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Going There: 5 Steps to Heal After a Disappointing Delivery

They say mothers forget their labor pain.

That’s the only way to explain why we’d be crazy enough to birth more babies.

Am-I-right, ladies? 

But for some mamas, the pain doesn’t go away.

No, some wounds are deeper and cut to the heart.

  • Maybe your delivery dreams of having a “shareworthy” birth story were shattered…
  • Maybe you didn’t have time to prepare and the whole thing is lost in a haze…
  • Maybe you didn’t get to hold your baby for days, even weeks…

It’s times like these when I wish I could sit down for a cup of coffee (or Diet Coke) with each and every one of you, hear your stories, and give you a great big hug.

But alas, the blogosphere doesn’t quite allow for that.  *sigh *

So instead, I’m sending you a virtual hug and serving up what I hope will be a cyber cup of coffee brimming with encouragement just for you.

Delivery Disappointments
(Let’s be Real. They Happen.)

Two years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy with a big ‘ole head.

Unfortunately, his head couldn’t quite make it through the birth canal, so he entered this world through an unplanned cesarean delivery—and a traumatic one at that.

My labor story began on the day of my father-in-law’s funeral.

Instead of pre-laboring at home, I did it in a church full of people with a smile on my face and what felt like a thousand knives in my belly.

My water broke ten minutes after we got home from the funeral, and I spent the next 18 hours laboring, only to find out that I would need a C-section.

When the anesthesiologist poked me to test if I was numb, I told him that I could feel the prick.  He told my husband I was probably “just out of it.”  (Epic fail on #bedsidemanner.)

He started.

I felt every. single. cut.

Taking my loudly expressed “hints,” the doctor stopped and asked if I wanted to go under general anesthesia.  My body said yes, but the adrenaline caused me to say “no,” and I pushed through.

What was the result?

A mom too weak to hold the baby she labored so hard for.  Instead of nursing him right away as I planned, his first feeding came from a bottle.

It was a delivery filled with disappointments.

5 Steps of Emotional Healing

A few weeks later, my friend Heather (not our Heather, another equally awesome one, though) wrote me a note asking how I was recovering—both physically and emotionally.

To be honest, I was too busy figuring out this whole motherhood thing to even consider the emotional pain that came with an unexpected C-section.  But at that moment, a flood of emotions bobbed to the surface.

It struck me that I actually had two wounds that needed to heal: one across my belly and another across my heart.

Here are the five steps that helped me overcome my disappointments and (dare I say it?) trauma and move on, eventually even having another child.

Emotional Recovery Step 1:

Because my father-in-law unexpectedly passed away right before our son was born, what was supposed to be a joyous time was also a time of grieving for our family.

Maybe that’s why I recoiled a bit when Heather suggested that I take time to grieve my lost labor story.

Grieving my labor story seemed somewhat selfish and trivial in comparison.

But then Heather hit me with this truth…

“The reality you faced is different from what you had hoped in your heart, and it’s okay to be sad about that and walk through a little season of grief about it.”

It’s okay.

Those words were so freeing for me.  I had to give myself permission to grieve.

For me, grieving involved a lot of verbal processing with friends and loved ones and late night tears as I read and prayed through the Psalms.

This one was particularly helpful:  “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”  ~Psalm 121:7-8

For you, grieving may look different.

Scream into your pillow.  Pound the pavement.  Binge on Ben and Jerry’s.  Cry until your stomach hurts.

Just give yourself permission to be sad.  

It’s okay to grieve over your lost labor story, friend.   It’s okay.

Emotional Recovery Step 2:
Talk to the Doc

I was an event planner in my former BC life (“Before Children”).  After every event, I sat down with my team and debriefed about important details…like whether or not the chicken tasted like rubber. 😉

Ready for a non-shocker?  Delivering a baby is a major event!

It deserves a debrief.

Debriefing with my OB was a huge part of my healing process.  Because he didn’t end up delivering my baby, he wasn’t actually aware of my complications.

Seeing the frustration on his face and hearing him utter the words “I’m sorry” moved me to tears and helped me to trust him moving forward with my second pregnancy.  He knew my lost story, and with his help, my second labor story was a much happier one.

We’ve talked before about being an advocate for your baby, but you need to be an advocate for yourself as well.

Talk to your doctor about your disappointments.  Share your concerns. Ask questions.  Get answers.

And if necessary, cut ties and find a better doctor.

I hear you… How do you know if a new doctor will actually be better?  Ah…that’s a post coming up! Make sure you’re a subscriber so you can get it hot off the press!

Emotional Recovery Step 3:

Sometimes delivery disappointments are out of our control (like giant baby heads that can’t fit through tiny holes).

But sometimes, they’re the result of human error.  When that’s the case, it’s easy for bitterness to creep in.

