feel for you. I have been there-- as recently as last month, in fact. My twin boys were born via c-section at 34 weeks, after ten weeks of fighting preterm labor. They went to the NICU, and I didn't see or hold them for 15 hours. It was torture. And the days of having them in the hospital when I left were heart-rending. I felt what you're feeling. And I tried my level best to "make it up" to them. As I struggled through PPD and PTSD, I did everything I could to erase the impact of those first days, of their birth. I'm just now beginning to realize that there is nothing to "make up for", but simply the life we're leading together as an attached family of four. My boys are two years old.

    I'm paraphrasing someone here, though I can't remember (or find) who: Things don't get better, they just get different. There's always as struggle of some variety, but you can choose how much power to give it over you.

    That being said, you have every right to mourn the loss of the birth you wanted. It's an amazing testament to the power of yourself that you KNEW something was wrong and sacrificed your ideals for safety. It's admirable, but you can still be sad about what didn't happen.

    I'm glad your little man is such a joy in your life, and thank you for sharing your story.

  8. I can almost understand how you can feel. My change in plan from hypnobirthing got monkey-wrenched in the last 6 out of 23 hours labor. But let's not lose sight of your situation! Had it not been for you maternal instincts and your ability to 'hear' that your baby was in mortal danger, you would not be alive (nor would your son) to enjoy the perfection of your son and being a family. Not to mention your husband is probably feeling truly blessed to not be a widower and that you saved yours and your son's life! You would feel so much more guilt the other way around. I am sure of it. Focus on how pleasant it was for your son to be alive, healthy and able to meet his parents. Focus on how horrible it would have been to have died because no one heard his plea for help. God bless you and your family with a long, healthy, happy life together!

  9. Thank you for your honesty. I had a csection too...completely threw us and our raw, natural homebirth plans for a last minute loop.
    i'd so love to share a poem i wrote about it. it really helped me to come to a place of deep peace with the process.

    Mila's Poppy

    it was natural.
    i don't care
    what the midwives
    or the homebirthcircles

    i say: csection
    is natural too

    go ahead and challenge me.

    sure. i felt a lot of grief
    because it didn't
    go the way I wanted

    i wanted the
    breathe-and-dance-and-groan-and-scream-and-moan-and-purr-and-yell-and-yank-and-push-and-pull-and-sweat-and-chill-and-completely-surrendered-to-the-ocean-and-the-moon-at-home-birth that
    my mother
    and her mother
    did not experience.

    i wanted
    to give birth to
    a new story
    powerofthebirthingbody story
    of my bloodline
    of her bloodline

    i thought
    and felt
    power was taken
    from my birthing body

    during my birth story
    i embodied fear
    i rattled my bones in fear
    and mila marinated in my fear.
    i believed what i believed:
    that csection was unnatural
    and cut off from the 'way it should be'

    well guess what?
    i'm taking it all back
    right fucking now
    see this:

    for mila and me

    think about it:
    everytime i grieve my birth story
    for not being 'natural'
    i tell mila
    that it was unnatural
    that she was born less than
    if i do this
    she will feel i'm sad
    because she is here
    and that i'm sad for her birthstory
    this story isn't true.

    mila doesn't know any birth story other than her own
    and i cannot compare
    the birth of an apple from a blossom
    to the birth of an oak from an acorn
    i just can't.
    and i can't compare
    the birth of mila
    to the birth of fill-in-the-blank's homebirth.

    to compare
    is to cut
    off and
    mila, i'm not giving you the splits.
    i'm giving you the whole truth right now:
    i am proud of your birth story sweet little star

    i like that you came through my poppy belly
    you know,
    the belly with the poppy tattoo
    the one that stretched and grew with you
    the one i got
    one or two days
    after you were
    not knowing you were conceived

    i like that there is a scar now
    that goes across my groin
    just beneath my fat
    through a poppy flower

    you came out of a magical transforming poppy
    you did!
    that poppy was placed there strategically
    with joy and pregnancy in mind
    it was put there to honor the story of grief
    from an abortion ago ago ago
    and to birth beauty
    out of pain and regret

    your heart was born deep inside mama's poppy belly
    and here you
    grew and
    and ate
    and sucked your foot
    you kicked and pushed against mamas poppy
    so it is no wonder
    you should pick mama's magical poppy as your doorway
    into this world

    i like your birth story a lot!
    i love that you are here!
    i am beyond joyful that you are here!

    you can tell your friends
    after you are all grown up
    that you chose to come out
    of mama's poppy belly
    and that you chose
    to be frank breech

    you determined the course of your life
    through the story of your birth
    and what is unnatural to some
    is quite natural to you

    you gave this mama
    the gift of wholeness
    when her poppy belly was split open wide
    and you were yanked out!
    i'm giving wholeness back to you now
    and i want you to carry it until you die.

    do you know how many people in this country pay lots of dollars to 'heal' from 'the wounds' of their birth stories?
    you don't need to ever do that.

    sweet precious poppy daughter
    i'm proud of how you came into this world.

    i love you
    more than the soft white changeability of the moon

    i love you
    brighter than the intensity of the sun

    and i love you
    redder and more delicate but just as fiercely open
    as the poppies in the field.

