Unplanned Caesarean birth – failure or opportunity?

Let’s look at unplanned caesarean birth differently, beyond it being second best.

Unplanned Caesarean birth – failure or opportunity?

The rates of caesarean section in childbirth in the western world have increased significantly in the last few decades.[i]

The reasons for this can be attributed to many factors, which are often the topic of debate in the birth arena. Although it’s important for us to understand why this rate has risen, it is equally as important to address how a woman feels after an unplanned caesarean birth – which is often viewed as an unwanted and unnecessary birth outcome.

From my personal experience of an unplanned caesarean – and professionally supporting women who also ended up with emergency caesarean sections – I can share that it is common to experience feelings of failure, disappointment and regret after the birth.

With the birth of my fourth baby, who was born by an unplanned C-section after three previous vaginal births, I slipped into post-natal depression as I was unable to resolve the intense feelings of failure and disappointment in how the birth unfolded.

Carmen – a mother of three, all born by caesarean section – also shared with me about her first emergency caesarean; “I started my role as a mother in exhaustion, with a very distressed baby who I thought I had failed.”

We are definitely not alone in this as the Internet is littered with self-help articles and birth healing support groups to assist women to deal with the unresolved emotions around unplanned caesarean.

One way that women, including myself, try to manage all the feelings of disappointment and an inability to accept the experience, is to direct the blame onto the system and the medical team, or sometimes even a partner for not supporting them and somehow allowing a caesarean delivery to occur. I definitely fell into this way of dealing with my own overwhelming emotions, which left me feeling like a victim and completely powerless.

It wasn’t until I realised that everything that happens to us in life is not random, and that each experience offers a deeper understanding of ourselves, that I was able to truly heal the disappointment of my unplanned caesarean delivery.

In understanding this, I discovered that instead of viewing giving birth by caesarean as failure, it can be seen as golden opportunity to delve deeper in what is really at the root of why we feel like we have failed.

From my own process of being more honest with what my caesarean delivery offered me and talking to women after their C-sections, I realised women have taken on loads of pictures, ideals and beliefs around how birth should be that contribute to feelings of failure and disappointment when it doesn’t go as planned or, more accurately, as pictured.

Some of these beliefs/ideals and pictures that many of us have taken on include:

1. Thinking we should be ‘giving birth right’ which often means naturally or at least vaginally to ensure we give our babies the best start in life.
Instead of being open to the possibility that we do not truly know the exact impact of birth on our babies and how they are as adults. In fact, my son who was born by caesarian section in quite difficult circumstances is one of most loving and caring human beings I know, not someone who was affected for life from his birth.

2. Viewing having a natural vaginal birth that maximizes all the birth hormones gives us the best opportunity to connect and bond with our babies after birth.
Instead of knowing that connecting to our babies is not dependent on the way they are born be that caesarean, natural or assisted vaginal birth or birth hormones, but from a connection to our own love that we have connected to first within ourselves, for ourselves.

3. Believing that we can control how birth unfolds, giving no thought to the possibility that our babies play a large role in the birth process.
Instead of from the very start trusting that our children have their own experiences that we need to allow. This is a key lesson for mothers to learn, that although we can support our children in their lives, we do not control everything that happens to them, they have their own journey.

4. Feeling that if we have a ‘perfect birth or ideal birth’ – whatever that may look like to each of us – that we will feel better about ourselves or even empowered if that picture was fulfilled.
Instead of understanding that our sense of worth can never come from the type of birth we have or anything we do as it can only be felt from the connection we have to our own inner being.

"A belief is an intellectualised construct that delivers nothing more than an ideal that has been customised to suit an emotional need."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric & Exoteric Philosophy 'The Sayings', p 308

These are just some of the many ideals/beliefs that may be contributing to the feelings of failure and disappointment we can experience. And when we hold any of these investments or pictures of how birth should be that we may not even be aware of, it is easy to judge our experience of having an emergency caesarean and regard it as a failure we then reject ourselves for.

The truth is that we cannot always control what happens in birth, and the key is surrendering to what is needed in each moment: instead of going into judgment, blame or failure, we could see it as an opportunity to discover what may be lurking beneath our ideal birth pictures and the need to get it right to feel ok about ourselves as women and mothers.

In this process, feeling the sadness and disappointment of how things unfolded may be needed first, especially if this comes from not feeling supported during the experience before we can go deeper with what truly is at the root of any unresolved hurts or emotions.

For many of us, the key will be the lack of self-worth and feeling we are not enough as women as we are, no matter what we do or achieve in life, which will be at the core. The incredible thing is that birth can offer us the opportunity to address these issues and reconnect us to the innate beauty within each of us that has absolutely nothing to do with experiencing a natural or unplanned caesarean birth.

  • [i]

    US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. The Increasing Trend in Caesarean Section Rates: Global, Regional and National Estimates: 1990-2014 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4743929

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  • By Sharon Gavioli, Registered Nurse, Adult Educator, Counsellor, Practitioner of Universal Medicine Therapies, EPA Recognised

  • Illustration: Hemma Kearney