As I dealt with my own bitterness, Heather had these wise words for me…

“Be honest with yourself about what your doctors did wrong and determine to forgive them. That’s the only way I know to combat bitterness.”

But how could I possibly forgive the people who had caused me so much pain?

Quite honestly, I couldn’t…without Christ.  You see, forgiveness isn’t just saying, “It’s okay.”  It’s saying, “You hurt me.  I accept the pain that you caused me, and I won’t hold it against you. ”

And I couldn’t do that in my own strength.  But I was able to do so because I know that Christ forgave me first.  When I sinned against him and grieved his soul, he chose to accept the pain that I had caused him and died in my place so that he didn’t have to hold it against me.  

And now, I’m able to accept the pain my doctors caused me and surrender it to him.  Because he defeated death and was resurrected, I am able to forgive that anesthesiologist, not in my own strength, but in HIS strength.

How about you?

Are you harboring bitterness?

There is freedom in forgiveness, friend.  Don’t try to forgive in your own strength.  There is someone who is stronger.  Let Him be strong for you.

Heather’s Note:  I know we don’t usually talk about our personal faith here on Incredible Infant (after all, this isn’t a personal blog), but in this instance, I encouraged Chelsea to share this part of her story inside this article because it was part of her story.  

Bitterness never punishes the person you’re bitter against.  If this whole section has got you confused or overwhelmed (“Heather, it can’t be done!”), contact me or comment below and we can share what this kind of forgiveness practically looks like in our lives. 

 Emotional Healing Step 4:
Snuggle Your Baby

In the midst of disappointment, it can be easy to lose sight of one important truth:  your labor story, disappointing as it may be, still brought you that beautiful bundle of joy.

So when you’re feeling blue about your story, snuggle your baby, give him a smooch, and thank God for your happy ending!

That said, if your baby doesn’t feel like a bundle of joy, but rather a bundle of screams, don’t feel broken or ashamed.

According to Postpartum Support International,  80% of mothers experience “baby blues” for 2-3 weeks after delivery and 1 out of 7 moms experiences significant postpartum depression, anxiety, intrusive repetitive thoughts, panic, or post traumatic stress.

See?  You’re not alone.

Those warm-fuzzy-bonding feelings will come, eventually. You can hurry them along by connecting with other Warrior Moms walking the same path.

Emotional Healing Step 5:
Pay It Forward

Have you ever been in line at Starbucks when there’s a continuous chain of “pay-it-forwards”?

You know, where one person starts out by paying for the car behind them, and everyone keeps paying it forward until some jerk brings it to a screeching unhappy halt.

Help me keep a good thing going, would you?

  • Share your story with another mom whose delivery didn’t go as planned.
  • Share the G-rated version with a soon-to-be mom.  Gently let her know that her 17-page labor plan may not go exactly how she envisions.
  • Share it below in the comments and with our Sisterhood of Mothers.

Help another mom out, and pay it forward.

Heal the Wound but Leave the Scar

One of  my favorite songs has the line, “Heal the wound, but leave the scar.”  That is my desire for you on your road to recovery.

Wounds don’t always heal on their own.  If you need support, please reach out to someone for help.  These three organizations may be able to assist you as you begin your healing process:

International Cesarean Awareness Network ~ Provides support for those recovering from C-Sections

Postpartum Progress ~ Founded by a mom and PPD survivor, this website is a champion for all moms who feel there’s a stigma to postpartum illnesses.  It’s a breath of fresh air.

Hand to Hold ~ Provides comprehensive resources and support programs to parents of preemies, babies born with special health care needs, and those who have experienced a loss due to these or other complications

Scars Can Be Beautiful

Once you do heal, always remember that your scar is beautiful, mama. 

It tells your story. It’s where your baby’s story began, and it’s one of the greatest love stories of all time. 

Are you recovering from delivery disappointments?  Do you bear the scars? Share them with me below.  Let’s connect.  

Have You Read These Yet?

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22 thoughts on “Going There: 5 Steps to Heal After a Disappointing Delivery

  1. Wow, thank you so much for this article! I have struggled the past 4 years with a lot of things, depression and anxiety being the biggest issues. Reading this has given me a tremendous insight… something I had never put together before. I had 3 disappointing deliveries in a row, like literally… my boys are 6, 5, and 4 years old.

    Cliff notes- Oldest son delivery- water broke,went to hospital, things going well, back labor got to be too much, epidural ordered and went terrible wrong- stuck 4 times with the worst pain and numbing on different sides of my body- 16 hours of labor turning into his head being stuck for 1 hour in birth canal and having to do an emergency C section. Afterwards, he wouldn’t eat, they ended up suctioning 3 vials of blood and junk out of his tummy. I ended up leaking spinal fluid b/c of the epidural  error and had to get a spinal patch done.