    1. what a beautiful poem. thank you for sharing.

  10. Something to think about: birth IS a harsh process. Babies are pushed or pulled from their comfortable, cozy, warm womb in a traumatic way- whether it's out through the birth canal or out through an incision. Babies are very flexible. You did not scar your son for life- in fact you know you saved it. Think of this: as late as a hundred years ago, if you'd had a "natural" home birth, both you and he would have died. Thank God for modern medicine and its place! I think it was very noble of you to try to do things the way nature intended, but there's a reason that things like hospitals and C-sections were developed- to help people along when they are in trouble from "natural" processes. I can't believe that you'd think it would've been better had you had a "natural" birth and had it end up with the loss of your and your sons precious lives. So do not fear that you have somehow harmed your son with your demand to have a C-section- that was your "natural" mothering ability already at work protecting your son!

  11. Thank you for this. My son was also born via c-section rather unexpectedly. I started out at home as well and ended up in the hospital-after pushing for several hours I had a placental abruption and an emergency c-section. I cried and cried when they wheeled me to the OR. I was literally bleeding out but all I could think about was that my body was failing me. I also carried a fair amount of guilt with me for quite a while. I compared his birth to his sisters natural birth and felt that I had let him down.
    Now 15 months later, I've managed to completely move beyond it. I owe it to him to just focus on the positive and cherish our fantastic bond through nursing and co-sleeping. Now, I don't dwell on the negative-I feel he deserves more than that from me.

  12. Please stop feeling guilty. You should be proud of yourself for knowing and listening to your body. A cesearean made you a mother. Sticking it out with labor would have made you a corpse. And for the love of God, stop apologizing to your son. He will never remember his birth. He will remember the days since and the love you've shown him. Don't give him a complex over something that brought him into this world for you to love and cherish.

  13. While I appreciate the sentiments of many of you who state I should not feel as I do and that my son will not remember what he went through, I have to disagree. First, we are always allowed to feel what we feel and we can't rush our way through it. Second, our brain stores EVERYTHING and every experience shapes who we are. I don't believe my son will end up in a padded cell because of our c-section, I do believe that the traumatic way in which he was brought into the world has shaped him in some small way. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction...

    1. But you had no other option. You listened to your body, and that was the best decision you could have ever made!

  14. I am so grateful to have read your story. It brought tears to my eyes since I brought my baby into this world through an unwanted C-Section 14 months ago and I am still processing the experience and learning to forgive... but I admire you for being so in tune with your body and your baby to know what needed to be done to save you and your baby's lives. life lessons come in many packages. i hope you learn what you need to from this, in the meantime I thank you for being sunch an inspiration to many out here!!! blessings to your heart.

    1. Thank you so much, Marlen. What sweet, wonderful words! :)

  15. This made me cry. I have yet to really write about my experience. I think I am still going through the motions...if that makes sense.

    You're writing is lovely, as always.

    1. I would imagine you have quite the story to tell when you get the chance to settle and get it out. I look forward to reading it when you do. <3

  16. I didn't realize you had a traumatic (though needed/necessary) cesarean. The birth of my first was a traumatic hospital birth. My body, likes yours, failed me in a multitude of ways (though I have a normal pelvis). I gave birth vaginally, but it didn't feel like I was part of the process.. it felt like I was forced along by "care" providers poking and prodding and forcing and pulling. When I had my daughter, I wanted it to be on my terms, no one reaching in and yanking anything. I hired a homebirth midwife that came highly recommended by an entire community of natural-minded.. and I prepared myself mentally and emotionally as much as I could for a long, torturous labor that could potentially go wrong the way my first did and land me in the hospital again. Instead, it took 2 hours first contraction til my daughter was crowning and the midwife barely made it to catch. Again, me totally out of control, though this time my body was at least doing what it "should".. My daughter came out bruised up rather bad from the fast birth and I ended up bleeding and bleeding and bleeding, tissues in there stuck, and them needing to be retrieved.. Someone's hand up in there yanking again. My midwife left while I was still bleeding a bit like a spigot, in gushes, making me scared, I had the drugs to stop it on board, what could go wrong? It took me 3 weeks to be able to make it across the house without stopping to catch my breath. I'm done having babies and both were definitely less than stellar experiences. I didn't get PTSD like with the first, for the second, but I can't say I recommend a 2 hour labor or that midwife. I don't know what life is trying to teach me. I do know that my children are both beautiful. Maybe that's all I need to know. I wish I'd had just a little bit of control, though.