    Delivery #2 planned C section- the date was set, but I was uncomfortable with it due to my son not even being “dropped” and wanted to wait, but I didn’t advocate for me and agreed to it. Everything went as planned, but when they went in, they had to go up to get him, instead of down, he kept squirming and didn’t want to come out b/c he wasn’t ready, she vacuumed him and he bit the Doctor (I was happy) but when he came out, he screamed bloody murder for over an hour- I believe he was traumatized.

    Delivery #3- planned C section- but I had gestational diabetes with this one and my ultrasounds were showing an issue with my son’s kidney. As we got closer to my due date, I was told that my son wasn’t growing and that they were concerned about his kidney. This coupled with the gestational diabetes made them decide that they would take him 2 weeks early. The C Section went well, however I saw him for like 2 seconds before he was whisked away for hours. I didn’t get to even hold him until much later in the day.

    So, your article has shed a great deal of light on the past 4 years and I am thankful for it.

    1. Oh, Julie. That sounds so hard…and we’re just reading the cliff notes!

      Manu moms bury their delivery pain because they are in survival mode. Babies need so much of our attention, and sometimes our own souls get neglected as we’re pouring out our lives for our kiddos. Multiply that x3, and it’s easy to see how you’re uncovering this pain six years later.

      Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sorry you had to deal with all that, and I sincerely hope that God will begin to heal those wounds as only he can.

  2. I had a C-section, I labored for 22 hrs and for those 22 hrs baby’s heart rate would drop at every contraction finally after 12hrs of no progress my husband and I decided to have a C-section I was tired and I did not wont the baby to be under duress for me to finally make the decision to have a c-section.  Still I was traumatize by the whole C-section experience, I had to had general anesthesia since I could still feel poking around my belly on one side.  I woke up shaking, disoriented and hearing my baby cry.  My husband told them to put the baby on me and baby and me calmed down he stopped crying and I stopped shaking.  But for month I felt numb out of touch with my emotions it was frustrating not being able to feel the love I had for this little baby.  I felt cheated that it took me months to finally feel the emotional bond for my child.  I cried a lot and talked to my husband and asked a few friends who had c-sections how they dealt with the numbness and lack of connection, but everyone was so flippant about it was more frustrating that no one talks about how C-section really affects our bodies and emotional connections.

    Now I feel that connection so strongly, that I want to snuggle, cuddle and just hold him but at 10 months old my independent little munchkin wants nothing to do with that unless I have a bottle.

  3. I got teary eyed reading this article, because it hit so close to home. Delivering my 1 year old twins was more traumatic then I ever imagined. I didn’t have a detailed birth plan since I knew having twins raised complication risks. I only had one item on it – an epidural – which I did not get. I did not know until 5 minutes prior to rolling into the delivery room if I would require a c-section or would deliver vaginally. It was the later, but I wonder if I had the c-section 16 hours earlier when it was first suggested if I would have had an easier recovery. By the time my babies arrived I was completely depleted. I felt like a zombie for several weeks. What little I had left was focused on my babies and as a result I put off seeking treatment for a post delivery complication that arose. I’m now physically fine , but I am realizing that my emotional scars are still very visible.

    1. I got teary eyed reading YOUR story, Sarah. It was hard enough for me going through a traumatic birth with one baby, let alone twins. I can’t even imagine. You are one strong mama!

      I noticed an “if” in your comment, and believe me, I know how easy it is to go to the land of “what-ifs.” My encouragement to you is to use your past experiences to inform your future decisions (if you’re planning on any more babies), but also to try not to dwell on the “what-if’s.” It can re-open wounds that have already scabbed over, and I don’t want that for you. I’d much rather see those wounds go from scabs to scars. Two beautiful scars that tell the story of a mama who loved her babies very much, even at a great cost to her self.

      Now that your babies are a little bit older and you can breathe (even though I’m sure twin one-year olds still keep you on your toes!), maybe take some time to go through the grieving process. I understand how you needed to completely focus on your babies early on, but it’s okay to take some time to tend to yourself now…and I think you’ll be a better mama for it!

  4. Thank you for sharing your story Chelsea. While your experience was definitely worse than mine, my firstborn living child was born ten months ago and the birth was an awful experience. While I specifically didn’t set a birth plan because I didn’t want to be upset when it didn’t happen, never in my dreams would I have imagined going through a 96-hour labor, an epidural that didn’t work, an episiotomy, and a midwife who gave no measure of care or concern whatsoever. My son’s birth was the second-worst experience of my entire life (after the loss of my first child). Your words were very helpful to me and convicting. Although I will never return to that hospital or see the midwife again, I still need to release the bitterness I have towards her and pray for forgiveness for the anger I harbored for months.

    1. Oh, Lindsay. I feel like my story doesn’t even begin to compare to yours. First off, let me say how very sorry I am for the loss of your first child. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and heartache you have experienced. And then to have a traumatic delivery with your second-born…my heart aches for you, friend.

      Yours is a class example of “when to cut ties,” but I am so encouraged by the fact that you are seeking God’s help to forgive your midwife. I pray that God will bear the pain for you and will mend your heart as only he can. Happy Mother’s Day, sweet mama.

  5. I love this. It brought me to tears. I had an emergency c-section due to my son being in distress very early into labor (after preparing for a medication-free hospital birth with a midwife). I never question the necessity of the surgery, the quick-thinking of my midwife and OB and hospital staff likely saved my son’s life. That doesn’t mean the experience wasn’t traumatic, though. I know there are women out there who’ve suffered more traumatic births, and women who’ve suffered the unimaginable tragedy of losing their child. Knowing this does make me feel blessed, but still doesn’t dispel the emotional and physical trauma of an unexpected emergency c-section. Women don’t feel they have a right to grieve if their child is healthy. Just because it’s less grief, doesn’t make it invalid. Anyway – about a month into my son’s life I actually started a small Facebook group (Mommies Make Plans and Babies Laugh), as I was still recovering from the c-section and had discovered my inability to produce more than an ounce or two of milk/day (which was a whole other form of emotional trauma) – and it was so helpful to talk to other new Moms who were going through similar experiences. Thank you for writing this article, and reaching out to other Moms who might feel alone in their struggles. My son just turned 1, and while I feel mostly emotionally recovered/healed – I haven’t forgotten how it felt.

    1. I feel like we share a heart, Cara 🙂 I’m sitting here nodding in agreement with everything you wrote…especially the part about moms feeling like they can’t grieve when they’ve been blessed with a healthy baby. I’m so sorry you had a traumatic birth experience, but I’m encouraged to hear that you HAVE grieved and are stronger for it. Thanks for paying it forward here and reaching out to other moms on Facebook.

  6. This was a great read for me. After waiting 27 hours for my daughter to arrive, it was finally up to me and my husband to decide on a C-section. I so badly wanted to deliver vaginally, but I made the decision and cried all the way from the labor room to the OR. Afterwards it felt like just a domino effect. I was sad and frustrated over the C-Section and then forced to exclusively breast feed at the hospital when it clearly wasn’t working for us due to supply and latch issues. Then we got home and it was colic city. I was angry and resentful about all of it and reading this just now made me realize that I never did come to terms with how my daughter entered the world. So, thank you for reminding me it was ok to feel this on top of so many other things!

    1. You are so welcome, Kat. You are one of those ladies I wish I could just hug right now. I’m so sorry you had a rough start, and I sincerely hope your heart heals. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story with us. *hugs*

  7. Great advice! My unplanned csection left me traumatized as well! My anesthesiologist didn’t have the best bedside manner either. My advice to anyone in thia sitiation is to hire a Doula for your next birth. She met with many times and helped me process my first birth and helped me achieve a natural trauma free birth next time:). Seriously she is worth her weight in gold!

    1. I’m sorry we have that in common, Heidi. How great to hear that your second birth was trauma free! I don’t have any personal experience with doulas but have heard great things. Glad it helped you! And thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. I’m so glad you posted this article. Before delivering I had prepared myself and had an open and understanding viewpoint, knowing the fact that deliveries rarely go as planned. I think my “preparedness” made it all the more difficult when I found myself feeling truly traumatized by my experience afterwards. I was induced and the entire time I felt totally out of control. I had very little choices or resources to help me deal with being on a constant 4 foot leash to a stationary monitor in an intense pitocin driven labor. My wishes for natural labor were unable to be fulfilled in any way and i had a unexpectedly difficult time dealing with that. Thank you for helping other women like myself understand that they are not alone in their feelings and for offering suggestions as to how to deal.

    1. Dana, my heart just ached for you as I read this. That must have been so hard. You are not alone, friend. I hope that you’re able to begin the healing process if you haven’t already.

  9. I also had a delivery that was much different than what I had imagined. However, my daughter is healthy and thriving today and that’s all that matters to me. Some people lose their baby during labor and once I remembered that…the rest didn’t seem to matter as much.

  10. i love this and think it’s great advice. An emergency c section at 30 weeks was definitely not how I planned on delivering! And to top it off, it was a Sunday and my doctor wasn’t on call that weekend. 7 months later I have finally made peace with everything that happened and only hope that next time things go a little more smoothly!

    1. I’m so glad you’ve made peace with everything, Lisa. That would be a tough experience to recover from, I’m sure.

      I’m happy to report that my second delivery was a much better experience. Here’s hoping that yours will be too!

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